The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter was developed by Nihon Falcom and released for PC in 2006 in Japan. Despite being over a decade old, it’s still relatively new to the west, as it was not released until 2015, partly due to its monstrous script and years of localization hell. Western fans who played Trails in the Sky First Chapter and wanted to see the continuation of the story (which ended on a massive cliffhanger) had to wait four years in between games. The game however would prove to be worth the wait, as it is not only a satisfying conclusion to the story, but also bigger and better than First Chapter in almost every way.
As this game is called “Second Chapter”, you are fully expected to have played Trails in the Sky First Chapter already. If you have not played the first game, go and play that before reading any more of this review. (You can also check out my review of Trails in the Sky FC here.) I would even say if you have played FC and liked it and are already pretty sure you’re going to buy SC, there’s not much point to you reading this either. If you liked FC, you’re going to like SC. But if you’re on the fence, or have already played SC and just want to read for fun, by all means read on!
SC picks up shortly after the departure of Joshua Bright, adopted brother and potential lover (not as gross as it sounds, really!) of our main character Estelle Bright. After being initially distraught over his disappearance, Estelle makes it her mission to find him and drag him back home. To do so however she will first have to become much stronger. Before she embarks on her journey Cassius Bright, brigadier general of the Liberl’s army and Estelle’s dad, warns her that she will likely have to deal with a highly dangerous society full of enemies more difficult than any she’s encountered before.
This society is called Ouroboros, and their existence is not yet known to the general public. They were the true villains behind the machinations in the first game and are now putting plans into motion that will likely bring about large-scale chaos in Liberl. Estelle and the rest of the bracer guild are tasked with moving around the country to investigate the society, put a stop to whatever mayhem they are causing, and find out what their larger goals are.
One important thing to understand about SC is that outside of dungeons and a small section in the prologue, there are no new areas in this game. You don’t go to any new countries or cities. This is the pattern that the Trails series as a whole follows: the first game establishes the setting, and the second most consists of you going to the same areas as you see the conclusion of that arc’s plot. While this is initially disappointing as going to new cities in Trails games is always a treat due to how distinct and fleshed out each one is, there is also value in seeing the same areas change over time. One of the best examples of this is the port city of Roer, which had its mayor arrested in the previous game, and when you visit it in this game it’s in the middle of an intense election mayoral election.
Going to the same areas again though does lead the first half of the game feeling a little slow, and it doesn’t help that many of the early chapters follow a repetitive structure. I did find myself missing the deeper mysteries and larger variety of tasks found in the chapters of FC. But the first half of SC is far from bad, it’s actually quite good, and the second half of the game is a never-ending thrill ride of plot the likes of which I have rarely seen in games. All in all, SC is about a 60-hour adventure, 90 if you go for completion, and a fully satisfying conclusion to Estelle’s story. (There are a few loose threads left for Trails in the Sky the Third, but that is largely an unrelated story.)
While Estelle is already great in FC, it’s in this game that she blossoms into one of the best main protagonists in all of JRPGs. Separating Estelle and Joshua was an effective move that leads to truly remarkable character growth. In FC Joshua is always at Estelle’s side, keeping her emotions in check and encouraging her to think rationally. Now that Joshua is gone, she is forced to mature quickly and learn to handle herself on the job without him. By the end of this game it becomes very obvious how far she’s come as a person since the beginning of FC, a transformation that feels especially earned. Also, after an entire game of watching Estelle work as a duo with Joshua, it’s just a nice change of pace to see her work primarily with other characters.
One thing about SC that is sad to me, but really not a complaint, is the way the party works compared to FC. In FC your party members outside of Estelle and Joshua would come and go, usually only staying with you for about a chapter before leaving to do their own thing. It made them feel like real people with lives to attend to outside of tagging along with the protagonist and kept the party fresh throughout the game. SC however works more like a typical RPG where your party members join you and then stay with you for the majority of the game. Once you get more than four party members, the characters you aren’t using will hang out on the top floor of the current region’s bracer guild. This way of handling the party has the unfortunate effect of sidelining certain characters for large stretches of the game, as they don’t really have anything going on outside of helping Estelle. Again, this is the way most RPGs work so this is hardly a knock, just something that was disappointing to me.
While the plot of FC is relatively small-scale and contained entirely within Liberl’s borders, in SC you get to see the world open up quite a bit more. While you still never leave Liberl you meet more characters from surrounding countries Erebonia, Calvard, and Crossbell, and more of the political climate of the continent is worked into the plot. You start to see hints of how the long-term story arc of the Trails series, which so far has spanned nine games through 2018’s Japan-exclusive release of Trails of Cold Steel IV, will play out. If there’s anything this series is known for it’s unrivaled worldbuilding and that’s on full display here.
Because FC and SC are basically one game split into two, the battle system is mostly identical between the two games, but it does receive a step up in complexity from FC. Orbments are now seven slots as opposed to six, and all slots can be upgraded twice to give you access to newly-introduced higher level quartz. The sepith values on these new quartz are much higher than anything found in the first game, and there are also plenty of new arts that you can gain access to if you manage your orbments effectively. Some of the fights later in the game get pretty tough, so if you don’t optimize your orbments you may run into some trouble.
SC also introduces a new CP-consuming move called chain attacks. Chain attacks link multiple characters who are within range of each other to inflict heavy damage. The more characters you involve in the chain attack, however, the more CP it costs, and it also consumes the turn of everyone participating. It can be a risky move to use for these reasons, but if you use it at the right time it can be an effective way of dealing lots of damage quickly and getting you out of a nasty situation. Between crafts, S-crafts, and chain attacks, this is now one more element to think about when managing your CP. Between this and the upgraded orbments the battle system of SC is considerably more rewarding than that of FC.
The music and presentation also both receive a nice upgrade. There is over two hours of new music added on top of the already great soundtrack of FC, most of which returns for this game. All of the new tracks are fantastic and feel like a step up in composition over the first game. Considerably more battle music was composed for SC, giving recurring groups of enemies their own memorable theme. The game’s main theme is also nicely woven as a motif into a number of tracks throughout the game. As for presentation, the menus were all given a nice new sheen, and all playable characters receive new menu portraits. There are even some characters who did not have dialogue portraits in the first game who are upgraded to portrait-status in this game.
Trails in the Sky Second Chapter improves over First Chapter in almost every way, making for a thrilling conclusion to the story. Some of the same issues from FC persist, namely a lack of a separate magic menu outside of battle, making it slightly inconvenient to heal your characters in-between fights; slow-moving battles and a lack of fast travel (though both of these issues are alleviated by the addition of turbo in the PC addition of the game); and outside a few fights toward the end the game is rarely challenging on normal difficulty. But this game is so great those issues end up barely mattering. The Trails in the Sky duology is a masterpiece in storytelling, with a once again fantastic localization by Xseed, that all JRPG fans should make an effort to play.