The Trails series is an interesting one to try to write about. Doubly so when trying to go game by game. Its overall structure means that the arcs are really sets of games within the overall series. Many times games end on cliffhangers that are picked up on immediately in the next game. Direct sequels make arcs feel like two parts of the same game (in fact they are supposedly developed this way). Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter) begins this trend right away for the series. As I have played all the games it can be difficult to separate the pairs in my mind when they are two halves to the same story. Yet at the same time they are lengthy individual experiences in their own right with notable adjustments and changes between games. The direct sequels always keep the core of the gameplay nearly exactly the same, but there are occasionally larger changes to the structure. I routinely find my opinion on the games shifting after playing sequels. Additional context changes how certain story beats land. The series at its best uses its own unique structure to reach greater heights. The combination of replays and new games leave me in a constant state of flux regarding my feelings toward each game individually and the series as a whole. Sky SC was the first sequel in the series and therefore the first game that really revealed what the series as a whole would become. After something like a thousand hours with this series I’m happy to say I tout Trails in the Sky SC as one of the best it has to offer.
Sky SC was released in Japan in 2006 for Windows and 2007 for PSP. However, it did not get a western release until 2015 due to the massive amount of text that had to be translated. If you are aware of how the first game ended, that is an excruciating 4 year wait for western audiences to see the resolution of the story. It was a much less fraught situation for me as I believe Sky SC was already out by the time I played FC. In fact I believe it was a story about the long wait on Kotaku that prompted me to try the series to begin with. Yet I did not take to it right away. I actually started SC twice before finally sticking with it on my third try a year or two after I played First Chapter. Interestingly, while the core of the game remained the same, I found myself not liking some of the narrative and plot points my first time through. I have since gotten over those hang ups though I will have a larger point to make later in this series. Starting now this series is going to get much more complicated to write about while keeping spoilers a minimum but I will certainly endeavor to.
Prior to playing this series for the first time, I had obviously played sequel games and follow ups before, but never something that works quite like Trails. Trails in the Sky SC picks up immediately, and I do mean immediately, where FC left off. Sky SC has a great opening section where the immediate aftermath of FC is explored in painful detail. Sky FC did not exactly end happily, and watching Estelle struggle to figure out what is going on and then come to terms with it is an emotional ride that is portrayed wonderfully in the opening segment and then throughout the game. I sincerely love this opening and think it is one of the most well crafted sections of the series that sets the tone quickly and effectively.
If Sky FC was about laying the ground work for the series, SC is about building on that foundation to show the heights the series can reach. This game can only work as effectively as it does because of the work that was done in FC to establish the world and cultivate a connection with it. Everything is turned up a notch, as the charming and lower key story of the first game gives way to larger schemes and plots undertaken by drastically more powerful villains who have stepped out from the shadows. Estelle is thrust into a situation she simply could not be ready for at this point, all while dealing with deeply personal issues that are all too connected to what is going on. Her genuine growth in strength and ability both physical and internal, coupled with the steadfast support of the other characters, is a testament to the writers who made it feel so real and earned.
Sky SC is structured somewhat differently than FC. For starters, there are double the amount of chapters. While you will still be traveling from region to region (by airship this time) there will be a few new locations added especially in the second half of the game. This game is around double the length or more than the first one, at least for me. The main quests of each region are much more tied together because everything is focused on investigating and defeating the Society of Ouroboros, the main antagonists of the series, this time. Additionally, as you gain back your party members they stick with you from then on as opposed to dropping in and out like before. Sky SC puts more of the focus on the backstories of the party members as you go. They are all with you for more time and in a shocking coincidence many of them seem to have a personal connection with an Ouroborus member. Coupled with the now more focused story this may make Sky SC feel more complete or perhaps at least more unified than FC to some players. In hindsight this truly does turn First Chapter into an extended prologue but hey, its a great one at least.
Sky SC keeps intact the core gameplay of the first game. Moving around the world and the battle system are exactly the same. The characters will all gain more crafts than they had before and some of these are significant enough to really improve their effectiveness. As the characters level up they will also gain access to new more powerful S-crafts. In addition, the orbment slots can now be upgraded to fit in newer and more powerful quartz. This serves as a story excuse to reset you a bit power wise as this requires everyone to have new model orbments. The more powerful quartz lead to some varied effects and more powerful arts. The arts users can end up with a truly absurd amount of options at their disposal.
In addition to characters learning new crafts as they continue leveling up, Sky SC also introduces Chain Crafts. These allow characters to team up and strike at enemies together. They are performed like any other craft and cost cp. The latter characters selected to join in will require more cp than the earlier ones (for example it costs 20 to start, then you select another character and it costs 30 for them, then 40 for the third etc.).
Its worth pointing out that for most of the game you will no longer have a limited party. You will have a lot more options in terms of party set up throughout the game when compared to FC. In return there are some genuinely tough fights ahead. One of the things I love most about Trails compared to other jrpgs is the (near) complete lack of grinding. Things are kept incredibly balanced because high level characters will quickly only be earning 1 exp while lower level ones will earn as much as the 9999 max until they catch up. In only a handful of fights you can get a character you haven’t been using caught up and ready to go. This proves very helpful toward the end of the game. On a personal level I also find it hilarious to watch a character level up 10 times from a single battle.
The core loop works slightly differently this time around but is hardly unfamiliar. You will take airships between regions rather than walking on the roads. This minor change helps emphasize how the focus has shifted from traveling to get to know the world to getting more specific action done as the there is a more present threat involved. Quests are still handled by using the bracer guild and reporting them and there are still hidden quests you can find by talking to NPCs or stumbling upon them at specified times. You will still be earning BP (Bracer Points) to earn some extra item rewards from the guild as you rank up as well.
You will still have access to side things such as recipes, collecting books, and newspapers with Sky SC adding the introduction of fishing which will appear in every game from now on. Nothing in Sky SC will feel out of place to anyone who has played the first game.
I want to make sure I mention this for every game somewhere. Howlongtobeat has Sky SC at 50-70 hours. I’m giving the range as their “main” and “main plus extras” times. My time was 60 hours for my first time and 50 for all my subsequent playthroughs. As always you can spend a very long time chatting with NPCs if you so choose or skip all the dialogue for whatever reason. The main takeaway is that this is a longer experience than Sky FC was.
Sky SC builds the house on the foundation that FC laid before. Everything about this game is bigger. The plot becomes focused on Estelle dealing with the aftermath of First Chapter’s cliffhanger ending. She has a great arc throughout the game and really does grow as a bracer, fighter, and person as it goes. Her connection to Joshua leads to some incredible emotional moments. If Estelle and Joshua isn’t working for you, well first of all you must be really sticking it out, but there is plenty more in this game. Every party member gets an arc and some of them have direct ties to an Ouroboros enforcer through which more of their backstory is explored.
If Sky FC felt like it didn’t delve into the other party members beyond the surface level, SC corrects that, perhaps overly so. The game goes the traditional route of giving every party member their backstory section. Different players are going to find different things to like and different characters that they connect to. The stories for the party members smartly connect to the main story of the game to varying degrees. An aspect I have mixed feelings on is how every villain we meet has a personal connection to a different party member. It just feels contrived and makes the world, so well forged, feel so much smaller than it is. The character stories themselves have the great writing and dialogue of Trails though if you are a fan of jrpgs and anime at large you will find some of them to be rather standard and familiar, if well executed.
Continuing from the first game, the side characters and NPCs are excellent and once again bring a lot of depth to the regions and cities. Not a lot of time has passed, but some of the regions are very much dealing with the aftermath of events that occurred in Sky FC. Liberl is just as vibrant and charming as it was before and that makes the new threats come off as all the more dangerous as they wreak havoc. Liberl the country feels like a tight knit and small nation that is being forced into combating threats it is ill prepared for, much like our heroes themselves.
I’ve been calling the story more focused but it is also bigger in scope. It gets a bit more over the top and “anime” for sure. The gameplay has been mildly improved and every character proves useful in their own way, which was not necessarily the case in FC. The structural changes lead to some interesting new locations being explored. The game feels a bit more complete and unified than the first, with everything moving toward a more clear goal as opposed to the first game where the chapters don’t quite feel connected to each other until the end (or arguably until this game even). Our heroes are literally all stepping up in some way to attempt to deal with the new problems they face. I love the way the characters come together with Estelle solidifying her place as the heart of the group. This extends even to some of the minor and side characters that throw in their support in ways only they can. The party characters especially coalesce into what feels like a real support system for Estelle, all while getting more of their own history explored.
I don’t want to go deep into spoilers, but I do want to really emphasize that I find the story of Estelle and Joshua to be beautifully told and full of genuine emotion. It really struck a chord with me the first time through and it is very rare that I find something that I connect with on the same level. The heart of this series is strong, and might never be stronger than in this game. I can tear up at a few notes of a harmonica thanks to this game. (side note but what punch to the feelings to make that the pre menu song).
I’ve made it this far without even mentioning my thoughts on the gameplay. At core, the game plays largely the same to the first. Characters are leveling up and growing in power as they get more crafts and more powerful arrays of arts at their disposal. Those new tools are necessary as well, because there are some tough boss fights in this game. The series has a general balance of rather easy basic enemy fights and then much more difficult bosses and bigger battles. Sky SC certainly feels that way to me and there are a lot of boss battles ahead. It feels like a natural continuation of Sky FC’s gameplay for the most part. I appreciate that the party members feel more balanced to each other in SC but I still think the arts users come away as more effective, but not by as big a margin as in the first game.
Sky SC establishes the design of the series as using sequel games to revisit locations you have been to before. The maps will mostly be exactly the same but there will be new areas that weren’t present in the first game. If you don’t like sequels that reuse the same maps, albeit in a new context, this series as a whole simply won’t be for you, as every second game does this. The brand new areas range from simple additions that fit into what you have seen before and bigger new sections that are set in some very interesting new locations that I won’t spoil. Some of the new areas are among my favorite sections of the series. Sky SC sets the pattern that the entire series would begin following, with the first game in an arc laying ground work of world building, locations, and characters, while the follow up then goes bigger and deeper in exploring those aspects.
Even though it is using many of the same maps and areas again, I want to emphasize that I think the actual underlying design of Trails is remarkably clean and straightforward. You won’t see areas you arbitrarily can’t access until you get some new ability later. There simply isn’t that type of backtracking in the series which I incredibly appreciate. You will revisit locations again in a sequel game, but very rarely in the series will you ever needlessly backtrack within the same game (this point will require much further dissection as we get to later games). Its like doing laps around a track as opposed to turning back to run the same section of track again. I admit, this is helped by using a guide and already having an intimate familiarity with the games, as I always do side quests in the ideal order. I mean it when I say it feels like you are always moving forward as the series uses a form of linear openness which for me is absolutely perfect. If you are craving a true open world though you will not find it here. Trails is a series of linear maps essentially, that have their small offshoots for treasure and whatnot, but are still guiding you forward at all times. The only series that has felt the same to me is actually the way the original Mass Effect trilogy is structured.
I’ve been singing its praises, so it might surprise when I say that when I first played SC it didn’t click with me. Or rather certain aspects of it didn’t sit right. What drew me into the first game was how down to earth and charming it felt. Almost quaint in fact. SC felt like it was getting bigger but also less unique. The actual character writing is still rock solid but it is delivered in more obvious and exposition heavy ways. There is an increase in what I affectionately call “anime bullshit,” which I do love in general, but it shifts the tone and style a bit here. There are more coincidences and contrivances throughout the game than before. A few too many characters have convenient connections to new villains. Once is one thing, but 4 or 5 times in a row? Clearly they thought so too because future games would stay away from this specific complaint. The actual plot events also get much more over the top “supernatural” or “magical.” Without spoiling anything I also felt the clear technology level of the first game started getting muddled a bit from here on.
In addition, there is a notable section where the gameplay drags due to a story event that majorly affects gameplay for a chapter. I won’t spoil the story event (its like, the thing) but the gameplay change it forces for that chapter causes the player to have to re think how they’ve been playing and tackle some difficult fights without all of their usual tools. I get what they were going for story wise, and that aspect does land effectively, but I think this section shows its age gameplay wise by just being kind of annoying. During this same section of the game you can easily miss some hidden quests that I consider to be vital to see. There is one major quest in particular that in terms of character and story feels like a really poor decision to make missable. It is one of the few times in the series that I feel like the gameplay itself is dragging a bit because of the way it hampers you for story reasons.
Despite those complaints Sky SC grew on me with subsequent playthroughs and cemented itself as one of my favorites in the series, maybe the favorite. The story comes together in an interesting way and really builds on what came before. I love Estelle as a character and her and Joshua’s story really works for me. By the end I find it to be an extremely effectively told tale with a lot of heart and emotion on top of just enough fun over the top anime stuff for me. The entire game really takes what Sky FC provided and adds to it, truly beginning the franchise in earnest and setting the standard of excellence for the series.
Like before I am going to use a space behind spoiler tags to talk about some of the moments that I love/stand out. There is also a big one that will be the part of Sky SC that carries forward into the next games the most (and might make talking about what comes next impossible without spoiling it but I will try and will warn very in advance). This is one where the spoilers are kinda big and seriously just wait for the Cold Steel write up if you want to wait for a reset point or play these games knowing nothing but still want to read along because there is a bit of a new beginning there. I did my best to not spoil anything major above and because of that I had to leave a lot out. I really can’t emphasize enough how much I recommend playing these games to see this story for yourself.
- Joshua is on the run and operating separately from Estelle. He is fully “unlocked” and the game handles this by having his level be much higher than other characters. There is a section you play as him between chapters and it is one of my absolute favorite parts of the series. You basically go on a tear as Joshua and finish with a truly epic duel that shows just how powerful Joshua truly is.
- Minor characters are used so well in this series. I loved the way Nial and Dorothy do what they can to help out Estelle for example, hiding a picture of Joshua from the authorities so they can give it to Estelle directly instead.
- Richard’s redemption arc gets going as he helps out in a small way once and in a big way another time. He becomes a pretty solid character trying to make things right and Sky 3rd gives him even more to do. For now he helps defend the capital from Ouroboros and helps convince his former second in command to give up his crusade that she is carrying on after his arrest in the first game. Sky 3rd will add a solid character moment to him that really works in my opinion.
- Okay seriously every character gets their story and each of the main Ouroboros members have some type of connection to a party member. In the final boss fights make sure you bring the right party for extra scenes. Once again, this should have just been mandatory instead of missable. Bring Schera for Luciola, Zin for Walter, Oliver/Kloe for Bleublanc (this is more optional), Joshua for Leonhardt (forced), Maybe Tita for Renne but its more an Estelle thing. This right here is actually the worst backtracking in the entire series because you have to run all the way back to the ship to change party members between every boss fight in the final tower. But technically its optional to bring those characters so you can keep going straight in one shot instead. I really do recommend seeing the extra scenes you get though. Plus future games treat them as canon.
- I won’t detail all these arcs but I do like the softening of Agate thanks to Tita in particular. The two of them together would go on to be explored in Sky 3rd and as far forward as Cold Steel 3 as of this writing (I’m sure they’ll be together in IV). Olivier has some very interesting stuff going on and plays his “role” well.
- Weissmann is a genuine evil monster and is literally playing a massive organ as Estelle is marched in to him. Then his plans to break and re build Joshua are dark.
- Campanella, who appears here as Enforcer number 0 but takes the role of an observer, will make quite a few appearances going forward in the series.
- Hope you like Bleublanc and his games as well because he is gonna be here quite a bit haha.
- At one point Estelle gets taken captive aboard the massive Ouroboros airship The Glorious. This section is fantastic as she escapes solo, and then with the help of the suddenly re appearing Joshua. This marks them re uniting in this game and is followed up by some incredible emotional moments. Joshua wants to leave again but Estelle is having none of it and is the only person who can really cut through him. This section also begins a trend for a series where in the second game of each arc there is a part where the game slows down as the protagonist finds themselves captured. Estelle gets it here on The Glorious and the future heroes will have sections that echo this one.
- I really do love Estelle’s growth throughout this game. You see her genuinely struggle with how she can handle the task that has been laid out before her. Then the other’s rally around her and make sure she knows that they want to follow her for this because she’s earned it.
- There are some great Estelle moments. She gets to re-visit her childhood and late mother while under Luciola’s spell in a lovely and moving scene. Her scene at the lakeshore where she heads over to the dock and plays Whereabouts of Light on Joshua’s harmonica and truly solidifies her connection to him even when he’s not there is beautiful.
- The part where I said the gameplay drags is during an orbal blackout caused by the appearance of “super duper mega spoiler seriously even here I’m warning you again.” During this section you have to have an item equipped on each character in order for them to use arts. Meanwhile you have to give up one of them in every city. This section of the game is spent walking city to city, giving up arts on another character as you go. Be careful about how you play this section and it will go more smoothly. It is interesting from a story perspective but losing your arts can make the gameplay a lot rougher especially for some genuinely hard monster sidequests.
- Also during this section are a few hidden sidequests, at least one of which I consider absolute vital viewing. Gilbert, who has appeared a few times in the two games, takes over Jenis Royal Academy after learning the princess is attending there. This actually gives you a pretty cool stealth mission as Joshua where he sneaks around to get a read on the situation before an assault is launched with the help of another Bracer team. There’s some character beats here. Estelle has to trust Joshua to do this on his own right after finding him again and Joshua sees the students at Jenis again. The mission itself also feels like it shouldn’t have been left optional honestly.
- So this marks the barest beginnings of some more trope-y, love triangle, harem-esque stuff entering the series. With Josette falling for Joshua and competing a bit with Estelle. Also you should definitely bring Josette and Kloe on the floating city for the section once she appears for maximum shenanigans.
- Oh right did I mention the floating fucking city that appears from another dimension. I may not always be fully on board when this series goes full anime but its a really dope section. I love the music and feel of this section. Its a fitting escalation and finale.
- Important character reveals-Okay so here are the important character things you need to know for future games.
- Renne is an enforcer and Estelle and Joshua make it their new mission to save her and bring her into their family.
- Kevin is a gralsritter (church agent) and more importantly a Dominion, one of their strongest. He assassinates Weissman as the latter tries to escape after being defeated by the party.
- Olivier is actually Prince Olivert of Erebonia. He has a lot going on in the empire and is trying to quell the rising tides within his home country. This starts with Sky 3rd and continues throughout the rest of the series. He will be a major player going forward and in fact has the most appearances in the franchise.
- Holy shit Renne. Gear up people. Renne starts the game appearing as a normal young girl you run into every now and then. Tita befriends her easily and you play with her. However, it turns out that she is also an Ouroboros enforcer, and a remarkably dangerous one at that. That being said she is still a little girl. One that circumstances have unfairly turned into a monster. Her story will be a major part of the series both in this game and moving forward.
- This game also introduces Kevin Graham, a traveling priest, well actually a Gralsritter, well actually a Dominion of the Gralsritter. The next game actually turns him into the main character and then he makes a guest appearance in Ao as well.
- After defeating Ouroboros and truly becoming free, Joshua wants to see the world with his new eyes. Estelle and Joshua will continue traveling together. The game closes with him and Estelle visiting his original home of Hamel, tragically destroyed, and leaving behind flowers and Loewe’s sword at a grave as they prepare for the next part of their journey together.
Kevin-a traveling priest of the Septium Church. Kind of a go-lucky, flirty, snarky, laid back person who no one believes is really a priest. Kevin is a great support character (especially in the next game). He has some healing crafts and is decent with arts. His real use is his S-craft though, which provides a shield from one attack for the entire party at 100 cp and from 2 attacks each at 200. This S-craft can seriously get you through a few of the harder fights, particularly against the enforcers and their own S-crafts.
Anelace-a bubbly cute young swordswoman and bracer who was in the first game but not as a party member. She is only available for the prologue so long term planning for her isn’t really necessary in this game.
Josette-one of the Capua family that you fought against in Sky FC. Becomes a rival for Estelle. Can be used briefly gameplay wise and isn’t particularly strong. By the time you are using her the other characters can cover what you need. Just do your best to cover for her and do what you can.