Trails/Kiseki: Who else is a fan of these criminally overlooked JRPGs?


#1

With the release of Trails in the Sky The 3rd coming up this week I want to spotlight what I think is the best JRPG series going right now.

The Trails/Kiseki series is from developer Nihon Falcom, mostly known for the Ys games. There are three separate subseries within the larger franchise(listed in release order):

Trails in the Sky
Trails in the Sky FC (PC, PSP)
Trails in the Sky SC (PC, PSP)
Trails in the Sky The 3rd (PC)

Crossbell
Zero no Kiseki
Ao no Kiseki

Trails of Cold Steel
Trails of Cold Steel (PS3, Vita, PC)
Trails of Cold Steel 2 (PS3, Vita, PC)
Trails of Cold Steel 3 (PS4, released Sept 2017 in Japan, no localization announcement yet)
Trails of Cold Steel 4 (PS4, releasing 2018 in Japan)

Why do people like these games?: The Trails series is second to none in building an incredibly developed world. The lore and world building is dense and satisfying to dig into. The games all take place in different nations on the same continent and most of the overarching stories center around the political dealings and military aggression between them. Oh and they have DOPE music.

Does that mean I need to play them all in order to understand everything?: Nope, start with whatever series you want to! I started out with Cold Steel and only went back to the Sky games after. The stories themselves are unique to each series BUT I will say that Falcom isn’t shy about connecting the series together through lore and returning characters. They really reward you for being invested in the world that the games are set in. For example, there’s a one off line in Sky SC about a politician who is from Erebonia, one of the continent’s most powerful nations. Cold Steel takes place in Erebonia and this character appears in those games as a major character. That’s years, and multiple games, in between these two games and your knowledge of the world actually pays off! It’s amazing!

Why are the names of the Crossbell games still in Japanese and don’t have platforms next to them?: Well…it’s because they’ve never been released in English. These games are MASSIVE localization projects and the series has yet to really find itself on solid footing in the West. People who love them really love them but there just isn’t a big enough pool of people who know. It’s a shame because XSEED does an incredible job localizing them. The writing is sharp and the terminology remains consistent from game to game. XSEED has said that if we want to see the Crossbell games we need to support the series and show that there’s interest. DO YOUR PART!

Who is Estelle and why does everyone love her?: Estelle is the protagonist of Sky FC and SC and SHE RULES MEGA HARD

Who is Rean and why does everyone hate him?: Rean is the protagonist of the Cold Steel games and I DON’T KNOW. THE REAN BEAN MACHINE IS MY GOOD SON HE IS JUST TRYING HIS BEST IN THIS CRAZY WORLD.

In conclusion I’ll say this: these games don’t have the most unique art style and they certainly don’t have the budget of something like Persona 5. At first glance they might look generic but there is a beating heart underneath it all that rivals the best this genre has to offer. They’re long, complicated, dense, and moving. They’re a blast to play and are often hilarious. Give 'em a chance!


#2

I’m a few hours into SC and my poor baby Estelle, oh how she has grown.

I wish I could finish it until 3rd’s release, but that’s impossible.

edit:

I’ll say that it took me 3 tries to finally finish FC.

I’d play the first hour or so in Rolent and be bored with how slow the game starts. But I pushed through it on the third time, and started gaining affection for Joshua and Estelle.

And then I started seeing how full of life that game is, with every single character having something new to say (and evolving in their own mini plots) at every new story beat; that was truly fantastic.

By the end, I was certain that Estelle’s growth as a character is one of the most beautifully written things I’ve ever seen in a game.


#3

I played Trails In The Sky FC on my Vita during a trip to Japan, because I wanted to have something familiar to do before bed every night. It was fantastic, I got really involved in it, and I may have had to rub away tears while on a train to Osaka at one point.

I haven’t jumped into the second chapter yet and I don’t know if my schedule has time to take on multiple series, but I’ll definitely at least finish the Sky games.


#4

I played Trails in the Sky FC and loved it… but I haven’t played SC despite owning it on both PC and Vita.

I also own the first two Trails of Cold Steel games…

Sigh.

One day!


#5

Yes! One thing about these games, and this is especially true in the Cold Steel games, is that NPCs actually matter in them. There is an astounding amount of dialogue written for each one. In CS you’re constantly finding characters in different places, interacting with other characters, and having their own arcs. If you pay attention, you’re rewarded with a lot of great little stories. It’s just one of the many things that help sell the world and the characters that inhabit it.


#6

I think Trails in the Sky might be better than Persona 4. It’s got better combat. It’s got better dialogue, with great comedic timing and animations to match. It’s got a better overall story arc. It obviously doesn’t have the soundtrack that Persona 4 does, and I like the characters of Persona more. I’d say Trails is a better game but I like Persona 4 more.

I’ve played about 60 hours of Cold Steel and I really don’t like it. I’d like to get back to it and finish it off though.


#7

The fan translation of the Vita version of Trails in the sky FC is coming out in a week or so and I’ve been sitting on a hacked Vita for six months just to play it. Cold Steel 1&2 were fantastic with such attention to detail and detailed world building that was unlike anything I’ve played since getting into Witcher.

It also has one of my battle systems ever. The boss battles are so hard and the characters are so customizable, it’s like you’re expected to figure out how to break the system. Getting Fie to a 100% evasion rate and destroying everything was one of the biggest senses of accomplishment I’ve ever had in a video game.


#8

CS 2 is a much better game. It fixes the pacing issues and amps up a lot of the cool political stuff from the end of the first game. First game felt like a lot of tell not show, second game places you more directly in the center of the conflict.


#9

Trails in the Sky FC was probably my favourite game the year it came out on PC. I was super into it and got into the gift-it-to-people mood with it. I haven’t been able to get into Cold Steel… maybe I’ll give it another shot when it’s on PC.


#10

I’m unbelievably excited for Trails in the Sky 3 tomorrow. I’m also super pumped that Cold Steel is getting a PC release - I was actually planning on buying a Vita at some point down the line just to play those games :speak_no_evil:


#11

Easily, easily my favorite RPG series at the moment. Like, I was ridiculously into Persona before getting into this series, and I didn’t think anything could top that for me, but Cold Steel absolutely blew me away. OP already covered what makes it so special, but i’d like to add that the games somehow manages to feel retro and modern at the same time.

I still need need to finish SC before playing 3rd though (rip)


#12

I love that these are releasing outside Japan. The localization blogs have been super interesting - it’s always something I’ve wondered about, and being a fan of Woolsey’s back in the day, it’s nice to see how the sauce gets made. And the trials and tribulations that come about.

I’ve been slowly working my way through TITS1 on both Vita and Steam, but I keep buying them as they release to show support. I love the music too! Did you know the soundtracks for Falcom games are all on Amazon Prime Music? Makes for excellent bed time listening.


#13

You can also get the Ys tracks if you feel like destroying demi-gods. Ys has some of the most consistent soundtracks amongst JRPGs, it’s vibrant all around!


#14

Currently playing through the first Trails and while its not much to look at, the writing is incredible. They did an amazing job giving each character a unique voice and the plot has definitely gone places that I didn’t expect.


#15

Whoa, people actually talking about this series here. Talk about pleasant surprises.
That being said, a couple of corrections:

Your answer to the second question is…kinda wrong, honestly. Falcom obviously tries to make each set of games standalone, but the overarching plot makes this effort pretty ineffectual. Especially with the divertissement or whatever Xseed called it in the second Erebonia game, or how the Renne subplot starts in one arc and isn’t resolved until the next one.
And with regard to the Crossbell games, it’s not just that they have large scripts; the original PSP versions can’t be done now because the system has no support anymore, the PC ports aren’t possible unless Falcom releases Ao’s in Japan, and the Evolution versions on Vita would require either paying for a massive voice license (assuming that every talent agency involved would sign off on an international license to begin with) or dubbing probably one of the biggest main stories in the genre (Crossbell has a fraction the number of FC and SC’s NPCs, yet apparently more overall dialogue), which not every company can afford.

But yeah, Estelle is one of the best protagonists in the medium, the gameplay is cool, the music ranges from chill to great, and the amount of care that goes into the world is something else. Love this series.


#16

Appreciate the clarification on the Crossbell stuff! PC versions definitely seem like the only possible way they’d make it over. I know at least one of them ended up on Steam Greenlight for a while but I’m not exactly sure what that whole situation was about.

In regards to your other correction, I very much disagree. I said very plainly that they’re not shy about having connections between the different series. Those connections in no way diminish your ability to enjoy whichever series you decide to start with. From my own experience, you can play the newer games first and then go back. Playing in either order just enhances the other series. The example from CS2 you provided is indeed the most extreme instance of this and the status of the series in the West makes that disconnect impossible to avoid. However, it’s a small section all things considered and it’s still plenty enjoyable even after only playing the CS games. Newcomers can start whichever series they want and not miss out.


#17

OP, great work putting this together. I’ve played Trails in the Sky I + II, and Trails of Cold Steel I + II, and loved all of them. Estelle’s character progression is one of the best I’ve even seen.

No PC though, so no Trails in the Sky III for me…

Also, if anyone’s interested in Cold Steel, the Vita version of the first one is half-off this week. Get it get it get it (and P4 Golden…)


#18

The Vita ports are possible, it’s just that they’d have to be done by another company, and that company would probably deal more with Kadokawa Games than with Falcom themselves. Falcom does seem more active in getting their stuff overseas, so who knows.

And it’s not so much that the games are connected, but how they are that makes playing them out of order less than ideal. Each game builds on its predecessors, and don’t really go out of their way to catch players up on certain things. 3rd in particular introduces a few things that keep coming up later in the series, and those tend not to make much sense without that context (such as the situation in Northumbria, or the NG+ exclusive scene in After Story).


#19

In the grand scheme of the series you’re talking about really minor scenes that a newcomer shouldn’t have to worry about or even consider at this point(and CS actually does provide its own intro for Northumbria too). We want more people to play these games. Telling them that they need to play three lengthy 10+ year old games before considering the newer ones is a terrible way to get new people on board. If they want to start there then fantastic! If they want to start with CS then that’s fantastic as well! If they get as deeply into the world as the people in this thread are then they will go back and seek out the rest. I truly believe that both experiences will be enhanced no matter which one you decide to get to first.


#20

I love this series. I especially love how you are not the only person doing stuff in this world. Without spoiling anything at some point in Trails in the sky FC you stop being a part of the main plot and go to help some high school kids. And that’s ok. Your characters are a bunch of kids in over their heads. Go chill and be a kid. Or how you just get to have a sweet personal moment with your party members and it’s not a preface to some horrible tragedy. You still are a hero and you do good, but it’s a group effort and you are not the only one. Maybe it’s just me, but I wish more games would be like that.