Review – Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

I’ve heard many a tale of the popularity of Sora no Kiseki in Japan, but I had pretty much given up hope of seeing it in English barring a fan translation.  Given the sheer size of the series, fan translation itself would have been highly unlikely as well.  Luckily, XSeed has got our collective RPG-loving backs.  Despite the PSP’s near-dead status, they’ve committed to bringing over all three of the games in the series.  Now that I’ve finished the first one, I can confirm that it’s not just an impressive game, it’ll be an impressive series.

Describing the inauspiciously (or is it?) abbreviated TitS’ gameplay systems is like writing a laundry list of the best mechanics of great RPGs.  What kind of encounters do people prefer?  Non-random and avoidable.  What are some of the better liked battle systems (e.g. Chrono Trigger, Lunar series)? Location-based, erring on the side of less management by the player.  Magic acquisition? Custom, with the ability to swap in and out pieces that interact (similar to FF7’s Materia system, but less broken).  Other aspects of battle?  How about a fury-like system (Wild ARMs) with especially powerful abilities available after taking lots of damage (FF series’ Limit Break and co), that allow you to interrupt battle flow (Xenosaga)?

Unfortunately, spelling things out like that makes TitS sound like a Frankenstein-like mishmash of totally unrelated mechanics.  Nothing could be further from the truth; each individual piece links perfectly into the next, forming a gooey, tasty set of mechanics.  It’s not so free-form that it can be totally broken, which is a trap most games fall into.  Instead, it’s just complex enough that it requires the player to strategize to win battles the first time around. If the player loses (I did a couple times), TitS is nice enough to have a feature that makes subsequent battles easier.

Trails in the Sky has superb difficulty balance.  Very few games can reach the cusp between “this is too easy and incredibly boring” and “each fight is half an hour of nail-biting”, but this one does just that much of the time.  The main quest is difficult enough that plot-based fights take a little longer and involve more thought, and some side-quests are available to give you other fun situations to try, such as enemies that drain your MP but are weak to spells.

Plot-wise, I hesitate to go into too much detail.  Suffice it to say, there’s betrayal, good people who seem evil, evil people who seem good, a bit of romance, lots of entertaining dialogue, and so on. The primary characters are likable and fairly realistic.  They are, of course, standard JRPG archetypes, but they have enough nuance to them that they rise above the standard.  Secondary characters often recur, which helps you get to know them a bit better and avoids having a multitude of inconsequential townspeople diluting the core of the story.

One of the nicer things about the plot is that characters freely flow into and out of your party (outside your duo of main protagonists).  This allows the fairly largish cast of playable characters to get a little bit more development than they’d otherwise see.  It also requires a bit more work on the part of the player – in a good way – so that each combination works out in battle.

I’d argue that the worst thing about TitS is the fact that it’s on the PSP rather than, say, the PC, where it saw its initial release in Japan.  For all that, though, it does handle the PSP very lightly.  Many games “jog” the loading quite a bit (sucking more battery out of the system AND potentially damaging the disc, in some cases), forcing the PSP into loading tons of data at once.  TitS had no such issue, and is available on PSN in any case.  In terms of actual gameplay, though, battles do feel a little slow, particularly during a few sequences where you only have two party members.  In my opinion, this is a relatively minor issue and is overshadowed by the strategy involved.  Otherwise, the game feels well-balanced; there are no overly long sequences of either dungeons or plot.

Just in case Metacritic stops by, I’ll call this a 94%. I don’t like giving numbers for reviews, since I can’t possibly compare, say, Baroque and Final Fantasy Legend 2 on equal footing.   But I’ll pretend to be a Real Reviewer™ for now.

Leave a Comment