Originally released for PC in 2004 and rereleased to the PSP in 2006, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky remained exclusive to Japan for many years. But thanks to XSEED, the game saw a worldwide release in 2011, through GOG and Steam, and gamers from the entire world managed to finally get to try Falcom beloved series. And even this being a port of an old game, its solid gameplay and strong storytelling maintains it as compelling piece of software as it surely was back in the day.
One of the main hooks of any game is the gameplay. And Trails in the Sky doesn’t drop the ball in this regard. Employing a system that utilizes a turn based combat mechanic with elements of strategy games, it keeps you engaged in every combat, be it a normal combat or against bosses. The game utilizes mechanics you would usually see in a more traditional RPG, like magic and special moves, called arts, but it does so with a spin: the position of your character on the combat zone is vital. If by any chance you decide to attack, but forgets that the enemy is casting a spell on the area you are standing in, you are bound to receive significant damage, not to mention potentially stat effects, which could be the difference between victory and defeat. Not only that, but the combat also uses a turn based system similar to the one utilized in Final Fantasy X, in which there is a small column on the left indicating which enemy or ally is next to act.This gives an additional layer to the gameplay, such as consideration on who would be best to attack next, or see yourself in a situation in which you ponder how to best maximize the number of turns you will have before the enemy has its chance to attack. The only issue I have with this system is that, while the game seems to make moving around the grid as important as attacking, having a more offensive stance in battles usually is the best and most effective way of dealing with situations. When an enemy is casting a spell that can affect many if not most of your characters for example, most of the time it’s simply more effective to just kill that enemy first or use abilities that nullify such attacks, than simply moving out of the spell range, because when you do so you lose a turn, or at the very least the chance to act before the enemy does. And as a consequence, outside of a few boss battles, you don’t end up using the move option that much. For a game that emphasizes positioning, the lack of its importance is such a missed opportunity.
But the strongest point of the game is easily the world it has built. Falcom managed to craft a realm filled with personality and depth, and you can feel the passion in the interactions between the characters, especially between Estelle and Joshua, the main protagonists, and inside of the five main towns you end up visiting in the game. With every conversation you have with the residents of the Kingdom of Liberl in which the game takes place, you learn a bit more about its culture and history. When you talk with people that know personally the characters on your party for example, you learn more about their personality, how they tick, and even small glimpses on their past and what made what they are. If not, then you get a peek on the political affairs of the realms that inhabit the continent you live in, or the latest gossip around town. As if that weren’t enough, every time something of importance happens, most if not all dialogue of the NPC changes to reflect that change. It’s this care to the small details that make Liberl feels like a living place and its world memorable. And one of the reasons its world and story are so engaging is that the game is not afraid of taking its time to tell what it wants to tell. There are some sequences when a story point is explained or some story event is unfolding that takes up to 20 minutes to finish, or at the very beginning of the game, it can take the player between one to two hours to begin its first fight,depending on how fast you go through the dialogues.But it dosent feel like a chore because of its brilliant writing and engaging story, and it just ends up adding to the appeal of the game.
But it’s not only the world and its lore that’s very well built, but also its characters. Through the journey, you accompany Joshua and Estelle in their journey across the country of Liberl to become full-fledged bracers, which is an independent organization that upholds order and peace in that world, be it locally or internationally. And this is the perfect excuse to see both main protagonists grown during their adventures. At the beginning, both are rookies and fairly innocent, both to the ugliness of the world and to their own selves, but by the end of the game, they have both matured in these two aspects. And it’s a joy to see they grow. And while the cast of supporting characters aren’t as deep as these two are, they are also quite enjoyable to get to know and they are really relatable, some more than others.
With the plethora of open world games and developers wanting to adopt a more western style in the development on their works, more and more the narrative and story equation of a game ends up being sacrificed in the name of “player freedom”. So it’s ironically refreshing to see an old game prove that a more linear approach to an idea might just be more effective than what is available on the market today. Don’t let the outdated graphics fool you: with its solid gameplay, superb storytelling and great soundtrack, this is a game that is recommended to all RPG lovers, and to anyone who likes a great story.