Brothers and sisters side by side in Japanese roleplaying games (JRPG) aren’t new. But The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky might be one of the first to blur the lines of incest on that subject. This might be slightly disturbing, depending on the mindset, but the cute story of a stray child adopted by a warrior and growing up beside his daughter is endearing nonetheless. This game, if anything, masters a way to do minimal effort in creating something new, with a maximal payoff.
Welcome to Trails in the Sky: A random bunch of oriental kids.
The story of siblings by name, Joshua and Estelle Bright, starts off when their father and renowned warrior, Cassius Bright, gets called away by his faction, the bracer guild. Luckily, the man trained his kids to follow in his footsteps and the 2 set off into the world, to become full-fledged bracers themselves and uncover a mystery along the way. As plots go, it isn’t the most refined nor captivating, though it makes up for it in other parts. In a strange casting choice, they’ll be met with random travelers, whom will come and go into their party. And while the characters are fleeting; the story does make sure to make these moments charming at times. Foremost, the plot is telling of Estelle’s coming of age, which transcends perfectly towards the end of the game, for the next installment of this planned trilogy.
The same can’t be said for the outlook of this game, which is complacent to the development cycle of most of developer Falcom’s games. A wide variety of locales, dungeons and towers fall back on the same old generic display of 3D enhanced textures and visuals dating back to original Playstation games. Little is done to embellish any green fields or murky cave, leaving much to be desired. However, a slight touch has been added with screen fades, which esthetically improves exploring a little. This is further touched up by making running the standard option, rather than walking. It’s amazing how something so simple is overlooked, but it makes all the difference in this 50 hour monster.
Admit it; this looks so awesome, doesn't it? No? Philistine!
Again, this one is all about subtle additions, rather than innovation, which is most prominent in the turn based combat sequences. Driven by altering slots, players can act in turn, but can also try and get in certain positions in the initiative bar on the left. This is incentivized by adding simple modifiers randomly scattered across the bar, such as added strength, healing or critical strikes. Characters have individual skill sets for the most parts, which helps differentiate one caster from the next. In addition, each skill takes its own time and varies from single targeting to several area of effects. This parade of simple choices makes sure to give tactics their rightful place in any fight.
As enemies gain the same momentum, this requires players to stay on point at all times, in order to get those modifiers on their side. But it’s by adding a special attack that can be done at will, called an S-craft, regardless of turns, that the linear progress shifts dynamics. By tallying damage, players gain Craft Points (CP) that can be spent on special skills or saved up to unleash this turn-breaking attack. This radically changes simply waiting on turns and creates a makeshift real time mechanic.
Naturally, by defeating enemies, experience turns into levels, even if nothing can really be altered except equipment. Rather, players collect Sepith crystals, which can be transferred into color-coded Quartz. These Quartz can be put into customizable Orbal Arts slots, which serves as the magic portion of the game. By stringing the proper combination of Quartz together, new spells can be unlocked, which is all simply illustrated in the Bracer Notebook; also handy to recap quests. In all, there is a very steady progression throughout the game, thanks to the masterfully crafted action segment. The bracer guild acts as the quest hub, which varies from fetch quests to clearing out dungeons, to more eccentric requests. And due to each city having its own scattered amount of tasks, there is little need to grind; while still staying challenging, thanks to the combat scheme and evolving enemies.
Now presenting Trails in the Sky: The good stuff.
Further making up in finesse, a simple cooking mechanic is added, which adds local cuisines to heal characters. And while the theme itself is never properly fleshed out, the different tastes resulting in different effects have enough charm to make for a successful addition, next to simply using Arts for healing.
Unfortunately, all this charm comes at the price of a huge ball and chain dragging any progression along with a snail pace. The non-engaging plot is one of the slowest ever, even needing time to get to the prologue. Dialogues of 30 minutes or more, completely empty gameplay and simply moving to another area for more text boxes gets incredibly tedious, certainly since these things are commonplace. The feeling of playing a visual novel is further bogged down by some sections of very strict story advancement, which is most noticeable in the pointless clicking event when sidelined by investigations. This serves no other purpose rather than to phone in that bracers are jacks of all trades and couldn’t feel more forced. Lastly, the game also has one terrible stealth mission, which gets cut down by its own restricting camera. It’s strange, but it seems that every time this game actually did try stepping out of its strict JRPG schematic, it ended up shooting itself in the foot.
Hope you like reading, kids. Trails in the Sky will have Planescape loads of it.
Still, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky flourishes from not breaking from the traditional bounds too much. Rather, it adds subtle hints of improvement wherever it can and envelops it in a charming ambience and captivating combat appeal. Yes, it takes its sweet time getting anywhere, but patient fans of the genre will get rewarded with some solid gameplay for their handheld that will last them ages.