[WARNING: This review is of a direct sequel to a previous game. I tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible while still adequately covering the game. In order to do that, I had to work from the perspective of having played the first Trails in the Sky. I strongly suggest you start there before reading this review. You won’t regret it. -Patrick]
Nihon Falcom’s long-running The Legend of Heroes series took a big turn in 2004 when it packed a lot of radical series progression into a single game (Trails in the Sky) expanding both its gameplay and its narrative far beyond its previous scope. Since then, Trails (known in Japan as the Kiseki series) has been JRPGs’ best kept secret, right up until the 2011 North American PSP release of the game that revived the franchise. That momentum only grew last year when the PC version found its way stateside, opening it up to a massive new audience that had been none the wiser to that point.
With the brand now effectively established in the west, Trails in the Sky‘s sequel, Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter, naturally), has finally arrived to tie up the vicious cliffhanger that closed out the first game, but it’s what the game accomplishes from there that will determine its standing in the genre, as well as its legacy for years to come.
What Is It?
Trails in the Sky SC is the direct follow-up to the groundbreaking The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Players follow up on the story of the first game’s protagonist, the newly-minted full-fledged bracer Estelle Bright, as she tries to sort out the events of the previous game’s final minutes, in hopes that her investigation of the mysterious Ouroboros society will lead her to the whereabouts of her adopted brother, Joshua Astray.
SC begins mere hours after the first game, and does a very good job of depicting the initial central cast coming to grips with what is generally regarded as one of the most vicious cliffhanger endings ever to come out of a JRPG. If Nihon Falcom wanted to be especially cruel, the first half hour or so of SC could have been tacked onto the end of its predecessor to really drum up hype for this game, but it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t.
Once Estelle and company have mentally and emotionally processed their circumstances, Estelle’s new journey begins at a remote training facility renowned by the Bracer Guild for turning out best-of-the-best bracers (by her father’s recommendation). The training stint is not uneventful, and ensures that the game is already moving at full throttle by the time Estelle returns to the Liberl Kingdom to begin her investigation in earnest.
Why Should I Care?
From there, the game reaches a breakneck pace and never really lets up. Technically, the structure is very much in line with the first game, with your main story and sidequests very well compartmentalized and packaged for your convenience. The amount of content, however, is staggering enough to make the first game (no slouch itself in the content department) feel like a demo in comparison, and the main quest is so compelling that it’s all too easy to neglect your sidequests just to watch the story progress faster. It’s nice to know that New Game+ and optional difficulty settings have you covered should that happen to you.
That isn’t to say that the sidequests themselves are much less compelling. In fact, one of the best selling points of SC is in its many calls back to its predecessor, getting to see how characters you crossed paths with previously are getting on a couple of months down the road (or perhaps several years in real-world terms). This is not an opportunity afforded by many JRPGs at all, and the writers at Nihon Falcom capitalize on it masterfully in both the game’s core scenario and with more subtle nuances–SC does not want for any clever “let’s see how many of you notice this continuity nod” moments.
Of course, one would be remiss to bring up SC’s many selling points and not talk about the battle system, which is well-expanded on from before. The biggest addition is that of chain crafts, which are something of a free-form version of Chrono Trigger’s dual- and triple-tech system. Also noteworthy is the next-gen orbment system, which comes with all slots unlocked, completely rebalanced arts, and upgradable slots that allow for the usage of quartz that weren’t even available a game ago. On the subject of continuity nods, you’re immediately informed that a certain boss from the original Trails already had one of these orbments, which is a big reason why he was such a nuisance and a sobering reminder of what you’re up against here; the Ouroboros Society got their hands on these next-gen orbments before the Bracer Guild could.
The expanded battle system goes quite well with the greater degree of freedom SC grants you in the way of party-building. While the original Trails took a mostly Final Fantasy IV-style approach of dictating your party structure strictly by the storyline, SC sees you permanently recruit most characters to fill out your four-character battle team as you see fit. This also allows you to spend more time with
Olivier whoever your personal favorite characters might be in your party for dialogue purposes, allowing for a more personalized experience throughout.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC is the fulfillment of the promise of its predecessor, and a beautiful example of what is possible in the JRPG genre when a studio goes to great lengths to show its work. SC is at once a satisfying conclusion to a story that began a game ago, and a window into a much broader and more ambitious saga. For PC gamers, it is an opportunity to boast that their platform of choice is the home of quite possibly the greatest example of a genre that has not been traditionally associated with the PC, the Chrono Trigger of the 21st century at the very least. As for the PSP, if this is truly the end of the road, it couldn’t have possibly ended on a higher note.