The Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky Review
Sony’s PSP is becoming a quiet, nourishing oasis for RPG lovers. As the PS Vita prepares to dazzle with its next-generation visuals and adaptations of hit PS3 franchises, the original PSP continues to trickle out genuinely decent adventures that prove that there’s still plenty of life in Sony’s sleek handheld.
The Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky is the latest adventure to surface on Sony’s machine, and it proves that the best games really do come to those who wait – even if the game in question is actually a port of a seven-year-old PC game.
Falcom’s Trails In The Sky is the first part of a trilogy that has long since finished in its native Japan, and a part of us is fearful that, due to the PSP now being in its twilight years, we’ll never see its end. This would be something of a pity, because while Trails In The Sky doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, it still delivers a truly engaging adventure.
This in part is mainly down to the excellent localisation that Trails In The Sky has received. Even the most minor of NPCs feel believable; while the main heroes constantly resonate with the player thanks to their lively dialogue, strong, consistent personalities and their sheer likability.
Yes there are typical RPG clichés to be found – one of the leads, Joshua Bright, is revealed to have a particularly murky past – but the deft script and strong pacing ensure that you’ll rarely find yourself rolling your eyes as the story unfolds.
Indeed, we’d recommend that you ignore Sky’s clichéd opening, which introduces the tomboyish wannabe Bracer Estelle Bright, her adopted brother Joshua and their esteemed Bracer father Cassius, and simply view it as a warm nostalgia blanket that pays loving tribute to past 16-bit RPGS such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV.
Trails In The Sky begins with Estelle and Joshua finishing their training to become Bracers – keepers of the peace who help out the local citizens. Estelle’s father Cassius is one of the most famous Bracers in the Liberl kingdom, and the spunky tomboy is desperate to follow in his footsteps.
The only way this could be more JRPG was if it had spiky hair and a Buster Sword.
Initially these footsteps take the form of simple quests – a delivery here, a monster to slay there – but as Trails In The Sky progresses, so too does the scope of the quests.
The plot elevates as well, and before long Estelle, Joshua and their lively companions – who range from a flirtatious bard to a loud-mouthed braggart – find themselves in a truly epic conspiracy that threatens to tear their whole world apart.
While the quest itself is lengthy – a good 50 hours without side-quests – Falcom has done much to ensure that time passes as quickly as possible.
Unlike many similar RPGS there is no pointless grinding in Trails In The Sky, while the combat system is extremely flexible, allowing for a number of different strategies.
At first, like many other elements of Trails In The Sky, it feels like you’ve seen the combat many times before. Fights take place on a grid and the action is turn-based.
Characters can only move so far in a single turn, meaning that battles are as much about outmanoeuvring your opponents, as they are about hitting them.
Magic, or Arts, is much more flexible, enabling you to target any player, no matter how far away they are from you. The kicker, however, is that they take an entire turn to cast (although luckily, they can’t be disrupted by enemy attacks).
Don: one of those irritating guys who laughs at his own jokes.
In addition to Arts and standard attacks, characters can also perform Crafts and S-Crafts, which require CP (Combat Points). Crafts are powerful abilities unique to each character, while S-Crafts are stronger still, and can only be activated when a character has amassed (through combat) at least 100 Combat Points.
Turn order also plays an important part in combat, with the order of attacking heroes and enemies appearing on the right hand side of the screen.
Additional bonus icons will appear at the start of each new round, which can do anything from granting between a ten and 50 per cent health increase to improving the chance of a critical hit, and are assigned to random characters. This adds a further level of strategy, as you can plan out your best attacks to target specific enemies. Lastly, is the S-Break, an attack that effectively allows a character to butt ahead in line, regardless of where it was in the original turn order.
By far one of the best elements of Trails combat system, though, is the fact that a party defeat doesn’t end in death. Instead you can simply restart the fight.
This might sound like a cop-out but it simply allows you to concentrate on Trails’ charming story, without the indignity of having to replay through several hours of game again because you encountered an overpowering enemy.
These little twists on standard JRPG conventions continue with elements like the many sidequests that your characters can go on. The vast majority of these quests can be picked up from various Bracer guilds, and must be completed in different areas, or within a specific timeframe.
A recipe book also adds to longevity. As you explore the kingdom of Liberl, you’ll discover various life-gaining delicacies. Eat them and you’ll discover their ingredients, allowing you to cook them as many times as your stocks permit.
Trails In The Sky may be a game built on traditional JRPG conventions, but it nevertheless stands proudly on its own two feet and proves that a great story, entertaining characters and a robust combat system will always win out. Here’s hoping that Ghostlight manages to publish the rest of the trilogy.