Imagine if the Star Wars closed with Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi instead featured the life and times of Wedge Antilles . That's kind of what happens in Trails in the Sky the 3rd, the anticipated finale (of sorts) that launched today on Steam.
Ostensibly the conclusion to Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky First Chapter and Second Chapter, Trails in the Sky the 3rd actually picks up after the conclusion of the main story. In so doing, it shifts perspective from Estelle and Joshua, the heroes of the first two games, to Father Kevin Graham—the green-haired wandering priest from Trails in the Sky SC. Moreover, it changes format to become more of a pure dungeon crawler, trapping Graham and his friend Sister Ries Argent into a mysterious tower replete with a series of peculiar doors.
Behind those doors are a series of vignettes that shed light on the Trails world and characters through flashbacks (also, minigames). Estelle and Joshua return, and you get to see a bit of what happened to them in the aftermath of Trails SC. Tita... Agate... they're all there. Even a former villain turns up for the party. All of them get their moment in the sun, which is pretty much Trails in the Sky 3rd's reason for being—one big curtain call that doubles as a bit of additional world-building.
This has lead some to derisively refer to it as pure fan service and, well, they're not wrong. Trails in the Sky the 3rd's structure makes it feel like a bonus dungeon expanded into a full game. It's very much geared toward hardcore fans of the series, with the main story taking a backseat to lore and character-building. Basically, it's the game you play because you simply can't get enough of the world of Legend of Heroes, making it almost a wiki article come to life. Or, if you prefer, the videogame equivalent of Tolkien's infamous appendices.
But that's exactly what a lot of Trails fans want out of the series. Since making its way west for first time in 2011, Legend of Heroes has built a passionate cult following obsessed with every detail of the universe. Fans have begged for Trails 3rd to be localized not just because it has so many new stories to tell about Trails in the Sky, but because of the light it sheds on the series as a whole. And with rich world-building being a core part of the appeal of the Legend of Heroes series, such stories are much desired.
Still, that does not mean in the Trails in the Sky the 3rd is above criticism. In particular heavily recycles old assets and locations, including whole boss fights, which makes it feel like a cheap attempt to squeeze a few extra sales from the series. The setting is also extremely limiting, dispensing entirely with towns, NPCs, and side jobs.
And as always, Trails in the Sky is an acquired taste. Its slow-paced, tactical battles are pleasingly complex; but when fighting regular mobs, they can be unbearably slow. Boss battles can take 30 minutes or more to complete. It's a determinedly old-school RPG that values substance over style, with dialogue sequences that can feel interminable if you're not invested in a character's backstory (thankfully, you usually are). You could say that it's the anti-Persona 5.
Assuming you're willing to put all that aside and take the plunge (which you should!), Trails in the Sky the 3rd still isn't where you should start. It's "standalone" in the sense that you can immediately pick up and play it, but it leans heavily on prior investment in the world and the characters. It largely dispenses with the tutorial, and it ratchets up the difficulty appreciably. If you want to properly enjoy Trails in the Sky, start with FC, which is also available on Steam.
(Brief sidenote: Trails in the Sky FC is also available on PSP and Vita, but if you want to transfer your save down the line, you might want to play it on PC. Trails in the Sky the 3rd is only available on PC).
With that, Trails in the Sky the 3rd brings the Trails in the Sky trilogy to a close for English-speaking fans, though it by no means marks the end of the series. As epilogues go, Trails in the Sky the 3rd is very much in keeping with the spirit of the franchise, wholly devoting itself to filling in the various gaps in the lore. But while it does have its own story to tell, it suffers from the fact that it doesn't really stand on its own.
For most, Trails in the Sky the 3rd will be one last chance to spend time with many of the characters they've come to enjoy over the course of the past two games (at least until Zero no Kiseki gets translated). It's not a faultless sendoff; but for the fans who relished the first two games, it will be enough.