Look we all know your Final Fantasies, your Dragon Quests, your Suikodens (come on guys it cannot be just me), but a large number of popular JRPGs in their home country simply do not get the same traction when they are brought to the West, if they are at all. This series will chart a select few of perhaps some of the greatest JRPGs that deserve just a bit more love than they are currently getting. This first edition will discuss the 2004 PC/PSP release Trails in the Sky, a game that was in fact a spin off of a spin off, don’t worry that is as confusing as it gets, I promise.
In 1989 the small Japanese PC game developer Falcom released the sixth game in their popular Dragon Slayer series Dragon Slayer VI: The Legend of Heroes released for the Japanese home computer NEC PC-8800. Whilst the previous titles in the series had been action RPGs, some of the first of the genre in fact, this title took influence from the prominent turn-based RPGs of the time with Enix’s Dragon Quest series at its peak at the time. The success of the game along with the winding down of the Dragon Slayer name led to the third game in The Legend of Heroes offshoot series, eschewing the Dragon Slayer name completely and simply being titled The Legend of Heroes III. While Falcom titles were predominantly released on PC, this all changed with a new chapter in The Legend of Heroes story.
In 2004 the sixth game in The Legend of Heroes series was released, with the subtitle Sora No Kiseki; three games would be released with the title, all falling under the umbrella of the sixth game in The Legend of Heroes series. While these games were first released on PC, they were later ported to the PSP where they were an immediate success and helped motivate Falcom’s shift to the console market. These games had their own battle system and were all set in the same world, differentiating themselves from previous games in the series. The games proved popular enough that seven years after the release of the first Kiseki game publisher XSEED translated and released the game in the west under the title Trails in the Sky. Falcom continued publishing Kiseki games after these initial three titles, with each exploring different areas of the same world and helping create a complex, branching storyline throughout the series where nothing is really black and white; a government that would be portrayed as the bad guy in one game will be explored in another, it allows all characters to be shown as 3-dimensional.
The Trails series of games excel at creating a living, breathing world, and one of the ways they achieve this is by taking the tired trope of RPG NPCs and their one or two lines of repeating dialogue and deepening these interactions between player and NPC. As the game progresses and you travel around the game’s setting of the country of Liberl, the NPCs will live their lives and react to the game’s events. Arguments and relationships will unfold, you will get to know them and care about the world and what happens to the people that live in it. This is really an ingenious move on the developers’ part. The translation team should be commended for really making the dialogue flow naturally and most importantly make it feel as if a teenager is saying it. A number of Japanese-to- English translations simply do not take this kind of care which leaves dialogue sounding stilted.
This continues with the game’s protagonist Estelle Bright, a 16-year-old junior Bracer. A Bracer can be seen as a kind of travelling police force, with Bracers going across the country to help the public. Estelle, along with her adopted brother Joshua, must find their missing father. A young, idealistic teenager who finds herself on a quest is a well-worn trope, but the thing that elevates this protagonist is the depth that is afforded to her: She is a loud, energetic tomboy, but she is also allowed to be feminine, and the budding relationship between her and Joshua comes off as one of the realest of any game I have played.
The battle system is very old-school in style using a turn-based system. I have never truly understood the disregard the turn-based system has gotten in the last decade or so with the general idea being that it is dated, but I feel the system works well in a game of this kind as it allows the player to plan out their every movement in a strategic manner. It is not an especially unique system, the ability to switch out abilities from character to character puts into mind Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia system, but when it works as well as this does, that cannot be seen as a bad thing.
This is truly the best time to jump into the ‘Trails’ series, with three of the seven games currently translated and another two on the way, if you want to try a well crafted RPG with complex, likeable characters I highly recommend this series.
Trails in the Sky FC & SC are currently available on Steam and PSN for PSP and PS Vita.
Trails of Cold Steel is currently available for PS3 and PS Vita.