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The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Falcom
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Dear reader, the videogame industry is a strange place full of success stories and wild origins for many titles. Case in point, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, a low budget, old-school RPG that started its life on PC's in Japan seven years ago! In fact, the whole series of Legend of Heroes has been given a second life recently by getting a fresh port for each game over the past few years onto the PSP. So is a direct port of a seven year old RPG enough to make you care about the PSP again?

Probably not. Over the last several years, the PSP has proven that it is capable of some pretty stellar visual eye-candy. Even recent releases like The 3rd Birthday and Final Fantasy Dissidia flex the graphical power of PlayStation's portable machine fairly nicely, so it is quite a shame to see Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has not aged well at all. The past seven years have not been kind to sprite-based RPG's, especially ones with a low budget. The isometric view feels quaint by today's lofty standards and while the cutesy anime sprites have been spruced up for a 2011 release, they still look blurry and muddy on the crisp LCD screen. The run-of-the-mill fantasy art style doesn't necessarily leave a lasting impression, but the poor sprite art is not doing the style any favors.

I feel like I should get this out of the way sooner rather than later, but Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is about as cookie-cutter as can be because it feels like "My first RPG." Even if you have only played one other Japanese RPG in the past, somehow Legend of Heroes will already feel familiar. I don't mean that negatively, per se, but it makes the task of reviewing the title that much harder when compared to every other competitor on the market.

Dry, but effective writing compliments the inconsistent voice acting, (voice acting which swings wildly from "solid" to "annoying anime tropes.") The soundtrack is serviceable, but it never stands out either. If the entire experience of Legend of Heroes were to be summed up in one word, that word would be "Meh."

In the world of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, the kingdom of Liberl is living a prosperous existence. In the countryside, Estelle and her adopted brother Joshua are training to be Bracers (read: Knights) for the kingdom under the tutelage of Estelle's father, Cassius. Through their rigorous training and strict code of justice, these brave young bracers will eventually uncover political intrigue and dark secrets of the empire they are sworn to protect as a grander story unravels.

The story unfolds slowly as the first 45 minutes are devoted to back story and the explanation of gameplay systems before any ACTUAL game begins. The varied and complex combat systems do take a bit of explanation at first, but the learning curve does level out and the in-game explanations seem to overcomplicate things more than they should. There are only two systems that are truly important: "Orbments" and "Crafts."

The Orbment system only looks complex, but really it is similar to the "grid" system found in many Japanese RPG's. After acquiring a currency known as sepith, you can begin mixing different sepith elements together to create new gems to place on an Orbment board. Mixing and matching different gems with different septihs unlocks new abilities for each character like fire-based attacks, time-based assists, or healing spells which cost EP (read: MP.) The depth of complexity is directly related to how much you want to invest. You could spec out each board to maximize each character's potential, or you could shove the strongest septih gems into the strongest character to create an one-sided party.

The other system is known as "Crafts" which does not actually involve crafting. No, this "craft" is referring to each character specialty trait like casting magic or high-powered offensive attacks. Crafts cost CP (craft points,) which are earned by participating in battles. If a character has stored up over 100 CP, they can unleash an S-Craft attack (read: limit break) that can interrupt any other turn and inflict massive amounts of damage very quickly. These S-Craft attacks take a while to build up, so conserving them or waiting until the right moment in battle is key.

For distraction's sake, there is also a cooking mini-game where you can cook recipes that aid you and your allies in battle. Recipes are earned when you consume items that can be cooked, so tracking down recipes isn't ever too far out of reach if you choose to cook frequently. It serves as a nice, attainable goal while grinding out in the field as it allows you to continue to survive longer with any of your ingredients you find in the wild.

Other than a painfully tedious introduction, the rest of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky unfolds in much the same as other Japanese RPG's currently on the system. Storylines are separated by enemy-infested dungeons that generally last about an hour with a boss fight. The tale of political intrigue is the driving factor that pushes you onward with the experience because while the combat is fun, it doesn't offer the depth to keep you engaged all the way through the several hour journey.

Game Mechanics:
Combat in Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky attempts to stave off the monotony of hundreds of battles by offering a light tactical element. Players familiar with tactical-RPG's will already be familiar with movement restrictions and the importance of positioning your team to minimize damages and Trails in the Sky does a pretty good job about mixing in new elements to keep the pace fast and the action high.

When battles start, an attack order is given on the left side of the HUD which shows whose turn will be next depending on the battle conditions. Moving, attacking, casting spells, using items, and using crafts all cost Action Points (AP) which are limited during every turn. Again, the comparison to many tactical-RPG's is apt, but because there are no grids or terrains, the pace feels MUCH faster and more akin to real-time battles. Plus, the addition of Crafts and S-Crafts ensures that the battles don't get bogged down in the minutiae of complex set-ups and positioning; attacking is deliberate and to the point without being mindless.

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is, without a doubt, a solid RPG experience. It's just that it doesn't really feel any more than a beginner's RPG. With some well-written characters and a battle system that often feels fun, the only detriment to Legend of Heroes is that it is a relic of the first wave of the previous generation. The aged sprites do not cast Legend of Heroes in a positive light when compared to recent heavy hitters on the market. While The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is far from a bad game, the only real appeal is to players who are new to the genre or players who are desperate for more of the same.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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