Review: The Legend Of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter (PSP/PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation Portable

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • PS Vita Compatible Yes
Title: The Legend Of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter
Format: PlayStation Network Download (Disc 1: 1121 MB) (Disc 2: 1355 MB)
Release Date: October 29, 2015
Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Falcom
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: T
The Legend Of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter is also available on PC.
The PlayStation Portable download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter (SC) has been a long time coming, almost as long as it takes to read that name. The game is nearly a decade old in Japan, where the PC version first launched in 2006. XSeed Games announced in 2010 that they had the rights to the entire Trails in the Sky trilogy but when the first entry failed to meet sales expectations and with the huge amount of text to translate, SC took a back seat to other projects.

The game was picked back up again in 2013, this time with localization company Carpe Fulgar helping to translate it. The localization proved to be a lot for the even smaller Carpe Fulgar and the 2014 release date slowly slipped. XSeed eventually picked the game back up on their own, finally releasing it to the West after nine long years. And fans have been chomping at the bit for SC.

Second Chapter picks up immediately after a cliffhanger ending to Trails in the Sky First Chapter (FC), which I haven’t played. Without spoiling anything, a character goes missing at the end of FC and Second Chapter follows Estelle Bright’s quest across the fantasy world of Liberl to find this person.

As a recently graduated senior Bracer (a guild set up to fight monsters and keep the peace), Estelle of course gets caught up in a much larger quest which could have a profound effect on the many nations of the game.

Having not played the first game in this trilogy, I’ll admit that the story was a little tough to get a handle on. Not a whole lot is directly explained, though I was able to infer a lot of the details over time. The game does love continuity though, as almost every location Estelle travels to has some person she met in the previous game. I’d recommend playing the first game before jumping into this one if at all possible.

Trails 01Trails 02

Gameplay:
Trails in the Sky feels a lot like an old-school JRPG, but with many of the enhancements of a modern one. The story and pacing are big parts of making the game seem older and the turn-based combat also contributes to that.

For better or worse, pacing will probably be the biggest hang up for a lot of players. The perfect example is how, upon saving just after the game’s first tutorial battle, I realized I had already spent almost fifty minutes playing the game. Considering that the tutorial battle was only a few minutes long, it had taken me forty-five minutes to get to the first fight of the game.

The early part (ie the prologue chapter) is the worst offender with this but the rest of the game is far from innocent. Getting to a new town or going between chapters can often mean a lot of running around talking to people.

… spice up the turn-based combat …
However, this is because of one of the strengths of the game: the world feels incredibly fleshed out. NPC dialogue is a lot less of a throwaway than in many JRPGs, with town citizens commenting on the happenings of the story or thanking Estelle for something from her previous time there. The NPCs help each of the towns feel a lot more lived in and lively than in some games.

Trails in the Sky has a turn-based combat system, although with some interesting additions. Characters take turns getting to perform actions such as attacking, or using magic, but there’s also a grid based movement system during battle to spice up the turn-based combat. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to think of it as a strategy/tactics battle system, but it certainly shares some similarities with one.

In addition to the normal JRPG actions of attacking, defending, and items (and moving because of the grid system, though other actions will automatically move a character too), Trails in the Sky has two types of specials: arts and crafts. Arts are akin to magic in most RPGs, using a traditional MP-like system. The difference is that arts don’t get cast immediately. Instead, the character starts channeling and doesn’t use the art until their next turn. This gives some good push-pull in deciding when to use magic.

Trails 03Trails 04

Crafts are similar to physical skills in other RPGs, mostly being related to the character’s weapons. Rather than use the other mana system these skills use craft points (CP), which build up as characters take or deal damage.

This system also has some push-pull in that not using CP, and letting it build up to 100, lets the character use a special S-Breaks. These are not only powerful moves, they can also be used at any time, letting a character interrupt the turn order.

All these systems together make for a very in-depth combat system, and fortunately in a way that’s not overwhelming. I like how several of the systems have a back and forth that affect the strategy in a fight.

… slightly similar to the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII …
Strategy is definitely needed too because even random common mobs can occasionally pose a problem. Oddly the prologue was especially bad at this but even later in the game I had a few cases where general mobs that would suddenly trash my party if I let things slip a little too far from my grasp.

Equipping characters with arts is also a deep system, one slightly similar to the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII. In Trails, each character has an Orbment, which is a device with seven slots.

Crystals are placed in each slot which have different benefits such as increased attack or granting HP regeneration as the character walks. Each crystal also adds a bit of elemental power to the orbment and the combination of these elements unlock the arts that the character gets access to.

Trails 05Trails 06

Some of the old school feel of the game also comes from the game progression. While there is a map (something I somehow didn’t discover during the first two chapters), the game doesn’t do a lot of hand-holding.

Instead the game will explain a quest and then let the player loose to go find the rest on their own. In some ways this is refreshing in an age where it’s easy to skip exploring while following quest markers. On the other hand I did find myself on a few occasions getting lost or constantly flipping back to my journal.

Trails isn’t completely without modern niceties though. Like a lot of recent RPGs, monsters do show up on the map so players can avoid encounters if they wish. Trails also lets the player save at any point (except during battles and conversations of course) which is a nice feature in a handheld game. The aforementioned journal is very nice as well, giving a good overview of the magic and orbments in the game, as well as tracking all of the player’s quests.

From a gameplay perspective, Trails is an enjoyable experience. No individual thing stands out as amazing but the whole package is so well crafted and cohesive. All the aspects of the combat especially work well and kept me interested in the game.

… some good underlying visual designs …
Visuals:
It’s a PSP game so I wasn’t expecting anything like the PS4 or Vita games I’d grown accustomed to. This was probably a good thing because I don’t think the game fully hits what the PSP is capable of. For example the characters appear to be sprites but always look a little washed out and muddled to me.

That said, Trails does have some good underlying visual designs. Towns and other areas are visually distinct but in a way that meshes well into the world of the game. Character animations, especially the S-breaks, are fun as well, although unfortunately mired by those washed out looking sprites.

Trails 07Trails 08

Audio:
Falcom, the developer of Trails, has a pretty good track record for music and this game didn’t disappoint me. I really enjoyed a lot of the music, especially the battle themes. It’s still a PSP game so the music seemed a little compressed, but not enough to be noticeable except when I was really listening for it.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… like a game out of time …
Conclusion:
Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC is a game that meshes the feeling of a traditional JRPG, such as the long-winded exposition, with some of the modern systems of more contemporary JRPGs. It still feels a little bit like a game out of time but that’s understandable given that the game was originally released in 2006.

Not that most of that matters when the underlying game is enjoyable like Trails. A strategic and deep combat system and an interesting story are the best selling points of the game. These aspects make for an easily recommendable game. Just don’t go in expecting a short or easy game experience.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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  • Jahonius

    Excellent!

    I just started playing Y’s Celceta yesterday, and cannot wait to jump on to Legend of Heroes soon