The Sky's the Limit
by Stephen A Adegun | published Dec. 11th, 2019
There are many games out there on the market — too many to count — and the older a game gets, the more likely it becomes irrelevant. It takes a special game to stand the test of time that can draw in new fans years after its release. "The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky" from Nihon Falcom is one such game.
In particular, "Trails in the Sky" is a simple Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) on the surface, but the game is so much more when you begin to peel back its layers.
Just the Beginning
"Trails in the Sky" begins one night with 11-year-old Estelle Bright waiting for her father, Cassius, to return home from a business trip. When he finally does, he comes bearing a gift: an injured boy the same age as Estelle, whom he introduces as her new brother, Joshua.
Fast forward five years later and the two adoptive siblings are on the verge of becoming junior members of the Bracer Guild, an international organization that essentially acts as a mixture of police officers and mercenaries. They enforce the law and protect people, but also perform odd jobs.
Starting off in their hometown of Rolent, the game’s prologue follows Estelle and Joshua as they pass their final exam to become Junior Bracers when the their father Cassius suddenly leaves on an urgent mission. Right at the very end of the prologue, the two find out that the aircraft in which their father boarded for his mission had disappeared, prompting the two to leave in hopes of finding him.
From region to region Joshua and Estelle travel, eventually visiting their home country’s five different provinces. As one would expect from a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), the disappearance of the aircraft is just the beginning of what the two Junior Bracers will have to contend with.
A Sophisticated Fight
Something core to the job of a Bracer and the game itself is combat. A hybrid of "Final Fantasy X" and "Fire Emblem," the game’s turn-based combat takes place on a grid. Like a conventional JRPG, each character takes their turn based on their speed stat. Taking advantage of the grid and positioning can be rather crucial when dealing with harder enemies or large groups.
The magic in the game, known as Orbal Arts, is powered by a device called an Orbment, which gives players a lot of freedom in what spells their characters can use. All spells are available to every player.
Crafts are the game’s physical skills. These are powered by a third point meter, Craft Points (CP). Crafts are character specific, and they all have their uses.
One final note that’s integral to combat are the Turn Bonuses. There are a handful of effects that can be earned if a character happens to line up with it; from restoring a percentage of their stats, to getting a strength boost to make their next attack stronger, to being able to do critical damage. While players can use them, so can the enemy. A well planned turn bonus can save players on the brink of defeat, but they can also give an enemy the very boost they need to drive the party into the ground.
The Living World of Liberl
Compared to some other JRPGs, which gradually escalate from the main character’s hometown to them saving the entire world by the end, "Trials in the Sky" is on a much smaller scale. The game goes from the main characters’ hometown to them saving their country. To some that might be a weakness since the stakes aren’t as high, but I say that it’s quite the opposite.
Focusing the game on a single country allows players to get familiar with the country’s society, politics and culture. This is incredibly evident in how the game handles its Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) and worldbuilding. "Trails in the Sky FC" wasn’t first localized until 2011, due to the game’s massive script, which makes just about every NPC their own person.
Localization is the process of taking a piece of media that's in one language and making it suitable for users in other languages. The game's original Japanese script had to be translated, then edited so that it actually sounds like the English people speak, rather than something spat out by a machine.
While the dynamic nature of the NPCs is a great strength, the main characters are the ones that players spend the most time with. If a player does miss out on the stories of the NPCs, then the main cast are the only characters they interact with. The player gets a chance to grow close to the characters and genuinely care about them. When you get a chance to grow so attached to the cast, the things that happen to them hit that much harder.
However, the way they’re handled in this first game may not be for everyone. The game can be slow at points, as early game events build up to the climax in the capital, and the game as a whole builds things up for its direct sequel. The characters are worth the investment, but there's a lot of build up players have to get through in order to reach the pay off.
To Bigger and Better Things
"Trails in the Sky FC" is just the beginning of an epic journey for players to embark on a rich world for them to explore and fall in love with.
It is the first game in the series, but it doesn’t have to be your first. The three subseries, while related, all have standalone beginnings, so you can begin with any of them. If you’d rather begin with something more modern, "Trails of Cold Steel" is the most recent first entry in the series, available for both Playstation 3 and 4, while also having a port on Steam.
The graphics are nothing to be impressed by and there's no voice acting, so players are in for a lot of reading. Still, the way the game carries itself and sets up the greater "Trails" saga, puts a special spotlight on it. It stands out in the ever growing crowd of video games people could pick out and play. It's classic games like "Trails in the Sky FC" with their world, stories and characters that can still capture and delight players nearly two decades after its initial release.