WARNING: This impression contains minor, high-concept spoilers for the prologue and first chapter of the game.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this impression incorrectly stated that Julia Schwarz was playable for the first time in Trails in the Sky the 3rd. She was briefly playable at the end of Second Chapter. This has been corrected.
XSEED Games has been on a roll over the last two years, bringing game after game from Falcom's Trails franchise to English-speaking audiences. The latest entry launches on May 3rd, and is the third and final entry in the Trails in the Sky trilogy: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd. With the official launch just over a week away, I've been able to sit down and put some time in with the game, completing both the prologue and the first chapter.
Unlike the past two Trails in the Sky games, which followed the adventures of Estelle Bright as she rose through the ranks of the Bracer Guild, Trails in the Sky the 3rd puts players in the role of Father Kevin Graham, a priest in the Septian Church who was first introduced in Trails in the Sky Second Chapter. Kevin is one of the Gralsritter, a sort of spy agency in the service of the church, whose job sees him tracking down powerful ancient artifacts from a long lost civilization so that the church can keep them from being abused. Trails in the Sky the 3rd introduces players to this role right at the start of the game with an elaborate heist on board a luxury airship in the midst of a masquerade party. Having just finished playing Persona 5, this was a rather enjoyable coincidence.
After successfully pilfering the wayward artifact, Kevin is thrust into the prologue proper, which sees him returning to the Liberl capital of Grancel to investigate another artifact that was recovered from the bottom of Lake Valleria following the events of Second Chapter. This trip introduces him and the player to a new character in the Trails in the Sky universe: Erika Russell, Tita Russell's mother. She is a terrifying woman, and for some reason is engaged in a blood feud with Agate, despite having never met the man. He is also joined by Sister Ries, another new character assigned by the church to assist him in his work.
The artifact in question seems to be abnormally powerful, and after taking possession of it, Kevin and Ries are accosted by a familiar idiot. After a short battle, the strange cube they've taken possession of engulfs them in a bright light, and when they wake up, they find themselves in a mysterious library floating in space. This is where chapter one begins.
It's immediately apparent from the first chapter that Trails in the Sky the 3rd follows a much different structure from any other Trails game XSEED has released so far. Compared to the vibrant kingdom of Liberl from the first two games, this mysterious realm is rather lifeless. Instead of completing quests and exploring the world, Kevin and Ries have to navigate a monster-filled dungeon in an effort to find an exit.
Shortly after they begin their explorations, they encounter a strange glowing stone. Upon returning to the library which serves as their base of operations, they discover that it holds young Tita Russell in captivity. With a new ally on their side, they're able to progress further. Shortly afterwards, they encounter a strange door.
These doors seem to hold a major chunk of the game's story, with each one revealing a snippet of story relating to a particular character — a sort of "where are they now" style epilogue to Second Chapter that reveals what's happened in the six months between games. Each door provides a cryptic clue as to which character is needed before opening, so it seems clear that there's a large cast to track down. Unsurprisingly, after a bit more exploration, you'll find another stone, this one holding Captain Julia Schwarz, a character that had an extensive role in the previous games as an NPC, but was only briefly playable at the tail end of Second Chapter.
At the end of the first chapter is the game's first major boss fight, a fairly easy battle but a lot more complex than the early fights in the prior Trails in the Sky games. It's here that you start to get a taste of the mysteries surrounding the game's main story, and while I haven't explored far enough to discern what those mysteries are, Kevin and Ries' pasts seem to be relevant to the events that are unfolding, and it's an enticing reason to continue to delve deeper into this strange new realm.
With it's vastly different structure, it's difficult to say how Trails in the Sky the 3rd will play out. The one door you'll be able to open during the first chapter contains an entertaining side story, but it's also long and entirely noninteractive, which lends it a very awkward sense of pacing. Still, it's fun meeting these characters again, and the Trails in the Sky series' fantastic combat system gets to make one last hurrah. I'll reserve judgment until reaching the end of the game, but so far Trails in the Sky the 3rd is very different from its predecessors, yet still a Trails game at its heart. Whether this new structure is a blessing or a curse remains to be seen.