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Crafting Places in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC Evolution artwork of two women standing on a balcony, looking hopefully into the distance.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC is an experience that excels in many important aspects of RPG design, from its elegant characterisation to its uniquely satisfying battle system. Although it’s a series that has been dissected from many different angles, the game’s most significant quality — its commitment to creating a clear identity for its setting and sub-settings — is also one of its most understated features.

Trails in the Sky FC‘s culture and individual communities are presented to you through a myriad of details, conversations with NPCs, and, perhaps most importantly, the structure of the narrative itself. From early on, you’re led on a tour through the Kingdom of Liberl and given a multitude of reasons to become invested in its idiosyncrasies, providing an interesting example of crafting a sense of place in RPG storytelling and demonstrating a nuanced attempt to make the world the characters inhabit into a kind of character itself. Through three distinct methods, Trails in the Sky FC endears itself to you by crafting a place that feels complete.

Rolent & Reverberations

Trails in the Sky FC’s early chapters seek to teach you as much as possible about the world before throwing you into it. The game begins in the small town of Rolent, which functions as a kind of microcosm of the rest of the Kingdom of Liberl. Despite being labelled as “backwater” and “the boonies” by NPCs travelling into the area, many parts of Liberl’s culture still manage to seep through into the small-town life of Rolent. This allows you to slowly become familiar and comfortable with the world’s bigger ideas by first experiencing their reverberations.

An example of this sort of cultural dissemination can be seen in the ways the people of Rolent feel about the Bracer Guild. This is the first notable institution our protagonists Estelle and Joshua interact with after being raised their entire lives by Cassius Bright, a legendary figure within the guild. You experience the city of Rolent as a duo of Bracers-in-training, a career path very quickly contextualised as an important one by local NPCs. The suggestion that Bracers are broadly responsible for upholding and maintaining the quality of life in the Kingdom of Liberl is repeated often early in the game. Bracers are somewhere between adventurers-for-hire and detectives, but the Bracer Guild code states in no uncertain terms that a Bracer’s overriding commitment is to the “absolute safety of their citizens.” All things considered, it’s an immense responsibility, which is also why being a Bracer comes with some level of valour that you’ll quickly notice when you engage with the people of Rolent.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC  screenshot of Estelle and Joshua observing Rolent from the top of the clock tower.

Most characters will comment on Estelle and Joshua’s Bracer training, not in terms of what being a Bracer might mean for them, but rather in nebulous philosophical terms of what it means to be a Bracer. In the early game, many characters mention this responsibility, and the repeated nature of this sentiment across Rolent helps indicate how tightly Bracers are woven into the fabric of society. Rolent is portrayed as a somewhat small and insular part of the kingdom, and the same standard of respect for the Bracer Guild is present in the walls of the small town of Rolent as it is in the much larger cities of Grancel or Bose, which you visit later in the game. This punctuates the importance of the Bracers as a whole and solidifies their nature as a valued cultural institution.

Rolent is principally a town of simple, small pleasures. Local shopkeepers and friends of Estelle and Joshua are also quick to remind you of Liberl’s many fascinations, virtues, and triumphs. The impression made is one of a civilisation at its peak due to the advances brought about by “orbal” technology: a post-revolutionary renaissance that even seemingly irrelevant NPCs are quick to remind you of. An NPC tucked away in the corner of one of Rolent’s cosy residential buildings remarks on how the Airliners have brought “even Rolent” plenty of books in recent days. This implies not only that recent advances in technology have improved the lives of many, but that Rolent is merely scratching the surface in terms of Liberl’s potential for cultural depth.

Rolent is therefore an excellent place to start in terms of easing you into the world’s cultural scale, as it’s just big enough to enjoy the benefits of modern society while being small enough to not be suffering from the worst of Liberl’s problems. The earliest dangers encountered around Rolent lie distinctly beyond its boundaries: beneath the town in the sewers and mines, outside it on the roads that branch outwards — but certainly nowhere inside the town’s walls. The few monster attacks that occur near Rolent are, therefore, a pretty big deal to the townsfolk, even within a culture that seems to have normalised them elsewhere.

Estelle and Joshua explore a temple.

It’s a town that often feels like it’s just getting to grips with things that other regions may have already become overly comfortable with. The local headquarters of the Bracer Guild feels like a tiny branch of a much wider organisation in staff size, building size, and their tendency to outsource larger problems to the other branches of the guild. The town’s biggest landmark to boast is a clock tower that was destroyed alongside the rest of the town during the war. It’s a landmark that holds some narrative significance to the main character, but aside from this, it’s a detail that only further explains the isolated nature of the town, which as a whole had to slowly be rebuilt from scratch following the destruction of the war.

Rolent is home to small-town people who are often fascinated with the wider world. It’s the perfect place to start an adventure, as it makes the overall journey feel more grandiose by placing it in context. After getting only a glimpse of Liberl through your experiences in Rolent, you are enticed to go out and see what the rest of the kingdom has to offer. Still, Rolent provides a vital comparison point that gives an essential impression of the kingdom’s culture.

Communities & Cultural Concerns

The more Estelle and Joshua travel through Liberl and interface with other communities beyond their hometown of Rolent, the more we learn about the interconnected facets of Liberl’s culture — religion, education, commerce, agriculture, and much more that is elaborated on during the journey. Although most RPGs that require you to become invested in its setting disperse details about the world through expository lore documents or cutscenes, Trails’ dialogue excels at making such details appear fairly organically.

Estelle makes a comment - 'You're more wrong than a fool who thinks there's better tasting milk in Liberl than the milk that comes from the Perzel Farm!'

The first of many examples of such organic detailing occurs in the early area of Perzel Farm. By leading you through a quest to liberate the farm from pesky monsters, Trails offers an example of the close-knit nature of regional communities, giving you a view into one small cog in Liberl’s larger agricultural operation. In what seems like a throwaway comparison, Estelle comments on the quality of Perzel Farm’s milk in a rather strange analogy to someone else early on. While the child Estelle is talking to understands the analogy, you may not understand until several hours later when you head to the farm for the first time and witness the labour of love that goes into Perzel Farm’s tiny production first-hand.

The dialogue of Perzel Farm’s characters — alongside the feeling evoked by aesthetic qualities such as the area’s cosy art design and mellow soundtrack — evokes a gentle rural domesticity common to early areas of many classic JRPGs. Relaxed conversations with the Perzel family teach you that they have strong ties with their local community, shown through their knowledge of Rolent’s key figures and their pre-existing relationship with the protagonists. This is a detail that can be affirmed by various bits of dialogue in Rolent before you arrive at the farm: the chef at the local inn is waiting on a delivery of the vegetables from the farm, and the mayor’s wife will routinely comment on Perzel Farm’s fresh, delicious vegetables. These pre-emptive details combined with experiencing the farm yourself help establish a calm and trustworthy vibe from the area. In turn, this helps you feel welcomed and establishes a sense of familiarity. Perzel Farm isn’t just a place where you go to do an early generic quest; much like Rolent, it crafts a small but noticeable sense of place and community within a larger world.

A young woman makes a comment to other townsfolk, stood next to a glistening waterfall: 'Commerce, when you get right down to it, is the established relationship of trust between people'

The communities encountered in Trails in the Sky FC only get noticeably more extensive than those of Perzel Farm and Rolent as the game progresses. In turn, their entanglement with the culture of Liberl becomes more noticeable. The area of Bose is immediately more interesting than the areas you can explore in the prologue, and is a lot more indicative of the types of communities and cities present throughout Liberl as a whole. Characters describe Bose as “commercially active,” and while it has many of the same amenities as Rolent, they’re all bigger, cleaner, and busier. Many NPCs you encounter early in Bose talk about what they might buy or experience in the city, as well as merchants and civilians who are quick to offer some observations about the city’s capitalist focus. Several of said NPCs remark on the people of Bose’s commitment to punctuality and maintaining respect for other businesses in the area. Other characters will discuss this in more personal terms, with some remarking upon their own abilities as merchants and others making more crass statements indicative of their greed.

If Rolent and Perzel Farm highlight the kingdom’s small-town family-focused communities, Bose is a red circle drawn around the kingdom’s more modern, cutthroat capital-oriented leanings. From a gameplay perspective, this manifests itself as more sheer space to walk around in, more local tasks to do to grind experience and currency, and regular reminders from the main cast that Bose isn’t the sort of place they’re used to inhabiting as small-town folk. It’s interesting to note that much like Rolent, Bose is also a city destroyed during the war, but several citizens make it clear that the city’s financial success allowed it to recover quickly from the damage. In drawing attention to this, it becomes clear that not all communities in Liberl bounced back from the war in the same way, and that it’s had a lasting effect on the culture and economy ever since.

Although Bose maintains a clear focus on trading and commerce between different regions in the kingdom (something gradually made more difficult, as certain plot developments cause trade routes to be blocked), the city also displays many other elements of culture which you experience through interactions with members of the community. One such element is religion, found within the Bose Chapel. If, at this point, you’ve been doing the optional side jobs for the Bracer Guild, entering Bose will go hand in hand with delivering a letter from the priest of Rolent’s Chapel to the priest of Bose’s Chapel. In doing so, you’ll likely stumble upon a relatively empty church with two NPCs who are more interested in the shopping they’ll do later than the chapel service itself.

Similarly, the mayor of Bose is also “playing hooky with their daily religious duties” the first time you meet them. At this point, especially when compared to the more religiously committed NPCs of the first region, you might get the impression that Liberl’s common faith isn’t equally appreciated throughout the kingdom. Instead, some see it as a bygone tradition of a former age, while others view it with reverence. In that way, it’s a fairly nuanced view of faith. Despite only having a single state-endorsed religion, Liberl is a kingdom of some religious freedom, and this is mainly conveyed by showing a multitude of attitudes to the faith. As the characters journey through Liberl, it becomes clear that faith is at least a vital background detail to most of the kingdom, even if it isn’t that important to wide swathes of its citizens.

Estelle and Joshua look upwards into a clear blue sky.

Many of Liberl’s communities, including those seen later in the game — such as the port city of Ruan or the capital city of Grancel — are linked by these larger issues of the economy, religion, and even a post-war tension surrounding the kingdom’s current peaceful state. This tension is only worsened by the regular appearance of the royal army, who consistently make their presence known throughout the game as an oppressive force that frequently impedes the Bracer Guild’s operations, a non-government organisation. This tension isn’t given as much focus in Trails in the Sky FC as in other titles in the franchise. Still, there is an obvious discomfort surrounding the military presence in certain areas, both from the NPCs and the characters who are a part of the Bracer Guild. It’s a feeling that only escalates throughout the game’s third act, and one that gestures towards the devastating impact of the war that the region has only just recovered from.

All these big-picture cultural issues or concerns that we uncover within these communities — commerce, religion, militarisation — obviously go a long way in aiding the “sense of place” in the Kingdom of Liberl. But to understand it more fully, you only need to look towards the things that mirror our own world to shed light on Liberl’s current state of affairs.

Revolutions & Reflections

The various communities that Estelle and Joshua encounter along their journey ultimately introduce you to many small and large concepts unique to the game’s setting. In practice, many of these concepts are merely slightly distorted reflections of our own world: objects, processes, and ideologies realised in the more magical Kingdom of Liberl that are only recognisable due to their inherent similarities to reality. As well as acting as interesting reflections of our own culture, they also help to more closely reveal Liberl’s sense of post-revolution pride: the most essential element to understand where the kingdom is at, culturally.

A map of the Kingdom of Liberl.

There are many obvious examples of these concepts that come to mind: photo-quartz is the game’s way of making photographs make sense, where light is captured using orbal energy and printed onto thin sheets of quartz. There are orbal cameras, orbal guns, orbal clocks, orbal energy-powered airships, and much, much more, which all sprang from a fast-paced “orbal revolution.” The obsession with orbal technology feeds into the narrative and even some gameplay elements. For example, most of Trails in the Sky FC’s casting-related combat functions are closely linked to your own “orbment,” a complicated device that channels the orbal energy of Septium crystals that emit immense amounts of power. This is considered closely in the finer details of gameplay and how it is all contextualised. Casting attacks are based around orbment, which instead of being associated with an abstract “MP” is tied to “EP” (Energy Points), which are depleted and charged at “Orbment Charging Stations.” The “muted” status “neutralizes” the Orbment rather than affecting the character directly. Orbments are more like dangerous high-powered weapons than “magical” artefacts, which is interesting considering their purpose. These specifics of labelling help embed the gameplay thoroughly within the setting and ultimately make you incredibly familiar and comfortable with the nuts and bolts of orbal technology and its ubiquity.

Orbal technology is like the vibranium of the Trails universe in the way it can be applied to almost any function. Although not all of its applications are thoroughly explained, the liberal use of orbal tech helps to underscore the cultural importance of the “orbal revolution.” The advent of orbal technology reshaped the way the kingdom (and the larger content of Zemuria) operates, and this is something that Trails in the Sky FC will not let you forget. 

Estelle and Joshua converse with Private Lacos, who says that 'this is the first time we've been put on high alert since the Hundred Days War.'

The orbal revolution as a historical event, alongside the many varieties of orbal technology that it produced, is also another aspect of Trails that holds up a mirror to our own reality. The orbal revolution is effectively a facsimile of our real-life history’s periods of social upheaval in the face of changing technology. The orbal revolution of Trails‘ universe is like the real world’s first industrial revolutions but eleven times more intense, reshaping the world at an unprecedented rate of cultural acceleration.

The biggest difference between Trails in the Sky FC’s orbal revolution and our own society’s industrial revolutions is that the orbal revolution ended a lot of suffering, rather than being a catalyst for new forms of suffering in the form of austerity, inequality, exploitation, and environmental damage that often result from industrialization (and the capitalism it goes hand in hand with). There is no doubt that these issues still exist in some capacity in Trails in the Sky FC, but the game places more focus on the benefits of orbal technology, including the dubious romanticism of orbal weaponry that aided the resolution of the last great conflict in Zemuria, the Hundred Days War. As important historical events, the orbal revolution and the Hundred Days War create a foundation that supports all the other world-building efforts in Trails in the Sky FC. This foundation keeps all the communities and cultures portrayed within the game anchored to a specific genesis point, which helps inform the efforts to craft a “sense of place” in the Kingdom of Liberl as a locale emerging from these particular cultural moments.

Estelle and Joshua explore a local branch of the Bracer's Guild in a new city.

Through the aforementioned techniques, Trails in the Sky FC crafts a firm sense of place for the Kingdom of Liberl. The only major area where Trails falls short in this regard is the visual presentation of some aspects of the world. While the title boasts some impressive backgrounds for many different types of locations, there are also many weak interior designs, especially by the end of the game, where you’ve seen a lot of the same assets re-used in a finite amount of different configurations. However, this shows how impressive the world-building in the game is otherwise, as there’s a lot of dialogue that helps uplift even the blandest 3D environments and transform them into lived-in homely spaces. For a game that also doesn’t have many discoverable lore documents, the dialogue does a lot of heavy lifting in this area and — as I hope I’ve shown in this article — helps to make the world feel complete. In doing so, it also creates a place that I’m always interested in returning to.

This commitment to crafting a sense of place in Trails in The Sky FC is the exact sort of thing I’d love to see in other RPGs. It’s a lot easier to fully inhabit a role when you’re given a thorough understanding of the context in which your characters exist. Trails in the Sky FC sets a high standard for crafting a sense of place that the rest of the series takes even further, but I’ll always remember my first trip to Liberl most fondly.

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Adam Arter

A writer, marketer, stealth expert and third-rate scholar from the UK who loves to write about how stories and mechanics intersect in games, especially in RPGs!