If you’re a true fan of Japanese Role Playing Games then Nihon Falcom is a name that you should be familiar with. Known most notably for the Dragon Slayer and Ys series, Falcom has managed to bring over classic RPG style games with a modern touch.
Released in Japan in 2004, the third Legend of Heroes series has finally hit the North American shores with its first chapter, Trails in the Sky. So how does this classic style JRPG stack up compared with Falcom's past titles?
In Trails in the Sky you play as Estelle, daughter of the legendary Bracer, Cassius Bright. The story begins in the country of Liberl, ten years after the end of the war with the neighboring Erebonian Empire. Estelle and her adopted brother, Joshua, are training to become Bracers like their father. Bracers are essentially a guild of warriors that take on jobs such as monster hunting and general peacekeeping. As they become Bracers and find adventure taking jobs for their Guild they stumble upon a conspiracy to remove the queen from power.
Trails in the Sky is a turn-based RPG. Battle is initiated by wandering into monsters that you encounter in the world map. Trails has some interesting features in its combat system including random bonuses that can be given to both the player as well as the enemy NPCs, and a range system. During combat, if you select a particular action such as a melee strike, your character must wander over to the monster in order to carry out the attack. However, the player characters have a limited range as to how far they can travel in a given turn. If the monster is outside of this range, you must either select the option to take the turn to move in closer, or use a ranged attack that will make it to the target.
Some attacks received from the monsters have the ability to knock back a character, forcing you to move up again if they take you out of your effective range. Furthermore, monsters may be spread out over the battle grid, forcing you to take a more strategic approach to eliminating enemies so your turns aren't wasted by having to wander around the map.
The battle system of trails also incorporates a special attack system, similar to that of the Limit Break in Final Fantasy, known as the S-Craft. This attack is charged by performing attacks with the level of charge indicated by your CP gauge. Once full, you're able to select your S-Craft and unleash it on your foes to deal a devastating amount of damage.
Your magic attacks, or Arts, are determined by what Quartz your character is equipped with. These Quartz types include your elemental Earth, Wind, Fire and Water, as well as the Time, Space and Mirage Quartz which affect your speed, effective range, and awareness respectively. The Quartz is installed into the characters slot, or Orbment as it is referred to in game.
Environmentally, Legend of Heroes uses an interesting concept of having a 3D-rendered world and characters designed to look like an isometric (or 2.5D perspective, like Diablo) with sprites. However, the objects in game are all in 3D with most of the world being rotatable through the use of the shoulder buttons. This gives the game a classic sprite-style RPG feel while providing you with the advantages of a three dimensional game allowing you to change your viewpoint to search around for treasures, hidden monsters, and the like.
Unlike Ys, Trails in the Sky seems to have suffered a bit in the writing department. The humor and dialogue are a bit dry. And the sometimes awkward tension between the main characters, Estelle and Joshua, can be a bit eyebrow raising. While Joshua is adopted family, they are still brother and sister and at points the dialogue seems a little…weird at times.
The pacing is slow at first, making it feel like the first couple of hours are a chore to get through as you get acclimated to the game through the tutorials. However once you clear the initial hurdles of getting to know the game and the setup of the back story, things pick up relatively quickly.
Overall, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky promises to be an entertaining series, as this first installment incorporates some of the best features of many well-known role playing games while maintaining that classic feel that many of us JRPG fans enjoy. With solid game play, beautiful graphics and relatively likeable characters, Nihon Falcom once again demonstrates their ability to package a good amount of value into their RPGs.