The Legend of Heroes series is more than just Cold Steel. Players who enjoy JRPGs should start with Trails in the Sky. Sometimes a hidden gem gets swept under the rug because of timing, lack of an audience, or just bad luck. One such gem is The Legend of Heroes: Trails in The Sky.
The Legend of Heroes franchise is a property developed by Nihon Falcom with Trails in the Sky being the first modern installment in the series. Originally released in 2004 for Windows, the game did not get much attention until its Western release to multiple different platforms between 2011-2015. The series is the first installment in the Trails in The Sky trilogy, which is part of a larger narrative continued into Trails from Zero — a Japan-only exclusive — and then Trails of Cold Steel.
Trails in the Sky is 16 years old — but it still holds up.
The game follows Estelle and Joshua Bright, two teenagers who have recently joined the bracers guild, an independent organization whose sole purpose is to protect the people of the Liberl Kingdom from monsters, criminals, and natural disasters. As junior bracers, Estelle and Joshua now have permission to leave their hometown and explore the country to do official bracer work, where they got caught up in some fun misadventures — but also a government conspiracy.
Trails in The Sky’s biggest strength has to be its likable characters and charming writing. Estelle and Joshua talk like teenagers; although the adoptive siblings often give each their fair bit of grief, they still care about each other. Estelle is stubborn and headstrong, preferring to say or do what she feels is right rather than dancing around the issue. Joshua, on the other hand, is mature and calculative, albeit distant at times. He can give Estelle crap for being impulsive, but he’ll still gladly follow her into battle because of their strong bond.
Typically, with games or anime that feature both male and female protagonists, it’s usually a heavy-handed case of the male hero saving the damsel in distress, but The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky never really does this. In fact, for the majority of the game, the player in control is Estelle.
She and Joshua have absolute faith in each other: Having grown up together, they are both very much aware of each other’s strengths and abilities. When they’re about to enter a dangerous situation, Joshua never suggests leaving Estelle behind because he doesn’t want to see her get hurt. He knows she’s strong and having her beside him gives him the confidence to fight harder. It’s this type of character relationship Trails in the Sky pulls off very well and the game’s cutscenes elevate them even further.
The game features a variety of appealing set pieces. Estelle and Joshua have a heart to heart at a fishing villa after Joshua plays a touching song on his harmonica. Later on, the teenagers enter a fighting tournament with a foreign martial artist and a casanova sharpshooter. However, the standout moment happens halfway through the game where the teenagers temporarily enroll in a private school and take part in a school play.
This scene is one of the most sincere and delightful moments of the game. It’s the first time the player sees the characters move this dynamically outside of battle as they perform an impressive duel on stage with sharp swords clangs and a brilliant musical accompaniment. It feels like this was what the developers might have originally envisioned for the combat.
Trails in the Sky‘s combat is a bit lacking compared to modern, turn-based JRPGs like Persona 5 or Octopath Traveler, however, it does offer some creative experimentation and progression. The characters use magic minerals called Orbments that allow them to use different elemental magical, similar to material in Final Fantasy VII Remake. These Orbments are an integral part of the Liberl Kingdom as they are used to power everything from lights and stoves, to airships used by the military. The game lets players experiment with having different characters utilize different orbments to make stronger spells, such as equipping the temptress, Scherazard, with both space and wind Orbment to make the Lightning spell, which damages all enemies in a straight path.
So with all this in mind, consider The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to be the next JRPG on your wishlist. With it taking only 40 hours to complete the main story, the pacing is pretty sold with little to no padding unless players are interested in completing every sidequest. Currently, the game and its two sequels, Trails in the Sky: SC and Trails in the Sky: The 3rd, are all available on Steam.
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JRPG fans should consider The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to be the next game on their Steam wishlist. Here's why.