There’s not really a genre more dear to me than that of the Japanese role-playing game. Filled with wondrous worlds, fascinating stories, well-developed characters, and startlingly bland titles, there’s just so much going on in these that I’m usually enthralled from the moment I step in to them. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, despite giving Final Fantasy a run for its money in the “generic naming conventions” category, is another in a long string of bright, enjoyable games that has captured my attention – and my heart.
The framework for Trails in the Sky is one that anyone who’s familiar with the genre will know. A coming-of-age story involving heroes embarking on quests on behalf of their budding membership in a guild known as the Bracers, the story begins with Estelle and Joshua Bright, a pair of similarly-aged youths who are siblings by all rights but birth. The Bracers are, for lack of a better description, something in between heroes of legend and beat-walking police; they help with investigations, keeping the peace, exterminating monsters, and all manner of other tasks for the citizens of the Kingdom of Liberl.
Along the way, a colourful cast of characters rounds out the world and the player’s party, ranging from short-term NPC tag-alongs to wholly capable combatants that join the journey. The world is rich and detailed, though it does betray Trails in the Sky‘s lineage as a 2004 Japanese release, subsequent PSP port, and eventual emergence on Steam. The graphics aren’t exactly stunning, but they’re certainly not bad, reminiscent of first-generation Playstation titles in many ways. Much of the game takes place on isometric, rotatable maps that offer quite a bit to see, as well as a reasonably well-executed tactical combat system.
The story takes some time to begin really unfolding, but Trails in the Sky is a rich and rewarding one once you’re into it. The combat and tactics system is given depth by the in-world use of ‘Orbments’, mechanical devices powered by mystic crystals that can imbue the users with any of a number of elemental effects. Swapping out stones into the slots on a given character’s Orbment can alter their stats, unlock new Arts – the equivalent to magic – and there’s a ton of versatility to work with. Each slot may accept all or only some elemental stones, which can limit the number of options available to any one party member, but overall the variety of these effects and the way that they change how each character is used in battle is phenomenal.
All in all, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky offers a ton of content, hours of playtime, and an engaging story ripe with interesting, diverse characters. While many of the tropes familiar to seasoned JRPG players are in full effect here, they’re still well-done and the overall experience is polished, fun, and deeply involved. For an entirely fair $19.99 on Steam, I’d easily recommend this charming title as a must-have for genre fans or those with a curiosity that’s been pushed back by more “hardcore” titles that rely on familiarity with the systems typically in play. With a healthy mix of challenging battles, easy-to-learn gameplay, and in-depth customization, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is one worth looking into, and one I’ll certainly keep coming back for more from.
[+Rich, interesting world and story] [+In-depth but easy to learn systems for character specialization] [+Solid graphics, sound, and music] [+Beautiful anime-style cutscenes] [+Interesting, if somewhat basic, tactical combat system] [-Still plenty of grinding for levels / gear] [-Several cliches on parade]