Review: Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
To say that publisher XSEED knows how to treat the PSP and JRPG fans right is a vast understatement. Not only have they meticulously brought over four Ys titles in the last year, they’ve began to localize and publish another Nihon Falcom franchise, Legend of Heroes. These spin-off games, beginning with Trails in the Sky, have been around for a while. This one in particular was released in Japan back in 2006. I’ll tell you right now that it was certainly worth the wait, because Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is probably one of the best RPGs on the PSP. Read on to find out why.
If you’ve played other Nihon Falcom titles, such as the Ys franchise, you’ll notice a similar art style, but a striking difference in gameplay when you pop in Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. This is a turn-based RPG through and through. The story follows two kids – Joshua and Estelle Bright. You’ll find that Joshua was adopted and taken in by Estelle and her father, Cassius. But now, years later, the two of them are training to become members of the Bracer Guild, an organization tasked with helping the citizens around them in any way possible.
What’s noticeable here is, while these characters start off rather two-dimensional and cliché, things change drastically at various points throughout the game that really creates a deep, intricate network of character relationships, emotional upheavals and goofy anticdotes. Don’t be fooled by how the game starts, as things get real involving very quickly thereafter.
The involving story is layered nicely on top of the characters, as the world they live in explodes with flavor and intricacy. You’ll encounter many other characters, as well as talkative NPCs along the way. One thing I have to point out is that the title has no voice acting, so you may have a problem if you dislike reading lines and lines of text. But, to those of us old-school RPG fans, we feel right at home. What I do enjoy about the dialog is it’s fresh and the localization is great. Joshua, Estelle and the other characters speak in a modern manner that should keep fresh faces to these more classic RPG archetypes happy and interested in the story.
At various points you have the option of choosing which dialog a certain character will use, such as answering questions one way or the other. These choices, as well as others, have an immediate effect on the tone of a conversation, as well as the possibility of having lasting effects that will rear their head later on in the game. You definitely want to tread carefully and think before making rash decisions.
As the story progresses, you’ll find your characters – as junior members of the Bracers Guild – taking jobs from the guild to help out various people throughout the Liberl Kingdom. These jobs are fairly varied and fun, many being a requirement to further the main story, but there are some side jobs, as well. As I mentioned, as the story progresses, you’ll uncover more details about the characters, but of primary interest is Joshua, because his past is a mystery right from the start. Unfortunately, not all questions are answered in this first installment, so I certainly look forward to more.
As far as the characters go, I really enjoyed some of the conversations that went on throughout the game, especially the sarcastic side of Estelle and the way Joshua treats her, making snide remarks about her mishaps and the way she feels about certain things. It really gives you a great brother/sister vibe, even though Joshua was, for all intents and purposes, adopted into the family. That, in turn, develops a bond between those two main characters and between them and the player, as well. That that, my friends, is one of the building blocks of a great story.
The battle system in Trails in the Sky is pretty straight-forward, but provides a lot of depth and customization, as well. It is turn-based, where your characters are set up on a grid along with the enemies, which you can see on-screen as you move through the field. Enemies will have to be in range for you to attack, but when you get close, you can unleash any number of punishing attacks from regular physical maneuvers to magic attacks to specials.
The magic system revolves around the use of orbments. Orbments fit into the story as well, as being one of the main technological advancements that drive the culture in the Liberl Kingdom. They were taken from the Erebonian Empire when they invaded ten years before the events in this game. Not only are they used for magical purposes within the game mechanics, but they can be used to mold characters into the fighters you want them to be. To unlock and power orbments, you need to fill them with quartz that you have created at orbal factories around the Kingdom. To make quartz requires various amounts and varieties of sepith, which you obtain through winning battles.
You then can unlock orbment slots and equip various orbments themselves to open up new abilities for your characters, which can be a huge benefit during battle. While many of the regular encounters seem on the easy side, don’t let that fool you – the boss battles can be a handful! Having decent orbments (and thus abilities) equipped to you characters will make them all that much easier. These orbments can be leveled up, as well, through various means, such as more advanced types of quartz.
All this works together to create a very deep and rewarding battle system, that allows you a surprisingly vast amount of character customization and fine tuning. I spent tons of time tweaking characters, putting together orbments and getting things just right, so much so that it almost seemed I was obsessed with that portion of the game. And, frankly, who’s to say I wasn’t?
Dungeons and just the majority of areas in the game in general are designed very well and give you plenty of options. The towns especially are vast and have plenty of places to check out and NPCs to talk to. In many areas you have the option of free-form camera control, to make things a bit easier on you when trying to get to certain locations or into certain buildings. This camera control can sometimes be a hindrance, though. Maybe it’s just me, but even though there was a north arrow on the map, my head automatically always thought north should be toward the top of the screen. Likely this is because, in most RPGs of this type, you can’t really rotate the camera and north defaults to the top of the screen, so it was built into my brain that this is the way it should be. It threw me for a loop on more than one occasion when I had rotated the camera before entering a building and, upon exiting, I was a bit confused, since the camera retained its previous orientation.
Aside from the town maps, you’ll have your typical field maps, as well, with enemies lurking in various places. You can see them on-screen, so you can carefully make your approach. As with many RPGs that do away with random battles, the way you approach an enemy does have an immediate effect on battle. If you sneak up on them, you get a boost in battle via a preemptive strike, if they get the jump on you, the opposite happens. So, you definitely want to pay heed to where enemies are in relation to your characters on the field screens.
One other handy feature that I think is pretty cool since, at times, this game can be pretty rough is the “retry offset” option. If you get knocked out in battle, you can choose to retry the battle from the beginning to try a different strategy, heal earlier or what not. If you get knocked out again, you can choose Retry Offset, which starts the battle over for you again, but makes the enemies weaker in an attempt to get you through the battle. Each time you retry after, the enemies become weaker and weaker until you can most likely defeat them and continue.
The two things that threw me off were, at times, the camera control, along with the vague instructions and directions the game throws at you at times. I had an issue figuring out where to go more than once, and that’s one of my biggest pet peeves with “modern” RPGs. However, the couple minor issues that crop up at various times in this title are but miniscule footnotes to an otherwise nearly flawless sprite-based handheld RPG. Things don’t come much better than this. Aside from a certain Persona title, this has to rank up there as my favorite RPG on the PSP because of the depth of the story, as well as the character customization. The music, visual design, detail, vast areas to explore and character interaction and growth throughout the game all add to that to make Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky a great addition to any RPG-lover’s PSP collection.
- Game: Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
- Platform Reviewed: PSP
- Developer: Nihon Falcom
- Publisher: XSEED
- Release Date: March 29, 2011
- MSRP: $29.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.