Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC.
Trails in the Sky the 3rd is once again a slow burn, but features darker themes of death, parting, and loss that make for a gripping final act.
For every “hello,” so too must there be a “farewell.”
Trails in the Sky has been a part of my life for six years now. Never could I have imagined back in 2011, when I unwrapped my copy of Trails in the Sky FC, that its world and characters would leave an indelible impression upon my heart and mind. I still remember the day I beat it, dumbstruck by its cliffhanger ending, in disbelief that I might have to wait years to find out what happened next. I dutifully imported the rest of the series, promising myself that if the localization effort ever ceased, I would renew my study of Japanese and muddle through them myself, no matter how long it might take.
An easier path revealed itself when XSEED resumed work on Trails in the Sky SC — a turn of events I found most pleasing — and now the trilogy finally comes to a close with the long-awaited release of Trails in the Sky the 3rd. Instead of being a direct sequel, the 3rd shifts the focus from Estelle and Joshua to Father Kevin Graham, a happy-go-lucky priest introduced in SC. It was revealed at the end of SC that Kevin’s jovial facade masks his true identity as a Dominion, a high-ranking member of a secret order of holy knights tasked with retrieving magical artifacts on behalf of the Septian Church. Not only does the 3rd explore his fascinating and traumatic backstory, it also wraps up dangling plot threads introduced throughout the first two games while setting the stage for further adventures across the continent of Zemuria.
While the central narrative thrust of the 3rd takes place chronologically after SC, much of the game is spent in rearward reverie thanks to a dramatic shakeup to its mode of storytelling. Instead of wandering Liberl as Estelle did before him, Kevin is trapped in Phantasma, a land of illusions where the past manifests as a series of memory fragments scattered throughout its seven planes. As he probes deeper into Phantasma, he finds that many of his former compatriots (read: the principal characters from the previous two games) are trapped there as well, and together they seek a means of escape.
It would be easy to write this setup off as a vehicle for delivering fanservice, but unlike, say, Persona Q, Trails in the Sky the 3rd leverages its ensemble cast to continue building upon their interwoven stories instead of throwing it all away in the name of cheap one-liners. Numerous “Doors” exist within Phantasma, each corresponding to one or more characters, and within these are vignettes that fill in the gaps of their respective stories. Where did Estelle and Joshua go following the conclusion of SC? How did Renne become the “Angel of Slaughter?” What ever happened to that trio of punks from the Ruan warehouse district? These questions and more are answered with an astonishing degree of detail across the 20+ Doors in the game. Because Trails is a series steeped in complex lore and history, it goes without saying that this is a boon for longtime fans. Make no mistake; true to its roots, Trails in the Sky the 3rd is once again a slow burn, but features darker themes of death, parting, and loss that make for a gripping final act.
I’ve deliberately avoided talking about the gameplay in the 3rd because truthfully, not much has changed since SC. It does feature the largest roster of playable characters in the trilogy, and the player can now select a fifth party member to act as “support,” conferring passive bonuses like increased experience point gain or boosts to specific stats. Otherwise, it’s the same ol’, same ol’. I wouldn’t consider this a bad thing, but there’s no denying that Trails of Cold Steel does it better.
Trails in the Sky the 3rd is one for the fans; it’s for those of us who are in deep, who devour every morsel of lore and character development because we can’t get enough of this world. It’s also notably inaccessible, requiring easily upwards of 100 hours of investment in previous titles to fully appreciate. But isn’t worrying about that sort of missing the point? The 3rd is a heartfelt goodbye to a trilogy that has become dear to my heart, and I am deeply grateful that more adventures exist in this world, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for the Trails magic to end.
The reviewer previously worked under contract with this publisher on an unrelated project prior to accepting the task of reviewing this game. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer’s opinion of the game or its final score.