Thursday, November 20, 2014

The first part of one of Falcom's biggest series - Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

If there's one trend I would of never seen coming in gaming, it's Japanese RPGs on PC. outside of stuff by indie devs, JRPGs had been content to stick to consoles and handhelds, but lately there's been a trickle of them showing up on Steam and there seems to be a slowly growing interest on seeing more of them on PC. enter The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. the first part of a trilogy, itself part of a much larger series. This game had initially seen a release in North America on the Playstation portable, with no sign of the second and third games being released until last year, when XSEED announced not only is a translation of the second chapter in the works, but it, along with the first chapter, would see release on PC.

Trails in the sky is about a pair of characters named Estelle and Joshua, and their attempts to become what are known as Bracers, basically adventurers for hire. As you might expect, this seemingly simple task ends up anything but. I should note that there is a LOT going on in this story, not only due to it being a fairly long game, but because this is the first game in a trilogy, so the game has to lay out a lot of ground work for the later games. Fortunately, while there's a lot of information to chew through, I never found the game very hard to follow. It helps that the game has some wonderful characters and a good sense of pacing: The story is serious and treated as such, but there's enough humor and lighter moments to keep thing from getting too straight faced for it's own good.
You will meet several characters in your journeys, some weirder than others.
At it's core, the gameplay for Trails in the sky should be fairly familiar for anyone who's played a JRPG before: you travel a very large world, solving various quests and fighting in turn based battles. it's worth noting however, that battles battles have a bit more to them than a typical JRPG, rather than your party and enemies lining up to trade blows, battles take place on a grid that characters can move around on. This changes things form a more typical JRPG because you can't simply attack, you have to be able to reach enemies to hit them, also spells take some time to cast and while many can simply target a specific area, some have an area of effect need to be targeted, forcing you to think ahead to where enemies might be in the next few turns when deciding where to aim them. at the same time, some enemy attacks can be avoid by using your characters turn to move out of the way. It forces you to think about how the battle is going and not just constantly attack, pausing only to use the occasional healing spell or item.

Another thing that stands out in the game is orbments While the game does have various pieces of equipment your characters can wield and wear, orbments are how you really customize them. Each character has an orbment with several slots you can put what are called quartz into. These quartz have various elemental values and the total value of the quartz decide what spells the character has access to, on top of that, the quartz themselves can have various stat bonuses or penalties on them, as well as extra bonuses like decreasing the casting cost of your spells, called arts in this game. it's actually a fairy complex system, where slots can require certain types of quarts, and there's lines that decide how your quarts various values are added up. fortunately it's easy to come to grips with once you've tinkered with it for a bit, and the game has a built in magic list so you can see what values you need for what spells.
Battles take place on a large grid
On top of a lengthy main quest, the game also has a number of side quests. From the bracers guild in any town you can pick up any of a number of side quests that range from finding lost items to exterminating dangerous monsters to delivering items.  Fortunately, these side quests are not your typical MMO-style 'find x items' or 'kill x monsters' quests, some of them involve various puzzles, and even the simplest of them: exterminating dangerous monsters' have specific encounters for you to deal with and aren't just random monsters. There's even some hidden quests if you're willing to explore and not just rely on what's in the guild. It helps break up the main quest and gives you a good reason to explore the world beyond what's strictly necessary.

It should also been noted that the game has a very large world. While there's only five major towns to visit, there's plenty of side areas and smaller villages to explore. each chapter of the game takes place in a different section of the world map, and exploring any one of them can take some time. Exploring is also well rewarded, as useful items are often hidden off the main path. This size however, does come with one drawback. The game has no fast traveling, and you're often required to travel between several distant locations. Granted, the game world isn't as large as a full blown sandbox game like Skyrim, but it's still a lot of ground to be stuck repeatedly traveling through.

There's a lot of ground to cover in this game

Graphically the game is pretty decent, the game uses 3D graphics mixed with sprites that appear to be based off 3d models, everything looks nice, textures are nice and colorful, and hte game world is nicely detailed without becoming cluttered. The only major fault I noted is the animation for some of the 3D objects in the game seemed a bit choppy, but otherwise there's nothing to really complain about.

The game's sound is also decent: Everything sounds like it should and while the game doesn't have much voice acting beyond a few lines used in battle, what's there is done well enough. The music, is actually very nice. Falcom is known for producing some great soundtracks and this game is no exception. Though I should note for those who know of Falcom mostly through Ys and are coming here from that series, this game is an entirely different beast so sorry, no rock music to headbang to.
Attempting to take items form the same chest twice has interesting results
Overall I would highly recommended this game if you like RPGs, JRPGs in particular. it's a very large game that took me over 40 hours to beat, and even then I missed quite a few things, the story is well told and the characters are very likeable. As I've said before there seems to be a recent trend with JRPGs showing up on PC and out of all the games involved, this is one of the ones to get.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was developed by Nihon Falcom and published by XSEED and Marvelous USA, Inc. It is available on Steam and GoG. It's homepage is available here.

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