Well, this is a welcome surprise. Just when I thought another game that I was highly anticipating would slip into 2016, along comes a sudden release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC. Though looking at the game’s localization history, it’s not at all surprising that it took so long to make its way west. Despite the following its predecessor had when it first dropped on the PSP in 2011, it just did not have the kind of sales numbers to justify an even larger script for the sequel. But a Steam release seemed to be just what the franchise needed, and now everyone can experience the followup that Japan has had for years.
The SC in the title stands for Second Chapter, which means that this is a direct continuation of the previous game’s story. So if you’ve never played it, I highly recommend checking that out first, as many of the proceedings will be lost on you otherwise. In fact, if you’re thinking about diving into the franchise for the first time, you may be much better off reading my review of the original game from last year as I’m not going to discuss much in the way of gameplay elements and presentation, save for what’s new (as much of it is identical). In fact, it’s best to approach this game as the second half of the prior one or an expansion, as it ended on such a cliff hanger that it might as well have been. But enough about that, if you’ve already done your homework, then you just want to know if it’s worth both the time and money to dive back in and far be it for me to stand in the way of that, so let’s do this.
As I mentioned earlier, the game begins right where the previous one concludes (so spoiler alert and all that). Joshua has regained his memories from his past life and has bailed on Estelle, instead opting to pursue the mysterious group Ouroboros on his own. Of course, Estelle is not one to just sit around and allow him to bear the burden alone, so she begins training to gain the strength to go toe to toe with this new enemy and bring back her adoptive brother/love interest (it’s complicated) in one piece. As you might expect, it doesn’t take long for Estelle and her fellow comrades to cross paths with Ouroboros and the Gospel and the stakes ramp up from there.
Let’s start with the positives. Trails SC is as absolutely full of charm as the previous game in terms of characterization and writing. Dialogue is colorful and humorous, the cast is incredibly likable and fun little things like treasure chest messages are back. Many loose ends are tied up and characters like Agate and Schera who didn’t get as much screen time have their back stories fully explored. It’s especially delightful to discover that you can import your save from the prior title in order for dialogue choices and side quest completion to be remembered by characters you encounter. You end up helping many of the same folks as before, so it was a nice touch to have them comment on some of the things you might have done before.
Of course, if you dreaded how slowly the original got off the ground, not much has really changed in the second go round. In fact, I’d say the pacing is even worse now since all of the momentum that was built up is dropped abruptly in order to be built back up again. And this time it takes over half of the game to get back to a point where it feels like major events are happening at a reasonable clip. There may be twice as many chapters in SC, but they’re shorter and the events that occur don’t satisfy quite as well. The first game felt like a string of isolated events that pieced together a much greater mystery. In SC, you already know from the outset what the threat is, but your characters spend each chapter wasting time until a convenient thread falls in their lap. The term “filler” or “padding” gets thrown around a lot in anime and anime-style games, and that’s a trap that the game’s early hours fall into. Don’t get me wrong, once things get moving, they’re great. And the conclusion pays off in spades. But damn if it doesn’t put you in danger of losing interest before you get there, narratively speaking. And while I’m on the topic, a recap video not unlike what the Yakuza games provide would’ve been nice to help remember who some of these people are.
Another turn off is going to be the copious amounts of back tracking. Since the game still takes place in Liberl, you’ll revisit each city once again and everything looks just as you left it. This in of itself isn’t a huge deal, but there isn’t much in the way of new places to explore to compensate for the retread. There are new dungeons and such of course, but be prepared for constant feeling of deja vu. There’s even a late game quest that requires you to walk to each major city on foot to make a delivery. Woof.
Even though combat is largely the same (and by extension, still pretty damn good), one new aspect that was introduced is combos. In addition to their normal Crafts, characters can queue up to do combo attacks with one another. As you progress in level, the number of your party members that can participate in these grows, allowing you to let loose with your whole team in one attack. I’ve found these to be very situational though, and ended up using the individual Crafts far more, but they’re fun to tinker with if nothing else.
Guild Quests make a return, allowing you to visit the Bracer Guild to take on tasks in exchange for cash and BP (or Bracer Points). The more BP you have, the higher your rank which awards items and can alter dialogue in some cases. Many quests still have frustratingly short windows on them still, including hidden ones that must be discovered and are not offered by the guild. At least new game plus is at your disposal to go back through and get everything you missed on your next playthrough. I noticed there was an added Easy difficulty setting, which may seem silly if you recall how easy the previous one was. Well, the Normal mode is much more challenging this time, with some bosses taking full advantage of the various status effects to really lock down your party. I nearly tossed my laptop out the window during one of the final boss battles out of frustration, though I found that continuing enough will lower the difficulty some.
One thing I really enjoyed about the sequel is the expanded cast. In addition to the returning roster, a number of new playable characters have been added such that you’ll often find yourself with more than four at a time. In these cases, you can construct your own party based on the needs of your upcoming battles. Want to bring in extra range fighters? Go for it. Would you prefer a strictly melee affair? That’s cool too. This small addition alone adds an extra layer of strategy, especially in the later chapters. You’ll also notice the dialogue changes, especially if you bring in characters that a particular boss character may be familiar with or otherwise have a rivalry with. It is bothersome that party members in reserve don’t automatically level with your main party, though fortunately the scalable experience point system helps alleviate some of that frustration.
Some of my complaints of the original involved how it handled controllers as well as some glitches/crashes. I noticed immediately in the configuration for SC that you can now use the right analog stick of the Xbox 360 controller for the camera, which is a god send (and consequently I noticed it has been patched into the first game too). I was also pleased to discover that I didn’t encounter much in the way of game breaking bugs, though it wasn’t without a graphical glitch or two. Patches have been frequent though, so what I’ve encountered has likely been addressed over the couple weeks I’ve spent with the game.
I’m likely not telling you anything you don’t already know, but if you’ve already completed the first Trails in the Sky game, you owe it to yourself to complete the story. It does have some frustrating pacing issues and much of the game does feel like a retread, though I feel SC does enough right in terms of gameplay and narrative payoff that it’s a wall worth surmounting. There is a third game in existence (that we’ll never likely see unless the Vita remake miraculously gets localized or a Steam version is made), but SC effectively concludes the story of Estelle and Joshua and will close up the void left behind by the first title’s ending. Whether it’s on PC or PSP, it’s absolutely worth the $30 plunge if you haven’t taken it by now.
Short Attention Span Summary
It’s hard to believe, but The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC is finally out on PC and PSP. After a long and troubled localization period, XSEED hopes to satisfy fans of the original game who felt dissatisfied with the lack of conclusion, and they sure delivered. The writing is excellent, the gameplay is on point, and the second half pays off in spades. It’s just a shame that the first half drags its heels. And playing the original game is virtually a must before diving into this one. If you don’t mind spending another 50-70 hours in Liberl though, this is a must buy.