The trails series has quickly become one of my favourite series. The first chapter alone was a huge game with NPCs who constantly had something new to say, and it actually felt like the characters were wandering around doing a job. In fact, the only teal complaint I had was that the combat system was nothing special.
Trails in the Sky SC kicks its predecessor in the pants.
The first thing you need to know about this game is that the second chapter takes place right after the first, so you’ll want to play it first to understand what the heck is going on. It’s difficult to talk about the plot without completely spoiling both games, but suffice it to say that it involves Estelle and friends going toe to toe with the mysterious Society of Ouroborous. Secrets revealed and shocking twists are the order of the day. Seriously, you don’t want to be spoiled, stay away from TV Tropes and the like until you’ve finished the game.
Not much has changed in terms of gameplay from its predecessor. You still insert quartz into slots in order to use Arts (basically magic) and grant passive abilities. This time around, you can (and should) upgrade your slots to hold more powerful quartz. In battle, you can now perform combos with other characters, but only if you have enough CP. Combos can be used to quickly finish enemies or allow a character who is out of range of an enemy to strike them, but they honestly don’t add that much to the combat, although destroying an enemy with a well timed combo was pretty satisfying. combat is still pretty slow, and after a while I started avoiding combat in my haste to get to the next story point. The combat is definitely one of the weakest points in both SC and FC. As a bit of an aside, if you’re worried about slow combat being a trend in this series, I’m happy to report that Trails of Cold Steel has vastly superior combat and an awesome battle theme.
In my review of FC, I remarked that the characters don’t really deviate much from their assigned archetype until the very end. SC gives everyone some much needed character development and sheds light on their background, including characters you might not have used much in the first game, like Schera or Zane (who I almost never used). As with FC, some chapters focus on a particular character. Unlike FC, the characters stick with you when their chapter ends for the most part. As expected for a main character, Estelle’s growth is significant. In FC, i often felt like she was overshadowed by Joshua and Cassius, but in SC it feels like she was given more time to grow into her own person. Although she doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, her enthusiasm is infectious and she’s easily one of the most dynamic characters I’ve played as in any JRPG. (I love you Square Enix but sometimes I need less brooding and more cheer.) A newcomer to the cast is Kevin, a wandering priest of the Septian Church who is nearly as big a flirt as Olivier.
Other than the combat, my second complaint is that there’s a lot of backtracking. In fact, you travel the whole (or most) of Liberl at least twice. The first time is arguably necessary to familiarize yourself with the world again and check up on your favourite NPCS (another reason for importing Clear Data from FC: NPCs will remember you helped them and you’ll get extra bits of dialogue), but the second time involves traveling the whole of Liberl on foot again, which just seems excessive. I also didn’t feel like there was much of a point to upgrading your slots a third time since the upgrades are very late in the game and it seems kind of pointless at that point. There aren’t as many hidden quests this time around, but you’ll still need a walkthrough to get the most Bracer Points, as well as to get all of the novel series, Gambler Jack (which can be redeemed for two of the best weapons in the game). I finished the game five BP shy of the max rank and I was following a walkthrough (although, I know I missed a sneaky extra BP by not bringing a certain NPC with me during an early game short term quest (hint: when you need to snap a photo, bring a professional photographer). The game doesn’t have much in the way of replay value (unless you want to get max BP) but it’s still quite a long game. My playthrough was just under 80 hours, which I’m pretty sure is the longest I’ve ever played a single run of a JRPG which average about 30 -40 hours).
Triggery things include implied rape (not of the characters, but during an event that happened in a major war fifty years ago) and it’s also heavily implied that a child character was a survivor of sexual abuse. Schera still fills the role of the sexy mentor but this time she gets a little more character development. As for Estelle and Joshua’s relationship, let’s just say that by the end, it’ll be very hard to think of them as siblings.
There are a bunch of little touches in both games that I like, like the way a character’s name on the status screen will change in response to certain events, or the way the quests are organized as if Estelle is writing in her Bracer notebook. Little things like that are not exclusive to these games, of course, but they make the world seem more alive.
If you haven’t played FC, you absolutely need to play it before playing SC. If you really didn’t like FC, you probably won’t like SC unless you really need to know what happens storywise, but if you loved FC and were clamoring to play SC, you have probably already picked this one up. Trails in the Sky SC may not break any new ground in terms of combat and it may start out slow, but it’s more of the huge world and endearing characters you’ve grown to love over FC.
P.S. Pick Agate, you’ll thank me later.