Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Released back in 2k4 for the PC and ported to the PSP in 2k6, Trails in the Sky (henceforth refered to as TitS, because we all love 'em) is a JRPG developed by Nihon Falcom. A not that well known company on this side of the World until very recently when XSeed localized a few games for them on the PSP. Falcom has two major flagship series, Ys and Legend of Heroes, the first one being action RPG oriented whereas the latter has a much bigger focus on the plot and character development~. This mention is necessary because TitS isn't a game most people would be used to nowadays. Narrative is the driving force and the story, amazing as it is, takes all the time it needs to build up. For a generation that has grown used to the Squaresoft/Squaresoft-Enix formula of saving the World in an "epic" journey TitS may make some people wonder a few hours into the game just when are they going to reveal the threat to the World~. Plot Opening with a scene five years prior to the events of the actual game, TitS introduces us to Cassius Bright, reknowned bracer and national legend of the kingdom of Liberl, who carries a badly wounded boy out of nowhere into his house. Rushing to help is Estelle, Cassius' daughter who doesn't take too long to get into an argument with Joshua. It's a very small interlude that takes no more than 5 minutes, if that, but in that brief time the dynamic between the two protagonists, Estelle and Jousha, is wonderfully depicted~. Jumping into the present day, Estelle and Joshua, now both of them in their teenagehood, are ready to take on the tests to become Junior Bracers. Bracers are a civil force who deal with all sort of non military tasks ranging from escorting people to solving disputes. This is where the game starts, the prologue, which is almost as lengthy as a normal chapter of the game, has the duo running around their town carrying menial tasks to take the first step into their bracer career. At the conclussion of the prologue, Cassius receives a mysterious assignment and needs to leave for a while, leaving both Estelle and Joshua not only with some work of his to pick up the slack but also the thought that, like him, they should eventually travel the kingdom in order to become full fledged bracers~. That's as much of the plot as it should be told, TitS isn't a game that runs at full speed from the get go, it's a game that takes its time to build its momentum but once it does, you won't want to put it down. The game is divided into chapters, each taking place in a different region of Liberl, where the duo will find themselves involved in dealing with local issues. Thorough all those issues, there's a hint of something else but it's not until the second half of the game that it becomes solid. That alone probably won't sell the game to anyone, so what is it about TitS that make it so enjoyable~? The answer is simple: the cast. The cast is made of absolutely all the japanese cliches you can think of, but like Shakespeare said: "there are no small roles, only small actors". There's no better way to define the characters of TitS, they are portrayed in such ways that they are a delight to read. There's not a single party character that may come out as annoying or bland, the game takes its time to develop the plot but it doesn't waste one moment developing the characters. Each chapter introduces a new character, be it for their own reasons or the present circumstances, they join the party and form a genuine bond with the two leads in one way or another. It's this narrative what is so special about TitS: nothing feels forced, nothing feels artificial. And by the end of the game, which is the first part of a trilogy by the way, the way in which the relationship between Estelle and Joshua changes feels simply natural~. Graphics As mentioned at the beginning, TitS is a port of a game released in 2k4 that was meant to run on Pentium IIIs and as it should be obvious, the graphics are modest at best. The game is composed of 3D fields with the characters being sprites. However, old as they are they carry a lot of charm; particularly in cities and inside houses though, admittedly, the exteriors get repetitive after a while. Since the two protagonists travel through Liberl on foot, you can expect to see a lot of greenery and fields since the roads connecting each region are mostly that, fields with a road in the middle~. Like in old school JRPGs, dialogues for important characters and party members are accompanied by portraits and they get the job done really well. Much of what is said wouldn't have as much magic to it if it wouldn't be for the faces shown, from the comical expressions of Estelle to more emotional moments during the adequate parts of the game. It's a lot of that old school magic and people who play since the 16 bits era will definitely know what I mean~. Combat Combat is turn based; upon entering battles, which fortunately are not random encounters but monsters you run into on the maps, you are presented with a timeline of sorts which shows the order for each party member / enemy. This is useful given that there are a good number of abilities that can play with this order, from canceling the enemy's turn to increasing / decreasing agility. Additionally, during certain turns effects can happen such as dealing more damage to enemies, guaranteeing critical hits, healing HP or MP, and so on and so forth. It’s a nice element which adds some level of strategy to battles instead of simply mashing the X button while you hope the fight is over~. Each character has their respective weapon with the pros and cons, bigger / shorter range, lesser / greater damage, etc. The usual stuff, particular to each character are abilities which are learned as you level up. Combined with the turn based, you will end up doing a bit of planning in order to try and manipulate the flow of events to your convenience~. Last is the magic system, rural / medieval as Liberl is, there is technology present through artifacts known as orbments. Each character has an orbment with a set amount of slots in them where quartz are placed, quartz are crystals that carry certain actions / stats in them such as Heal / +Attack / +Agility and so on and so forth. The higher level the quartz is, the bigger the value it has, by “chaining” quartz placed on the orbment the character aquires magic, it’s a convenient system as it allows for some level of versatility as well as transferring from one character to the other or rearranging given circumstances. You aren’t forced to carry this or that character because of their spells though it should be noted that as is to be expected, certain characters can make more / less combinations~. Music As unknown to most as Falcom is is also JDK, the sound team who has made music for their games for only the past 20+ years. A shame really as it’s a band that has produced some amazing master pieces in the history of video games. The Ys series, which is an action oriented JRPG, features very fast paced songs with outstanding electric guitar / violin work. In comparison, TitS has a soundtrack that is much quieter, perfectly adequate for the pace of the plot and the environment where it takes place. Even the standard combat music is laid back since per se, you aren’t fighting some menace. Unfortunately, that is also a problem, while the music is by no means bad 3/4 of the game are spent with ok music, it’s not bad but it’s not memorable either. However, the last two chapters feature some amazing tracks which are much more in line with what those who have listened to JDK before have come to expect from them. So good that it’s not an overstatement to say that the epicness of the final chapters wouldn’t be the same without the music, Silver Will is a terrific song that makes the final encounters feel like the stakes are truly high~. Conclusion TitS is a superb old school JRPG, it’s a shame that it’s been so overlooked; drowned in a gaming World of Tales of and Final Fantasies. It’s not a game for everybody; those who started gaming at the PS2+ generation will probably have a hard time getting into it. There’s no World to save here, there are no troubled people with dark pasts haunting them every 15 minutes. Joshua harbors skeletons in his closet, that much is evident from the very opening but it’s a testament of how exceptional the narrative is that questions about his background come up only a few times that I can count with one hand and halfway through the game he promises Estelle that he’ll tell her all when everything’s over and it’s a promise that fortunately is kept. Until the very end, the game doesn’t try to poke in his past nor deviates by going in “that direction”. I can’t stress enough how refreshing that felt in an era where in order to make a character special most companies seem to put emphasis in troubled pasts or personalities. As refreshing as it is that Estelle is so normal looking that I am relieved I won’t be seeing any Hentai of her anytime soon, there are no disparate proportions to her figure, she’s just a girl and she stands out for her personality~. In addition to the pace, which would be considered slow to most, there’s also the fact that there’s a sheer amount of dialogue here. Volumes really, every single NPC has more than one thing to say, and those things change with every significant event. Many have criticized the game for it, I can’t find fault in it though I imagine it’s a matter of personal preference. But just like books in Phantasy Star IV, Final Fantasy VI, Lunar The Silver Star or Eternal Blue contributed to filling the World with Lore, NPCs in TitS contribute to fleshing out the World. Every single NPC is important, some that you help (or not) will remember it next time you see them chapters ahead. It’s a lot of text, but it’s just one more thing that contributes to make the World of TitS so memorable~. What I’d tell most is that TitS is a game that deserves time to be seen for what it really is. It’s not an argument that will appeal to most and that’s understandable, but narrative, good narrative, takes its time. It builds bases, establishes facts and then when you least expect it, everything comes together and nothing feels out of place. That is exactly how I felt when I finished the game. When I bumped into a huge WTF moment full of revelations in the epilogue that made me retrace the entire plot of the game just to realize all the things that were going on without our knowledge. That, to me, is a sign of great storytelling and it is that what makes TitS so special. It’s a JRPG that everybody should give a try because while this is only a third of the entire story, it’s enough to make you want more. If storytelling through actual development rather than cutscenes is still your thing, then TitS is a game you will definitely want to give a try to~.