Dear lord, what have I gotten myself into…
Let me put things into perspective: I’ve been a fan of gaming since before I’ve had a system of my own. Even after getting through a far-too-long term at college, games are still my preferred medium of storytelling. Movies can awe and amaze, but they have to be a certain length. TV doesn’t have as much of a problem, but it being cut up into self-contained episodes limits the kinds of stories you can tell. Books, obviously tend to sacrifice the visual aspect in favour of being whatever length you damn well please, right?
I’ve found that games, specifically RPGs like today’s subject, are the only one that allow the player (what would the general term be? Consumer?) to become truly immersed by stopping toall over smell the roses while still engaging in the work.
I’m not even talking about stuff like sidequests, I mean really mundane fare like eavesdropping on ambient NPC dialog or browsing an ingame codex. (which, to my shame, I’ve been missing out on more and more as the years have gone by)
The point I’m trying to get to is, for all my hangups with it, nothing has shown this advantage as clearly as Falcom’s Legend of Heroes series. On the surface level, these games appear to be a collection of stock anime tropes engaging in stock storytelling beats.
And that’s why I quit the series after the first dungeon of the first game I played.
Until of course a few key members of my esteemed twitter mutuals kept posting content to get me intrigued all over again and I finally caved. Against my better judgement, I bought the recently-released PS4 version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The first entry in a quadrilogy that is also the fifth arc of a massively overreaching fantasy saga.
In the gaming sphere, whenever a sequel to a fairly popular game comes out, the developers tend to spout some sales-boosting platitude along the lines of “this new entry is perfect for newcomers.”
Now, the original Cold Steel had managed to hit the balancing act between not overwhelming me with shit I don’t understand (though I do have a tendency to just fill in the blanks) and not being afraid of scaring me off with its lengthy bits of worldbuilding. So by the end of the second game, despite really having to force myself forward in some places, I truly felt like a part of Rean Schwarzer’s journey of warfare, classism, economics, friendship, betrayal, love, and self-worth.
But his story is going on the back burner for now.
See, the Trails series is destined to be fairly niche, even by the standards of the resurgent JRPG genre. As such, some of the stories in this franchise end up going untold as far as us English-speakers are concerned, specifically the two games that make up the arc that comes before Rean’s.
Lucky for those of us whose brains aren’t malleable enough anymore to learn Japanese, fan translators have taken on the gruelling task of translating the entirety of two 1.3million+ character scripts into English.
But why am I bothering with these games when I’m already halfway through a whole other arc? I didn’t pay much mind to the Trails in the Sky trilogy, and those have actually been translated!
Well, two reasons:
First, whether due to its niche-within-a-niche status or its actual quality, the so-called ‘Crossbell Arc’ duology has reached a level of infamy for the hoops one needs to jump through to experience it in these parts. And so I figured, if I’m going to take a stab at writing my way through games like some budget Let’s Play, it might as well be something people are likely to get something new out of anyway.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, the hero spent about an hour in Trails of Cold Steel II and seemed to be way happier with his lot in life than poor, put-upon Rean Schwarzer. So I might as well see what his deal is before Rean’s story starts to really go off the hook.
So, with all that out of the way, and with the required hoops jumped through, I’m ready to take a leap of faith into the story of Lloyd Bannings and company.
PS. And of course, it’s on the night of writing that Crossbell remakes get announced. I’ll just have to think of it as a deadline.