The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Review
Just Like You Don’t Remember
The Legend of Heroes franchise hasn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot in the West. The three entries in the franchise released for the PSP by Namco Bandai had their order screwed up and were given exceptionally slapdash localizations, draining them of their charm. With such a poor track record in the west, it’s nice to see the series put forward an entry that can truly show off its strengths like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky does. The charming characters, buttressed by an excellent localization, mixed with interesting customization options and a speedy yet strategic combat system are enough to make the game worth a recommendation to any JRPG fan.
Combat in Trails in the Sky is cleverly handled, allowing for tactical depth without becoming cumbersome in normal encounters. Beyond attacking, characters have access to Arts (magic granted by objects called “orbments”) and Crafts (skills inherent to each character based on their level). This combined with basic positioning and a grasp on how actions affect turn order this is all fairly simple. An average encounter can be resolved with minimal effort; the attack command automates positioning and allows the player to just spam attack to dispatch weak foes. When faced with more powerful foes, though, the robust options inherent to this simple system show themselves. What it comes down to is a combat system with an impressive amount of options for the player when they need them, but which is streamlined well enough that it doesn’t cause the player to trip over its myriad options while trying to make use of basic functionality.
Trails in the Sky‘s gameplay outside of battle is similarly polished. The game offers a wealth of sidequests at the Bracer’s Guilds found in each chapter. These quests are nice time-wasters and go beyond the simple-minded quests pervasive to the genre. While many do fit into a simple mold, the way the player carries them out and the amount of incidental dialog they elicit makes them feel much less artificial than usual. The game offers players a fair bit of customization with the aforementioned orbment system, allowing a good amount of customizability in terms of magical abilities. Systems that have been seen in many RPGs (cooking for example) make appearances and are utilized well. Despite all the subsystems at play, it hangs together well enough that it becomes hard to single out individual elements and must be looked at as a whole.
While it possesses good gameplay, the real high point for Legend of Heroes is the story and characters. While it uses many clichés in how the characters are presented and constructed, it doesn’t really seem to matter because the interplay between them is well executed. In many ways it serves as a reminder of why these became such common tropes in the first place, that being that when done properly, they can be very endearing. The player spends the majority of the game with Estelle and Joshua Bright, adoptive siblings trying to become senior bracers (a sort of mercenary group of general do-goodery). The game is, for better or worse depending on individual taste, quite chatty and while this can wear a tad on the nerves at some points, the dialog is well-written and generally is rewarding in itself. The plot and characters are written in such a way that, while their adherence to tried and true tricks of the RPG playbook makes them not particularly surprising, the strength of the underlying characterization makes them engrossing anyway.
Music is Falcom’s specialty. It’d be hard to say how many companies have put out as many memorable soundtracks, but it’s definitely among the greats. Trails in the Sky doesn’t disappoint in this area, with a high-quality soundtrack that suits the scenes it’s set to very well. The more general presentation isn’t as stellar, sadly. While characters have voice actors for various battle cries (ones that fans of JRPGs and/or animé will likely recognize instantly) they don’t seem to talk much otherwise, which is a bit of a pity. The graphics are passable, though their origin points being as (relatively) old as they are this can be forgiven. The game certainly isn’t ugly, but it’s hard to ignore that Trails in the Sky was clearly released a fair while ago in its country of origin. Still, the visuals do their job of selling the world and the art is rather nice. More than likely though, the player will take a stronger impression from the soundtrack.
As has been implied earlier, Trails in the Sky is only really at fault in the originality department. The game is nested in the style of an early 90s JRPG. This is definitely a good example of the style and the reason why many still hold that period as one of the best for the genre as a whole, but it can’t be ignored that Trails in the Sky isn’t bringing much new to the table. If one grew tired of, or never cared for, that style there’s not much here that will change that opinion. Even in the face of such complaints, it’s hard to argue that the elements in Trails in the Sky don’t work well. Anyone but the most strident in their desire for innovation will find that the overall quality makes up for the tried and true nature of the individual elements.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is characterized in almost every way by Falcom’s style. While it’ll never be the most technically impressive or original game, its creators clearly understand what works and what doesn’t. The excellent music and fun combat combine with the charming characters to create a game that has a certain intangible feel, a spirit that pervades it and makes it more than simply the collection of things seen before it may appear at first glance. As the PSP enters its twilight years, most RPGamers would find few better sendoffs than this.
Charming characters and atmosphere
Simple yet strategic combat
A tad on the verbose side
Missable items and quests can be frustrating