Xseed's partnership with developer Nihon Falcom is certainly benefitting old-school Japanese role-playing game fans in North America. The publisher recently released the Ys games for the PlayStation Portable and is now working on localizing The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky trilogy that was originally released in Japan in 2004. Anyone comfortable with turn-based battles will feel right at home, but Trails in the Sky makes its own touches to the combat system and customization to make it unique.
The story is set in Liberl Kingdom and revolves around a feisty young girl named Estelle Bright, the daughter of a legendary fighter. Her adopted brother Joshua is always by her side looking out for her as they take on guild quests together. You'll join the Bracer guild early on (an organization dedicated to help the people), which serves as a tutorial for introducing you to the combat mechanics, arts, and craft. As you continue completing jobs from the guild, the story will advance and you'll learn more about the world's politics, as well as the people close to you.
At a glance, the gameplay resembles a fast-paced strategy role-playing game. Enemies appear onscreen, and once you've entered the battlefield, you have the option to maneuver around a 17-by-17 grid area for strategic placement. It's turn based and quick; you don't have to deal with which direction you're facing (or move first and then attack; you just automatically attack if you're within range), but you do have to keep in mind how you want your characters positioned. On top of your standard attacks, you have magical abilities that come in the form of orbal arts. In Trails in the Sky, characters have individual orbments, which are a technology that lets you harness orbal energy points and customize your skills. Slots in your orbment can be filled with different types of quartz, which grants you the ability to cast spells or even boost your stats.
Other than your health and energy points, you need to keep track of another meter in the form of your craft points. These build during battle, and once you reach 100, you can execute an S-craft technique that is similar to a limit break or overdrive attack where you deal extra damage but use up all of your charged craft points. Your party members will learn unique crafts as they level that will require craft points.
There's a lot to take in at first, which is why the game provides you with a Bracer notebook that documents your current missions and can be used as an in-game manual. Estelle may be talented with a staff in battle, but her skills don't exactly extend to the kitchen, given the amount of flack she receives from her father and brother. Throughout your travels, you'll gather recipes that are automatically recorded in a recipe book. From there, you can use items that you've picked up along the way to conjure up some meals to help your party.
We didn't get far enough to find out more about the overarching story, but there was enough intrigue and mystery surrounding the main characters to keep our attention. Estelle can be a bit too bubbly at times, but Joshua's levelheadedness strikes a good balance. Visually, Trails in the Sky doesn't stand out much compared to other Japanese RPG remakes that have been put out on the PSP, but its visuals are pleasing nonetheless and the soundtrack is fitting. For those interested in the soundtrack, you can receive it by preordering the limited-edition version of the game at participating retailers. It also comes bundled with other goodies, such as a poster and a Bracer guild replica badge. Look for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky when it is released on March 29.