“I’LL REMIND YOU THAT I HAVE A VERY LARGE STICK”
– Estelle Bright for Best Main Protagonist 2KXX
I first played the first chapter of TitS (heh) when it was first released on the Playstation Portable console. The Legend of Heroes series wasn’t a title I was fond of even after playing Tear of Vermillion (which was god awful slow I remembered losing a quarter of my life back then) so Trails in the Sky made me “eh” for a bit before starting.
Before you smack me in the face, let me just say that I love JRPGs and invest quite some time with them, but I do tend to get picky. This one got my attention because of the cover (blue sky!). So after reading a lot of reviews, listening to people nag (at how good the game is), pushing myself to get this over with, and that craving to play a good JRPG in a long while, I finally opened the darn game…
Boom! Guess who got blown away by the pure awesomeness?!
It has most of the elements that I adore in a JRPG
– Turn base gameplay
– Fuck yeah grids
– Customizable skill set
– Amazing art (with animu cutscenes)
– Cute grills
– and fucking cliffhangers lol
And that reaction is only for the first installment! I recently just learned that the Second Chapter is already playable in Steam after years of waiting, so I knew that the first thing to do was to buy and play the First Chapter again and marvel towards the sequel. Worth ever penny if I say so myself.
Ahem. I’ll do my bet to review both the First Chapter and the Second Chapter without spoiling
too much. This will be a somewhat concise write-up since I figure that I’d rather review them together than creating a separate post since there aren’t any big difference in both games (gameplay and graphics-wise).
Note: FC = First Chapter; SC = Second Chapter
Trails in the Sky is a trilogy and a part of the bigger Legend of Heroes franchise.
Set on the vast Zemuria Continent, the game starts in a kingdom located in the west called Liberl, which is led by the great Queen Alicia II. Liberl is currently in a shaky peace treaty with the neighboring Erebonian Empire of the North after the infamous Hundred Days War ended between the two heated parties. In its time of peace, however, it thrives as being one of the most advanced kingdoms in terms of orbal technology and the citizen live a prosperous life because of it.
Our headstrong protagonist Estelle Bright and her adoptive brother, Joshua sets off with their dream to become Bracers like their father, Cassius Bright. Starting as fresh recruits of the Bracer Guild: a peacekeeping, humanitarian organization in Zemuria, they travel throughout Liberl to become fully fledged Bracers. In their quest, they slowly learn about a coup that plans to seize control of the throne. Our two heroes, together with their friends, manages to save the kingdom from falling apart but fate is not kind it seems and Estelle is separated from Joshua after learning that a secret organization called “The Ouroboros” who is the true mastermind of the revolution is slowly moving to control the whole world by reviving an ancient civilization with the power akin to gods.
Reasons to like Estelle #1: She doesn’t like dresses and boy toys (oops).
PS: It is recommended to play the First Chapter before everything else because nothing will make sense if you start with the second game. Seriously.
Trails in the Sky is a buffet for JRPG fans and feels like an homage to the classics. In a typical RPG fashion, but it’s more of a personal preference, I would suggest playing this game with a controller to get a more fulfilling experience.
You play as Estelle Bright: a tomboyish yet cheerful brunette sporting awesome twin tails. She is a martial artist and wields a Bo staff in combat. She is also accompanied by her overpowered yet broody brother, Joshua. Their duo reminds me of a “boke and tsukkomi” (or the wise guy/straight man combo) relationship but they synergize to the point that one balances the other in terms of personality. The two start as rookies so you’ll make them run the whole map doing mundane quests from saving a cat, delivering a love letter to exterminating monsters, and jumping from one place to another to increase their Bracer ranks.
The first game starts fairly simple and acts like the foundation for the serious shenanigans that will happen in the second game. It introduces the basic mechanics of the combat system and it opens some of the game’s history. The challenge is there but it’s really subtle. Take it as the starting journey of two kids and grinding their way to get the real taste of
despair awesomeness called “Life” Trails in the Sky.
The second game is where shit gets real, however. It reintroduces the cast from the first game and it opens an even better antagonist. Ouroboros is actually a group that influences the whole Trails series (including Cold Steel/Zero/Ao) and Sky is just the prologue of their plan to manipulate the whole Zemuria continent, so it’s up to Estelle and gang to thwart their evil plans!
The game tasks you to travel across Liberl and complete as many quests as you can to level up your characters and their Bracer rank. There are lots of quests that you can do, which can be either optional or mandatory. The quests reward the player with mira (the game’s currency) and useful accessories as you rank up. If you’re playing the Steam version, if you manage to finish all of the quests and get the highest BP possible, you can even get an achievement for your hard work.
In both FC and SC, enemies aren’t encountered randomly. Instead, they are situated across the field and if Estelle (or the party leader) runs to them from behind, the battle will be in the player’s favor. The party will be “surprised” if the other way around happens. Personally, I like encounters like this (e.g. Chrono Cross) because it saves helluva time especially if you’re already beefed up and you just want to roam and avoid unnecessary encounters.
The combat system takes place in a tactical grid environment. You can control up to four characters (with Estelle and Joshua being both mandatory in the first game, Estelle and either Agate/Scherazard in the second game). The grid system reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics but a simpler version of it. Your characters are only allowed to act and move within the grid, and their physical attack and spells can hit an enemy depending on its range (orange circle).
One unique thing about this game is that character turns work like a timeline. You have full access to view both your characters and your enemies turn on the top left of the screen and this also includes battle buffs like criticals, HP regen, CP regen etc. so you’re basically aware of which one’s going to make a move next. This little something amps the strategic thinking of the game’s battle system as some characters have skills that boost SPD turns and/or delays them, and a little something to help you manipulate the tide of battle.
Arts and Crafts (or skill and magic if you’re a purist) are the bread and butter of this game.
Crafts are unique character abilities and can be used by filling up the CP bar. They’re normally physical in nature or a support type depending on the character’s alignment. They are really powerful attacks that can wipe out a group of enemies but delays your characters turn exponentially.
In SC, the game introduces a new command called “Chain Crafts”. It’s basically a combo your party can execute and the number of allowable character that can join will depend on the commanding character’s level. Personally, I don’t use CC because it creates a big turn delay on participating party member but it’s another great way to deal quick damage.
Arts, on the other hand, can be used by customizing your character’s Battle Orbment with quartz. Quartz draws its power from sepith which you can get from killing monsters. Arts, unlike Crafts, use your character’s EP bar. In my opinion, this is one thing that I found the most fun in this game. Most of the characters, aside from Estelle, have a determined slot element (e.g. Joshua is a speed nut because his default is Time. Kloe is Water which is for healing etc.) so their elemental alignment dictates which stat they are most proficient with. This will help you decide which party member to bring during major battles.
You are also free to equip any type of quartz on a character (provided that the Orbment slot matches the element). With this in mind, you can balance out a physical attacker like Agate with defense/support quartz (but I don’t understand why you would do that) or beef up a squishy character like Tita and make her go Rambo with her Gatling gun (which is really funny IMO).
The battle system really made me reminisce a lot of games on the PS1. It might not be that innovative, considering that this is an old game and all, but it makes up for adding its own flavor which I found really enjoyable (and challenging).
It’s a visual buffet, I tell you! The 3D environments – from buildings, fences, trees to small pieces of work like boxes, plants, and tables, you can really see the details placed on each and every object. The towns and roads are so crisp to look at despite some washed out colors, although there are instances that they do recycle some places (like the dungeon towers) but it’s not going to lessen the experience overall. Aside from the structures, another awesome thing about this game is the colorful character sprites that surprisingly blend so well with the surroundings.
The game also allows you to do a 360 rotation, and it’s an amazing addition as it helps you appreciate the visuals even more. Sprite art has never been so amazing! Banzai!
Reasons to like Estelle #2: She is done with your bullshit.
Another quirky thing that I came to love in this game is the number of funny dialogues present topped with really expressive character headshots that make the conversation seem so animated and so amusing to read. Estelle is, by far, my most favorite. (I think that’s obvious already?) And, I’m not kidding you, even treasure chests are given their own unique personalities and lines and will point at you after you shamelessly pilfer their goodies. It’s funny because they’re gonna tell you that you’re a scum for looting.
(Image source: Hurricanewhip)
I’ve grown so fond of the humor in this game. Almost everything is just meme worthy.
As for the music, I think it’s imperative to listen to this first.
The whole OST is just as amazing as the visuals. It has a bunch of melodramatic tunes, a set of orchestral tracks that use a lot of violins, flute and piano (to name a few) on most parts. It’s jazzy and so snazzy. Frankly, I think Trails in the Sky did a fantastic job with its soundtrack. I never found a single composition in the game to be monotonous and each track totally captures the present event.
The game’s main piece is the “The Whereabouts of Light” which has a lot of other variants in-game. It perfectly defines the beautiful relationship of Estelle and Joshua and their riveting love that binds them together as a family despite their differences.
I’m a total sucker for classical instruments so that might have been a bias judgment, but really, if you’re so fond of classic OSTs especially from the likes of Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross or even Final Fantasy Tactics, this game will not disappoint you.
Yep, this is a concise write-up.
To sum it up, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC/SC is a mighty fine JPRG and a really memorable one. It’s a game you really just want to hug and say “Hey, thanks for existing!”. It’s a familiar yet progressive take on the classics. The adventure it promises is thrilling and tops it with its rich world, lore, history, and a bunch of loveable characters.
If you’re actually trying to find a JPRG fix (like I did), this game will definitely satisfy you.
It also has a sequel game (Trails in the Sky 3rd) but it tells another character’s story. However, it’s something that we should watch out for (it will be released to the PC next year)!