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Game Info:

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Developed By: Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games
Published By: XSEED Games
Release Date: July 29th, 2014 (PC), March 29th, 2011 (PSP)
Available On: PC, PSP
ESRB Rating: Teen
Genre: RPG
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $19.99

Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review!

Before we get started, it's important to note that we already have reviewed the PSP version of this game here.  It was done by a different reviewer, so some points may be different, but feel free to read through that review – it pretty much all applies here.  Nevertheless, this reviewer decided to give this game a shot on the PC re-release because he has become a huge Falcom fanboy in the last year or so, and relished the opportunity to play this game in high definition.  As a result, there may not be as much details about the game system in this review – you can find that in our other one.  I will instead talk about more of the background and details surrounding the game's history, as well as a bit more detail on the moral content.

Nihon Falcom (hereafter referred to as Falcom) has been a very popular developer in Japan and East Asia, and up until 2009, had been almost wholly focused on PC gaming (though not always the IBM PC compatibles that were popular in the US).  They have been around since the dawn of RPG gaming in Japan – they created the Action RPG genre with Dragon Slayer, and contributed heavily to the RPG genre since its inception.  Each game in the series was stand alone, and the 6th entry was called Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (1989).  This series then spawned several other games, with this game being originally titled The Legend of Heroes VI: Sora no Kiseki.  This ended up becoming a trilogy of games, of which we have only received the first – XSEED will bring the Second Chapter to us late 2014/early 2015.  Depending on their success, the Third Chapter may also come to the West.

Their PC focus changed when their distributors in Japan stopped selling PC games.  In order to stay in business, they quickly changed to console development, and started to focus on the by far most popular platform in Japan – the PSP. Nevertheless, many felt that their PC releases of games like this one were in many ways superior to the PSP releases that followed; not because of any fault on Falcom's part, but because the platform is inherently superior.

As a result, the hardcore Falcom fans at XSEED, after spending considerable time translating the game, brought Trails in the Sky (the first Sora no Kiseki) to PSP in 2011, and now they have ported over the PC release in 2014.  As a result of XSEED's significant (and excellent) work, we now have what is arguably the definitive version of Trails in the Sky, on PC, in glorious 1080p+ (in my case 1440p).  It was not just a straight port of the older Windows XP code, but they also added many modern improvements.  These include widescreen support, improved gamepad support including Xbox 360 gamepads, and many more additional benefits, including porting over the high resolution assets that Falcom supplied from its PS3 re-release a few years ago, as well as porting the additional PSP features, making this version arguably the best one around.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Highlights:

Strong Points: Fantastic world building, storyline, and characters; Fun battle system; Greatly upgraded graphics from the PSP version; Amazing music
Weak Points: Unfortunate stability issues; Not all PSP features have yet been ported over, though they are coming; Cliffhanger ending
Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence, with occasional spurting blood; Some swearing; Heavily drinking characters, some to the point of passing out; Promiscuous characters, with some having bisexual tendencies; *spoiler* The main characters, adopted brother and sister, fall for each other romantically

Despite this excellent work, it is unfortunately not without a few bugs.  I found that on Intel graphics, random crashes could happen when going in between zones. It happened much less on my desktop PC, but instead, something was causing the game to minimize.  I think something may be wrong with my PC since I can't imagine why a game would minimize itself, but I found that about 50% of the time, the game would crash when coming back into focus.  I also found that the longer the game had been running, the more likely it was to crash.  Leaving the game running and stepping away from it, for example, was almost a sure-fire way to come back to my desktop screen.

Despite this, I still found it greatly preferable to play on the PC rather than the small screen PSP alternative.  A few things helped here.  For one, there are literally 1,000 save slots – so save early and often.  Also, the game autosaves the last ten zone changes on a rotating basis, so if you were just walking around, you would rarely lose more than a few seconds, if anything.  The most annoying part is that a few of my crashes were near the end of a long boss battle, with the story sequence that follows.  Most of the time, I wouldn't lose more than a few minutes, but in this case, I lost close to an hour, with a multi-tiered boss battle crashing during the third phase...

Beyond the crashing issues, I found it a very enjoyable experience.  There are a few minor graphical blemishes remaining, like a few runover words in the quest book, and numerical characters in battle being cut off by a few pixels, but these are being worked out one by one by the team at XSEED.  None of these bugs are game breaking.  But overall, I really enjoyed the high resolution upgrades, especially the character portraits.  The stock PC versions were low resolution for today's monitors; now they look nice and crisp.  And despite the age of the game and engine (the original PC release was from 2004), I find that the graphics in general have aged really well.

In the West, since Falcom is a relative unknown, they do not get the recognition that they deserve, though especially on the music front.  While famous Japanese game music composers like Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda) get strong love from fans in the West, and deservedly so, Falcom Sound Team JDK deserves to be spoken of in the same breath and with similar reverence and awe.  Trails in the Sky has a fantastic soundtrack.  I have not played a Falcom game yet without one; when I first played an Ys game, I just about fell over in audio ecstasy.  While this game's music style is not the same as Ys, it is nevertheless still excellent.  I have purchased five Falcom soundtracks so far for my personal CD collection, including the one from this game.  My kids love it – they have kept it in their CD player for a few weeks now.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 92%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 57%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 6.5/10
Sexual Content - 5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

Despite all of this praise, I do have a few things to say about Trails in the Sky worth mentioning.  First of all, the plot is really slow to get going.  This actually doesn't bother me, since it is doing character and world building, but be aware that if you are expecting to be swept up into a grand save the world plot by the end of the first ten hours or so, you will be greatly disappointed.  

A major appropriateness issue is that some of the characters behave in unexpected ways, that makes this game not for children (or perhaps even some concerned Christians).  One of the characters is openly bisexual (while he seems to prefer females, he will also hit on males if he finds they meet his standards of beauty).  The game also makes this particular character really powerful, not to mention the interactions with him are at times hilarious.  Incidentally, some in the LGBT community find the way they introduce him to be distasteful because it plays off of many straight people's natural aversion and surprise to homosexual attraction.  

Another equally significant appropriateness issue is that the two major characters, who are adopted siblings, end up falling for each other romantically.  And the funny thing about this is, most of the people around them are surprised or disappointed when they deny feelings for each other early on in their adventure.  There are some who even cheer them on or doubt that those feelings aren't there in the first place.  It's like any two teenagers who are not blood related are somehow expected to fall in love.  Now granted, they became a family when they were both 11 years old, so they were both past the point of looking at each other as young kids, but it's still pretty strange.  Many people (even outside of Christian circles) find this dynamic highly objectionable, and I don't blame them.  If you do decide to play this game anyway, be prepared for this.  It took some people I know by surprise; now you know.  

Foul language is also present, though mostly in the form of words like 'h*ll' and 'd*mn'.  Some characters use it more than others, which is to be expected - but what surprised me was that earlier in the game 'heck' was used, and later on, 'h*ll' was used, even by the same character.  And one of the characters speaking that way was a 12 year old.  I did not get the impression that she was meant to be represented as a foul mouthed character in any way.  The ESRB notes mention 'b*tch' being used, but I do not recall where or when.  There is also some suggestive language used, both with a certain character's attack (she uses whips... suggestively), and with various conversation arcs.  Again, not a game for younger audiences.

There is definitely drinking, especially heavy drinking.  Several characters have heavy drinking as a character trait, though thankfully, both main characters are underage and abstain as they should for that reason.  There is also at least one example of someone drugging another with a tranquilizer against their will.  There is more than one circumstance or story where one person drinks another under the table, so to speak.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

RPG violence is present.  Most of it is pretty tame, but there are a few attacks that spray some significant red blood.  It's nothing gory, and enemies tend to fade away or kneel down when defeated.  There is also magic use, though it's really in the form of technology that enables it.  The same items that power the magic arts also power light bulbs.  There is a goddess named Aidios that is approximately equivalent to our Christian God, including Catholic-like Cathedrals with stained glass, priests, bishops, archbishops, and a nun-like sisterhood.  It is always cast in a positive light, unlike many other video games.

While I defer to the other review on certain gameplay details, it's fair to say that many JRPG loving gamers who in particular enjoy older style RPGs would likely find this game very fun to play, as I did.  On games I really enjoy, I tend to go over the game with a fine tooth comb - and despite this, after checking a FAQ once I was near the end, I still missed some hidden secrets.  So a perfect save would require at least two more replays, using the included new game+ mode.  While many gamers report beating this game in 30-40 hours, it took me around 90.  Because I wanted it to...

So, from the gamer perspective, if you love older, long JRPG experiences, I have a feeling you will really enjoy Trails in the Sky.  The world that it has built is very charming, and it has spawned one of the longest running franchises set in a closely knit world - the seventh entry in the Kiseki series will be released shortly in Japan.  Each entry in the series basically requires playing the previous entries in order to not miss important pieces.

As a Christian, recommending this game is a very mixed bag.  On the one hand, all of what makes this game great makes that aspect easy to recommend.  Also, the characters tend to make wise decisions, are loyal to their friends, they follow the rules, and sacrifice themselves to help others, all of which is extremely admirable.  On the other hand, there is the additional content detailed above.  Since I am split on my recommendation, I would suggest that you follow your conscience.  And avoid letting children play this title - I doubt most parents would prefer to have to explain many of the surprises contained herein.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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