Friday, July 14, 2017

The Legend of Heroes: Trails In the Sky Trilogy Review (Steam)

Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails In the Sky / Second Chapter / The 3rd
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc.
Genre: RPG
Price: FC - $19.99 (Steam) / SC - $29.99 (Steam) / 3rd - $29.99 (Steam)
Also Available On: PSVita, PSP, PS3

Trails in the Sky was produced for Japanese audiences in June 2004. No efforts to localize it were made until two years later, when XSEED Games acquired the rights to translate and publish Trails in the Sky in English. Given the sheer amount of text, however, it took XSEED a full five years to localize the game. Even then, only the first chapter managed to be released in English, and only on the PlayStation Portable. Four more years passed before its sequel, Second Chapter, premiered on Steam in 2015, and two more before its final chapter saw the light of day

Which begs the question: After 10 years in the making, does Trails in the Sky provide any merit? The answer, to the delight of fans, is a resounding yes. Sora no Kiseki holds up quite well even after all this time.

In Trails in the Sky, you take on the role of 16-year-old Estelle Bright and travel around the Kingdom of Liberl in search of their father. Along the way, you team up with many different companions (each with their own strengths and weaknesses), complete side-quests to earn rare items, and uncover a nefarious plot threatening to unravel the Kingdom from within.

From the outset, it’s clear that Trails in the Sky’s best asset is its rich storyline – and told extremely well. What was initially surmised a routine job for Estelle’s father turns out to be something bigger as the plane he’s on disappears and is never seen again. With very few leads available to her, Estelle sets off to find him, assisting townsfolk and defeating monsters as she travels from city to city to find her father.

While very simple in design, Trails in the Sky unfolds quite naturally, starting small before continuing to branch out to something bigger at every turn. Characters are colorful and entertaining, ranging from bumbling sky pirates to drunken bards to well-read students. Much of the lore can be understood through cutscenes and dialogues, and in-depth reading of books and newspapers available for purchase inside general stores in the main game serve to flesh out the history and background of Liberl and its surrounding kingdoms. Townsfolk dialogues even change according to what events have transpired in the story, and here and there are side quests designed to give you a chance to learn the significance of certain peoples, places, and things. Meanwhile, stunning music provide a wonderful backdrop and serve to immerse you further.

Certainly, Trails in the Sky has its flaws. For starters, the combat system is rather simplistic, and, at times, sluggish and repetitive. This is most present in the first game, where the most efficient way to win battles is to spam skills and beat the enemy down to a pulp. While the Orbal system is admittedly entertaining and allows for mixing and matching of skills and magic, it doesn’t prevent certain battle sequences from feeling monotonous and grindy. Not difficult, but familiar to the point of irritation, as you’ll find Estelle and her companions doing the same moves over and over again with very little thought to positioning or strategy. To be fair, the sequels have done their best to address the issue; Trails in the Sky SC features chain crafts which allow party members to team up for combo attacks. Trails in the Sky the 3rd provides more turn bonuses, making turn order and, thusly, buffs and debuffs more effective against enemies. While still flawed, the later games in the series have a more entertaining approach to fighting.

That said, Trails in the Sky happily features releases that are connected to one another. Those of you who played the previous games in the series are allowed to port over your saves, albeit with the inconvenience of starting out of sequence. The strength of Trails in the Sky is in how you relate to the story – and the story is at its best taken from the beginning all the way to the end. A lot of what makes Trails in the Sky interesting is banked on how you see the story and the world progress, and gamers who have neither the time nor the patience to tackle the games in chronological order won’t be able to appreciate the evolution the characters experience throughout the story. If you truly want to experience Trails in the Sky at its finest, you need to play it in order.

As an aside, don’t grab the Trails in the Sky series with the intent of basking in attention-grabbing visuals; it’s not bad looking, but it looks undoubtedly dated. It doesn’t feel like a 2017-released game. It feels more like an old classic revived for new audiences. While its graphics and its aesthetic feel quite at home with what it’s trying to accomplish, they’re nothing to write home about. It’s clearly designed for an older gaming machine with more modest specifications and less processing power.

Still and all, the Trails in the Sky trilogy is a must-buy for anyone wishing to experience story-heavy role playing games. It is entertaining to read and thrilling to experience, and on those merits alone, it deserves a place in your game library. However, for those who won’t be able to play all three games, or for those who are looking for a more in-depth battle system, it becomes a cautious recommendation at best and something to look forward to on sale instead.

The Good:
  • Deep, thrilling and satisfying storyline
  • Nice overall presentation of the world and its lore
  • Great music to listen to (Whereabouts of the Sky is particularly amazing) 
  • Wide variety of skills, party members, and locations to explore
  • Runs well and optimized even for low-end computers

The Bad:
  • Basically a story split into three games (with the inevitable cliffhangers)
  • Simplistic Battle System
  • Heavily text-based
  • Dated art style

 Rating: 8.5/10