Short Version: This game is incredible. I absolutely loved playing it. As a fan of the previous Trails in the Sky games, this feels like more of that, but taking it to a completely unexpected direction that sets it apart from its predecessors. You don’t even have to know all that much about the previous games to understand it either. If you’re interested in this game, just buy all three Trails in the Sky games on Steam and take in the world and the fantastic writing in chronological order.
Long Version: The Legend of Heroes franchise is one that completely took me by surprise. I had never known about it until I heard people gushing about the release of Trails in the Sky SC for PSP. Out of simple curiosity, I went ahead and purchased the first game in the trilogy, and I was automatically hooked in a way that I never expected. I was so utterly captivated by the experience I had that it truly felt like a world I wanted to live in. All the characters felt real, the battles always meant something and adventure was the mantra you lived by when playing. This is a feeling that I rarely get when playing RPGs, let alone video games in general. I’m happy to say that these emotions still ring true with Trails in the Sky the 3rd, the final installment in the trilogy. However, there are some pretty enormous differences here that set it apart from the previous games.
After Happily Ever After
Developed by Falcom and brought over to the west by XSEED Games and Marvelous USA, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd is essentially an epilogue to Sky 1 and 2, but not necessarily a sequel. Sure, they make many references to things that happened in the past, but they are not detailed enough to be spoiled or confused about what’s currently happening. In a strange turn of events, this game feels more akin to Persona 3: The Answer than anything else.
I make this comparison because, structurally, they are almost exactly the same; even in the way that they break their respective routines. Both games even have the same glowing doors that show people’s memories and everything. In Persona 3: The Journey, you had your life management, high school life gameplay with dungeon crawling right after. However, The Answer completely breaks that by giving us a new protagonist, an even darker tone, and a much bigger focus on the dungeon crawling with brutal difficulty, steering away from the life-sim elements all together. This is pretty much exactly the same thing I can say about how “Sky the 3rd” break the formula of Sky 1 and 2. This is not necessarily a game about a fun tale featuring adventurers trying to help people and do the right thing. Instead, it decides to make it a lot more intimate and personal, focusing on the inner workings of the individuals at play here.
Visitors from Afar…
You no longer play as Estelle and Joshua, but instead move forward half a year from the second game and play the role of Kevin Graham, a priest who embarks on a mission to retrieve a mysterious artifact. In their efforts to do so, they find themselves in a new and mysterious realm that examines the backstory of many of the characters in the cast throughout the trilogy. Some of these pieces of backstory can range from fun and vibrant banter to “Did I just accidentally load up a horror game?” kind of territory. This is especially true about the final side quest available. You really, REALLY need to be mentally prepared for what you’ll see there…
There are many stories here that lay the characters completely bare, in a way that you would never see in the previous whimsical and adventure-focused predecessors. The game is definitely not afraid of taking a darker tone with any of its characters, especially our main protagonists. However, there are many instances where they maintain the same sharp banter and sense of humor from before, so it can leave some people conflicted about what one is suppose to feel at that moment. Yes, the tone can be over the place, but there’s a pretty good reason for why that is as you keep on playing.
That Brief Hesitation…
One major problem that I found with these segments is that they feel very out of place. What I mean is that pretty much all of the backstories you encounter are completely optional, and don’t necessarily contribute to the main story at all. This makes the overall narrative feel very disconnected from everything surrounding it, almost as if they were trying to create a big collection of lore, but didn’t know how to piece it all together in a way that made sense. It kind of reminded me of a Simpsons clip show, in which they create a convoluted reason to bring everyone together to reminisce about things, to the point where you forget about what brought you there in the first place.
In addition, some of these backstories are really short while others will easily fill over an hour of your time with nothing but dialogue. I don’t really have much of a problem with it, but there were some situations where I was pressured for time and I needed to stop playing, but I couldn’t because of these very long scenes that wouldn’t let me save. It’s a small gripe, but I can see people struggling with this eventually. If you want to fully enjoy this game, you definitely need to set a good chunk of time aside to give it your full attention when playing.
Long Live The Notebook!
Speaking of which, there isn’t much to say when it comes to the combat in this game. Yes, there is a much bigger focus on dungeon crawling this time around, but all the fights are essentially the same as always, with a tiny amount of new things that make it more fun. It’s the same turn-based grid system that you’ve already seen from previous titles, but if this is your first time playing, then don’t worry. This game doesn’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to learning how to play.
Very early on, they provide you with a notebook that automatically provides you with information on pretty much everything you would want to know when it comes to fighting. Even for veteran players, this can be useful, for this 3rd installment is one of the most difficult ones to beat out of all of them. Even when it comes to the story, the notebook automatically records everything that has happened so far, which makes it incredibly useful for people that need a refresher course after not playing for a while. I believe that more games should have a feature similar to the notebook, for it made a world of difference to me regarding my orientation of the story. But yeah, what I’m trying to say is that the game can get pretty hard, and having the notebook can be a godsend for many situations.
Smell the Roses
The final point I would like to make is on the production value of Sky the 3rd itself. For the longest time, I’ve been playing the PSP versions of the previous games on my PS Vita, and I enjoyed them greatly. However, this third game is currently only out on PC via Steam. I was a little upset that I couldn’t continue on through a portable fashion at first, but seeing a game like this run at 60 FPS with a much higher resolution blew me away. On top of that, the magnificent soundtrack, top-notch art direction and some added camera angles during gameplay add some much more to the experience. I’ll never stop loving the PSP versions, but after playing Sky the 3rd on PC, I can’t recommend it enough. I also highly suggest you play with a controller plugged in, rather than mouse and keyboard. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not difficult to play in the latter manner at all. But, moving around and exploring the menus immediately felt more comfortable to me through the controller interface, and it probably will for you too.
No Crying until the End
In conclusion, I think that this game is an incredible experience. Even though the game has a 3 in the title, it’s not really a sequel, but more of a personal journey that will probably leave you quietly pondering to yourself at your desk when you’re done playing; probably a bit teary-eyed as well. It still carries the same awesome writing, music, world building, combat and heart as always. However, it is also not afraid to completely break the rules in favor of something that could easily pass off as a new Silent Hill game. If you are a newcomer to the series, then I highly recommend that you buy all three games on Steam and just start from the beginning. I’d recommend the PSP games for their portability, but the massive jump in quality that the PC versions have are well worth witnessing for yourself. I promise that you will not regret embarking on an adventure like this one.