By JAMES GUI
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky First Chapter, available on Steam and GOG, is a great addition to the PC library of JRPGs, or Japanese role-playing games. Released in 2004 in Japan, the game’s graphics and gameplay may seem dated at first glance. However, XSEED Games did a wonderful job localizing the game, translating its whopping 1.5 million Japanese characters and even adding higher-resolution textures. The game has great polish and is a joy to play, as the control scheme is simple and responsive (you can play the entire game with just the mouse – how cool is that?). The first in the Trails in the Sky trilogy, this game sets up the next installment in the series with a nail-biting cliffhanger; I eagerly anticipate the release of the second chapter later in 2015.
Having been developed in the early 2000’s, the game’s graphics are obviously lacking in comparison to games like Final Fantasy XIII, which was also recently ported onto Steam. The game’s art direction, however, more than makes up for its dated sprites. In fact, the old-school animations and settings evince nostalgia for those who grew up with JRPGs, actually enhancing players’ enjoyment. The character headshots are drawn in a style influenced by Japanese animation, adding to the game’s charm. Combined with its amazing soundtrack, the game’s landscapes immerses you completely in the vibrant continent of Liberl. My personal favorite settings are the villages; the ambient music that plays in the background perfectly suits the provincial feel of a small town, where everyone knows each other and everything is calm and peaceful. There are some issues with the 3D models and some choppy animation, but those are minor concerns compared to how great the game looks overall and considering its release date and art direction.
Now, I have already talked a bit about Trails’s music. But if you had any doubts, erase them completely, because the soundtrack for this game is incredible. It may not have many individual pieces that move you to tears like “To Zanarkand” or “Fisherman’s Horizon” from the Final Fantasy series might, but the soundtrack taken as a whole is amazing. The central recurring melody will give you chills every time you hear it, especially during emotional cut-scenes. Every song has great instrumentation, providing you with crisply produced ear candy. Each area’s music somehow fits its setting impeccably. One of the most notable tracks is the battle theme, a jazzy piano beat that actually makes you want to encounter an enemy. Considering the cookie-cutter “epic” tracks that most JRPGs employ, such as “Conflict’s Chime” from Bravely Default, the battle music for The Legend of Heroes is novel and fresh. Most importantly, the game has one of the greatest final dungeon themes that I have heard. When you hear it for the first time, you know in your mind that your journey is about to end.
Gameplay-wise, Trails is quite basic. It utilizes a turn-based battle system, magic (known as “arts”) and skills (known as crafts) — all standard fare for a JRPG. The gameplay is quite linear, though you can go back and forth between areas if you choose to do so. There are side-quests that you can undertake for extra mira (currency) and bracer points (BP), which grant you certain rewards once you acquire enough. An interesting thing to note is that each non-player character (NPC) has a name. Yes, every NPC is named. Though it is a small detail, I found the game much more immersive because of the names. The attention to detail that Falcom poured into this game borders on obsessive, and I love them all the more for it. Also, as a tip, talk to the treasure chests after you loot their goodies. You’ll be in for a treat.
Finally, the plot is great. Though cliché at times, the main story is decent and picks up considerably at the end. Since the game is part of a trilogy, the story’s scale is massive. This first chapter basically chronicles Joshua and Estelle’s (the main characters) journeys throughout Liberl and the kerfuffle they entangle themselves in as part of their training to become fully fledged bracers (think of bracers as people who do quests). The tone is very lighthearted, and playing the game really feels like a fun adventure. It’s great.
XSEED is currently localizing the second chapter of the Trails in the Sky trilogy, and while they own the rights to the third chapter, they might not localize it because of costs. Please, give this game a try; these games are so immense, it’d be a shame if gamers couldn’t experience the entirety of the trilogy.