The Nihon Falcom Corporation’s Legend of Heroes franchise commenced as an offshoot of their Dragon Slayer series with its first two installments, although the spinoffs ultimately culminated into their own pantheon with the Gagharv trilogy, released originally for the PC but ported to the PlayStation Portable, these entries seeing release outside Japan thanks to Namco-Bandai. XSEED games would eventually acquire the localization rights to the next set of Legend of Heroes games, the Trails in the Sky trilogy, its first entry ported from the PC to the PlayStation Portable as well, the first entry released in 2011 as The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. The PC version would see its English release on Steam a few years later, providing an experience on par with its predecessors.
Like the Gagharv trilogy, Trails features visible encounters on fields between towns and in dungeons, although a step down from that particular pantheon is that the first chapter of the sixth game doesn’t sport Earthbound-esque encounters where enemies pursue the player’s party if their levels are low and run away if their levels are high. Instead, foes seem somewhat apathetic towards the player’s visible party until they draw near, with the way in which the player’s characters and the enemy dictating who gets the first strike or who takes their turn first normally depending upon agility.
Rather than having a traditional turn-based structure where the player inputs all their characters’ commands and lets them and the enemy beat each other up in a round, Trails instead adopts a structure similar to Final Fantasy X where the player’s characters, except in the case of magic that takes a few turns to cast, immediately execute their commands after the player inputs them. Commands that promptly execute include attacking the enemy with an equipped weapon (which requires the player to get within range of a foe), moving to another square on the tactical battlefield, using an item (with the target ally needing to be in range as well), or attempting to escape (a command that, in the few instances where this player tried it, seemed to work virtually all the time).
Akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, magic, as mentioned, requires a few turns to cast, the turn order meter mercifully showing when spells will execute for both the player’s characters and the enemy. Magic use requires players, outside battle, to equip various elemental orbs buyable from special shops in towns, with shards of each element obtained from defeating enemies also necessary to unlock additional orb slots. Certain characters, however, have orb slots into which they can only place orbs of one particular element, although this makes for reasonable spell diversity with different characters.
Winning battles nets all characters that are still alive experience, in addition to elemental shards and occasional items. Players can exchange elemental shards in town for money necessary to purchase consumable items and new equipment. The battle system works well for the most part, with most fights ending quickly with some exceptions, although the encounter system is somewhat a step down from that in the Gagharv trilogy, and the charge time for spells can lead to some cases where enemies beat the player’s characters to healing, leading to a waste of EP. The final bosses are also daunting, with defeat resulting in a Game Over, though in these cases, the player can restart the lost battle with supposedly easier difficulty. In the end, the battle system is well above average.
The game interfaces well with the player, with easy menus and keyboard controls, alongside a journal that in most cases keeps players moving in the right direction, although it would have been nice if the game showed players where to go next instead of merely telling (this reviewer, for instance, got lost in the post-final boss section of the game), and most dungeons lack in-game maps, a feature present even in games from previous generations such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Ultimately, interaction is above average as well, although there are certain aspects that could have been better.
The narrative decently weaves a tale about a brother and sister in search of their father after he goes missing, the journal in most cases keeping track of the storyline’s direction, although there are some derivative elements and a dash of deus ex machina, and the translation, while mostly polished, does have some errors the localization team overlooked, in addition to some Japanese characters left in the game text, particularly during the preview of Trails in the Sky Second Chapter. Even so, the plot helps the game more than hurts.
The same goes for the aurals, which are one of the strongest aspects of the game, with plenty of enjoyable music and some voice acting exclusive to battle that leaves no room for improvement, the only real hangup being the rare silent moments of cutscenes.
The visuals are nice as well, with character sprites appropriately reflecting their designs, alongside good-looking environments with a fully-rotatable (in most instances) camera, the only real shortcoming being that the sprites don’t show much emotion.
Finally, getting through the game takes at least thirty hours, although sidequests such as supplemental Bracer Guild assignments can bolster this intervention, alongside a New Game+ where the player can carry over levels from their initial playthrough and adjust difficulty for the following playthrough.
Overall, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is for the most part a solid RPG offering that hits most of the right notes with regards to its enjoyable tactical battle system, narrative, aurals, and visuals, with only a few minor aspects such as the endgame battles and some issues with interaction leaving room for improvement. Those that missed out on the PlayStation Portable version of the game would do themselves well to pick up the PC version via Steam, but as XSEED has taken their sweet time localizing the second and third chapters of the trilogy, there’s no need to rush into the first chapter.
This review is based on a copy of the game downloaded from Steam.
+Good tactical battle system.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Some long battles, especially towards the end.
-Notebook sometimes doesn’t help with plot advancement.
-Most dungeons lack maps.
The Bottom Line:
A good first chapter.
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate, Adjustable After Completion
Playing Time: 30-45+ Hours