Sadness and Great Music – Trails in the Sky FC Spoiler-Free “Review”

Just last night, I finally beat this incredible game after trying to play it since November of 2020. I have quite a story to tell with this one, but we’ll get to all of that soon enough. Starting off, I’d like to give my actual official opinion of the game after having played it all the way through, at last. Honestly, even though this game is just merely the prologue to a much, much longer story, I felt that it could stand well on its own. This game is definitely slow and takes a long time for the plot to get going, but the slowness doesn’t make it bad, if you ask me. This game fulfills its purpose by getting you attached to the characters and the kingdom of Liberl, one of the three main countries on the continent of Zemuria. It makes you, the player, spend plenty of time in this world, getting to know all the characters both playable and otherwise, and even though the plot may take a while to pick up, it has a warm, cozy feeling to it. It really makes you feel at home in this kingdom, and the more you play and uncover, the more you wish to protect everyone and everything within it and beyond, especially as you start meeting people from the other countries in Zemuria. I absolutely loved this game, and though I may have had a difficult time with many of the boss fights, even I, someone who struggles with most video games, managed to beat it on the standard difficulty setting and enjoyed every second of the game.

Now that I’ve stated my official opinion, I’d like to start with my own personal story, then talk about the things I liked and slightly disliked about the game specifically.

My personal story with this game is a bit weird. It starts with one of the games that came long after it: Trails of Cold Steel. At the time of being introduced to it, I was getting burned out on the RPGs I’d been playing mostly at the time and asked a co-worker of mine to recommend RPGs that weren’t Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, or Dragon Quest. I just wanted to try something different. On that list he sent. Trails of Cold Steel came up. It was a somewhat familiar name. At least, the Trails name was familiar. I’d seen it years before when I watched an old friend stream one of the Trails in the Sky games, but that was long before I knew anything about the series. At any rate, I got Trails of Cold Steel and absolutely fell in love with it. It made me want to look into the rest of the series and play as much of it as I could, knowing that all the games followed a single plotline. I found out that the original Trails in the Sky was originally on the PSP. At the time, I was unemployed and unable to purchase any new games, so I got the game on an emulator at first and played it that way.

I made it pretty far that way originally, but then my girlfriend and I moved to Ohio, and the computer I was using got busted in the move, so I lost all that progress. I decided to give it another go using my old, rather terrible laptop, and it worked just fine, much to my surprise. I ended up making it much further that way. I think I even got to the end of Chapter Three before I stopped playing. I was finally at a point where I could afford things again. Understanding how much I knew I’d love this series, I wanted to get the games officially and support the wonderful creators that came up with this amazing story, so I bought the entire Trails in the Sky trilogy on Steam. I had to restart from the beginning for a fourth time (the third time I didn’t mention was for a Let’s Play I planned on doing for the PSP version that I had to quit due to accidentally saving over my file), but that wasn’t an issue. I was admittedly pretty burned out on the first two chapters of the game because of this, but I still pushed through, eager to see what resided beyond the parts of the game I’d already seen so many times.

At long last, after months of playing, my first journey through the kingdom of Liberl came to an end. I was definitely in tears by the end, I will most definitely admit, but I loved it. Seeing this world from the perspective of the game’s central protagonists Estelle and Joshua Bright was an unforgettable experience, and one I will think of for many years to come. Especially now that I’m playing its direct sequel, of course. But that is my story with this game.

To jump into specifics, I’ll start with the things I didn’t like real quick, because there weren’t many things to dislike, to be honest. Now that I’m thinking about the game from as much of an objective standpoint as I can take, there’s really only one thing I even sort of dislike, and it’s hardly anything. The only thing that I wasn’t a big fan of was how slow the story can be at times. I personally had no issue with it; like I said, I enjoyed every second I played of this game. But when recommending this game to people, it’s a little difficult, because a lot of people tend to lack patience. A lot of people out there aren’t playing a video game to read a book; they want to jump right into the action, which I don’t fault them for at all; that’s what most video games are about anyway, but that is not what the Trails series is about. The Trails series does more than just provide a source of entertainment; it’s an experience, something to truly dig into and enjoy. Something worth investing your time in. It is indeed like reading a book, I’d say. Dialogue among characters is a major focus on this game, and that brings me to the things I really liked.

While we’re on the note of dialogue, let’s talk about that, shall we? The writing style of the Trails series is something that really stands out to me. After playing Persona 3, the game that essentially changed how I view games in general, something I always appreciate in a video game is what I call an “honest writing style.” By that, what I mean is that the dialogue between characters has a human feel. Not everything is grammatically correct all the time. People shorten words or use abbreviated versions. They often use strange combinations of words. They have differing dialects depending on regional differences. (Though that last one is something to be used carefully, I’d say. You definitely don’t want it to be overdone to the point of being offensive, like what some Dragon Quest games do with their heavily-forced Spanish accented characters.) Trails in the Sky excels at that, and it really gives the whole game a more human feel to it. It makes you feel like the characters in the world are very real, including the NPCs.

That brings me to another note on this same topic. Something that the Trails series does that I absolutely love is how they treat their NPCs. In every region you go to, there’s a collection of NPCs with their own stories, and if you take the time to talk to them as you progress the plot, you get to see their stories advance. They don’t stay static. They move forward and grow, just like you do and the protagonists do. They endure their own hardships along with yours, and sometimes, their lives even change depending on your own actions. I can understand why some people wouldn’t have the patience to go around and talk to every single NPC every time the story progressed; even I didn’t when I was at the end of Trails of Cold Steel because I was just ready to progress the plot, but it’s really rewarding if you’re someone who appreciates good writing and wonderful attention to detail.

Another thing I love is the game’s central protagonist: Estelle Bright. I always appreciate when a game actually has a female lead as the protagonist, and Estelle is absolutely incredible. I wish I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you guys, so I’ll just leave it at saying that she is a wonderful protagonist in every way and I’d recommend playing it just to see how her story evolves throughout the game.

To wrap things up, this game is, as I’ve said, an experience that goes beyond simply playing a video game. It has so much humanity within its storytelling. The music portrays the game’s emotions perfectly. The writing for every single character blows me away with how well it’s done. The kingdom of Liberl itself is full of so many wonderfully strange people and mysteries. I cannot recommend this game enough. If you are even remotely interested in playing, this game is on Steam for a pretty reasonable price for how much story and gameplay you get with this game, if I recall correctly. If you haven’t played it before but decide to try it because of this, feel free to let me know how your journey through the kingdom of Liberl goes! Or if you have already played the game, also let me know! I always enjoy meeting fellow Trails fans.

Thoughts on Humanity

This is a bit of a random thought I had in the middle of the night that I decided to document. These are all just purely my thoughts and not meant to be taken TOO seriously. I hope you find some sort of entertainment or something from reading it.

It’s often that what we see of people is a result of their background, the environment they were raised in, etc. Though there are also those who deny their upbringing in order to either be a better person, or to overcompensate and rebel.

The human mind is a complex thing, and if I intend on getting back to writing about more personal stories again, I need to think about humans more. My lack of human interaction is likely the cause of my downfall with writing, so let’s break humanity down based on personal experience and observation, starting from the basis of it all: our brains.

Our bodies, essentially, are vessels to carry our brains. Our organs and limbs are machines made to carry out our brains’ bidding. Even though our brains are made very similarly, we’re unique in the fact that our brains are entirely different from one another. The knowledge we have, the behavioral patterns we inhibit, our speech patterns, our comprehension of language, and the way in which we interact with the people and world around us are all completely different from one another based on the kind of environment we were raised in.

These environments are affected by a number of factors, internal and external. Internal factors would be the behavior and thoughts of those they were raised around, causing a massive chain reaction spanning generations. External would be things like quality of life, amount of food and water and exercise, things that are more tangible. Taking these things into consideration, you may predict how someone would turn out to be depending on these factors.

However, there’s another unique thing about our brains, and it’s our ability to adapt based on the most current knowledge we’ve retained. Someone who was raised in a racist household could very well adopt a racist point of view, but if they are influenced young enough to understand that such behavior is wrong as it brings harm to other people, they can deviate from the norm that was established by the generations of people in that household who held racist values based on things THEY learned back when they were younger.

All these behavioral patterns have a cause and effect. Some could be as simple as learning new information and changing behavior based on that, and other times, people can simply choose to change because they’ve grown tired of the people they’ve become. The possibilities for the human mind are endless. It’s rather miraculous, really, when you consider our potential. This is why our mindset affects so much about us. If the thing controlling our bodies isn’t functioning as it’s supposed to, then our bodies will inevitably feel side effects from this.

Before I digress too much, let’s get back on track. The human mind is affected by a lot throughout life. I can only imagine what the human mind was like back in the days of our Neanderthal ancestors, in which survival was the primary objective. Back then, I can’t imagine emotions were a big deal. All that mattered was that they avoided fights they couldn’t win and they would do what they could to live another day. We eventually evolved to learn the ability of foresight, and being able to make predictions according to the information available. This improved our chances of survival.

As we made more and more advanced forms of technology, our priorities shifted. It became less about survival and more about other things, like trying to live more comfortable lives. This is still a struggle for many. But now, we live in an era where survival, though important, isn’t our first priority. Life is more about living, not just surviving. It goes back to the Hierarchy of Needs. As long as you have your base needs taken care of, you can focus on the higher tiers of priorities.

Something I want to think of, a little less on the concept of writing and a little more on a personal level, is how our minds react to mental health issues, and how adaptability may help.

I suffer from depression. Sometimes, it gets so bad that I even have thoughts of putting an end to my own life. But when I consider the heroes I see in fiction that I admire, I think about everything they endure and the fact that they go through it all without succumbing to their mental problems. More often than not, their determination stems from the need to deviate from the norm, which they view as a bad thing. I feel like the modern days we live in is something to be discussed. It’s a society in which problems are glorified. It’s a contest to see who has it worst. This mindset weighs on society as a whole. There needs to be a balance. It’s okay to be upset about your station in life, but if you feel that it’s a contest between you and others to see whose life is harder, that will eventually weigh on you and will make your life even more miserable. I think part of us WANTS to be miserable, perhaps for attention, or comfort. We feel that being happy is dangerous, because whenever we’re happy, bad things happen that ruin our moods.

What if I said that it’s not as superstitious as we expect?

We set up these false expectations for life, that being happy is dangerous. It’s far easier to feel sad or angry or upset in general when so many elements in life bring us down. Our brains feel some sort of satisfaction from that comfort of feeling upset. Also, I know from experience that I’ve avoided being too happy because of the people around me; in the past, I’ve been afraid to appear happy because they are quick to try to shut your happiness down. Perhaps out of jealousy, or the desire to have other people be miserable along with them. There are more factors, I’m sure, but I feel it can be broken down to that.

The point of all of this is that regardless of how we feel, bad things will always happen. With that in mind, it makes one wonder: why aren’t we all just sad and down all the time when bad things are essentially destined to happen? Because on the flip side of that, good things will always happen too. Maybe not as soon as we’d like, but they do happen. However, based on the world around us, we find it easier to remain disappointed at all times to prepare for the bad times so that our happiness isn’t shut down when it happens. But this is what comedy is for. It’s putting the things that make us sad or upset into a different context that brings us laughter. I feel like if we had a better sense of humor as a whole, we would be better prepared for hard times. It would allow us to see more hope in the darkness, I think. But what would I know? It’s almost 3AM here while I write this and I can’t sleep, so I may just be delirious.

These could just be reassuring thoughts to myself, but I feel like it has some truth. We take life too seriously, when, in truth, we’re all still children in the bodies of adults not really knowing what we’re doing. With that, we let the uncertainty in life stress us out, and that stress becomes sadness, or anger, or any other number of negative feelings because it’s easier for us to fall to those negative emotions instead of finding the happiness out of it.

Although, there is another factor to this, I think. It’s also because we don’t allow ourselves to process our emotions enough. I have a problem crying because I was raised with the societal mindset that men shouldn’t cry, and despite my new mindsets on life, the fear of appearing weak if I shed tears remains within me. I can only cry if I’m alone, unfortunately. It all goes back to humanity affecting each other’s brains.

With that being the case, I feel like it’s a simple addition equation. For the most part. We need to learn to process our emotions in a healthy, non-self-destructive way, so our negative emotions don’t blow up and harm ourselves or other people, and we need to learn to take life less seriously. This is why I feel comedy is so important. I’ve never been a big comedy writer, but the concept of joking about life, both the positive and negative, lightens the heavy feeling I have in my heart.

Bringing this back to the concept we were supposed to talk about, that brings me to numerous often-seen character stereotypes seen in fiction. We often see the kind of people who bottle up their emotions until they come out and explode. We see the kind of people who cope with negativity through jokes. We see the kind of people who can’t stop crying about things but are often the first to comfort people who can’t cry. They are stereotypes because we see these patterns quite a bit within human brains, and I feel like the reason the most fascinating stories feature the most diverse cast of characters in terms of mentality is because we see these unlikely groups come together and interact. Especially in the day and age of a pandemic, these stories draw us in, since it gives us a strange sense of completion, since everyone in the group usually represents something different about the human mind.

Well, I’m gonna stop this rant. I’m getting tired and it will likely devolve into nonsense if I keep it up for too long. I hope that perhaps you may take something from reading this. I don’t know all the answers; these are all just my own thoughts, and I want to get into the habit of documenting my philosophy, especially when it comes to writing.

Important Changes to Black Crystal

Author’s Notes
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I was in the process of editing and revising the first three books in the series to match the current canon of the Black Crystal series, and I managed to succeed at doing so with The Origin, the first book in the series! But after looking at both The Essence and Elysium, the longest goddamn book I’ve ever written, I determined that I’m too lazy and tired to even try editing those books to match the current canon and revisions to the series’ world, lore, and all that good shit. At the time of writing this little “essay”, so to say, I’ve been putting The Kingdom, the fourth installment in the series, on hold for well over half a year without any progress due to a lack of motivation, and because I’ve been stuck with the past few books. Sure, a good author might stick with the program and do what they can to make sure all the books are as best as they can be, but who said I was a good author? People might like my stories, but my methods are far from effective. The older I get, the more tired I get, so I’d much rather just move forward with the story than feel stagnant and try making everything work with shit I already wrote. Don’t get me wrong. I am beyond passionate about this series. It just feels redundant to republish books that have been out for the past few years just because of a few revisions, so I’m making this recap free to read and open to the public. I hope this helps!

Revisions
Starting off, I would like to provide clarification to all the revisions that have been made to the Black Crystal canon so we’re all on the same page by the time The Kingdom is out. Ever since beginning my D&D campaign Legends of the Black Crystal, a few things have been changed for the sake of continuity, or rather, to make more sense. The most important thing is the relation between Chris and the Royal Family from the 1800s. The Essence originally indicated that 200 years passed between the Royal Family being turned to stone and Chris’s story beginning in the surprisingly modern city of Nakura, but this is officially false as of the new canon. 

I’ll explain it in more detail in the section of this essay detailing the plot of The Essence, but what happened was that Bartholomew’s curse spread around the world of Inclusia, which is where the series takes place, turning everyone to stone. The cities of Alswell and Nakura were constructed by a select group of people who had knowledge on interdimensional travel to house refugees who managed to escape the curse’s grasp. A barrier was placed around the two cities, and that barrier was set to protect everyone living in the two cities. However, since the people contracted to build them were familiar with interdimensional travel, they took inspiration from modern day Earth, which is indeed a part of the Black Crystal multiverse, since the characters Arianna Hernandez and Leon LaHayes both come from our little Blue Planet. As a result, it gives the aura of what 2017 in our world would look like, but it is still the 1800s in the rest of Inclusia. The contractors also had the ability to alter the memories of those who lived in the two cities, convincing many of the younger generations to believe they grew up on Earth and not Inclusia, which is why finding out what the world truly is becomes such a shock to the cast. The true amount of time has only been a few decades. Chris is actually the grandson of Garen and Lenora. Chris’s mother Elena and her sister Misty are Garen and Lenora’s children.

The next big thing is the geographical changes. Originally, the nation the story took place in was called the 48 Provinces, indicative of an alternate version of the United States, and Nakura was originally set to be in that world’s version of Canada. However, after deciding that my D&D campaign would take place in this world, I decided to flesh the world of Inclusia out more and give the world more original names. This is indicated in the rewritten version of The Origin, but the continent is now called Unistylaad, and there are only nine provinces. Orelivia is what used to be Oregon, and Washorick is what used to be Washington. I made sure the names were still close to the original so it wasn’t difficult to get used to them, especially for people who have read the original editions of these books. The city of Portland became the city of Livia, the city of Olympia simply turned into Olympe, the river crossing outpost Hood River became Hooded River, the militarized city of Eugene became Eugelene, and the village of Grants Pass was named Alorae. There are more towns than these, but these are the ones most prominent at the beginning of the series, so I wanted to provide clarification for them. There are six more provinces, which we will touch upon one day, but I’ll name them here: Ishtorai is a desert nation to the east of Washorick and Orelivia. South of Ishtorai is a smaller province named Selmor, where many witches practice arcane arts deemed illegal by the sovereign of Ishtorai. On a southmost peninsula below the entire continent are two isolated provinces named Caligri and Decimbra. To the far east are the three united provinces: Ohren, Flarioc, and the empire of Yorjun, which is where the provincial leaders meet to discuss political matters every few years.

The next thing isn’t a super prominent thing in the books, at least, but I thought it deserved attention: the mystery of the moon in Hooded River. At night, the moon turns green and demons emerge from the darkness. In the original version of The Origin, this was never explained. I meant for it to be more important, but I was writing the original version of the book on a deadline, and I think I just didn’t have the time to explain it. This was finally explained in our D&D campaign. This anomaly is called the Emerald Moon. Hooded River is a weak spot in reality. In other words, it’s a door to a place called the Road Between Realms. The veil that protects the prime material plane from other planes of existence is particularly weak in Hooded River, so at night, creatures from other dimensions, including those of the Infernal type who come from Hell itself, can easily pass through and enter the prime material plane from Hooded River. This was how Bartholomew managed to get such a massive legion of demons on his side in The Origin. But what does this have to do with the Emerald Moon? It’s a bit strange, you see. There are legends in Inclusia of the gods. Inclusia is a world that was not created by gods (we’ll get into that later), so the gods themselves are fascinated by this planet. Many of the gods worshipped by people living in Inclusia grew jealous of the fact that a world could exist without their will sustaining it, and thought the world deserved to be destroyed. Other gods knew this was wrong and tried to prevent them from destroying it, causing a war among the celestials. The gods who decided Inclusia was not worthy of existing were deemed “fallen gods” and were sealed away in the moon as punishment for their attempted crime. Legends say the moon turns green at certain places in the world because those are the only places where the blood of the fallen gods are visible.

Whew; that was a longer explanation than I thought. We’ll get to lore at some point, but I wanted to let you guys know some of the things that changed. Another small detail is that Chris isn’t actually “in love” with Mallory; he’s just infatuated with her, but he doesn’t really know the difference. That’s about it, in terms of revisions. If I come up with more, I’ll probably add them in the plot explanations.

The History of Inclusia
Ah, here’s something I’ve been wanting to explain for a long time—the interesting past of the world of Inclusia. I’ll keep it short though, because you can’t reveal everything; it wouldn’t be fun that way, but here’s some basic history most characters in the series are at least somewhat aware of, so I feel that you as the reader deserve to know as well.

Like I said before, Inclusia was not created by gods. It was created during a time long gone here on Earth. Long ago, we had humans and other non-humans, like monsters and elves, living among one another. Many of these people felt invisible because society shunned them or ignored them, making them feel like the world didn’t even belong to them. Some of these people even took their lives, but those who lived through it wished for a world they could call their own. Their will was so powerful that one day, these people found themselves plucked from their own reality and brought to a new planet specifically for them. This was created by a power named the Will of the Forgotten. The people who felt they didn’t belong anywhere found a home here in Inclusia, and created a society based on never making people feel alone and forgotten like they were on Earth. Hence the name Inclusia: the world was meant to be inclusive.

For many millennia, this form of society worked well. The world was big enough to carry all the people who belonged to it. The planet was quite literally made for them, by them. It fit everyone’s needs as their society developed. But one day, the peace came to an end. No one truly knows when or how it began, but humans began going around killing everything that wasn’t human or elven, believing that they would rise up and overpower humanity as they grew power-hungry. Just like the humans back on Earth. Humans wanted to make sure they stayed on top and weren’t wiped out, and ended up committing genocide in their act of trying to avoid genocide. After a hundred years of slaughter, the monsters evolved to the constant barrage of violence and got strong enough to provide a threat to the humans. The fighting only escalated until the world was literally stained with blood. Tired of the bloodshed, an elven woman named Sylvia Godswood rose to power and traveled the world, using diplomacy and kindness, and occasional head-busting, to quell the violence. It is said that her benevolence was so radiant that those who saw her beauty and heard her voice immediately stopped fighting and wept for the world, their ancestors, and the people they once considered their enemies. Sylvia slapped some sense into the people of Inclusia, reminding them what the whole point of the world was supposed to be, and they began rebuilding.

That was 12,000 years ago now. Save for some skirmishes and outside threats from other dimensions, Inclusia has not seen a battle quite as large as that battle, which was called the War of Cleansing. The only battle in recorded history that comes close is the War of 1806. Bartholomew Cadence, a mysterious man collaborating with the seemingly malevolent deity the Black Crystal, brought a legion of demons in an attempt to overthrow the kingdom of Livia. At the same time, Chancellor Anthony Guinness launched an attack on Livia with his own military force to take advantage of the fact that they were preoccupied with Bartholomew’s forces. Though the losses were heavy, Queen Maevis Morenthia managed to drive their foes away with magic unlike anything people in Orelivia or Washorick had ever seen. Bartholomew disappeared after the defeat of his demons, but came back later, revealing his power to possess the bodies of others.

Conclusion
The story’s weird, basically. Feel free to read the books as they are, and if you need reference for the revisions, they are all here. And if you do have any questions about the series, feel free to ask in the comments section of this website, or the YouTube video if you’re watching that version (which will come out soon if it isn’t already out). Either way, it’s time for me to finally get back to work on The Kingdom, so I hope you all have a great day and look forward to it!