Not Quite Retro-Review- The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and 3rd Evolution

So I have been meaning to write these reviews for a while, but you know, I get lazy. At first, had I been more timely with when I actually finished these games, you would have seen two reviews. However, in seeing how this process (or lack thereof) went, I have decided to run one review covering both games. While it would be easy to think that by going this route, the games won’t be adequately reviewed, I beg to differ. If anything, Trails in the Sky SC Evolution and Trails in the Sky 3rd Evolution really tie together to almost make one story, and helps to get the ball rolling on the future games in The Legend of Heroes series. It is worth noting though, that just because the two games tell an almost continuous story, it does not mean the games are of equal quality.

I am too lazy to grab my screengrabs from my Vita, I didn’t play this game in Japanese.

First, let’s get into what the two games share. First, the games share the same combat system, which has many similarities to their non-Vita versions, with the exception of a key detail that I brought up in my review of the first game; the ability to attack enemies on the field to gain an even better version of initiative in battle. Like all of the Legend of Heroes games, you see enemies on the field, and interact with them to initiate combat. Both games’ fights occur in separate battle screens, and are turn-based fights with movement occurring on a grid. Turn order is listed on the left-hand side of the screen, with some turns conferring bonuses such as health regeneration, or guaranteed critical hits. A key skill to master in both games is the ability to deny bonuses to enemies, while maximizing their use for your own characters. This can usually be achieved by using “Arts”, which is the series’ version of magic, as they have casting times. The other way is by unleashing character-specific “S-Breaks” which are usable if a character has banked between 100-200 CP, which is a resource dedicated to character specific skills. The meter tends to fill slowly, and saving your S-Breaks for the right moment can dramatically change the tide of a fight. This combat system is roughly the same in the entire Legend of Heroes series, with minor tweaks and changes in subsequent story-arcs. It’s a simple combat system, but affords a good deal of depth, especially in the boss encounters, which can be somewhat tough, even on normal in both games. The later bosses in Trails in the Sky 3rd in particular gave me something of a hard time, not in a frustrating way though; sometimes difficulty in this type of game can be genuine fun.

Anelace low-key became one of my favorite characters.

The music for both games is great, with the original soundtracks being redone for the Evolution releases. They generally take advantage of the hardware jump from the PSP to the Vita very well, with more complicated arrangements and better layering to tracks that were already good. While the music is not as good as what we would see in later games like Trails to Azure, Falcom consistently puts out killer soundtracks that fit their games perfectly. Even if you don’t find yourself playing the games, the music is pretty much all available on Spotify, so go give it a listen.

Now let us get into where the games really diverge, the story and structure. Trails in the Sky SC follows the same structure as the first game, albeit with slightly more freedom in certain respects. Quests are generally collected from a board, and the quests are largely optional. Completing the optional quests are a main source of money, and Bracer Points (BP). Amassing BP raises your Bracer rank, with better rewards for each rank up.

Trails in the Sky 3rd however, abandons this structure entirely, playing like a dungeon crawler, with choke points in the story coming at regular intervals. There are no side quests, and largely the game is played in the same physical structure. This is literally the only game in the entire Trails series that follows this structure, and it is easy to see why; this game is a lot more limited in scope, and constrained in the story. 

The worst game of this series, but still decent.

It is in this constrained story that Trails in the Sky 3rd suffers the most. I have read in places this game was originally planned as an add-on for Trails in the Sky SC, and I would believe that. The game is largely a vehicle for explaining the back-story, and expanding the importance of the main character of this game, Father Kevin Graham. However, the plot is rather thin compared to the much more robust second game. Trails in the Sky SC is easily the best told story in the trilogy, with deep, meaningful evolution of characters and plot; the 3rd game suffers for this. While the story on its own is fine, SC’s tale is so expertly-crafted that Father Graham’s tale suffers by comparison. 

I would say to anyone though, that despite some of the drawbacks encountered in Trails in the Sky 3rd, it is still worth playing, if nothing else for the threads it weaves together, and helps close the book on a story that is overall very well-told. It’s a shame though the Evolution versions of the Trails in the Sky trilogy are stranded on the Playstation Vita, as these are the versions I got to experience after jumping through some hoops. The versions we have on Steam will have to do for 99% of the playing audience, but really it’s worth it, go play Trails in the Sky.

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