The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky ends with a massive cliffhanger and a broken-hearted heroine. Thankfully, we can now know the rest of the story with the Second Chapter.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSeed Games
Release Date: November 2015
Played: Main Story (Normal)
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was a massive game and one I finished in a few weeks, trying my best to reach the highest level as a Bracer. In that game, our protagonists, Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua, explore the country of Liberl on the road to becoming Senior Bracers, part of a mercenary organisation that works across the continent and whose main responsibility is to keep the peace and safety of citizens but without getting involved in politics or wars.
At the end of the First Chapter, the pair and their friends prevent a coup and defeat the ancient machinery released by the man responsible for it all, but we soon discover he was but a pawn and the real masterminds, the agents of the Ouroboros society, were still at large. This was a first test, an experiment and there were more to come. To stop them, Joshua, a former Ouroboros agent, leaves Estelle behind after confessing his feelings for her, intent on protecting her by keeping his distance.
That’s how the first game ends. Can you believe how much I wanted to know what happens later? It was tortuous, but then I heard Second Chapter was coming and despite the herculean task that it is to translate these extremely verbose games, XSEED finally delivered this new Nihon Falcom RPG. So is it what I expected?
Yeah, pretty much. This game completes the Joshua and Estelle tale and while there is a Third Chapter in this series, it’s completely unrelated to this story. Second Chapter brings the Aureole plot to a close, revealing the stories behind most of the Ouroboros enforcers, their big plans and how their leaders view the people that work for them. It’s funny to see an evil organisation in a story that isn’t completely malevolent. Their leader in the game, one of the Pillars of Ouroboros, is as reasonable as he is vicious and extremely charismatic.
One of the things The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC handles extremely well and one of the reasons the story is so compelling is that while you get glimpses into what your enemies are doing at the beginning/end of the acts, you never have enough information to predict where the story is going. I didn’t know what Weissman’s plan was until he had the obligatory villain monologue before the final boss fight. In other stories, the monologue comes along mid-game and spoils everything, but Nihon Falcom knows how to keep things close to the vest.
The writing in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC is superb. Not only is the plot strong, but the characters are believable, even in their occasional anime tropes, and their story arcs are wonderful. Take Kloe for example, the heir to the throne of Liberl, but still a teenager unsure of what her path in life is. Over the course of the story and because of her experiences with the rest of the group, she finds the reason to take up the crown and bear its burden. Olivier, the traveling bard is one of my favourite characters, the one member of the party you never truly know, even if he’s on-screen at all times. You get glimpses of what he might be, but much like Schera, your guess will probably be off the mark. Mine wasn’t, I was close but still not close enough to predict his role in the game.
Then there are Estelle and Joshua of course, and when they finally meet again, it’s heartwarming and sweet but also very grounded, with two very strong characters discussing their future and the dangers they face, and how they should work together to face them instead of trying to protect each other. As someone with a perhaps elevated protective instinct when it comes to the people important to me, this story arc resonated with me the most.
But it’s not just the party or the villains with tremendous arcs and strong writing but the entire world they live in. One of the reasons the game took so long to finish was how challenging it was to translate the thousands of characters into English. In the world of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky every NPC has their own name, their own voice—as in their dialogues read differently from one another—and their individual backstories. When you return to your hometown of Rolent, everyone you talk to will react differently and it doesn’t feel generic, it feels as though you’ve come home and everyone’s here to welcome you.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any flaws. Some of the secondary storylines go nowhere, particularly the ones with the Ouroboros Enforcers, the people working directly under the main villain Weissman. The Enforcers I’m talking about have direct relationships with the characters in the party, and while having them with you offers some additional lines before and after the fights, the stories don’t get proper resolution, but end with an open “until next time.” I always hate it when personal stories get shoved aside without a proper conclusion. There’s only one Enforcer with a closed story arc and he’s also one of the most amazing boss fights in the game.
The main villain, Weissman has another resolution issue. He doesn’t meet his end or his punishment after the final fight but in a cutscene later on, the resolutions itself coming out of left field and leaving me scratching my head. Having said so, the conclusion to Joshua and Estelle’s story is very satisfying.
Gameplay remains the same as in First Chapter—which isn’t surprising as I’ve discovered they were originally a single game that was so large in scope they had to split it in the middle, and they’re each still longer than your average Final Fantasy. As a Bracer you take on jobs at your current branch and to keep its own world building consistent, your main quest in every chapter is just another Bracer job. These tasks range from exploration and item hunts to extermination missions and the gameplay is varied enough to keep the dozens of quests fresh every time. The extermination missions were my favourite as they pit you against some really tough monsters.
Combat is turn-based and speed based. Each action you take as a particular speed value, pushing you down the turn-order-ladder depending on how long that’ll take. The higher your speed stat, the more frequent your turns will be. Attacks and Crafts—special attacks with varying effects—resolve immediately but spells aka Arts, will resolve on your next turn. So it takes a lot of strategy to go through the tough fights, figuring out when to use your crafts or attacks, when to pull out your spells and when to just use items. The biggest part of your strategy is the S-Crafts, special attacks that consume all your Craft Points and need at least 100 to unleash. They’re extremely powerful and you can take an extra turn at any point to use them, but doing so might leave you open to continuous enemy attacks until your next turn finally pops up.
It’s a challenging system that combined with the Orbments and Quartz that give you the Arts you use, allows for deep customisation of your characters and to develop complex strategies for every situation. In the First Chapter you opens new slots in your Orbment, but in this one you upgrade them to allow for more powerful quartz with amazing new properties. Depending on the ones you have equipped you’ll unlock some crazy Arts with area wide effects. It’s just insane how many combinations there are.
My only problem with the combat is that most boss fights follow the model of Boss + Adds, meaning you have to deal with some extremely powerful minions along with the boss. The Enforcers have this issue, making their fights sometimes feel unfair, forcing you to deal with overwhelming enemy forces.
It’s even worse if you play on Hard, a mode that lacks any form of balance. I started my first playthrough on this difficulty and had to switch down to Normal when I realised that “Hard” meant that enemies dealt triple or even quadruple the normal damage. Surviving a simple enemy fight was a harrowing experience and bosses just wrecked me with no chance of counterattacking. I’ve heard it’s better to play Hard on a New Game Plus, as you keep all your arts and equipment and I hope it’s the case because a fresh Hard run is impossible.
The game has a familiar visual style to anyone who’s played the later games in the Ys series, with 3D worlds and 2D sprites. Something I found amazing about the ones used in this game is that sometimes they blur the line between 2D and 3D, especially when the characters hug or interact with each other. In those moments, they feel so alive and natural that you’ll convince yourself they are in fact 3D models. Environments look nice as well but with most locations returning from the First Chapter, they can get a bit repetitive.
That in fact is the issue with the soundtrack. While the melodies are wonderful, up to and including the epic choir in the final boss fight, for the most part it recycles all songs from its predecessor. It’s in part understandable as they were originally a single game, but some effort could have gone into giving this one its own identity in terms of music design.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC is a massive game and takes place in a world I’m only sad to leave behind. With phenomenal writing and strong gameplay, it’s a must-play for JRPG fans.
4.5/5 – Amazing