This Time, I'm Getting Through Trails in the Sky

The third installment of Trails of Cold Steel is well on its way to western shelves, and folks, I’m still extremely late to its predecessor series: Trails in the Sky. In the eight years since its first game / “chapter” released, its developers at Falcom have grown from a relative unknown to something of a cult-favorite. And I, a hopeless JRPG addict, have tried and failed to get through the trilogy - three separate times. I’m told that the soundtrack is incredible, that its massive cast carries nuance, and that its gradual build-up is worth the slow ride to get there. Do I just not “get it?” Maybe I’m not compatible with its gentler pacing? But there’s such widespread, earnest enthusiasm for this series that I almost feel guilty for not vibing with it. Deep down, I know that this should be my kind of game! So here we are: as of last week, I started round four.

I’ve now finished the “prologue” — that’s roughly the first five hours of the game. My initial impressions are about the same as they’ve always been: the characters are likable (especially Estelle!), the dialogue is generally charming, but the gameplay objectives are really, seriously stale. This time around feels different, though, thanks to the help of a crucial ally: the fast-forward button. It’s hard to be bothered by such mundanity as “hey, go find my lost cat,” or the subsequent quest, “go change a lightbulb,” when I can zoom straight through alongside a walkthrough. If that makes this playthrough in any way “artificial,” I can’t say that I care! Clearly, this is the only way I’m going to see this game to the end, and you know what? I might even enjoy it this time.

While I’ve been tearing my own path through an old game, the greater gaming discuse has been roaring around difficulty and accessibility. Apparently, there’s a (large) sect of this fandom that rejects that a game should, or even could be changed to help more players experience it. What a brazen, myopic way to think of this medium…! I almost have whiplash from how hard that contrasts with my time with Trails. Here I am, a completely able-bodied person, trying to play through a game that I want to finish so badly that I’ve bought it on three different platforms. If I manage to finish it this time, I’ll owe it all to being able to fast forward! And that’s just a tool to suppress my own impatience. I can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to miss out on a game because my life circumstances were somehow different from what the developers expected, or “designed for.” Isn’t that kind of the point of games? That we all play them a little bit differently? Difficulty options, accessibility settings, and gameplay customizations, these are all tools that interactivity makes possible. What a shame it would be to leave someone behind, because a creator’s grand “artistic vision” had some blindspots.