I know I’m really late to the party, but I don’t have as much time for video games as I used to. I try to be very discerning in the games I spend time on now, scouting around reviews and looking into information before I commit to playing through. “The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” had been on my list for a while. An old-school JRPG that is supposed to have a phenomenal story paired with good gameplay? Sign me up. I devoured the first chapter. I completed every single side quest, getting every treasure chest, etc. I logged about 51 total hours on the first game. The second game, I did every achievement, logging 86 hours along the way and once again enjoying every single second of it.
Trails in the Sky begins with a slow burn. It is unpretentious. It starts as what seems to be a simple coming-of-age story, as you take control of Estelle and Joshua Bright on their quest to become better “Bracers,” individuals who go around doing odd jobs, taking out monsters, and the like all to contribute to the well-being of all. Over the course of the main story, it becomes clear there is more going on than meets the eye. Friendships are formed, conspiracies develop, enemies are made, and the plot gets deeper as you continue. It is continually punctuated by joyful interludes and humor, but the plot is both serious and endearing. It gets inside your head and grows, becoming bigger and more emotionally-involving as time goes on. It’s a phenomenal take on many of the standard JRPG tropes for plot, while also pushing it in a few new directions, particularly by having such deep investment in the characters.
The world in the game is superbly detailed and developed. Locales are filled with characters who change the simple statements they say at different points in the game. The world brims with detail, though no one would claim the graphics are top-of-the line. The music is otherworldly in its quality. I don’t listen to video game soundtracks much if at all. These games stand alongside Seiken Densetsu 3 (now “Trials of Mana”) as the only soundtracks I’ve listened to outside of a track here and there.
The world, again, is developed throughout both games, with more and more locations opening up and history filled in as players explore the game. There is some backtracking, but the music is so delightful, battles are skippable by avoiding enemies (though I pretty much never did), and the animations so smooth that it never felt like a chore to backtrack through locations. The only gripe here is that some of the quests are fetch quests and require more backtracking than seems strictly necessary.
Battles are turn based and fought on a grid with boosts to critical power and the like added randomly on turns. Players can utilize systems to ensure their characters align with the most important boosts. Strategy is pretty deep and some bosses require much planning beforehand in order to effectively counter their strengths (I needed some trial and error or a guide to get some of the achievements, but I’m not going to claim to be awesome at video games). Alongside this is the “orbment” system which allows players to effectively customize their characters abilities from moment to moment by slotting in different orbs to make new synergies and unlock new moves throughout the game. Struggling with having enemies beat you to the punch? Slot in some speed orbs. Need some magical punch? There are orbs to help you there, too. It’s a great system that keeps players involved in the gameplay as it develops throughout the series.
Trails in the Sky is difficult for me to adequately describe. It has the sense of wonder, delight, and fun that I missed for a while in video games. I thought that I’d maybe lost it myself. But instead, here comes a series that has such joy built into it alongside so many plot twists, villains, and stunning revelations that I just feel my heart warm thinking about the games. I recommend them very, very highly. Play them.
+Fantastically detailed, intricate world
+Great overaching plot
+Side quests often seem like they have an impact in the world
+Absurdly phenomenal characters
-Somewhat dated graphics
-Some fetch quests
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Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.