It’s time for Under Your Radar! Today, we’ll be covering The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (Eiyū Densetsu VI: Sora no Kiseki). Specifically, I am referring to the first Trails in the Sky. Why the distinction? Well, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a trilogy of games from the The Legend of Heroes series of JRPGs, collectively making up the sixth game of the series (split into 3 because it’s too large to fit on one UMD).
It is the first part of the ongoing Trails sub-series of The Legend of Heroes games. It was localized by XSEED for PSP in 2011, but, in Japan, it was originally developed and released by Falcom released for PC in 2004, on PSP in 2006, and on PS3 in 2012. XSEED will be releasing the PC version on Steam later this year, as well as the second part of the trilogy, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter, with the assistance of Carpe Fulgur (of Recettear fame). The second game of the trilogy also received two short anime OVAs (brought to North America by Sentai Filmworks), and the series received a manga adaptation.
Trails in the Sky tells the story of Estelle Bright, junior bracer, and takes place within the kingdom of Liberl. Estelle’s father is a war hero, and her mother died protecting her in a battle a long time ago. The shock from this led Estelle’s father to quit the army and join the bracer guild, which is basically a civilian-run police force/errand-runners. One day, Estelle’s father brought home a young boy named Joshua, and adopted him. The story of the first part of Trails in the Sky follows Estelle and Joshua as they aim to become senior bracers while stopping a plot to overthrow the kingdom.
In order to become senior bracers, they must gain the approval from all of the major cities of the kingdom, which have inexplicable border checkpoints between them, despite it being the same country, that act as walls to prevent you from backtracking throughout the game. The story follows a simple pattern – Estelle and Joshua reach a new major city, meet up with 1-2 new party members, help out at that city’s branch until a major plot point occurs, which they solve or otherwise take care of to the point that they receive the approval of that city’s branch, allowing them to move on to the next major city.
However, despite falling into such a simple overall pattern, there is a lot going on in Liberl to make it feel alive. There is a lot of incidental text throughout the game, loads of easily missable things, as well as mundane things like newspaper issues detailing recent happenings in the plot. You can examine previously-opened chests and all of them will berate you for doing so with unique text for each and every chest. Additionally, loading clear data into the follow-ups in the trilogy affect the NPC dialogue based on your actions and decisions in that file. There’s so much text that the internal documents listing out the text of the game, which excludes stuff like incidental NPC dialogue (which, as I just said, there’s a lot of), totals a good 2000 pages or so. Needless to say that localization is five games behind on the series despite the fanbase because the games take way too much work to localize (thus why XSEED is outsourcing it for the second part).
In addition to all of the dialogue, there are many buildings and parts of buildings that serve no important purpose in the game, maybe being used for a sidequest once, that are fully set up as if someone really was living in the world. The sheer amount of detail in the game is nothing short of praiseworthy, and helps with the game’s largely laidback atmosphere as Estelle and Joshua learn about the land they’ve sworn to protect.
All that’s left to discuss, then, is the gameplay. Trails in the Sky uses the battle system of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 (well, I suppose the other way around is technically more correct). …You think I’m joking, but I’m not – they’re the same, for the most part. You move your characters around in turns and attack if your targets are within range. Attacking or being attacked builds up a meter that allows you to use a special mechanic exclusive to that series (in Neptunia mk2, it let you transform, but Trails in the Sky uses it for a special, powerful attack that can ignore the turn order). Heck, both games even have you use up to four characters, though Trails in the Sky has no backrow mechanic.
There are three main, notable things here that are different from Neptunia mk2 that I haven’t already mentioned, however. Firstly, you cannot move your character and attack on the same turn – if you target an enemy your character can reach for an attack, the game will automatically move the character in that enemy’s direction, for better or for worse. Usually for worse, since you want to avoid enemy spells, which is the second difference. Spells take two turns to cast, and they can target pre-set areas, an enemy, an area of a certain size surrounding an enemy (so it follows the enemy if they move before it goes off), etc. You and the enemy can see where the spells are going to land, so you can take this opportunity to avoid them, though it’s annoyingly impossible to tell if the attack radius will follow your character unless you move the character and find out.
The third difference is the big one, however. The game assigns critical hits, free minor healing, etc., to specific turns within the turn order. You can see which turns will get these ahead of time, and so the game has a lot of skills that affect said turn order, including the aforementioned special attack that can ignore the turn order. Specifically, when you queue up the attack, if it isn’t that character’s turn, the character will execute that attack on the next turn in the order, pushing everyone else’s turn back.
Furthermore, the game’s handling of spells is interesting. You actually pay a form of in-game currency to unlock slots which you put jewels into, and the combination of jewels decides your spells, so you can completely adjust things to your liking, although some characters are better than others at learning and using certain spells.
This, along with the constantly-cycling party and general lack of required grinding, makes for a battle system that doesn’t stagnate very easily, resulting in a fun time that can also be quite difficult. That said, when you lose, it’s usually due to equipment choice, item choice, or tactics, not levels. You also have the option to retry any fight, which will slightly lower the fight’s difficulty. The game only starts feeling unfairly difficult towards the end, with exactly two annoying bosses, including the final boss (which took several hour-long attempts).
Something I will criticize, however, is the very end of the game. Every party member returns for the final dungeon, and you get to pick two to follow with Joshua and Estelle. And, as extremely useful as characters like Tita and Schera were in their parts of the game, you will pick Zane and Kloe. Why those two? Simple. The enemies you face at that point are immune to the skills of certain party members, like Tita’s blinding AoE attacks, making them completely useless. Furthermore, Zane has a ton of health and can thus act as the guy to spam the single-hit-invincibility spell on the final boss battle (which is outright required to win). Also, said final boss fight needs a lot of healing to keep up. Estelle can’t do it alone, and Kloe’s special attack, instead of attacking, heals and revives all party members, making her an invaluable asset.
Something else to criticize about the final dungeon is that the game attempts to have modular conversations involving the party members you chose with the endgame bosses. The problem is that the statements tend to not line up. Under what circumstances would one reply to a character nervously asking “Why would you do such a thing?” with a slightly-aggravated “Hmph, say whatever you wish.”? Not these circumstances, yet it happened when I played through the section.
The game ends on a well-placed sequel hook for the next part of the trilogy, feeling like a completely self-enclosed game up until that moment.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is currently available on PSP (and compatible with the Vita via PSN), and will be released on PC for “early 2014”.
It isn’t the prettiest game out there, but it does its best for the time it was released. It has some level of depth to its gameplay, despite its simplicity. The atmosphere and completeness of the world makes it feel alive.
I whole-heartedly recommend The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to any fan of JRPGs who doesn’t mind playing a game from 2004. I can only hope that localizations someday catch up to the series in Japan.
Oh, and I just love the soundtrack for this game. The battle theme is just completely full of class. Here’s an official remix for your listening pleasure: