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   The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky - Review  

Stays Aloft
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PC
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
4
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4.0/5
+ Interesting tale, excellent dialogue
+ Entertaining combat system
+ Great score
- Narrow quest requirements
- Can get pretty talky
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Falcom's Legend of Heroes series has one of the more complicated histories in game lore, and chronicling all of it is a substantial task. Merely accounting for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a task, since it was originally a PC release that was ported to the PSP before that version saw English localization in 2011. Ten years after its original PC release, the game has finally made its way in official English to Steam and GoG.com courtesy of the hard-working people at XSEED. Trails in the Sky is not the greatest RPG PCs have ever seen, but it is certainly worth checking out by anyone who has yet to take the plunge.

   Trails in the Sky focuses on Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua, who travel around their nation of Liberl. Their travel is not aimless, as both are junior Bracers seeking to become full-fledged members of this international organization for altruistic helpers of the needy. Getting from junior to senior status is never an easy undertaking, but this pair has to live up to the still-growing legacy of father Cassius Bright, one of the most highly regarded people on the continent. Their travels are without world-shaking crises early on, but eventually the work of nefarious forces operating in the shadows of Liberl becomes the focal point.

   It takes some time for the central plot to get underway, but the less-calamitous things which happen in the early going manage to stay interesting. The sinister events which eventually steer things are notable for not featuring villains who seek blatant world conquest, instead operating on a more localized scale. Estelle and Joshua are appealing leads, and the many characters with whom they interact along the way are also interesting. What can become bothersome is the frequency of times at which characters need to talk things over ad nauseum with each other before anything happens, but at least XSEED's dogged work on the translation makes this a muted curse. Another issue will not concern Japanese players, but since the second chapter of Trails in the Sky has yet to be localized, this game's cliffhanger conclusion serves as a reason to wish XSEED's team the best of luck getting that massive heap of translation work done.

   When moving around the environments of Trails in the Sky, players will see visible enemies that can be avoided or engaged. Once begun, combat has numerous tactical components to consider. Characters have to move around to perform most physical actions, and will not do anything except shift position if told to attack an enemy out of range. Almost every spell and character ability that doesn't affect a single target instead hits an area, which requires some thought about where to direct actions. Spells also take a certain amount of time to cast, something helpfully displayed on a turn order meter visible at all times, and can greatly influence the proceedings when combatants are likely to move around if given the time. Some actions can stop those that have been selected but have yet to be enacted, further spicing up the planning component.

Some people are just born diplomats, Estelle.  You most assuredly do not qualify. Some people are just born diplomats, Estelle. You most assuredly do not qualify.

   The difficulty of standard enemies can be considerable, but the ability to catch almost all of them by surprise with a little patience lessens their potency. The tactical components keep things interesting throughout the game, and the many abilities at the disposal of each character allow multiple potential ways to down the foe. Having the opponents be visible also allows them to be circumvented should one wish to quickly progress, which is often a good idea since the experience gains scale down as characters gain levels. The final battle is the strongest example of the occasional encounter that could provoke some mild obscenity from the player, but preparation will help manage even the nastiest of foes, plus being defeated prompts to option to instantly retry that fight instead of going back to the title screen.

   While characters have unique abilities that are not accessible by anyone else, the magic arts of Trails in the Sky can be switched around. Each character has six slots for Orbments, which are materials that affiliate with each of the six elements in the game. The mixture given to each character affects not only which spells can be cast but also core statistics, and the potential for mixing arts is vast. Creating Orbments in the first place requires contributions of the elemental stones called Sepith that enemies bequeath in death, yet they can also be exchanged for spare cash. Character setup can take a significant amount of time, yet succeeds at being worthwhile instead of confounding.

   A great breadth of side content is available for the curious, much of it quite interesting. Trails is very linear with regard to these things though, and a failure to visit every available NPC between plot points will often result in narrow windows closing. Side quests for the Bracer guild are not the only things constrained in this fashion, and obtaining the entirety of a serialized novel in particular requires precisely timed conversational aptitude. Going straight through the core plot without indulging in side material could result in a a completion time of around thirty hours, but all the extras add massively to that time, making the very specific windows for some of them a frustration.

Critters like this infest every roadway.  It begs the question of how people move between cities on a regular basis. Critters like this infest every roadway. It begs the question of how people move between cities on a regular basis.

   As it originally hails from 2004, Trails is unlikely to tax any computer made in more recent years with its graphical complexity. The game is pleasing to the eye though, and certain effects accomplished with lit objects that cast shadows on the character sprites are still interesting to behold. Not everything in the game is visually resplendent, but the presentation is never ugly.

   Falcom's music team is renowned for top quality work, and this title is another demonstration of why that is so. Music heard early in the game is pleasant to the ear and often quite catchy, yet the themes heard in later scenarios show off excellent compositional flair. The variety of tracks heard is also wide enough to keep repetition to a minimum, ensuring a feast for the ears. Characters say a few things in battle, but not enough to really gauge their performance quality.

   The cliffhanger on which this first installment of Trails in the Sky ends served its purpose of getting me to eagerly await the next chapter, which makes sense when the story was originally conceived as a single massive title. Japanese developers may not use the PC much even now, but Falcom is the exception to prove the rule, and hopefully more of its output will become accessible for the rest of the world soon. I didn't love this game with every fiber of my being, but I certainly had a good time throughout, which is more than I can say for some titles.

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