Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Review (PSP)
At first glance Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is an odditty. A highly traditional RPG developed by Falcom, originally released on PC in 2004, the PSP version is finally making its way to Europe thanks to Ghostlight. Why is anyone’s guess but RPG fans should be glad they did.
The story starts with the main characters Estelle and Joshua Bright taking their final test in order to join the Bracer Guild (a multinational private security firm) that their father Cassius is a member of. A simple premise allows for a tutorial that introduces the Bracer Notebook (which keeps track of just about everything in the game) and explains almost all the gameplay mechanics before putting you through your paces in a trial dungeon.
In dungeons and on roads enemies appear on the map, allowing you to attempt to surprise them by attacking them from behind or avoid them entirely, with battles beginning after you make contact with them. The battles themselves are a turn based affair, playing out on a square based grid. The AT bar shows the order in which characters will make their and where they will slot back in depending on their actions. During their turn characters can perform all the actions you would expect. Provided they have enough Craft points characters can use an S-Craft to jump to the front of the queue and perform a powerful special attack.
The magic system is also explained right at the beginning. Characters are armed with devices called orbments, each one having six slots into which pieces of quartz are placed. As well as giving stat boosts each piece of quartz has an elemental value, the combination of these values is what allows characters to gain access to arts. Unfortunately any sense of experimentation is quickly lost as all quartz pieces and possible elemental combos are shown from the start in the Bracer’s notebook. That said it does make it easier to organise the characters arts, something that is essential as having a broad range of arts available is key to gaining victories in some of the harder fights.
The same sense of control is present in the way money and leveling is dealt with. The only realistic way to get money is by completing the jobs available from the Bracer guild. Finish all the quests and you will have just enough to buy all the equipment upgrades available in that area. The way experience is handed out actively discourages grinding, under-levelled characters quickly reach the level the game wants them to be at while over-levelled characters will struggle to level up at all. While this means that the main fights are always a challenge it does result in the game feeling somewhat restrictive, as if the developer wants to guide the player through the story at a specific pace. Its not necessarily a bad thing as the story is one of the games strong points.
Shortly after passing the test Cassius is called away and the main story begins as Estelle and Joshua travel from the country in order to get the recommendations they need to become fully fledge bracers. Slow to start, the story is gradually unveiled and soon the two young bracers find themselves caught up in nationwide conspiracy. Be warned though, this is the first part of a trilogy and while the main story is self-contained there is a major twist after it’s conclusion that ends the game on a cliffhanger. With no news on when to expect the second game some people may find this frustrating.
There is a staggering amount of depth to the world. Every town has its own look and feel, helped by an excellent soundtrack, every NPC has their own story, some as part of side-quests, others simply brough about through conversion. Even the treasure chests have their own sarcastic message if clicked on after being looted. Combined with some lengthy cutscenes this does result in a lot of dialogue (this is not a game for people that hate talking head sequences) but thanks to the writing, and a good translation, reading through it never feels like a chore.
Trails in the Sky is a game that will remind fans of traditional RPGs why they fell in love with the genre in the first place, while the accessible gameplay and well written story make it easy to recommend for those looking to experience the genre for the first time.
8 Non-random encounters out of 10