One night five years ago, Estelle Bright’s shining Bracer and former war hero father, Cassius, brought home a young boy named Joshua. He tells Estelle he found Joshua and the amnesiac boy moves into their home. Estelle and Joshua, both 16 years old now, follow in their father’s footsteps. They too, are on their way to joining the Bracer’s Guild. That means they’ll become mercenaries and take on missions protecting people. Right after the two pass their final exam and become Junior Bracers, Cassius gets a note calling him away for at least a month. He travels to a number of places to keep tabs on some suspicious activity. Estelle and Joshua begin their new lives as Bracers without his guidance and recruiting all kinds of new friends to help them on their way.
While The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky eventually develops into a story with elements of political intrigue, much of your time is spent helping Estelle and their friends complete Bracer’s Guild missions. Everywhere you go has a guild branch and getting a new mission is as easy as checking the board. It may sound simple, but it actually adds a bit of realism since it isn’t like people are just randomly running up to Estelle and Joshua, begging for help with important missions.
Polished is the most appropriate word to describe The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. It is absolutely beautiful and clear that Falcom put an extraordinary amount of detail into the game. The character sprites and environments look fantastic. The orbal arts system offers a lot of customization options and there are many tiny touches that weren’t necessary, but will make you smile to see them. Birds scatter when Estelle runs towards them and there’s an amusing newspaper in the game to help you keep up with current events. Townspeople may even move from one area to another too.
Xseed put just as much detail in their localization. The script is wonderful. Trails in the Sky is funny and engaging, with many clever lines throughout the adventure. I also liked the characterization for each party member, their dialogue always matched their personalities perfectly. Actually, this even applied to NPCs. Sometimes games are about seeing how many great one liners you can shove in there. When you play The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, you can tell the script was a labor of love.
With all this text, you’d think it’d be hard to keep track of things to do in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Never fear, as there are in-game notebooks, which take note of every detail so you don’t have to. The Bracer notebook holds all of the information pertaining to the jobs you completed or have to do. There are also rather helpful bestiary and recipe books as well, which can help you prepare for battle encounters or recreate tasted food to restore health. Even better is that these notebooks, like map directions, are assigned to hotkeys so you don’t always have to go through the menus to find them.
Ah, those wonderful hotkeys. With a press of a button, you can instantly bring up handy information. Pressing the triangle button lets you instantly access the Bracer notebook, recipe book, monster guide or Liberl map by pressing left, up, right or down on the D-pad. Pressing and holding the square button adds location names to the area you’re on, so you can see if you’re heading on the path to the right home or location. I got the most use out of that. It was so much easier than constantly checking the Liberl map to see if I was following the correct road.
The Trails in the Sky battle system nicely blends turn-based and strategic elements. When battle begins, characters and monsters appear on what is essentially a grid. On the left side of the screen, you can see character portraits, the turn order, and if any special bonuses are in play. Attacks have ranges though, so your party will occasionally have to spend a turn moving closer to get an attack in.
There are also special orbal arts, which are obtained by tweaking your characters’ orbments. Putting a quartz into an open orbment slot allows a character to use certain skills and boost stats. These special skills require points to use in battle and have a casting time, which means you have to wait a turn for them to take effect. The advantage of using Orbal Arts is these skills can hit anywhere on the map, attack evasive enemies, and are often more powerful. Plus, arranging quartz properly in an orbment can unlock more powerful skills to use in battles. Of course, you do level up after battles too, but it’s nice that you can also augment your character to try and customize him or her and enhance certain areas.
Everything comes together to make battles more of a thinking process. Trails in the Sky avoids the pitfall of spamming "fight" to defeat enemies. You actually have to plan. If you’re clever, you can attack enemies in such a way that they don’t even get a turn in. The S-Break special attacks really help with that. These become available after characters have taken or inflicted enough damage to fill a CP gauge. You can then press triangle and either up, down, left or right at any time to make them use the S-Craft attack assigned to the directional bottom immediately.
It may have taken five years to reach North America, but The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was absolutely worth the wait. Even more so, because Xseed did an exceptional job of preparing the English release. I know, I’m gushing over it, but I can’t help it. I haven’t enjoyed a PSP RPG this much in a long time.
Food for Thought
- I like that the save file also saves a small image of what location Estelle and her companions were at. It’s helpful in case you keep multiple save files, so you know where you are.
- The ability to save everywhere is nice too.
- Even through the characters do sort-of fall into some video game and anime stereotypes, you barely notice because they have interesting personalities and most end up being quite useful in battle.
- I recommend waiting to use characters’ Break buttons. You never know when you’ll encounter a slightly stronger than usual enemy, and an instant S-Break attack can really help.
- Don’t expect voice acting. You’ll only occasionally hear the characters speak during battles.
- You have to beat the game once to unlock higher difficulty levels, but since some items do carry over from your previous game it makes it worth it.