I had given up hope that we’re ever see the third entry of Falcom’s acclaimed Trail in the Sky subseries in the west given that XSEED had gone right from its predecessor to Trails of Cold Steel. Not only that, but the PSP is for all intents and purposes a dead platform, so now as a publisher you’d have to count on fans that have not only finished the first two games after hundreds of hours, but are willing to buy a third one on PC if they’d been previously only keeping up on a mobile platform. But the fact that the franchise still exists at all in localized form is a miracle in of itself, so me writing this should be a testament to how strong fan interest can salvage anything from Japanese exclusivity.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd is not only a mouthful, but is also quite the departure from its predecessors. After all, upon concluding the story of Estelle and Joshua, where does one go from there? If you said, “make a game about the mysterious priest and his childhood nun friend” then you are either clairvoyant or make some oddly specific predictions about unreleased games. You would also be correct in the direction that the third game decides to take.
That’s right, Father Kevin Graham is the main protagonist this time around and his tale opens with a bang. After an explosive introduction that has Kevin engaging in espionage and shootouts like some kind of holy James Bond, he receives another mission from headquarters to investigate a mysterious artifact that was unearthed from the bottom of a lake. During the mission, he encounters his lifelong friend, Ries Argent, and together they get pulled into a mysterious world known as Phantasma. Are these events the work of the artifact? Did someone lay a trap for them? Is this all the work of Ouroboros? All of these things and more are explored as you journey through the mysterious dimension.
The experience serves as a sort of epilogue to the events of the prior two games as well as a setup to characters and places that will be seen in future installments (as such, completion of its prequels are practically a must to fully enjoy the experience). There were many instances where I found myself shocked at people and concepts that wouldn’t be explored until games released years later. And that is on top of further fleshing out the already massive Trails roster and exploring Kevin’s entire backstory. The script may not be as massive as its predecessor, but to anyone thinking the game doesn’t have any meat on its bones has another thing coming. An excellent localization certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The worst thing I can say about the narrative is that the events that take place don’t feel as essential to the overall plot compared to what comes before or after. Many of the places you visit are mere illusions of places you’ve seen prior in the other games, and your foes consists almost entirely of doppelgangers of past enemies. The game sort of exists in a bubble such that anyone who decides to skip out on it isn’t missing much outside of seeing what all of your favorite characters are up to and finding out just who Kevin is anyway. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those looking for something with scope might feel a little let down.
Fortunately, the pacing of the main narrative is really on point. Chapters are brisk and generally open and close with a sequence of cutscenes, and not much in between unless you decide to partake in the side content. Trails the 3rd is only as exposition heavy as you want it to be. If you don’t want to see how Agate’s first meeting with Tita’s parents turned out, you don’t have to (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t).
The story focus and format isn’t the only thing that’s changed from SC, as this entry has evolved into a sort of a dungeon crawler. Players start off in a hub area that takes care of all of their rest and supply needs, and slowly make their way through various planes that are modeled after cities and dungeons from series past. Fast travel is available from the outset and new characters can be swapped in as needed, with some being required to overcome certain challenges. Heck, there are even segments that require multiple parties to tackle, not unlike Final Fantasy VI. It’s quite the drastic change from visiting towns, helping the locals and exploring the countryside, such that some fans might potentially be turned off by this.
Everything else about the experience, really hasn’t changed that much. The gameplay systems are practically identical, with a few new turn bonuses that can be awarded, such as one that allows a character to take two turns and another that guards against all damage. The visuals too have been recycled yet again. They weren’t all that impressive when the first game came out, and they’re certainly not now, especially coming back to this from the ToCS games. At least the soundtrack rocks in typical Falcom fashion.
Since the Bracer Guild and the BP they awarded are no longer a thing, side attractions come in the form of doors that are discovered during exploration. Each door (be they star, moon, or sun flavor), has some sort of prerequisite before it can be opened, such as bringing a specific character along or fighting a certain number of battles. Once accessed, they’ll either be a string of cutscenes that flesh out a particular character with the occasional battle or two, or it may introduce a minigame, like fishing or shooting down ships. Rewards vary, but are often worth it for the story bits alone. Some of them go on for far too long though, with seemingly no break in between. If you were wondering where all the plot points that took forever went, look no further than the side content.
While it’s obviously not a taxing game in terms of system requirements, the game runs really well out of the gate, which is impressive. I didn’t experience the sort of graphical glitches that I had with the prior games, nor did I encounter a situation where having certain features enabled would crash the game or truncate the text. The launch build of Trails the 3rd was stable, which shouldn’t be something that needs to be commended, but such is the gaming climate we’re in.
Hardcore Trails in the Sky fans probably don’t need me to tell them this, but if you completed the previous two, then getting this one is a no-brainer. There is a lot of recycling of assets and not much has changed with the battle system, but being able to take such a large and developed cast of characters out for another spin while learning what they’ve been up to is worth the price of admission. The new dungeon crawler format may not be up everyone’s alley, but the stellar writing is enough to carry the experience, plus the core quest can be wrapped up rather quickly if you don’t care for exploring all of the doors. Yes, SC may have had closure on many of the important plot points, but The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd manages to introduce new ones without leaving things unresolved. Golden Sun’s third entry could’ve learned a thing a two here.
Short Attention Span Summary
Bringing back the same battle system, assets, and locales for a third outing could be seen as squeezing as much blood from the stone as Falcom possibly can. And JRPG fans especially are frequently subjected to filler for the purposes of extending an experience. However, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd manages to retread familiar ground without making players feel like they are wasting their time. The new dungeon crawler-like format helps to keep the experience fresh, while the many optional story scenes are worth seeking out if only to see what your favorite characters have been up to lately. Kevin Graham manages to be interesting enough to carry the bulk of the narrative and the stellar localization helps drive this home further. If you’ve done everything there is to do in the first two Trails in the Sky games, then you probably have this game in your library already. Anyone still on the fence about the new format or question whether they’d indulge in yet another game with this characters, I will say this much: I hate games, especially RPG’s, that I feel like are wasting my time with inconsequential quests and exposition. And I thoroughly enjoyed Trails in the Sky the 3rd. Given the chance, I think you will too.