Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game Review: Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PS Vita)

The Legend of Heroes series continues with its latest installment, the Trails in the Sky trilogy. Nihon Falcom loooooves threesomes -- I'd previously played the Gagharv trilogy, albeit not in the order intended: first, Song of the Ocean (#3); next, A Tear of Vermillion (#1); and finally, Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch (#2). Those games shared certain characters, and the setting for each story included Gagharv, a giant "scar" (gorge) in the land caused by the sins of humans, I guess. It's always our fault. Anyway, I had lots of fun with the Gagharv trilogy, and eagerly got my mitts on Trails in the Sky.

Nihon Falcom released the PSP version of the game way back in 2006, then got around to localizing it in 2011. I downloaded it on my PlayStation Vita (needs 1+ GB of memory) and watched the opening scene with amusement. The main character, Estelle, waits for her dad to come home. When he does, he says he has a present for her. She peeks at the bundle in his arms, and bellows, "Why is my present a BOY?" A half-dead one, at that. Boy wakes up, says name is Joshua, acts shady, Estelle kicks him a few times, and off we went to the opening animation.

Sadly, Trails in the Sky has the distinction of being the weakest Falcom game I've played so far, despite the promising introduction. Good news first: the ending did a good job of connecting the game's events to the next installment in the trilogy, Estelle's character development impressed me, and the gameplay was decent. Bad news: the music bored me, the storytelling could use heavy editing with a chainsaw, and I would very much like to hurl an extremely pissed off cat to whoever designed and implemented the combat system. Details below, spoilers ahoy!

Story: Predictable 
Every single "twist" can be guessed far in advance by the experienced gamer. The two main characters join the Bracer Guild, which we would call a police force, and embark on a journey to advance their ranking. Along the way, they capture notorious sky bandits, rescue innocents, foil a coup attempt, and get thrown in jail. Pretty standard stuff.

The game telegraphs every trope it has, from secret princess to secret bad guy to secret even bigger bad guy. I mean, as soon as your players meet a gruff manly man who treats you like crap, you can bet your bottom dollar that he's going to grudgingly respect you later on. In real life, these tools just go their merry way. In JRPG, everyone learns to Get Along.

Also: I think the orbment technology needs more explanation, because it does sound genuinely interesting. For those who didn't play, the world of Trails in the Sky underwent a dramatic transformation when a small group of scientists discovered how to break down minerals called sepith and recalibrate them to create quartz, which can be further modified to build and power things like airships and escalators, and to perform magical-seeming technology called "Arts." I would like to see a Neal Stephenson-esque wall of informative and entertaining text for this, please.

Character Development: Singular
Estelle is the only character to have any meaningful development. It happens fairly early in the game, too -- a crisis morphs her into a practical, driven young woman, where before she acted like a total space cadet. She also gradually falls for her adopted brother, and while I am all for non-incestuous young love, if a dude were raised as my brother, the thought of having romantic feelings for said dude would make me nauseous.

That said, every Falcom game I've played emphasized the teamwork between a boy and a girl, and the relationship between Estelle and Joshua became the core of a story mired in clichéd intrigue and chaos. Apropos to nothing -- cross-dressing: always fun.

Gameplay: Decent
Players can rotate the camera, woo-hoo! There's also the option to cook after learning recipes by eating dishes. You can go for either sit-down meals (heals everyone as soon as you whip up the dish), or take-out (can be used later). Food ingredients are cheaper than healing items, or free, like Monster Meat. Yummy!

Music: Boooooring
I had the sound turned down low because the music seemed determined to underachieve. Even Joshua's supposedly poignant harmonica theme bored me. This is a first for Nihon Falcom; the Gagharv trilogy boasted excellent soundtracks.

Combat System: MUST BE CRUSHED
I died several times during battles that should have been a cakewalk. I breezed through boss fights. THE THRICE-DAMNED SPECIAL ARTS TOOK FOREVER TO EXECUTE AND WERE NOT EVEN PRETTY TO LOOK AT. The one exception, of course, being Scherazard's Sadist Whip attack, where she purrs, "Someone's been naughty!" and proceeds to whip the life right out of enemies. That's awesome. More of that, please.

Still! There's a line between flouting expectations and just doing a crappy job, Falcom. You crossed it. Thanks to your awful combat system, Fiancé now has a counter to my telling him to chill out during football games. "How about you when you're playing video games?" he would say. GRRRR.

I didn't comment on the graphics because this game was designed for the PSP, and I'd just played the breathtaking Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It would have been unfair for Trails in the Sky to be compared to that. Errr, also, why is this game called Trails in the Sky? The only time my characters went on an airship that actually flew, they were crammed sardine-like into a container. I never even got to fly an airship! Nihon Falcom, please see my point viz. flouting expectations.

In conclusion: I shall now investigate if I can get onto Sony Network Japan, per Fiancé's suggestion, to download the Japanese version of the remaining games and not have to wait for the localization. You can see who wears the common sense hat in this relationship. That's right, me. Because I had the sense to voodoo convince this man that I'm The One. (satisfied nod)