The modern Japanese role-playing dazzles the eyes and ears with sumptuous visuals and stirring, symphonic soundtracks, but it can often leave the heart feeling a bit empty. As such, it’s not surprisingly that there’s a legion of devotees who still enjoy entries from the genre’s golden age. Across the Lunar, Grandia, Suikoden, or Wild Arms franchises, yesteryear’s titles took players on salient journeys teeming with likable characters, inspiring ambition, and occasionally- tear-inducing poignancy. Those who lament earnestness giving way to cynical, unlikely leads and pandering amounts of fan-service, will be pleased to know that comfort can be found in the recent release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC for the PSP/PS Vita and PC.
There are a few reasons why Trails in the Sky SC feels like a gratifying relic from role-past’s blissful past. The franchise has its roots in the ‘80s, with Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes serving as the series inaugural entry. But save for a single TurboGrafx-CD release and a handful of non-sequentially published, sloppily localized, PSP titles the series wasn’t given a serious stateside effort until the 2011 release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. That effort was delayed by translation struggles, where a mishmash of over 1.5 million Japanese characters borne from the mouths of hundreds of NPCs was painstakingly adapted by XSEED staff. For Trails in the Sky SC, the level of torment tripled, with the increased amount of dialog demanded the efforts of two teams who worked for over four years. Allegedly, the struggle could have very well collapsed the publisher.
Amazingly, the effort was not in vein, with the Second Chapter in the Trails in the Sky trilogy extending a worthwhile expedition which no JRPG aficionado should miss. While the game’s loquaciousness might be to everyone’s liking, players seeking a thoroughly captivating experience elevated by rich dialog and adept characterization will find Second Chapter without peer in the role-playing realm.
While the plot provides just enough context to function as a standalone title, gamers should really finish Trails in the Sky’s first installment before venturing into the Second Chapter. Not only will that ensure that the revelation surrounding a character won’t be prematurely revealed, it will also allow players to appreciate the growth of the series’ NPCs. Many members of the first game’s cast make a reappearance, and much of the enjoyment stems from being reunited with these pedantically crafted characters. While the sequel takes place only a few hours after the events of the first game, the interim between entries makes reunion seem especially gratifying.
What really works in the Second Chapter is the growth exhibited by key cast members. Often, development can seem inauthentic, as characters change abruptly. But here, growth is gradual, with lead Estelle strengthening into her role as a Bracer while Scherazard exhibits an endearing compassion toward Cassius Bright’s beloved daughter. This time out, the story revolves around Joshua disappearing and Estelle’s search for the wayward adoptee. While Second Chapter is rooted in role-playing tradition, with a sinister organization named Ouroboros hell-bent on dominion, periodic poignancy allow the game to triumph over the confines of convention. Beyond the use of verbose dialog to create credible conversations, Second Chapter isn’t afraid of using of using a few other ploys to wring sentiment. Sure, devices like still-screen flashbacks might sound cheesy, but the writers at Nihon Falcom display an uncanny ability to cultivate emotion. Clearly, Ouroboros isn’t the only agency conversant in thought control.
Fortunately, combat doesn’t veer far from the system used by the First Chapter. Running into a monster icon transports up to four party members onto an isometric grid fortified by enemies. A turn-based system allows the movement of teammates across spans delimited by character speed and experience level, although Trails in the Sky’s reaches are more generous that the majority of the genre. Like most games, tactics come into play when assessing the range of each melee or ranged weapon. Magic appears in two forms: character-specific crafts that are instantaneous and arts which are capable or inflicting damage or inducing a status change. While buffs and de-buffs aren’t always as gratifying as plucking HP from foes, here the ability to speed up your party members means an increase in the action timeline, which is vital when playing Trails in the Sky SC on the upper two difficulty levels. Another essential is found in the deployment of S-crafts, which will readily deplete your supply of CP, but offer some of the game’s most assistive abilities.
One of the new additions to battle is the introduction of chains, where party member combine forces to deliver a punishing combo. Although Second Chapter starts with just a two-member chain, gradually level increases allow the entire troupe to take place in the tromping. Second Chapter also tweaks the returning Orbal Arts system, a mechanic where characters fill wearables with quartz to augment their ability set. Now, there’s several more slots which can be filled, bestowing greater power and levels of customization.
Considering the game’s context, Trails in the Sky SC’s visuals have aged remarkably well. On the PC, the game runs fluidly on even a modest rig, exhibiting pleasing texturing and even an instance of fancy lighting or three. At first glance, the game’s sprite-work might seem timeworn, but Nihon Falcom’s artists offer enough animation and character poses to convey sentiment. In a way, these impressionistic representations express as much feeling as high-poly models. Musically, Trails in the Sky is a consummate performer, with compositions that match plaintive moments and stirring skirmishes.
Reusing many of the assets that appeared in the First Chapter, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC isn’t about innovation. Instead virtue is found in the continuation of charming story, character, and tone. Considering the size of the game’s expositional elements, it’s a minor miracle that the game received a stateside localization. It would be a major tragedy if you passed the game by.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, PSP/PS Vita
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED, Marvelous USA
Release date: October 29, 2015 (US)
Price: $29.99 via Steam or PSN