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Moving Forward by Working Backwards

Michael Cunningham

XSEED Games has been feeding those of us here in North America with RPG love from Japanese developer Nihon Falcom since 2010. In that time, they have released Ys Seven, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys I & II Chronicles, and most recently The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, all on Sony's PlayStation Portable. The three Ys titles were standard enough affairs, with XSEED even licensing out a fan translation for Oath in Felghana, but The Legend of Heroes is a different animal.

Trails in the Sky is the first game in a trilogy and the amount of dialogue contained within this single game is stated as being roughly the equivalent of three hefty RPGs. The localization process for Trails started in 2009 and ended shortly before the game released in March 2011, taking up over a year of XSEED's time. So now that Trails is out and fans have fallen in love with it, what is the company going to do about the second chapter (SC) with it being an even larger game and the PSP being on the way out?

I'm not happy to be writing this, but I don't think XSEED should localize the PSP version of the second chapter of Trails in the Sky. The first game wrapped up nicely, but the game's ending majorly teases the next chapter in the series. So while I believe the company needs to bring this game over, they just don't need to do it on the PSP. I love the PSP, as it's been home to many great RPGs, but my love for it does not change the fact that it is dying in North America. Just stop by any brick-and-mortar video game store and try to find the PSP section; you'll be lucky if it still has one. While Sony's handheld is still thriving in Japan, it is dead in the water in the states. Combine that with the fact that SC spans two UMDs and cannot be released on the PlayStation Network, and XSEED would be doubly screwed, especially considering that SC would require even more effort to localize due to its size.

So if XSEED still should bring out the second chapter, but not on the PSP, what should they do? Unfortunately, the ball is not in XSEED's court here, at least not unless they have a good hold on Falcom's ear. I can't speak to actual sales data, but if these games have done even remotely well, it seems like Falcom has a lot to gain by continuing to support North American releases via XSEED. So by this logic, it would benefit both companies to stay close and work on other options.

Unfortunately, those other options are all on the developer Falcom. Let me clarify that XSEED still maintains that the company is still dedicated to bringing these titles over, as the voice recording for all three Trails in the Sky games is complete. For all I know, XSEED could be working on Trails 2 right now, but I imagine that they need to pay the bills and have other games on their plate right now. If Falcom is interested in gaining more international appeal, then there are two (or three) paths to take.

The first option seems to be the simplest. Falcom would take properties, including the Trails series and The Oath in Felghana and bring the PC versions to North America via digital distribution. Falcom has already developed these titles and XSEED has already translated them, so all that it would take would be for Falcom to wake their PC development dragon once more. In the past year, Steam and other services have been great successes for Japanese RPGs like Recettear and the more recent indie titles Dungeons of Dredmor and Cthulhu Save the World. This would create a new stream of revenue and pave the way for Second Chapter to have a home when XSEED gets time to localize it. The PC is a timeless option, unlike the poor PSP, which is on the way out.

Beyond helping import the English text, Trails (Sora no Kiseki FC) was originally created for PC back in 2004 before being remade on PSP in 2006 in Japan, so creating something from scratch is not the problem. One issue here is that Falcom has moved away from PC development, so while the creation part might be done, the resources might not be available to make this happen. Another, likely bigger, problem is that the older PC versions are missing features that were added in the newer PSP versions, so it's doubtful that Falcom would want to leave those new additions out. More and more, it is looking like tossing the PC versions up on digital distribution services is not such a simple affair.

The alternate choice would be for a new version of Trails in the Sky, one that might even combine the first and second chapter into one game, to be created. Talking with Kirsten Miller (aka Floofy), founder of the Falcom fansite Endless History, she states that Falcom had planned for the first and second chapters of Trails in the Sky to initially be part of one game, but due to the scope of the game, the company opted to divide it in two. Since there is a key plot point that changes the direction of the story in the middle, it made a good split and thus two games were born. The third game in the Sora no Kiseki trilogy is not as closely tied to the first two, so it could come later with less pain for fans waiting to see what happens. Since XSEED's already done the work on the first game, but most likely hasn't made a dent with the second, this would give Falcom some lead time to work on an upgraded version of these two for the PlayStation Vita.

Why Vita? Foremost would be so that gamers who played on PSP can easily transfer their saves over. Another plus is that Falcom has already stated that the company is planning an RPG for the system, so the development process must be in place. This could help create a home for the additional games in the Legend of Heroes/Kiseki series while giving XSEED more room to breathe due to having a new system's life cycle to work with. The first chapter of Trails was cursed by landing near the end of the PSP's life, so having an early start would be a great benefit. Even if it takes XSEED a long time to finish SC, they could work together with Falcom, start now and have flexibility to take their time instead of having to rush to market, especially if the Vita is going to be a 2012 North American release.

Clearly, a combination of these two where both chapters of Trails hit Steam and the Vita would be ideal, but at this point anything would beat tossing the game out on the PSP to die. It would be a slow death that would have publishers gun shy of ever touching the series again. So yes, I want to play SC very badly after having completed Trails in the Sky. In interviews, XSEED has asked for us to be patient and realize that the company has not forgotten the game. It's a big game and XSEED would likely go out of business if the company spent all their resources on one massive RPG for a waning system. These options can be win-win for everyone involved if gamers can be patient and Falcom helps make additional versions of Trails in the Sky a reality.

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