Instead of reviewing each game on its own, I’m reviewing the entire Sora no Kiseki/Trails in the Sky trilogy all in one go. I mean, I can’t do it otherwise. If you play starting from any game other than the first, you will have no idea what the hell’s going on. The three games are continuous and cannot be separated, so it is only right for me to review them all at once.
For starters, the Sora no Kiseki trilogy is the sixth installment of Falcom’s Legend of Heroes RPG series. The second to fifth games were also fairly famous (but received mixed opinions in the West due to lazy porting and bad localization, or so I’ve heard), but Sora no Kiseki is probably the most popular right now, the trilogy having sold over 1 million units in Japan. The Legend of Heroes series places a focus on story, and Sora no Kiseki is the same way. It’s got a huge amount of text, and an entire book consisting of the second game’s script was published. The first, second, and third games are referred to as First Chapter (FC), Second Chapter (SC), and The Third (3rd). So far FC has been localized by XSeed under the title Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Their localization is fabulous, go support them.
The first two games are directly connected, and are essentially one game that was too huge to fit into a single release. They are centered around Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua Bright, who have just become Bracers and they set out to travel Liberl to receive recommendations from all of the branches of the Bracer Guild and become senior Bracers. Along the journey, political problems arise and they learn of an evil organization. The 3rd, meanwhile, shifts the focus to Kevin Graham, a priest introduced in the second game, and his past. While the third game feels more like a dungeon crawler rather than the standard RPG and the maps are “memories,” it still works quite well. Old playable characters return, as well as important characters who weren’t part of the main party in the first two games. The main draw of 3rd for me was the “doors of memories” that exist within the dungeons and can be opened when certain conditions are met. They reveal backstories of some of the returning characters and the world, but are pretty much optional. Of course, if you made it to 3rd, you wouldn’t want to skip them.
After the Sora no Kiseki trilogy, many mysteries still remain. The evil organization has only revealed itself to be even more grand, and the story continues in Legend of Heroes VII, which consists of Zero no Kiseki (and the upcoming Ao no Kiseki so far). Even so, the plot FC and SC covers is still grand and on a nation-wide scale. The events are all well-explained, and anything unexplaned will be explained later or in a later game. There’s plenty of foreshadowing, even in the light-hearted first game.
The main complaint about the plot is that it takes a while to get moving. A long while. Some find the first game extremely slow and drop it, and there is a lot of reading involved. I had no such problems and although FC is really slow compared to SC, I still managed to get through it and felt it was a good pace. It follows the formula of starting off lighthearted and funny, and then treading into serious/dark territory slowly. Anyone who prefers plots that are super-serious from the get go will likely have trouble playing through the slow FC.
Many people who have complained about the plot being slow have mentinoned that what’s keeping them from dropping the game was the characters. It is easy to see why, because the characters are extremely brilliant. Most of them are interesting right off the bat, and you learn their backstories later. It’s not the backstories that make the characters interesting, but the other way around.
Estelle Bright – The tomboy main character. She is always cheerful and positive, and goes through much needed development and maturing through the course of FC and SC. She is very manly.
Joshua Bright – Estelle’s adopted brother. He is the calmer, mysterious one who is popular with the ladies. He clearly has a dark past, but doesn’t do any angsting despite being the ideal age to do so. Instead, he becomes much more badass.
Scherazard Harvey – Bracer who is sort of like Estelle and Joshua’s big sister. She loves her alcohol and is an S (if the whip’s not clear enough). Drinking buddies with Olivier.
Olivier Lenheim – Wandering bard from the neighbouring Erebonia Empire who hits on everyone and breaks up fights by singing embarrassing songs. He is my personal favorite, for both his comic relief pervert status early on, and also for other reasons that I will not spoil for you.
Kloe/Klose Rinz – a polite, nice girl from the Jenis Royal Academy who helps out at the orphanage. Pretty much the designated healer, since her build is pretty restrictive.
Agate Crosner – Rude, tsundere Bracer who initially comes off as unfriendly, but warms up.
Tita Russel – A moe moe loli who is great with mechanics and loves Estelle as a big sister. Uses enough guns to make up for everyone else’s medieval weapons (aside from Olivier).
Zane/Zin Vathek – A Bracer from the Calvard Republic, the other neighbouring nation. He is the most physically imposing of the playable characters, but he’s a nice and chill guy who came to Liberl to participate in a tournament.
Those are the playables of FC, but the list expands to 16 characters total in The 3rd. While the may seem like the generic RPG tropes at first glance, they are very well executed and have much depth (which is unveiled slowly, for some characters).
Many will tell you that gameplay takes a backseat here and the general complaint is that the battle system is too slow, preferring a quicker, more standard turn-based system. I remember being pretty indifferent to it when writing my first impressions, but now I love it. Being too caught up in the game, I barely even realized that battles in the final dungeon of FC took forever, or that it took me 45 minutes to beat the SC final boss’ last form. Combat is a more simplified version of the SRPG grid, whereas you still walk through dungeons like you would in any standard turn-based RPG. Attacks take weapon range and the character’s distance from the enemy into account, as well as AoE arts and crafts. There’s also turns where you get a bonus, like a guaranteed critical or a 10% HP heal. The limit breaks can be activated any time (even cutting in during an enemy’s turn), and become very deadly if you time it right and activate on a critical turn.
The main form of customization is the orbment, which determine the arts you’ll be able to use and also boost/decrease some stats. Each character has 6 slots they can place quartz in, and the 6 slots are connected by lines starting from the center slot. Spellcasters will have either a single line (meaning all the slots are connected and they have more flexibility with quartz combinations) or one short and one long line. Physically-orientated characters will have 3-4 short lines, limiting their ability to cast high-level arts that require combinations of multiple orbments. Furthermore, most characters have some restrictions as to what type of quartz goes into which slot. There are 7 elements that quartz come in, and certain characters have slots that can only equip a quartz of a specific element (like a slot that can only equip fire quartz). Because all the arts and their quartz combinations are made know to you via the Bracer notebook (AKA ingame tutorial and journal so you don’t forget what you’re trying to do) from the beginning of the game, you don’t get many chances to be experimental. However, it is also a good thing because you will need AoE heals really soon. Badly.
I thought the battle system was perfect for epic boss fights. Fighting ordinary mooks may get tiring and slow, but the SC final boss really left an impression on me (combat-wise) and this grid-based system was extremely fun. I like SRPGs, so I probably warmed up to the system faster than someone who prefers action.
Not exactly impressive by modern standards, but FC was first released more than half a decade ago. Sprites can look pretty blurry on the PSP screen, but the PC versions probably look clearer. Background-wise, the grass and roads will get very bland. Effort was put into the final dungeons and some others, defnitely. The graphics stay the same for all 3 games. The character art and designs have a classic feel to them. While I didn’t immediately like the style, I got used to it and warmed up to it by the end. The classic art style makes each character look distinct.
Music was another thing I didn’t immediate like about the series. I entered believing the soundtrack to be mediocre, and came out thinking “What the HELL was I smoking back then? How can I NOT like the soundtrack?” FC music didn’t particularly stand out to me with the exception of a few tracks (Silver Will, I’m looking at you), but SC got better (and had a beautiful arrange of Silver Will). Then I got around to playing the 3rd and holy shit, DO WANT. The 3rd has the best soundtrack IMO.
It’s probably clear that I love the Sora no Kiseki trilogy and am undoubtedly biased towards it (and probably outright ignored most of its flaws). It’s an extemely solid trilogy worth checking out if you know Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or even just English (despite only FC being released so far). Be warned that you do need a certain level of patience and tolerance of text, but patience is a virtue anyways. I still remember that one Thursday (yes, I remember the day of the week) where I decided to pick up Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on a whim, thinking that I just need an RPG to play after finishing Radiant Historia (also a solid modern RPG that I really liked). I thought I would forget it not long after I finish it, and move on. Fastforward 3 months, and I have played SC and The 3rd in Chinese (gotta thank my parents for forcing me to learn it when I was younger), pre-ordered Zero no Kiseki PC version, still rambling on about how I love the series, adding Falcom to my favorite developers, looking into their other games, and preparing for a replay. I also ordered the trilogy in Chinese (for PC) because I feel pretty bad for pirating the PSP versions of SC and The 3rd (because there’s no official Chinese release, only the patch). Yeah. Even if I become poor half a year from now (and trust me, I will) and angsting about how I never have money when all the good games are coming out, I won’t regret buying the Kiseki series one bit (like how I don’t regret dropping lots of cash on artbooks despite being able to find scans online). Knowing me, I’ll still buy XSeed’s limited edition when they release SC in English.