Trails in the Sky (FC is for First Chapter) is a JRPG that came out awhile back then was brought over in English on PSP years ago, and was finally put on Steam and GOG not even a month ago! I never played it originally but I got it on release day this time around, and I have to say I was blown away by how damn good of a game it is in every way. This is a turn-based strategy JRPG with far more love and care put into it than I’ve seen in almost any other game. It’s only $20 and the port is very well done and even looks great at higher resolutions, and while I should say this at the end – I VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND GETTING IT.
This is a spoiler free review! If you want a fully blind experience though, I do mention some things that might slightly sour that – such as some irrelevant information about a location, some of the game mechanics, some random NPC stories, etc – nothing big or story relevant though. Oh and unrelated to anything, I’d say it’s best played with a controller, but make sure to remap your buttons, they are real dumb by default.
Actually, thanks to being spoiler free it was pretty difficult to write, as the game’s main focus is world building, character development, and obviously the story. No matter how little I can say I’m still spoiling something one way or another, so sorry if this isn’t up to par as a review, especially when this is such a great game.
Note: In my screenshots I had the HD fonts set to off due to a bug early on which has been patched and is no longer a problem, but the workaround was turning them off. The HD fonts look far nicer and crisper, so please don’t let the game text bother you if it does (I think it looks fine even without the HD fonts, personally).
I think I want to start and spend the most time on the most impressive thing about this game: the immense amount of care and thought put into each and every single thing. This game is so detailed in so many small ways that in most RPGs you don’t bother thinking about because it’s usually all very lazily done because it’s not a big deal – but this game really showed me that those little things can add a damn lot to a game overall when actually given attention by the creators. Of course I’m fine with the mostly barebones town in most games or the copy pasted designs of the homes and the lackluster “this is a nice town” dialogue of all the NPCs in the usual games as well, but after playing this I’d say all of those are like eating unseasoned food. Sure, they are acceptable – a meal is a meal, but if you want a delicious flavorful dish you absolutely need the seasoning, and this game has a fuckton of it in all the right ways.
The steam store page (written by XSeed) states:
Introducing people, places, ideas, events and lore that rival in complexity those of even the most highly-regarded fantasy epics in literature, the care and attention given to each and every NPC, location and historical in-game event is what sets The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky apart from its contemporaries.
And I truly have to agree. This is one of the most deep and fleshed out worlds I’ve ‘gone to’ in a game. On top of that, this is no short game, here’s an image of the amount of text in this game. “FC” is this game in the image, SC is the sequel, and third is…the third game in the trilogy.
Every single person in this game is exactly that, a person. None of them feel like they just exist to fill in the town and keep it from seeming empty, everyone has their own lives, stories, and personalities. It doesn’t matter if its the clerk at the store, the lady sitting at the cafe with her cat, or even a soldier who is having relationship problems with his girlfriend. Some of them even have little sidequests, but even those who do not – which make up the vast majority – have so much to their lives, and throughout your progression in the story and travels you’ll learn more about them or watch their situations change.
A great example is a romantic one, wherein if you’re diligent enough at talking to the NPCs you’ll be able to follow a relationship from before the guy even asks this girl out all the way to proposing far later in the game and see how things go each step of the way! Be sure to talk to every NPC possible, and always speak to them again directly after any – even the littlest of steps – have been made in the main story stuff, they will always have updated dialogue no matter how insignificant your progress in the story is. Also, the NPCs much of the time actually converse back and forth with you or your party members rather than just talking seemingly to themselves or to the air. This is mostly true in the beginning town of the game, in which just about every single conversation you have is like this, but it does happen throughout the game fairly frequently.
Another nice thing about the NPCs is that many of the quests you do in the game will follow you – or if you don’t complete them will make you miss out on some different dialogue. As far as I know it’s nothing game-changing, but it changes the lives of the characters involved sometimes and will always change their dialogue with you one way or another (not necessarily ‘better’ or ‘worse’, just different). For example, I helped a researcher find a prototype weapon as a side quest early on in the game, then later I met him at his main research facility and he realized we knew each other, chatted a bit, and thanked me again before moving into the rest of his dialogue. Not only that, but from what I’ve read, this information carries over into the sequel with your save rather than disappearing the moment you finish this game.
Finally moving on from the NPCs, another greatly detailed bit of ‘seasoning’ in the game that really makes the world feel legitimate: the design of the buildings. For example, that military fort? Not only is it huge and walled off, it’s got a double layer massive concrete slab gate system, while most games would have some flimsy backyard garden gate or a cheap wooden one. Or, another military example, that border gate? It’s also gonna have a solid gate, walls, an inn and tavern for people waiting for their passports to be processed, and a barracks. The barracks will also have enough beds for all the soldiers, a cafeteria, and an office for the commanding officer. And speaking of the border – you crossing regions within the same nation? You still have to fill out the proper paperwork at a border checkpoint and register your information so they know you’re in that area, yet another little detail that helps build up this incredible world.
It’s not just the military and their gates though, every single thing in this game is built pretty close to how it should be. There’s plenty of rooms in every building that serve no use for the player whatsoever, yet they exist because they need to for everyone else in this ‘world’. And for the most part they’re all designed differently and have different enough stuff in them that nothing seems copy pasted. You go into this guys house and he’ll have a different house from the neighbor yet they’ll both have a full home, not just one little room – but a bedroom, living room, a kitchen, etc.
Does the guy live alone? One bed. Do 3 people live there? 3 beds, sometimes 2 if it’s husband and wife and a kid. It’s all actually thought out and properly done – a 4 people home isn’t gonna have one bed, and a 1 person home isn’t gonna have 2, just like in real life. Is the child a kid or an adult? If it’s a kid it might have toys or stuffed animals in the bedroom or living room – if it’s highschool/college/working age it’ll have a desk and some study materials and books or job stuff. Is the person a fisherman? They’ll have fishing rods. A collector? They’ll have a bunch of shit. Messy? Clean? It all changes the way the place looks. Same goes for the inns, bracer guild buildings (the bracer guild is who you work for), bars, schools, and so on. Everything is designed and filled as it needs to be to suit the lives of those living, using, working at, staying, or shopping at any place.
Hell, if everything I’ve said up to now hasn’t proven the point – there’s even a literal history museum you can visit in the game to read up on the past of the nation of Liberl in which the game takes place. The history of which (especially that of 10 years prior) is actually relevant and worth knowing about.
Praising it all just for existing is one thing, but the fact is they managed to put it all across extremely naturally, and it makes the whole game and world it takes place in feel that much more believable, relatable, understandable, and something that makes you want to delve as far into it as possible.
I should warn you if it’s not obvious at this point; this is very much a text heavy game, but in the best ways possible and done in such a fashion that it doesn’t feel like a chore or like you’re reading a book. However, if you’re not into reading stuff in your games and not interested in world building or lore, I’d actually suggest you really consider changing that for this game or possibly passing on it as you’ll just ruin it for yoruself. The game itself is great aside all that, it really is even if you just do the mandatory stuff still VERY good, but its definitely built around you playing it in a way that involves going out of your way to really sink your teeth into the world and the people in it. You’d be doing the game, yourself, and even Falcom a disservice by skipping out on that.
Now, aside all that stuff – how is the game itself as a game? Well, I’d say it’s pretty fucking great. The mechanics are presented in a simple fashion, yet all have depth to them. Even something like cooking has more to it than usual, albeit in that case not much given it’s just cooking (can’t really make it all that complex in a video game). The best example though is the “orbment” system. It’s probably easier to understand if you think about it as ‘materia’ from some of the Final Fantasy games.
You can find or create quartz (the ‘materia’) then slot it into your orbments (just a fancy term for open materia slots) and this determines your arts (magic and such) and can also change your stats such as speed, hp, defense, and so on. While that’s simple enough, they then interact with each other – making your actual choices and combinations matter because a certain combo of quartz may give you even stronger magic or an extra boost to your already boosted speed, and so on. It allows for plenty of customization while not bogging you down with spending all your time doing so, and also makes it so you can play the characters in the way you want to rather than being stuck with them as this or that role.
By the way, you have Arts from your orbment, but you also have Crafts which are your basic skills. Get it? I have no doubt the naming of those two things was fully intentional.
Alongside that there’s some fairly simple but well presented game mechanics that show up from time to time, for example searching around a home that was burgled (what a fun word) and talking to some witnesses to try and find out what was stolen, why it was stolen, who stole it, and how they got in and out to steal it. You then answer some questions which I got right so I’m not sure if it matters if you choose incorrectly (probably just get told the right answer and treated like a dumb dumb) and it just feels like a nice little change of pace. Don’t get me wrong though, I really do mean that specific example is simple – you pretty much just run around the house spamming the action button – it’s just done in a way that makes it interesting due to the whole context of the situation I suppose.
As for regular old combat, it’s extremely satisfying, especially the more challenging battles that involve using actual strategy and forethought. However, even the most basic of fights never felt annoying to me or ever stopped being legitimately fun. Maybe the awesome jazzy tune that plays for most of the fights helps with that.
Now this is getting long, so I’ll hit up the equally important rest of my points a bit faster:
Incredibly well thought out pacing that keeps you in a mix of something that is essentially a slice of life of a ‘bracer in training’ while slowly entangling you in a really great story involving sky pirates, a strange yet extremely powerful device left to your (out on a mission) father, kidnappings, and military intrigue and internal affairs of the Liberl nation. This game is a rollercoaster in the best of ways and every step of the way is handled in such a way that it’s never jarring (albeit sometimes unexpected), nor does it ever leave you feeling like anything that happens is out of place. Sadly, to avoid spoilers, I don’t really want to talk about the story at all even though it’s so fantastic, but it’s best to experience it without any knowledge of whats to come. The same problem is there for characters, I really don’t want to spoil anything so I can’t talk much about them.
Each chapter in the game has its own little conclusion and sort of a ‘mini climax’ for that portion of the game, which constantly has you feeling like you’re accomplishing stuff and is done really well.
The setting of the game isn’t super unique, but it’s one of my favorites – a mix of fantasy and modern with an array of technology and weaponry showcasing stuff from the present, the medieval era, and the future. You’ve got swords and magic (powered by technology), cars, airships, guns, rocket launchers, modern day kitchens, and so on.
Lots of little quirky things like chests that throw quips out at you, which to me really added a little extra fun to the game and made you feel like it must have been a joy to make.
The art is nice, with really cute sprites along with well made anime-style portraits for the main cast that change based on their emotions (and also change in combat based on their HP). The graphics themselves as well, while obviously not being a new current-gen game or anything, look very appealing. Its even got…fanservice!?
The music ranges from fantastic to ‘pretty good’, and always fits the mood perfectly.
Every character in the main cast, be they protagonists, antagonists, or somewhere in between, are all really great and much like the rest of the game feel very natural. The localization and just the general way they all are is also something that builds up your connection with them very well. While the cast has plenty of typical archetypes, all of them are done as best as you can do them and with their own twists or bit of flavoring added on top. Even the most ‘generic’ of cookie cutter characters feels like something far more than that thanks to their personality, behavior, and just the way they are written.
My personal favorite is Kloe (and Sieg the Gyrfalcon!), along with Estelle the lead character herself! Yes, the lead is a strong girl who plays the typical male role, so stop bitching, feminists.
Going to the start of this review again, I said this is the first chapter. Trails in the Sky is actually a 3 parter. However, before you get worried, the sequel is already 100% confirmed for being localized and also released on Steam/GOG by the end of this year or extremely early 2015, and part 3 which was a “depends on the sales of 1 and 2” situation is pretty much confirmed after how incredibly well this game has already done. Not only was it the top seller of the day of release and a day or two after on Steam while maintaining a top 10~20 position for weeks now, it was the number one best seller from release to pretty much now on GOG.
Thanks to it far exceeding sales expectations, the third game is a no-brainer. However, if you’re STILL worried about the third part, don’t hold off on playing 1 and 2 – as from what I hear the third game is mostly just tying up loose ends and lots of side quests (the amount of gray pages and smaller white pages compared to the other two in that picture earlier in this post also attest to that). So do not hesitate to get this due to a worry of not getting the full story – that much is already confirmed thanks to basically ending in SC.
No way to just put Xseed’s tweet, so congrats Dimas’ Poncho on a free plug.
Also, I’m fairly certain your save carries over. Not sure what it brings, but hopefully it’ll give some extra goodies.
On top of it being a trilogy, FC was made with the sequel very much in mind – there is a MASSIVE amount of foreshadowing to the story and events in 2, yet all very very very subtle and totally stuff you won’t register as having any meaning when you play the first time through. You definitely feel like, while the story here does get resolved, that this whole game is more of a set-up for a much bigger story and introduces most of the characters, set pieces, and an entire nation worth of locations that will all no doubt carry over with importance into the next game. Not to mention a lot of the main story leaves a lot of room for some serious shit to go down as well as for a large cast that you’re already acquainted with to be heavily involved. And then there’s the Epilogue which I won’t even say a word about except for that it ends this game in such a way that makes knowing SC is already for sure being localized that much more of a relief.
I’m extremely excited for it, especially with how much this built up the world so that SC can get going right off the bat, though again FC does have its own contained and completed story as well! I also hope the same pacing and such is present in the sequel, but we’ll see.
Also, be sure to watch through the end credits and the video that plays just after you make your game clear save. The credits have the end video for the game and the post-clear save video is a trailer for the sequel which looks awesome and seems like it will be a lot more intense and crazy, as well as heavily feature airships. I’m avoiding looking up any info at all though, so that’s the most I’ve seen, but it’s already got me excited.
As an aside, I really want to mention how dedicated and supportive of this release XSeed has been. They are by far my favorite localization company and the fact they’ve been constantly patching (even into the very early AM hours their time) and replying to/helping people directly on the forums nearly 24 hours a day since release is one of the many reasons why (the main other reason being no censorship bullshit nor harassing their customers, things certain others are very guilty of recently). So don’t worry about bugs or glitches, if you have any then you can definitely get it fixed or find a workaround by asking them about it. I really suggest supporting this and purchasing it to support XSeed in their endeavor to bring us amazing titles like this – both in English in general as well as specifically on PC, rather than pirating it/emulating the PSP version.
This is now easily in my top favorite JRPGs of all time. It’s no Star Ocean 2 or Xenosaga, but it’s very much something incredibly special that offers an outstanding story that’s presented in a stunningly good fashion with great gameplay that’s carried by a great cast with the perfect pacing and rollercoaster of emotions to keep you from ever wanting to take a break. This is something I’d consider a must play for anybody who enjoys JRPGs or doesn’t outright hate them (in which case it might make you more into them), and at the price point (again, only $20 or less) there’s really no excuse not to get it and experience it for yourself. The game has some cliches and the story itself has some twists you may see coming, but everything about it is done too good for any of that to actually matter, and each chapter’s contained story is just as enthralling as the main overarching one. Truly a game I can’t find any qualms with, because even the issues in it were things I ended up loving about it (even Agate, who is the weakest in terms of personality) thanks to how exceedingly well executed all of it is.
I honestly also find the idea that this entire game is primarily world building and setup for its sequel pretty awesome. Why half-ass all that and just shove it into a few hours of a game when you can make an entire 40~50 hour game entirely doing that so that your next game can focus completely on the story and character development? Sadly this type of thing isn’t a good plan for modern gamers and isn’t something you’ll see being done anymore for the most part, but it sure as fuck is perfect for anyone who can handle the more deliberate and comfortable pace.
Get it! Play it! It’s gooooooooooooood!