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.