I often say that I don’t play my PSP nearly as much as I used to, and don’t touch my DSi at all anymore. Recently that changed with the PSN release of Final Fantasy VI (which I will be reviewing soon). Before playing that game I needed to clear out some storage space on my PSP Go and wound up starting to play The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky gain. I had played the UMD version of the game and reviewed it elsewhere when it came out nearly a year ago, and subsequently bought the PSN version … but never played it. Now we hear that the games are coming to smartphones, so I wanted to get my review finished. Did I still like it as much as before? Let’s check it out and see!
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is the first of a new trilogy in the established The Legend of Heroes RPG series. A highly detailed 3D world, beautiful original soundtrack, and unique strategic battle system showcase production values a generation beyond the previous iteration. An epic story about preserving the peace against all odds spanning over 50 hours of gameplay, with numerous optional side quests, makes this the biggest adventure ever available on a handheld system.
It is very common to use acronyms to condense longer titles – LotR: RotK for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, SW:KotOR for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and so on. The Legend of Heroes franchise is not new to the PSP – or to over-long titles, with 2005’s Tear of Vermillion, 2006’s Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch and 2007’s Song of the Ocean each inviting condensed titles such as LoH: ToV and so on.
With the new entry in the franchise it was natural to continue the trend, so when I first saw the acronym on a couple of sites (do it yourself) and the puerile response, I thought “I sure hope this isn’t a sign of things to come …” Fortunately it wasn’t, as the game itself is loads of fun – but be warned, I have a history of liking these games more than other reviews would indicate I should!
What has always drawn me into these games are the saturated graphics, colorful characters, engaging story, satisfying combat, and an overall sense of light fun and adventure as you work your way through the large quests.
The technical aspects are perhaps the weakest element of the game. The game was released in Japan on the PC in 2004 and ported to the PSP in 2006. So here we are nearly six years later with graphics that look … well, nearly six years old. There is no real sign of progression from the earlier Legend of Heroes games – which is fine by me as I loved those visuals, but felt I should warn those expecting things to look better than the last games.
The soundtrack continues offering the light and airy tunes similar to earlier games, with the early part being much more forgettable than the first three games, but eventually things kicked into gear and the music was a much more prominent part of the action.
The story focuses on Estelle and Joshua Bright. Estelle and her father live alone, and her father is in the Bracers, a sort of militia who keep the peace in the territory. One night he comes home with an injured boy named Joshua, who they adopt as Estelle’s brother. In the tutorial section, the two become junior Bracers, and are told they need to work hard and complete tasks in order to become full Bracers.
For many hours that is how the game proceeds: you go from town to town, getting and completing tasks to advance their rank and keep the peace. There are a variety of Bracer guilds, each with their own set of quests and missions that you can complete, each with a fun set of characters and dialogue, so you can plan on spending loads of time doing side-quests. The only real complaint I have is that many of the missions have you tromping back and forth across the same territory, which can grow tedious – fortunately load times are very short!
As they work through these missions, gradually the main plot is revealed a little at a time, until much later things really kick into high gear! By the end the story is completely resolved – similar to the earlier Legend of Heroes games, Trails in the Sky is part of a larger whole but also works as a free-standing adventure.
Similarly the game is full of richly detailed characters. Even in the tutorial you learn details about the various people in the Bracers and see some quirks in their personality. Throughout you will meet a variety of people, and the interactions range from rather immature jokes, to heart-warming tales, to stories of intrigue. Each character seems to add something to the experience, so it is always important to talk to everyone you see.
Although the story and characters are the central strength of the game, you will spend much of your time in combat, so fortunately the combat system is robust and well thought out. The game uses a turn-based combat system that puts all combatants in an arena with a movement grid. During your turn, you can move, attack, or use a special ability. You can also move and attack on the same turn.
There are three types of special abilities: Arts, Crafts and S-Crafts. Each pulls from an energy pool that is charged during combat. Arts are basically magic, and take an entire turn. Crafts are special abilities that are triggered on one turn and executed at the end of the round. S-Crafts are a mega-powered ability you can trigger once your Craft points reach 100. S-Crafts are turn-less, so you can trigger it even when another character is taking a turn.
Battles are long and difficult at times, but on the up side there is very little ‘trash collection’. There are no random battles, and once you are a higher level than an enemy you get almost no experience for the battle. This takes some of the focus off grinding through combat to gain levels, but some fights are quite challenging and require multiple attempts. If you fail, you get a ‘retry’ option that restarts the battle with the enemy weakened. This generally works to get you past the battle, but it is still not trivial!
Overall I appreciated everything Falcom has done with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – it has a great story, wonderful characters, engaging combat, and just loads and loads of quests! For a game this long I would have appreciated a bit less backtracking, but that is a minor issue. Some folks will have a problem with the dated graphics, but again – not a big deal for me. In my eyes the positives of story, character, side-quests and combat outweigh those minor nitpicks. If you enjoyed the earlier trio this is an easy recommendation, but even if you missed those I would suggest this to any fan of the JRPG genre in specific or story and character focused RPGs in general.
Here is the trailer for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky:
Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
Price: $29.99 (currently on sale for $24.44)
What I Like: Excellent characters and story; Solid turn-based strategy combat system; Large main quest
What Needs Improvement: Dated visuals; Backtracking gets old at times
Source: Personal purchase