Welcome to part 2 of my series overview of the Legend of Heroes franchise, last time we discussed the origins of the series in the Dragon Slayer games as well as it coming into it’s own with the creation of the Gagharv trilogy in the 90s. While I had my start with the series upon the release of Tear of Vermillion for the PSP, many others had their first taste of the series with the much hyped, and much delayed, release of Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky - the series I will be covering extensively in this article. After the success of Legend of Heroes: Song of the Ocean and the conclusion of the Gagharv Trilogy, Falcom decided to go a different route and create a new series of games, the trails games, all interconnected to each other, in that they all take place in the same world, and even on the same continent, and in some instances, the same country. This is a vast departure from the Gagharv games, because while they technically all took place in the same world, most of the inhabitants had no clue that the other lands existed because they were split by the Gagharv.
The Trails series consists of Trails in the Sky, which take place in the country of Liberl, Trails of Cold Steel which takes place in Erebonia and the untranslated Trails of Azure and Zero which take place in Crossbell. All these countries are on the continent of Zemuria and on many occasions characters from one game will travel to another country and appear in a different game. The timeline is intense and the list of characters is extensive therefore It’s easy to get lost in the minutia of just who everyone is, what their motivation is, who they’re working for and where are they at the moment. But for the purposes of this article I will be strictly focusing on the Trails in the Sky trilogy and try not to bog you down with the small details of every character’s motivation. Play the games for that. So let’s get started!
When Falcom concluded the Gagharv Trilogy and laid it to rest, they decided to start a new trilogy, set on the war torn continent of Zemuria in the small kingdom of Liberl, who struggles to remain independent from the power hungry, expansionist northern country of Erebonia. It’s neighbor to the east, Calvard, while not trying to conquer Liberl, is still no ally - it just has its hands full keeping Erebonia within its own borders. The people of Liberl, although a kingdom and governed by a monarch, are free to practice capitalism and thus their economy flourishes, aided by their extensive use of airships, a mode of transport that its neighbors are sorely lacking in. The peaceful kingdom invests heavily in orbments and therefore is technologically superior to its powerful, massive neighbor, allowing the army, led by Cassius Bright, to fend off an Erebonian invasion, during what was known as the 100 Days War.
10 years later, Cassius Bright, now a celebrated war hero, has quit the army, joined the bracer guild and skyrocketed through their ranks and now his fiesty daughter Estelle and adopted son Joshua want to follow in their father’s footsteps and become great bracers themselves. Through the course of their journey to become S-rank bracers Estelle grapples with her budding feelings for Joshua, while he struggles with forgotten memories from his past. The duo meets many other bracers in their adventures around Liberl, most notably Olivier, who claims to be just a traveling musician, but who is later revealed to be Erebonian nobility and Kloe, the princess of Liberl. While undertaking quaint, lighthearted quests for the bracer guild and, traveling from town to town and meeting colorful NPCs, they also encounter a darker side to Liberl. The team has a clandestine encounter with Oruborus, who is pretty much a secret society whose plan is to gather artifacts blessed by the goddess Aidios in order to take over the world. They also uncover a plot to stage a coup and overthrow the queen, but like all good heroes, they foil the coup and do what they can to stop Oruborus. So, all’s well in the end, until Joshua…… Yeah, the game ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s quite a doozy, but far be it from me to spoil it here. You’ve got to play the game!
First and Second Chapter were originally designed to be one massive game, but once in development Falcom realized that in order to do the script justice, they would have to split it into 2 separate games, similar to Golden Sun. But don’t think that you’re getting short changed, both games are huge 60 hour plus epics. They made the right decision in splitting them, but that being said, you can’t really enjoy Second Chapter without having played the first. Second Chapter opens, literally, just hours after the end of First Chapter, with Joshua missing and Estelle on a mission to not only find him, but to openly and honestly tell him of her feelings for him. The same cast of characters from First Chapter join her this time around but the roster expands just a tad by adding a few new characters to the mix, most notably Kevin, a wandering priest with quite a few secrets himself.
Without spoiling anything, Second Chapter does a great job of tying up the plot threads from the first game while still leaving you wanting more. Estelle and Joshua find happiness together, we learn a great deal more about our party members and their motivations, as well as our antagonists, Ouroboros. For the most part, Second Chapter has you returning to familiar locations from the first game, checking in with old friends and seeing how NPCs lives have changed since your previous journey, but that’s not to say that it’s all the same, this isn’t White Knight Chronicles II. Falcom did an amazing job mixing the old with the new, there are new dungeons to explore and new treasures to have all while keeping the integrity of the original landscape. Most notably, there are new “altered spaces” to explore, which are essentially interdimensional pockets that appear atop the towers in each region, and the finale doesn’t disappoint, having you flying atop a dragon and exploring floating cities before peace can once again reign in Liberl.
With the main story all nice and neatly tied up in a bow with First and Second Chapter, you may be wondering, what could they possibly cover in the 3rd? Well, the 3rd is a strange bird, it acts as more of dungeon crawler than the other two games in the series, you’re pretty much stuck in an “altered space”, Phantasma, for the vast majority of the game, though, it’s still not without its story. Instead of following Estelle and Joshua this time around, you’re following Kevin Graham, a Gralsritter Priest whom you met in Second Chapter. The game’s main storyline examines Kevin’s dark past, his upbringing, and how he came about becoming a Dominion Knight for the church, it sheds a lot of light on elements that were previously just touched upon and gives you glimpses into each of the main character’s pasts though the use of doors. Each door has a self contained story which focuses on a handful of characters and helps wrap up any remaining plot threads left hanging from the first two games. All in all, the game is very well done and a fitting conclusion to the massive Trails in the Sky trilogy.
The gameplay for the entire trilogy is extremely similar among the three games and easy to grasp, basically you gather your party, customize them with Orbments, the successor to the resonance stones from Song of the Ocean, which also work similar to Materia in that they not only effect your stats, but they impart you with spells as well, then go out and kick some monster butt! The music is relaxing and fitting and the graphics feel very much the same throughout the series, which I think is a good thing, considering you’re seeing the same people and places throughout the course of three games, you want the visuals to be relatively consistent. Battle takes place with enemies shown on the screen in a tactical turn based grid system. You’re able to move about the field and target enemies in a line or radius around them depending on the attack, similar to Chrono Trigger. Turn order is not a secret, player characters and enemies are shown in a series of icons on the side of the screen, similar to Final Fantasy X, so you don’t have to concoct strategies in the dark, which is great, because the games all have adjustable difficulty levels, from easy for those who pretty much just want to dive into the story, to nightmare for those who really want a challenge.
The Trails games are a cut above the rest and come highly recommended, they’re really the games that got me into the franchise and once you play the first, believe me, you’ll be hooked and just have to keep playing to see what happens to our lovable heroes next.