With this crazy heat wave sweeping across North America, it's the perfect time to hide indoors and read a good book or play a game with a focus on storytelling. This week's column focuses on some games with strong story and character elements, all of which come highly recommended by yours truly.
Here's a recent game that a lot of people may have overlooked. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a PSP port of a very popular Japanese RPG. If you've played some of the earlier, not-so-great Legend of Heroes games on the PSP, don't worry. This one is nothing like them, and it's one of the best games I played this year.
The best thing about Trails in the Sky is its eminently likeable main cast, filled with well-written characters who are brimming with personality. The two main characters are Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua, who aim to become full members of the do-gooder adventuring Bracer guild. They end up traveling their entire country as Junior Bracers, following the instructions of the guild while searching for Estelle's missing father. Along the way, they uncover a dastardly plot that threatens their nation, work with a rotating cast of great secondary characters, and bash plenty of monsters in a surprisingly breezy turn-based combat system.
Trails in the Sky is a coming-of-age story told with humor and class. It has been superbly localized by XSEED Games, and while it starts off slow, it soon blossoms into a grand adventure. If you enjoyed the best JRPGs of the PSOne and PS2 eras, you'll find that Trails in the Sky hearkens back to them while adding modern elements that keep the game lively and fun.
A Halloween-themed game in the summer? Why not? Costume Quest is a delightful downloadable adventure/RPG from Double Fine. Play as either Wren or Reynold, elementary school-aged twins who have been forced to go trick-or-treating together on Halloween. Their typical suburban adventure is quickly thrown out of whack when the player character's twin is kidnapped by horrible monsters who also appear to be stealing all the Halloween candy they can get their hands on. The game becomes a celebration of imagination as ordinary Halloween costumes allow kids to turn into gigantic and powerful avatars in order to fight off the candy-stealing goons.
The writing in Costume Quest alone is worth the price of admission, with some of the best "kid" dialog I've read. Anybody who grew up with a brother or sister will recognize the relationship between the two twins, which teeters between rivalry and protectiveness. There's a ton of gentle humor that will appeal to all ages, making this a great game to share with family members, though the combat system requires timed button presses that might be too difficult for the younger set.
Feeling retro? The Longest Journey is one of the best point-and-click adventure games of all time, and worth a look to anybody who isn't put off by graphics from the year 2000. It stars April Ryan, an art student in a near-future world dominated by science and technology. When her ordinary life starts to turn topsy-turvy, April finds herself drawn into an alternate world where magic reigns supreme. Of course, there's an evil plot afoot that threatens both worlds, and April will have to be very resourceful in order to save the worlds and get herself home safely.
The Longest Journey avoids many of the usual pitfalls of adventure games. The puzzles are generally fairly logical, and April can neither die nor become permanently stuck. There's some patience involved, as many of the (fully voiced) characters are extremely talkative, and some of the dialogues can drag on a bit. That and a somewhat unsatisfying ending aside, The Longest Journey is a compelling game with interesting characters and a lot of heart. It's perfect for a lazy summer day.
By Becky Cunningham
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*