Jax Yeah it seemed neat, might go back to it at some point. It apparently had much higher sales than they anticipated which is nice for them. It does kind of exemplify the position that Falcom is at right now as a developer.
I look at them and see what they’ve put out this decade. They’ve made 7 Trails games, 3 Ys games, a Trails spinoff ARPG, Tokyo Xanadu, and a Power Stone style Trails/Ys arena fighter. Those 7 Trails games were the biggest things they put out and they influenced everything that got made along the way. The changes Trails underwent this decade are also what I consider a core feature of modern Falcom: trend chasing. The first 2 Trails games released this decade, Zero and Ao, stuck pretty closely to the previous games but they added one key feature: bonding events. This is a post-Persona ¾ world where Social Links introduced something new that would be copied and flipped over the next decade. This change, along with Cold Steel moving to a high school setting, to me shows that Falcom was looking at what was popular and taking their own stab at it to try to cater to what the audiences wanted in a very crowded market.
I’m not mad at it though! I think one of the things that makes Falcom a special developer is that, even when trend chasing, they manage to make smart improvements that push the trends forward. My favorite example of this is actually the bonding events. In Persona the Social Links are these completely separate stories that happen outside of the view of the main narrative. This leads to some weird narrative funk where in Persona 4 you have characters dying and being kidnapped and then you’re like uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh well how about we go talk about stuffed animals or whatever instead of solving the mystery? In Trails of Cold Steel though Falcom took bond events and made them contextually relevant to where the main narrative is at. You’re in a new location? Characters’ bond events will reference that! Something really big happened in the story? The bond events will address it and let you hear others’ perspective on it. I feel they very often do a very good job with these.
Another thing I see as a core feature of not just this decade is that Falcom operates in these periods of technology and house style that they commit themselves to. For the 00s it was the Ys VI and Trails in the Sky era. All of those games look the same. This decade is the Trails of Cold Steel decade. After a uh growing period with Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta they settled nicely into the house style for the decade. Two unique things happened this decade though: Trails blew up and they had to transition to the PS4. In the 00s Falcom basically stuck completely to the PSP and PC. The Vita was their primary platform near the beginning of this decade(with a side of PS3 here and there). Swapping to the PS4 was unavoidable though as their ambitions didn’t match being on on the Vita. That’s where Tokyo Xanadu and Ys VIII come in. Those games originally came out on the Vita but then got enhanced PS4 releases ahead of their big boy: Trails of Cold Steel 3. It’s really funny to look at TX and Ys VIII and see them experimenting with some presentational stuff that would eventually be in CS3 and become the standard.
The other thing I mentioned was Trails blowing up. Their gamble kinda worked and Cold Steel became popular. Not like Persona popular or anything but you know, popular for Falcom. This led to them working a more Trails style narrative into the Ys games. Celceta at least was already gesturing in that direction but then full on big boy Ys VIII comes out and it’s VERY apparent that they’ve injected some of that DNA in there. They had something that’s popular and wanted to keep it going. And it worked! Ys VIII was incredibly highly regarded. One of the best in the series etc etc. That’s basically the long winded take on why I think we’ve seen these changes to Ys with these new games whereas in the past they kept Trails and Ys as pretty different vibes despite the common looks.
I lost the thread somewhere in there because I just wanted to talk about Falcom. I just really appreciate what they do, even when it is obvious they willingly drank the Persona koolaid at some point. They’re a developer that is somewhat hamstrung by their place in the market and the release schedule that they and their investors keep. They release stuff at such a stupid pace that their games do start to feel homogenous to a certain degree. Yet there is always that special Falcom something in there. You can always see the good ideas even if they’re not properly executed because of time, budget, or even talent I guess! Still, I love them.
Since this is 2021 and they’re starting a new arc in the Trails series this year I am very curious to see what Falcom is going to bring this decade.