JRPGs have a reasonable following in the world at large, but it’s only in the last few years that they’ve become readily available on Steam. What was once a barren wasteland for JRPG fans has slowly blossomed, and gamers now find themselves with a decent catalogue to choose from whenever popping on Steam. So now we found ourselves, over a year after Trails in the Sky’s Steam release date, investigating to see how it holds up to the competition.
In many ways, Trails in the Sky is standard fare for JRPGs. You have a coming of age story for the two protagonist siblings, Estelle and Joshua, a budding romance, and a seemingly small quest that expands to world-saving proportions as the game progresses. You could even fairly say that the story of the game isn’t particularly exciting, and doesn’t begin to move until you’re about thirty hours of the game. Instead, Trails in the Sky leans more heavily on the character interactions throughout the game to keep players interested. Of major note is the way your party changes as the game progresses. Unlike many JRPG titles, most party members in Trails of the Sky are not permanent additions. As a result, you have a rolling party roster instead of one that slowly grows throughout the game. Players get to know a new character throughout each chapter of the story. It’s a neat way to give players a chance to constantly get to know characters, but it’s not always for the best.
A distinct pattern sets in as the game progresses, with each chapter’s progress marked pretty similarly. You meet a new character. A small incident occurs requiring your attention, and you help them out. The trouble grows, and more about the new character is woven into the adventure. It’s not a bad way to write a story, but seeing it four times in the same game? It’s a little much. Thankfully, all these meetings do culminate into one impressive final chapter, but it’s a shame that the story doesn't do more to get off the ground early on.
Luckily, Trails in the Sky’s combat is much less formulaic. The standard turn-based system players might expect is quite a bit different, and instead you’ll find yourself battling enemies on a small map. Characters can freely move around the map on their turns, and you must rely on your position and turn order to take advantage of your opponents. In fact, turn order might be the most crucial part of the battle. As the battle progresses, you can see bonuses that certains will acquire on their turns. If you time your magic spells correctly or insert yourself into one of those turns using a special attack, you can grab bonuses from your enemies for yourself. As a result, carefully managing your craft points (CP), which increase every time you deal or receive damage, is vital, as you need at least 100/200 to launch one of your “Special Breaks” (a large, screen-dominating attack that can be used any time during the battle at the cost of all your character’s CP points). As a result, battles rarely feel stale, even if some of them can drag on a little long.
Longer boss battles can be a lot of fun, but against your everyday grunts it starts to feel like a chore later in the game. This isn’t helped by cheery, yet repetitive battle music throughout the adventure. The same music persists outside of battle as well, and until the final chapter, you can expect to hear the same town, city, overworld, and dungeon themes no matter where you go. Thankfully, the themes we do have are quite well done. I only wish we could’ve had a few more of them. It’s to the composer’s credit that I didn’t ever dislike the music, but spend fifty hours with any song, and you’ll start to get bored.
For all my complaints though, I enjoyed Trails in the Sky. It’s a slow starter, but the ending was strong and left me anticipating the second chapter’s release on Steam. If you’re not a patient gamer, then Trails in the Sky might not be for you. If you enjoy getting to know a large cast, starting an epic, 3-game saga, and interesting combat, give it a shot!