By Phil Schipper / December 11th, 2015
|Title||Trails in the Sky SC|
|Release Date||October 29, 2015|
|Platform||PlayStation Portable, PC|
|Age Rating||Teen (ESRB)|
The original Trails in the Sky was a lot of fun, but it was just the beginning. If you felt that it left you hanging with its story, then the time has come to journey on with Trails in the Sky SC (SC is short for Second Chapter). So, as a matter of necessity, let me first say that I simply cannot talk about this game without massive SPOILERS for the first Trails in the Sky game, including the very end. If you don’t want to be spoiled, please turn back now. And go beat Trails in the Sky — it’s well worth it. Seriously, go on, I’ll wait.
Okay, so if you’re scrolling past this point, I’m going to assume that you finished Trails in the Sky. If so, you’ll remember that a certain party member left us in a rather heartbreaking fashion, all due to the work of a secret organization that was pulling the strings for essentially everything. Trails in the Sky SC is the story of our heroine, Estelle, revisiting familiar lands to find and stop that organization, and reunite with the person she’s lost.
The story begins with Estelle finishing up some hardcore training to get stronger, which serves as both a refresher to familiar battle mechanics and a nice tutorial on new additions. SC is once again a turn-based combat system with a dash of strategy, where both sides move around a rather small battlefield and fight using a combination of normal attacks and the game’s “arts and crafts.” Arts are based on the customizable Orbment system (more on that in a minute), whereas crafts represent skills unique to each character and are learned by leveling up. Each character’s most powerful crafts are called S-crafts and can be triggered at practically any time, interrupting the normal turn order.
There’s a bit of modification to the Orbment system, but it’s essentially the same. You spend elemental fragments — gained both in battle and from chests — to create various quartz, which go into the slots of the Orbments. Depending on the exact quartz and the combination of elements, the character can gain all kinds of stat bonuses and magic spells (arts). Whereas Trails in the Sky made you unlock the six slots of each character’s Orbment, SC gives you seven open ones right from the beginning. However, to use some of the new and stronger quartz, you have to upgrade the slots by spending some of the elemental fragments. Unfortunately, the new Orbments can’t use old quartz, so the ones you might have built up in the previous game won’t carry over. (It was worth a try, right?)
As deep and engaging as the game’s combat is, it’s the story that really shines. Like its predecessor, Trails in the Sky SC can get pretty text-heavy at times, but by this point most of the party members are so familiar that this text is mostly focused on new information. There are one or two new faces, like the mysterious Kevin, but almost all of the other new characters are villains, who confront you a number of times as the plot escalates. Most of them are connected in some way to some of your own party members, which in turn allows you more of a glimpse into their stories. The way it all weaves together is really powerful, in my opinion. Compared to the first game’s fairly average plotlines, this sequel truly steps up and delivers something much better.
While the main plot is quite extensive, the way to discover much of the world is through talking to people, buying information books at the shops, and taking on side quests. The quests are still as simple as finding them at the guild board, completing the tasks and reporting back for money and items. The quest types, like tracking down hidden bosses and going on a scavenger hunt with cryptic clues, should be familiar. However, some also include the new addition of fishing to the game. It’s an extremely basic and not-very-interesting version of the classic RPG minigame, but considering Estelle’s interest in fishing, at least it makes sense.
One of the most powerful components of the two Trails in the Sky games is the music. I was originally drawn to these games when stumbling upon a particularly memorable track from SC. That said, it shares a lot of its soundtrack with its predecessor. This is because, for much of the game, you’re revisiting areas from before, even though they are in many cases changed quite a bit. When you do get to new places, the soundtrack is new too, but there’s a lot of callback to old memories. I’m not complaining at all, since Trails in the Sky already had such great music. In fact, if there’s anything wrong with the music, it’s that the normal battle theme doesn’t quite hit the standard that Trails in the Sky set.
I can say pretty much the same thing about the graphics, at least in the PSP version that I played: that is, it’s a lot of what you saw in the first game, with maybe a few small changes. The most important party members get some costume changes that really help show how they’ve matured, and you’ll see a couple of new views to certain characters’ portraits during crucial scenes. Some of the new additions to the monster lists are really cool to look at, too. Still, the PSP versions leave something to be desired — the screenshots on this review actually reflect the Steam version of the game, whereas the PSP graphics are not quite as pixel-perfect.
It would be a shame to leave off without mentioning a few of the other cool touches in this game, most of which carry over from the first. In no particular order, these include handy chances to save around long scenes, silly text when examining chests you’ve already opened, beautifully choreographed fights during cutscenes, and dialogue choices that effectively test your memory and understanding of what’s going on. SC also has some special scenes when you bring certain party members to boss fights against their rivals (there is a lot more choice of party members in this game). None of these things are huge by themselves, but they all contribute to showing this game’s polish.
In total, Trails in the Sky SC is a lot like the first in every way, but it also manages to improve on basically every front, especially the story. It’s also a bit longer, clocking in at around 70 hours to Trails in the Sky‘s 50. Combined, these games are easily a new addition to my top ten favorite games. Still, as much as I’ve enjoyed talking about it, I also feel a bit silly. For those that haven’t played Trails in the Sky, I think it would be an absolute injustice to skip that to get to this one. But then, its cliffhanger ending pretty much means that anybody that finished it has probably been eagerly waiting for this game anyway. If, however, you have been on the fence for some strange reason, let me be the one to say you absolutely should get this, either on Steam or PSN. It’s only $29.99 USD, which is amazing for a full-sized game like this one. Have fun!
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
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