Trails in the Heart

Optimism

Obviously, redemption comes with an inherent belief of people choosing to do good, but optimism in Trails in The Sky is not just implied, it is vowen into the every part of the universe, such a degree that makes most far-fetched things seem reasonable.

The Protagonist

The optimism is reflected in the protagonist herself, Estelle Bright, even signified in her name. She is a pretty much optimistic-energetic-girl archetype, but the writing carries this so well, her character becomes completely relatable and admirable. She carries the theme of hope and redemption all by herself, and is succesful at making people around her happy, succesful at making other’s find their good sides; exactly because of her naive beliefs. Modern narratives love to torment such characters and make them more jaded, but here, no matter how much dirt is thrown at her, and a lot of dirt is thrown at her as time goes on, she is always bright. Willing suspension of disbelief rarely becomes that literally willing, because even most pessimistic among us wants to believe, at some deep level, there is a possibility of better things. Playing archetypes straight until to point they became endearing is one of the greatest strengths of the Trails writing. A literal beacon of hope becomes a fully fledged character, as the game never shies away from evil, the ugly realities and complexities of reality, yet the ideal is also always reachable. Dawn always follows the darkness.

Sincerely Good Church

Anti religious themes are pretty common in RPGs and it makes sense considering the main audience and makers of these games. The corruption, the fanaticism, the outdatedness, the inherent abuse in a strong hierarchical organization like the Church, gods being jerks, rebellion all are well established narratives. Trails in the Sky is unique in it’s depiction of religion, not only it is a mostly force of good, but also avoids implicit endorsement of its stinky parts. Septian Church, the dominant religious organization in the game is like, even better than how most religious organizations wants to be seen in people’s eyes.

  • Despite being the dominant religion, no intolerance towards minority religions is to be seen. Even full syncretism is fully welcome, and when the lack of existence of a religious war at lore is taken into account, it can be safely assumed the religion is at least has spread mostly peacefully across the continent of Zemuria.
  • Priests mostly are sincerely fatherly and wise, less interested in how an individual lives their religion and more in spiritual guidance and help.
  • “Heresy” is not about mere theological disagreements, it is only reserved to genuinely evil magic and wanting to reach to divine power, which is proven to be dangerous to the very core of the world itself. The only character that called “a heretic” so far is also the most irredeemable character the series.
  • The doors of the churches are open to everyone and people just pray at their own accord, no pressure from their community or an inherent guilt tripping in their religion.
  • The church is sincerely helpful to people. Handling the early education, medicine, a support network in times of crisis, uses it’s influence to peace between nations.
  • While being fairly rich, being somewhat secretive and having much cultural and social influence, they strictly don’t hold, nor aspire for any political power. What makes this really idealist is that this doesn’t stem from a history of secularization like in real world — quite the opposite, by the start of the game their actions in their recent wars actually increased their influence — they are just plain not interested in anything besides advocacy of peace and possesion of dangerous artifacts whatsoever.
  • Unsurprisingly the only difference between a pious person and less pious person is how often they attend prayers or how much they mention Goddess in their speech. religious conservatism doesn’t exist here. The Church is not interested adherence of strict gender roles, how people dress, how much beverage they drink or even homosexuality in any way. On the other hand, there are no characters that dislike religion either, everyone is just chill about it in general.

Economics

But the series chooses to fully stay commited to redemption, and ends up being painting a profoundly liberal world. Liberalism is dominant political system so it’s not surprising that so many works just accepts it and this usually just makes me roll my eyes, but here it doesn’t feel ignorant, just naive and hopeful about power of people, because liberalism in the game is actually good at realising its ideals.

Collective Achievement

  • First, it gives your accomplishments a sense of weight, and makes non playable characters feel fleshed out, as I talked more about it here.
  • Second, it really makes overall peacefulness of the game more grounded. This is best seen in the cliché of being able to walk into people’s houses freely, it totally makes sense here; you aren’t taking anything anyway and people don’t have much reason to distrust each other. Liberl is, overall a peaceful country. I mean, even its aristocracy relinquished their titles peacefully. This also achieves so that when the game becomes more darker, it’s disruption is seen more directly, in the same way a stain on a bright white cloth attracts more attention than large amount of dirt on a pale-gray one.
  • Third, it is really what sells the narrative of the game. No matter how lighthearted, even cheesy the game can come across, inherent belief in people makes its optimism grounded and even realistic. It’s easy to get idealistic when your game revolves around only few characters and when you can look at isolated cases which is deliberately built to make player think in a certain way. But by taking it’s optimism into a real source we can both relate and continuously search in our everyday lives, people. When people stand together every crisis can be solved, any adversary can be defeated, no matter how mysteriously and inhumanly strong they are.

Mixing Up Dark and Light

All this is well and good, but you need sins to redeem from to talk about redemption. Despite how optimistic the game is overall, when the game takes its own gloves, it really does get dirty, on a vey personal level, without any shock value from graphics, just through character’s deeply relatable issues. How well the game is able to play with your mood, and how it can talk about child abuse realistically and make you read a book about how to talk to cats in the same game is achieved in following ways:

  • Gameplay rhythm. Dungeon exploration+battle/story/some quest cycle really gives a breather room to the events. The pacing of narrative is just dense enough to give you tension and relaxed enough to fit to gameplay speed and give place to warm, funny, wacky side events.
  • Relatedly, the progression of events also fits the change of moods. The game starts very humbly, as a very low-tension adventure which might feel slow to some players, but how the game increases the tension is important to achieve an emotional balance and keep the optimistic air, and when you stay around enough to game becoming truly serious, it will pay all the more because you spend so much time with characters, twists feel all that impactful when the game made you use to the peaceful atmosphere, your adventure feels truly grand when you actually went to your more low-key everyday life.
  • This combines with good character writing, and especially good minor NPC writing, it really feels good, as if you are in a slice-of-life story sometimes, great adventures are cool and all but, sometimes personal stories even small anecdotes can feel tingle your heart-strings. Sometimes you just want to laugh and cry alongside them. Even saving a country can feel just a part of witnessing character’s lives rather than “main important thing”
  • The length of the game also contribute to this. Personally I like dense, to-the-point stories quite a lot, content-oriented narrative design in contemporary gaming started to feel old when I spent 300+ hours on Skyrim. But here, extra content feels all the better, not only Liberl is a nice place to be in and the characters are interesting enough to spend more time with them, everything you do feels so integrated, from gameplay, to quests. Also the harmony between different elements in the game makes everything you do much more connected and less just for the sake of game, or even worse, for padding. It’s really delightful to see that the developers actually respected to the players’ time and were careful to make your every action meaningful whether that action is slaying snails, talking to a minor NPCs in a house, fishing mini-game or uncovering a massive conspiracy. Trails games are one of the few series that is so long — each passes 60+ hours — and are deserving of the every single of hours they demand.
  • Of course, we can never discount music. The soundtrack truly excels at guiding your mood, as I talk about it here.

The End of The Arc

These three main pillars serve to really serve to make all the redemption arcs (the two gamse as a whole are a large redemption arc, will just throw that one out) effective, rewarding and warm. And in turn, the importance given to redemption feeds into the optimism itself, rather than relying on “inner good” or “inner evil”, the game values being better over anything else, which also really ups the quality of character writing; the characters are really the product of their environments as much as their inner personalities. This is above all else, what makes the game truly uplifting. At its core, Trails in The Sky series is a long poem to praise the human heart.

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NyxWorldOrder

NyxWorldOrder

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I am Umay, @nyxworldorder from twitter, a trans woman, 25, writing about media and politics, mostly video games though.