The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky - The Master of Worldbuilding
Like many JRPG fans, I grew up with Final Fantasy. Instead of having to step out of my door to explore our dangerous, but fairly mundane world, I could enter a world of magic and fantasy from the comfort of my couch. Those worlds felt alive, even if some of their stories were so out there that, by the end, you wonder if the writers were smoking something (not that my 8 year old self could tell).
If only I knew of Trails in the Sky back then.
Suddenly, I'm thrust into a world where every NPC changes their lines at each plot beat. No longer they feel like robots, repeating the same lines over and over, unaware of what happens around them. And there are hundreds of them!
Each one of the four chapters takes place in a different town, each with its own set of uniquely named characters. As you progress through each plot beat, they might say different things about their lives or what's happening in the world as you, the player, affect it.
So, you thought the character development was only for the main party? Think again. Some of the folks living in Liberl also get their time to shine through small character arcs. While it's all optional, much of the fun of the game is in interacting with them.
Despite taking the story taking place in the kingdom of Liberl, two others are also mentioned: the Erebonian Empire and the Republic of Calvard. During the adventure, you meet some foreigner characters and some of them even join your party at certain points. This foreshadowing across games is highly effective, as you can't help but wonder what lies out there.
Now, some people may think the game is too slow paced for their tastes, and that's fine. But I'd argue it was a deliberate choice. It took me 50 hours to get through the first game of the trilogy, but it's all done in a smart way, progressively opening the game world the more you advance through the story. You won't find info dumps here.
I must also mention the incredible localization done by XSeed. I can't count how many times I've seen scripts ruined by poor localization, especially in old JRPGs (I'm looking at you, Xenogears). Here, the dialogue flows naturally and, as much as I love the genre, that's more than can be said for the majority of JRPGs.
I've praised the heck out of the game, and you may be wondering how it actually plays, right? Well, as a strong believer that game narratives and game design should be intertwined as much as possible, Trails in the Sky doesn't score high in that regard. It's your standard turn based JRPG fare. To be honest, aside from the world building and the NPC interaction, the game doesn't NEED to be a game at all. But this a topic for another article.
After having played the first game (aptly named FC or First Chapter), I can't wait to dive into the second one. If you played it till the end, you probably know why.