Disclaimer: This is my favorite JRPG in the entire universe, so please take this review in the spirit in which it has been given. Please forgive any potential fangirl squeeing.
LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS IN THE SKY (Sora no Kiseki FC)
WHERE TO BEGIN?!
This is my favoritest of favorite JRPGs. Ever. Seriously. There is not a JRPG I love more than this game, though I suspect that the release of SC may change that--you know what, no. Technically SC and this game are the same
game, Falcom just had to split them up! So it still counts! I'd be willing to even say that FC is one of my top ten games of all time, regardless of genre. Considering the other games in that list include the original Fallout, Baldur's Gate II, Chrono Trigger and several other games widely regarded as "best game ever," that should tell you something.
Trails in the Sky (Sora no Kiseki FC) is, on its surface, a pretty basic story with a fairly basic game attached to it. It looks unassuming and pedestrian on the surface, but that is simply because it hides, biding its time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. And strike it does, and when it strikes, it strikes hard! Trails in the Sky is a fairly standard high fantasy story set in a world of political and military intrigue, but it is also the story of how two goofy teenagers grow up and mature into capable adventurers over the course of the game. But that doesn't even really cover much. The meat of the game is in its writing and story--and there's a lot
of writing. Gobs and gobs of dialog and story; even the sidequests are usually fully fleshed out rather than a simple "go collect twenty bear asses" that tend to plague older RPGs just as much as they do MMOs. Even unnamed filler NPCs will commonly have multiple lines of dialogue. Trails is one of the very few games where I really feel like the characters are having an actual human conversation as I play--complete with interruptions, asides muttered under their breath and a collection of emotive portraits for most named characters that really helps convey the tone very well. Obviously the conversations in this game are scripted rather than chosen by the player, but they just feel very natural and real.
The story--oh, the story. It starts out very simple, a basic pair of greenhorn adventurers, Estelle and Joshua Bright, new to the Bracer Guild, a group of unionized do-gooders and monster-hunters, learning the ropes and working their way to full bracer status. Over the course of what will easily end up being a 50+ hour playthrough--even on my fourth playthrough, with prior knowledge of the game and using an achievement guide to get a maxed-out save file ready for SC, I still logged 42 hours on my file when the credits rolled--you will see the story shift from hometown heroes retrieving a stolen jewel to helping with a school festival, to busting a thieves' guild and unraveling a real-estate scam. And it only gets better from there,
culminating in an epic yarn that spans political intrigue, military secrets, ancient technologies and the remnants of a lost, highly-advanced culture. With all of this going on, the story starts out very light-hearted, but slowly darkens over time, growing more and more serious, setting up for the Second Chapter's much darker overall tone.
Writing teenagers is really quite hard, but Falcom and XSEED's localization staff really pulled it off fantastically. Estelle and Joshua feel genuine, like people you could really meet one day. Estelle acts goofy, makes realistic and understandable mistakes and Joshua is the archetypal bookish boy (though of course his story is more complex than that). The level of realism in how the plot handles having teenage main characters is actually really impressive. The two leads contribute a lot to solving the major cases they're assigned to by the Bracer Guild, but they've always
got backup from more experienced and powerful adults. They're told reasonable things about their limitations, and they reasonably and realistically fail. A lot
. The fact that they mess up and they experience real consequences as a result is something I love about Trails. This isn't the usual "little kid saves the world, adults are totally worthless" sort of story that seems to happen with annoying regularity every time you've got a teenager as the protagonist.
It's also, at least to me, as a "girl gamer"--that being, a female human who plays video games, of course--a treat to play such a fantastic game with a female protagonist. Especially impressive considering how old this game actually is
--Trails was originally released in Japan in 2004! There aren't even very many games today, in 2014, with a locked female protagonist you can't change or play as male. In 2004 they were practically unheard of. That wins a lot of points from me personally, since I don't have a lot of money for gaming and I generally choose to spend my limited funds on titles with female protagonists over those with male protagonists.
Even as much as I love Trails, it's not perfect. It has some flaws, but none of them are dealbreakers by any stretch of the imagination. The PC Steam version has some weird bugs that the PSP version doesn't have. Some of these bugs are related to the fact that the PC version on Steam is the original 2004 PC version with the PSP features backported into it. Running it on Windows 7 and 8 results in weirdness and I understand a lot of XSEED's delay with getting Trails FC and SC out had to do with making the engine behave in an operating system not called Windows XP.
My biggest single gripe with Trails is the combat. No, I don't dislike the combat, but I think it's a bit too simplistic on the surface--I wish they would have gone with an AP system instead of a "single-action, single-turn" system. I like how the turn order changes based on different things you do and your stats as well as the use of S-Breaks to "cut in line" to get specific turn bonuses. All of that was really great, but I do wish they gave you a pool of AP to combine things like positioning or aiming spells and abilities without having to wait 5 turns to finish up the hit. Using an AP system would have made the combat a lot more fast-paced and enjoyable. The boss fights are still very fun for the most part, even with the SAST system. It's mostly the trash mobs you face in the field, especially when you get into a fight with a big-♥♥♥ group of eight damage-sponge mobs. It got so annoying at points where I'd waste Joshua's field-wide S-Craft simply to get through the fight quicker without losing XP and sepith.
So yeah. A lot of breathless fangirling in there, to be sure, but I'd like to think this "review" might actually be useful to someone interested in buying the game. My advice? BUY IT IMMEDIATELY. RIGHT NOW. THEN PLAY IT UNTIL YOU COLLAPSE FROM EXHAUSTION. Because it's that good. The Trails series has become Falcom's biggest money maker in Japan and the only way we're ever going to see more of the series than Sora no Kiseki FC and SC is if we vote with our wallets!