Release Date: July 29, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Ten years. That's how long it's taken for Trails in the Sky to come full circle. The title was first released on the PC in Japan in 2004, and following a PSP port in 2006, gamers in the West were able to experience the RPG for the first time (although it wasn't until 2011 that the game got localized). Now, in 2014, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has made it to Steam, and with it comes a number of small tweaks thanks to publisher XSEED. With this critically well-received title reaching a wider audience than ever before, is this RPG worth adding to your Steam library?
The story of Trails in the Sky follows Estelle and Joshua Bright, as they finally become junior member of the Bracer Guild. The Bracers are sort of like a mercenary group with a lot of clout; they do not answer to any particular government or power, so their neutrality allows them to set up offices around the world. Bracers take on a variety of odd jobs, from finding lost cat to tracking down criminals, and can be considered an independent police force for the people.
Anyway, the focus of this game, being the first in a trilogy, revolves around the two traveling the country of Liberl to work towards becoming senior Bracer members. As such, you'll end up traveling around the five large cities in the region and its surrounding areas, taking on requests from the townfolk and eventually uncovering a deeper plot that is affecting the country.
The plot in itself isn't particularly mold breaking, and for most RPG veterans many aspects are going to be predictable and unsurprisingly. In addition, Trails in the Sky just loves to talk, even more so than the average role playing title. Cutscenes can last a long time, and in the earlier segments of the game, it can often be about nothing of importance, and can grate on a player's nerves if they have little patience for such exposition.
However, in general the writing for the game is superb. The world of Trails of the Sky is an interesting one, full of unique lore and people, and a lot of that really shines through in the writing. Falcom manages to create both an interesting world to explore and learn about, and likeable characters that play off one another quite well. Even if the game does go a bit overboard with the narrative at times, it's rare that it will actually bore you.
Another big part of Trails in the Sky are the sidequests. As a Bracer, it is your duty to help those in need, and the many, many side missions you can take on are the game's manifestation of this key foundation of the Bracer Guild. The sidequests in themselves are pretty much what you'd expect: Finding items, fighting monsters, and traveling to locations you probably wouldn't go to otherwise.
The thing is, there's so many of them (and many with strict time limits before you fail) that the quests can really bog down the experience if you let it. More quests generally appear after each major game event, so it inadvertently break up the action by forcing you to go out of your way to accomplish more tasks. On top of that, the strict manner in which you get Bracer Points (which help you rank up and get cool items) make it so not only do you have to do every single sidequest to get to 1st Class, but also correctly respond to questions thrown at you. It's very easy to miss something along the way, which is really discouraging if you're a completionist. Thankfully, the sidequests are just that—sidequests—so you can effectively ignore all of them and still beat the game.
That is... if you don't let yourself get underleveled. Battles in Trails in the Sky are a deeply strategic affair, and it's important to not only keep your levels up, but to also understand the Orbment systems that allow you to create powerful spells to help you against tough foes. When you enter a battle, your party members and the enemies are displayed on a grid. When a turn comes up, you can move your party members around, cast spells, or simple attack. Everyone has different ranges, strengths, and weaknesses based off their stats and weapons... and so do the enemies, so it's important to keep that all in mind when planning your next move. Since even normal enemies can hit hard, if you become lazy and start mashing the attack button you could end up with a party in serious danger.
To help to level the playing field, there's the Orbment system. By unlocking slot on characters' orbments and filling them with septium of various elements (think of them like Final Fantasy VII's Materia, and you have the general idea), you'll be able to cast various spells. Different combinations of elements allow for various, more powerful spells. To throw a wrench in all this, though, it that most characters have slots that can only hold a certain element; it makes for some unique characteristics for each party member, but also can limit many of them from accessing high level magic unless it is of their element.
While the Orbment system might end up being a little complicated, and is one of the few areas of the game that isn't really elaborated on, but other than that combat is both intense and satisfying. It can sometimes get a little tiresome to work through monsters from earlier areas, but it's worth it for the satisfying combat elsewhere in the game.
Trails in the Sky is not a perfect title, but it is still a pretty great RPG. The title shines where it matters most—the story—and the battle system is deep enough to make you actually want to fight battles. The graphics can be a bit on the dull side (the game is ten years old after all), and the quests can completely overwhelm you if you let them, but underneath that somewhat rough exterior is a gem of an RPG.
+ Engaging characters and an interesting world make for a deep plot to work through
+ Battle system is fun and thoroughly engaging, making you think out every move
- The game goes a little overboard with the side quests, and can easily overwhelm players
- The cliffhanger ending makes the wait for Second Chapter really hard (I'm joking... a little)
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
If you're looking for an engaging JRPG on Steam, you needn't look any further than Trails in the Sky.
Disclaimer: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.