I finally got around to starting the Trails series. A sub-series of Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes, it’s epic Japanese role-playing games with an overarching narrative. In other words, you basically have to play all 10+ games in order to get the best experience—or so the fans say. The first game, Trails in the Sky, establishes the world and starts off what’s called the Liberl arc of the story.
So was it worth beginning this daunting task? This humongous video game undertaking? This “most ambitious story in video games”, as the developer calls it? After just one game I’m inclined to say: yes.
A mysterious boy named Joshua is brought home by a man with a glorious moustache. The boy is hurt, but will make a full recovery. The moustache man promptly adopts him and Estelle, his daughter, gets a new brother. Fast-forward a few years and you start playing the game in what is now an idyllic family life for Estelle, Joshua, and their moustachioed father.
The main plot follows Estelle and Joshua on their journey to become Bracers, members of a civilian guild dedicated to peacekeeping and monster-hunting. What starts as an innocent coming-of-age story develops into a true RPG journey over 30-40 hours of gameplay. Estelle and Joshua becomes involved in political intrigue, ancient mysteries, and much more. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say things constantly get more interesting as the stakes are raised and it’s a story well-worth experiencing.
What Trails in the Sky does extremely well is establishing a compelling world. It’s great “science fantasy” with concepts that work. You’re constantly fed tidbits about the continent, its nations, inhabitants, culture, society, and technology. All interesting and believable. The characters can often feel like anime tropes, but they’re very charming and there’s enough character development to keep you on your toes.
The game also has some of the most well-written “throwaway” dialog I’ve read in an RPG, so talking to NPCs or reading the newspaper is actually worth your time. There’s even unique text for every treasure chest in the game if you click it again after you’ve looted it! Someone clearly spent a lot of time on this.
As the story eventually reached its peak towards the end of the game, there were several big reveals and a huge cliffhanger for the next game. Some I saw coming and some I definitely didn’t. Instead of being upset there was no conclusion, I immediately wanted to start playing the next game. All in all, I’d say that’s a glowing review of the writing.
While Trails in the Sky does not feel like a modern game, even for its time, the gameplay and systems are solid. Turn-based battles are strategic and can be pretty challenging due to the grid-based movement and area attacks. Abilities and stats are influenced by “Quartz” (gems akin to Final Fantasy VII’s Materia) that you can put into slots for a character. Combining these in various ways increase your elemental values and unlock new abilities. It’s a smart and understandable system that had me trying different configurations all the time.
As you work towards becoming a senior Bracer you’ll take on missions for clients. Many of these are very straightforward (deliver this, escort them, kill that) but they’re also optional. However, almost all of the side quests are time limited and there are also missable secret quests. The same goes for items, where a lot of them are only available until you next progress the scenario. If you’re a completionist this can be incredibly frustrating. I did look at a guide during the early part of the game but after I still missed a key item in Chapter 1, I decided to simply play it blind instead. In the end I think this made it much more enjoyable.
I played the game on Steam Deck connected to my TV which was generally a nice experience. A little bit of tinkering is required to make the intro and outro movies play properly, but in-game it all runs perfectly. The addition of a fast-forward button really helps make the game flow smoothly and you should feel no shame about using it. Sadly Trails in the Sky and its two sequels don’t have modern console ports yet. I actually did own the original on PSP but since the two sequels were never localized I eventually sold it. Hopefully Falcom decides to eventually put the trilogy on the Switch, like they did with the following arc, but until then Steam is your best bet.
Things I liked:
- Great dialog, story, and world building keeps you invested
- Solid turn-based battle system with enough twists to make it feel unique
- Charming characters
- Cozy old-school JRPG feels
- There’s more where this came from!
Things I didn’t like:
- It sometimes does look and feel quite old, even for its time
- Sometimes there’s a bit too much dialog, particularly when there’s friendly banter and small talk between the characters during tense story moment
- There’s a lot of missable items and quests if not using a guide, most required for certain achievements