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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trails in the Sky FC Evolution (英雄伝説 空の軌跡 FC Evolution)

After several failed attempts at beating Sora no kiseki FC on two other platforms (yay Falcom), I finally marathoned this game on my trusty ol' Vita. See, what happened was Xseed (AKA the company that no longer does fan service games) FINALLY got around to localizing the sequel to this game. And in their usual classy manner, they decided to spoil this game in the first THREE WORDS of the steam description. I got so annoyed that I decided screw it, better finish this game and play SC (second chapter) as well before all the 'mericans spoil that too.

Guess which version is from the tasteful folks at Xseed?
Anyways, putting aside my disgust at Xseed's total lack of respect for spoilers, I'm glad to have finally finished the first game in a series that already has a total of 7 games so far. The trails series is the most recent and longest running series in the Legend of Heroes metaseries, which I first talked about in my last review of LOH3 or 2 or 2-1. In fact, this game was originally called Legend of Heroes VI as the sixth entry in the entire... oh, WHATEVER!

Of course, as a Jhipster, I am playing the Japanese exclusive Evolution remake for the Vita which features voice acting, sharp-ass graphics, and new artwork. I'm sure non-jhipsters can enjoy when it gets localized sometime around 2025, just in time for it to be completely obsolete with the PS5 super evolution 3d waifu Matrix VR remake... at least going by the current release schedule.

The first thing that really struck me about the Evolution version compared to the 2 disk UMD grindfest version or even the PS3 HD "port" (emphasis on the double quotes) was how damn sharp those pixels were on my fancy OLED screen. While the graphics remain mostly the same, the details on the shops, buildings, signs, and everything was just amazing. This is the only 2d RPG I know of so far where you can actually read the tiny signs without having to examine it.

Thanks for the ! but I can read the sign just fine already (click image for full size)
The other aspect that makes this game unique is just how much the NPCs have to say in the towns. Virtually every NPC has something different to say after every tiny, little story event. And if you have the patience to talk to every NPC over and over, tons of little stories will unfold. Some of them will react to the events of the story and others will talk about simple mundane things like the guy working at the bar babysitting his girlfriend's little sister while she goes to work.  There's even a couple that are on a pilgrimage that you will see at every town as you travel from one place to another.

Enjoy as this poor guy's mom asks every girl in the village to marry her son
About half of the 75 hours it took me to beat this game was probably spent walking around town and talking to NPCs. Even if you aren't crazy like me, there is SO MUCH dialogue to the point where I'm tempted to put this game in the ADV category, which is why having the main story fully voiced is such a HUGE improvement. As an American, of course I'm offended when confronted with the notion of having to read so being able to listen to the dialogue with auto progress on is a huge bonus. The only annoying part is having to swipe every few minutes so the Vita doesn't go to sleep. I can't believe there is STILL no option to turn that off.

The voiced dialogue also features matching mouth movement in the character profiles and various expressions which is an attention to detail I really appreciate. Really, the level of detail and the hours and hours of voiced dialogue just boggles the mind when you consider Falcom is already releasing SC Evolution a mere 6 months after this one while Xseed took many years just to translate the text. (I've worked in Japan so I can imagine the poor salarymen slaving away at this.)

There was a free demo on JP PSN last time I checked

This visual novel even has an RPG aspect (lol), and the battle system is a very fun turn-based grid system. I played on hard and it felt like just the right amount of challenge. The level progression is VERY controlled. In other words, you level up right away in a new chapter and each level makes a huge difference but it rapidly slows down until the next chapter. The dip is sharp enough to the point where it's almost impossible to grind and become overpowered unless you enjoy watching your exp bar inch up a few pixels every battle (kinda reminds me of Fate/Extra in that regard). As a result, the boss battles were all fairly challenging for the most part.

If you've played the PSP Westerner newb edition, you may remember the option to retry a battle in easy mode and (apparently?) 100% success rate of escaping from battles. The easy retry option was never in the Japanese version and while I only played this game on hard, escape success rate generally starts around 60% (higher or lower depending on who has the initiative) and goes up after every failed attempt.

Sorry, no retry on easy or 100% escape rate here... NEWB
There is some strategizing you can do in terms of attack delays, and turn skipping to try to get the good field effects but not as much as a game like Grandia. Still, it's fun to fill up your CP gauge and take the enemies turn on a Zero craft field effect and get a special attack for free. However, it can get really annoying if, for example, a boss you've been pounding at forever gets a 50% heal field effect randomly.

That critical turn is gonna make this attack GOOOOD
As for the story overall, I obviously would have enjoyed it more if it wasn't spoiled at the outset. While it wasn't exactly jaw-dropping, most of the charm lies in the character interactions, which is ironic because that's exactly what was so sorely lacking in LOH White Witch. They both feature a male and female character traveling the land but unlike Julio and Chris, Joshua and Estelle actually have personality, back stories, and character development (OMG!!).

Now featuring back stories and personality
WHA??? Character development?
Score: 3.5 Jhipsters don't have to READ FOO (except 20+ hours of NPC gossip) out of 5 points (75 hours to beat)

Is Sora no Kiseki FC the best RPG of this decade as some who talk about the the same 5 games over and over and over and apparently hasn't played any other game since would say? Nooooot exactly, but it's still an above-average game, especially since it's voiced. I fully enjoyed my time with it and looking forward to the second chapter. Oh, and the updated soundtrack was a nice bonus too.

The OST was pretty good, especially this one

For those who have played previous versions of the game, you have to check out chapter 2 fully voiced. As those who played can probably guess, there's a part that's way more hilarious voiced rather than just reading the (copious) amount of text. I have to say, Joshua sounds way better than I expected at that part. Ha ha.

Bonus Vita wallpaper for smug Jhipsters to use while playing on their Vita (and I'm not talking about PSP archives)
Scale
0 - Awful
1 - Bad and not worth your time
2 - Has some flaws but still enjoyable
3 - An average enjoyable experience
4 - A great game
5 - Masterpiece of a caliber only found very rarely

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