Fans have been waiting for the localization of Trails in the Sky’s second chapter for years, myself included. In fact, I’ve been waiting for around 4 years since playing it. The first game ended in a crazy cliffhanger, which was more than a little painful for those of us who played it right away and loved it. The first game was an amazing experience with several standout features… most notably the way it developed NPCs.
Now, with how long we’ve waited for this… it’s hard to imagine it living up to all those expectations. I mean, 4 years is a long time. So I suppose I shouldn’t keep you guys in suspense any longer. Was the wait worth it? Yes. It was.
After having played this game, I’ve realized that this is less a sequel and more a second episode. Which makes this review hard to write, because at its core it’s essentially just a continuation of the first game, not a sequel. The core mechanics are fundamentally identical, just expanded. Which means that talking about them is essentially just going to be repeating myself… what few modifications they made are mostly positive. I’m going to focus on what is new here, if you want to see my thoughts on the original Trails in the Sky, you can read my review here.
They’ve added a bunch of new Quartz with a variety of different effects to help fill some of the gaps in the previous Quartz system, and made a lot of older Quartz have stat trade-offs to help make building your character’s stats a bit more meaningful, and added a few more interesting arts to round out the spell roster. One of the few things that kind of felt a bit awkward was the recycling of crafts. Rather than teaching you new abilities over the course of the game, you’d simply receive upgraded versions of the existing crafts.
Even though they’ve rounded out the spell roster a bit, it’s still a bit imbalanced. Fire and Earth seem really lacking, while Time and Wind are gods among arts. That being said, Earth Wall is still insanely overpowered, negating most of the game’s difficult elements. If you want a fun combat experience, I strongly recommend avoiding that spell as it will sap the fun and the strategy from a lot of your time. That being said, if you’re the type who just likes being overpowered… there’s your ticket.
Probably my least favourite part of the game was the way difficulty was handled. First of all, rather than doing something to enhance the strategic challenge, increasing the difficulty just multiplies enemies stats. But even more awkward was the fact that the difference between normal and hard is absurdly large. You’ll go from hard, which is so painful at the start that you’ll end up pulling your hair out, to normal which will likely seem far too easy for most of the game. To add frustration to it, changing difficulties requires restarting the game.
In the end though, that’s a minor gripe as the game is still a ton of fun on normal at least. And the star is still there… the game still features an amazing story full of twists and it wraps up the threads left in the first game so perfectly. The characters – both primary and side – are still fantastic, and it’s amazing to watch as story threads that started in the first game among side characters find their culmination throughout the game. The penultimate chapter features one of my favourite moments in the story as you get to see two NPCs get to live out the end of the story built up for them – a story that started in the very first town of the first game.
The growth of the main characters is simply phenomenal. Estelle at the start of Trails vs Estelle even halfway through Trails Second Chapter are practically two different people. She retains the core of her personality, but grows so much. It is interesting to watch her go from the naïve, almost spoiled child you see at the start of the first chapter to the caring, steel-willed bracer she is at the end. Still very very clearly Estelle, but a tempered, forged version of herself refined through her trials. Many of the characters undergo similar growth, but Estelle’s is by far the most notable. Even older characters like Zane and Schera still see their personalities mature a bit. Oh, and Tita is still adorable. And still awesome.
The atmosphere is also really well done. You get this constant feeling that you’re reaching for something that is just barely unattainable. This is the type of atmosphere that can lead to despair or spur you to action, depending on how it is handled… and Trails in the Sky keeps it on the latter side of the line by ensuring that you’re always accomplishing something that seems important, even if it isn’t necessarily what you were originally hoping for. You get this progression of failures that are also successes, and it helps to keep the motivation going – it gives the hope that your next success will lead Estelle to one of her goals.
The other really amazing thing about this game is the history. You get to learn a ton of fascinating information about the world’s history, some of it through events, other parts through records and such that you find… but unlike so many modern RPGs, especially Western ones, the history never feels irrelevant. I run into that problem a lot – you see games with amazing backstories behind their worlds, but there’s no difference between experiencing it and just looking it up on a website. That is not the case here, the backstory is uncovered in a way that really enhances the overall game, and it makes the events occurring here feel broader in scope and more grandiose than they might otherwise feel. Bits and pieces of the history are hinted over the course of the game, but all is revealed (okay not quite) over the last few chapters at a very good pace.
I think this is one of the greatest examples of a truly episodic delivery for a game, and – honestly – playing this second chapter has given me a greater sense of hope towards the Final Fantasy VII remake, as this game has shown that episodic isn’t just for short stories. When handled right, it can make the grand scale of a 100+ hour JRPG feel far more approachable. I cannot recommend this entire story enough, as it is one of the best JRPG experiences you’ll find anywhere. Second Chapter wraps up the story perfectly, leaving you with just the right level of closure to feel like you’ve completed the experience but enough open threads for the world to continue telling more stories.