The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky marks the first game in this strategy role-playing series to see a stateside release. Plenty of tactical elements keep combat interesting and often challenge you to outmaneuver foes in unique ways, while a high difficulty level encourages you to stay one step ahead of your opponents. Though the gameplay of Trails in the Sky is rewarding, it's the twisting plot of love and deceit that really draws you in.
Estelle has some fierce competition for Joshua's affection.
The enthralling story launches one strange mystery after another, hooking you with rich characters and a romantic subplot. The game opens in the small town of Rolent in the kingdom of Liberl, where a hero's young daughter, Estelle, and her orphaned friend, Joshua, have just completed training to become bracers--civil servants that fight for the good of the people. When Estelle's father, an experienced bracer himself, suddenly disappears, the duo sets out on a quest to find him, unmasking a national conspiracy in the process. The dialogue is a little heavy, but memorable characters keep it lively with amusing banter; you meet a flirtatious bard, a dominatrix gypsy, and a spiky-haired kid with an attitude problem as big as his giant sword, as well as an interesting supportive cast with rich backstories. Estelle and Joshua are fairly complex as they hide their feelings--and true involvement in this political fiasco--from each other while a charming love story unfolds. There is more to this plot than meets the eye, and what begins as a simple quest to save Estelle's father grows into a tale of destiny.
Interesting bracer missions enrich exploration, which makes investigating the game's simple mazes much more fulfilling. Each town has its own unique scenario that advances the story, creatively blending plot elements with dungeons. In one job, you escort a clueless photographer through a monster-infested tower so she can snap the perfect photo; another has you staging an undercover rescue operation in a heavily guarded villa. You also trigger a decent variety of side quests, including monster-extermination jobs and treasure hunts. Though most of the game's dungeons amount to little more than mazes, their hidden corridors and optional bosses keep them enticing.
The turn-based battle system is a little slow but satisfying, and it frequently surprises you with its strong strategic elements. Battles occur on a large grid that limits your movement field, shifting the tactical focus from surrounding out-of-reach enemies to outmaneuvering--or just outpacing--them. To this end, a turn wheel that features battle bonuses comes into play, randomly granting gifts of health recovery and strength boosts that make all the difference in a close fight. You can monopolize most of these bonuses for your allies by delaying enemy turns, but your opponents don't make it easy because they often cast speed spells upon themselves to snag critical hit bonuses with surprising efficiency. Fortunately, devastating attacks, called S-breaks, give you the edge by interrupting the turn order, which lets you snatch an enemy's bonus right before it's used against you. Another good strategy is to quickly wipe out a foe marked with a turn bonus, which you can do by capitalizing on its elemental weaknesses via magic.
Flashy S-breaks interrupt the turn order to deal devestating damage.