The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky - Everything You Love About JRPGs
Do you remember that time when you were playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time, and the opening cutscene just stunned you in a way no other games do? That time when you were playing Dragon Quest, and you just can wait to explore that giant green map with your own party? That time when you were playing Shin Megami Tensei, and you were trying so hard to fuse the demon you want? Do you miss those days? Well, here is a game for ya. Now be warned, in Trails in the Sky(or I like to call it TitS for short :P), there are no high budget CG rendered cutscenes like FF, there aren't any giant green field to explore, and it certainly doesn't have any demons to fuse, however, it does have many things you love about JRPGs.
Yes, the first thing I want to talk about is the NPCs. "But what can NPCs that I don't care about do to make the game so specials?", you might asked. Well, everything, really, because in this game, you will actively and willing try to talk to every NPCs possible. Most of the time when you are playing an RPG, most NPCs in towns will just keep repeating the same thing over and over again about something you don't give a crap about. In TitS, however, each NPC has their own name and personality hidden in the dialogue, and talking to them really make you feel like you are in a town full of people rather than just a bunch of data.
Talk to the guard guarding the front gate, he might talk about how boring his job is, talk to the guard in the back gate, he might talk about how much he miss his girlfriend and can't wait to see her after the shift, talk to the guard in patrol, and he might be talking about how excited he was because that was his first day working as a guard. On top of that, their dialogue will change depends on your progress. Now go back to the guard in the back gate after you beat a boss or finish a main story quest, and he might be talking about his girlfriend made he a delicious meal yesterday after the shift and can't wait to try them again. He is still talking about his girlfriend, but you can see that he is a person cherish his girlfriend a lot. It is details like this make the game feels a lot more alive than others because you can see the people in the town as actual characters with actual personalities, not just part of the "game", and that makes a simple fetch quest a lot more enjoyable than it should because you feel like you are actually helping that kid in town looking for his precious stone he lost, not just questing for rewards.
So enough with the generic NPCs, let's talk about the characters you can play as. The characters, well, they are nothing new. However, they are likable. Since they are the main characters that you will be seeing everytime you play the game, a lot more effort was put into these characters compare to the NPCs I mentioned above (which has a lot of effort). You have the main character, Estelle Bright, her childhood friend adopted by her father, Joshua, the comical yet mysterious Oliver, the seductive but gentle Scherazard, and many more you will see throughout the journey. While they might sounds generic on paper, you just can't help but to like and care for them. Estelle is your typical energetic girl and protagonist you have seen in every game, but she is not energetic because the description said so, she is energetic because that's how she appeared in the eyes of the players. Rather than just having the characters simply talking to each other, the dialogues were carefully crafted to show as much personality of the character as possible. Along with colorful NPCs, you have a story with interactions and dialogues that can draws you in very easily.
Now I have to say, the story did nothing new either, there are troupes, lots of them. However, they did well on avoiding bad troupes and focus on the good ones. It also did a great job at respecting the intelligence of the players. If there is an obvious mystery, the characters will point it out right away rather than just talking about it over and over again. There are out-of-characters-depression-emo moments, but the characters get over them quickly within minutes instead of nagging about it for half of the game like many RPGs does. The main character, Estelle, might be a typical cheerful and clumsy RPG protagonist, but she doesn't do anything stupid and she will act mature when she is supposed to, unlike many JRPGs where the main character charge into battle without thinking and think to himself with bullcrap like "I will win because I believe in her". In my opinion, TitS and Estelle is very good example of doing JRPG story and main character right.
The music is one the things that should be mentioned in every games made by Falcom, because they are fantastic, and TitS is no exceptions. The generic battle theme for both the first and second game was... a little bit weird for my ears, but the rest are absolutely outstanding. Sometimes they will have a rearrange version of a music that you have heard before that makes you feel you are in the same game but in a total different situation. Here is a few for you:
Silver Will, a boss battle theme you will encounter in the later part of the first game. (I remember having a separate save file before a cutscene with this music on just so that I can view it in the future anytime I want to)
The Fading Light of the Sealed Land, the BGM in the final dungeon.
Recapture, another boss battle theme you will encounter in the later part of the game.
While the second game is not yet translated, in my opinion the musics are drastically improved:
Silver Will Super Arrange Ver., the rearrange of Silver Will, one of the most iconic boss theme in the trilogy.
Fateful Confrontation, the boss battle theme that will play when you fight the "Legions" in the second game.
Fight with Assailant, the battle theme of a few event battles you will encounter in the second game. One of my personal favorite.
Overall, if you are looking for a traditional JRPG with that nostalgia you missed back in the PS-PS2 era, Trails in the Sky is definitely a very high recommendation. It didn't do anything new, but it does many thing right. Just pick it up, and you will feel like you just came back home.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is the sixth installment of The Legend of Heroes series released for PC and PSP. Only the PSP version is currently available in English, and the sequel Trails in the Sky SC is currently being translated by XSeed Games, with the third game Trails in the Sky The Third currently untranslated.