Also available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 3
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 02/23/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Despite being the first game in the “Trails” sub-series of Falcom’s Legend of Heroes series (which itself started as a sub-series of their Dragon Slayer series), this was not my first exposure to the series. This is actually the third game in the series that I’ve played. I had started off doing a replay of Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II since I just got Cold Steel III and Cold Steel IV, but a friend of mine was like “Dude, no, you need to play Trails in the Sky before you play Cold Steel III; you’ll appreciate the characters more.” So I was like okay, sure, I have time to play a trilogy of 40 hour RPGs in the middle of my tetralogy of 60 hour RPGs, no problem. Since I have no life, it’s actually not a problem.
Trails in the Sky takes place in the Kingdom of Liberl in the southwestern corner of the continent of Zemuria with the Erebonian Empire to the north and the Calvard Republic to the east. The story revolves around Estelle and Joshua Bright, two up-and-coming junior members of the Bracer Guild and siblings (although Joshua was adopted five years ago at the age of 11, so they’re not *really* siblings). Their father is the legendary hero of the Hundred Day War against Erebonia turned S-rank bracer, Cassius Bright. Cassius leaves on Bracer business right as Joshua and Estelle become Junior Bracers and begin their journey across the kingdom to become full-fledged Bracers. To do this, they’ll have to do something worth getting a recommendation from each of the kingdom’s five Bracer branches. Of course, as their journey progresses, international conspiracy and potentially civilization-altering plot events occur.
Having been spoiled by Trails of Cold Steel, it took me a while to get into Trails in the Sky. The characters here are very well developed, but there’s no voice acting in Trails in the Sky, and the characters are all 2D models rather than 3D sprites, both of which made it a bit harder for me to really connect with the characters. It’s also a very slow-burning game; the story doesn’t really pick up speed and get really good until over halfway through. Once it does get some momentum and get going, though, the story gets extremely interesting. In that respect, it does feel a lot like a more primitive Trails of Cold Steel as that game also took a while to really get going but really sank its hooks in you once it got that momentum built up.
The combat is pretty standard JRPG fare. You begin combat by touching an enemy on the overworld. If you touch them from behind, you start the battle with the advantage and get a couple of extra moves; if you hit them head-on or from the side, you start the battle without anyone having an advantage; if the enemy touches you from behind or one of the characters trailing behind your first character, the enemy gets the advantage, giving them a couple of extra moves and having them surround you. This really makes your party members a huge liability on the overworld and makes me extremely glad that Cold Steel only has your first character on the overworld. Once you’re in combat, it’s standard turn-based fighting with each character’s turn order being based on their speed. You can use physical attacks or Arts (magic) depending on the quarts installed in your orbal device and your EP. If you lose, you can either retry the battle or go back to the main menu. There’s also a turbo button you can hold to make the battles and overworld movement go faster – something I made frequent use of – but it’s super buggy and can cause problems ranging from minor inconveniences like not registering that you passed the boundary to load the next map to major issues like outright crashing.
According to Steam, it took me 48 hours to get through this game; I probably could have done it in 40 hours (maybe a little less) if I’d been able to keep focused, but as I said, the beginning is REALLY slow, and my attention span isn’t what it used to be. That’s really my only major gripe with the game. The fact that the turbo mode is still so buggy even in 2021 is a pretty big bummer, but it’s not really a deal-breaker as long as you make sure not to use it during special S-Craft attacks (some of them will have their damage negated if you use turbo) and save often. It hasn’t aged particularly well when you directly compare it to Trails in the Sky, but it’s still a very solid RPG especially if you like 2D games.