Initial release date: September 29, 2011
Rerelease: March 14, 2023
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita
Series: The Legend of Heroes: Trails, The Legend of Heroes
Developers: Nihon Falcom, PH3 GmbH, NIHON FALCOM CORPORATION
Genres: Role-playing video game, Adventure game, Strategy game, Strategy video game
Publisher: NIS America
Mode: Single-player video game
"Review Copy Provided By NIS America"
The Crossbell arc of the Kiseki series is widely beloved among fans, yet many players have not had the chance to experience it due to the lack of an official western port or translation for over a decade. However, with the release of Trails from Zero in 2022 by Falcom and NIS America, fans can finally look forward to the final arc of the Crossbell Duology in Trails to Azure, set to be released in 2023.
One of the most impressive aspects of Trails to Azure is the exceptional world-building, which is what drew many fans to the series in the first place. Every NPC in the game slowly evolves and has their own unique story to tell, even those who initially appear insignificant. The game also features a plethora of fictional and historical books that fit the setting and sometimes have nothing to do with the main storyline. Additionally, the game's scope is impressive, as it branches out to an international stage while still keeping the focus tightly on Crossbell.
Despite things not always going smoothly for the characters, the game maintains a hopeful tone that resonates with players. Furthermore, little details that may initially appear bothersome, such as KeA being talented at everything and instantly beloved by everyone, eventually have explanations that add to the depth of the storyline.
Trails to Azure was initially released for the PSP in 2011 in Japan, and later received a PC port in China. While it has been re-released in Japan, it has never received an official English localization. Like Trails from Zero, The Geofront fan translation team will be assisting with the official release of Azure, which is set to come out in 2023. I have played the game four times now, with an older translation, an improved Geofront translation, and most recently, on the Nintendo Switch and Steam with the modern localization.
The game's opening prologue follows Lloyd as he is part of a team chasing down loose ends from Trails from Zero. While Lloyd's old teammates in the SSS are nowhere to be found at first, they make appearances later on in the game. Unlike most other arcs in the Kiseki series, the Crossbell Duology does not involve a cliffhanger ending, as the events of Trails to Azure take place a few months after the end of Trails from Zero. Everything in Azure is cranked up a notch with larger stakes and consequences everywhere. The game leans fully into the magical side of things, and this is the beginning of certain tropes in the series that we’ll get to.
Trails to Azure is the final game in the Trails series that uses the original engine and top-down 2D perspective. Battles also use the square grid layout for the last time. However, the gameplay still has some familiar aspects, with two main new features that make it unique. One of the new features is exclusive to Azure and never appears in the series again, while the other one shifts the way the magic system works in the series.
The introduction of Master Quartz is a fundamental change to the Trails series that affects the gameplay of all future games. Master Quartz serves as a powerful quartz that will serve as the base of a character's orbment setup moving forward. They are essentially the "starter" for each character and will level up and get stronger the more they are used. The Master Quartz provide different stats and bonuses, and can be swapped out, making them almost like a class or job system. Master Quartz becomes the quickest way of setting a character down a path towards a particular role or build, and each Master Quartz will unlock a Master Art when it reaches level 5. The game structure remains the same with a familiar gameplay loop of doing sidequests and main story quests. The game still takes place in Crossbell, and players can revisit locations in the game. To assist with this, the SSS is given a car as a fast travel option to certain areas of the game. The game has a prologue chapter, four main chapters, an intermission chapter, a "fragment" chapter, a finale chapter that can be a third of the game on its own, and a big final dungeon. The average time it takes to beat Trails to Azure is roughly 46-70 hours, depending on how much time is spent talking to NPCs.
Trails to Azure offers a mix of political world building and magical elements in the game. The first half of the game focuses on political world-building and story work, while the second half leans fully into the supernatural and magical side of the Trails universe. The characters are great, Crossbell feels alive, the music and presentation are incredible, and some aspects of the game are at their strongest.
Players should also be prepared for some challenging battles ahead, with some of the hardest ones being winnable or losable. However, losing the fights does not end the game, and players can still continue playing. In addition, the game has some interesting characters worth visiting, including some recognizable characters from the series.
Playing Trails to Azure on multiple platforms including the PS4, PC/Steam Deck, and Nintendo Switch, I noticed that the PS4 version has noticeable visual issues such as jagged character models and blurry font and models on certain background items like store front signs. In comparison, the Switch and Steam ports have almost everything in the game touched up and in a higher resolution, without these issues. It seems that the PS4 version is simply an upscaled port of the Vita version, while the Switch and Steam versions are built from the previous PC port. Despite this, I did not experience any performance issues on any of the platforms I played on. I did notice that the PC port has a feature that the console versions lack, which is the ability to easily read previous conversations through the dialogue tree with the press of a button. It's worth noting that Trails to Azure and Trails into Zero are also Steam Deck verified and run smoothly, with an average of 4 and a half to 5 and a half hours of battery life on default settings and minimum screen brightness. On the Nintendo Switch, the game gives you around 5-6 hours of battery life on the Switch OLED and V2, while the Switch Lite provides around 4-5 hours with minimum brightness.
Trails to Azure is a phenomenal game in the Trails series, with some familiar aspects but also introducing some new gameplay features that become a fundamental part of future games. The game has a mix of political world-building and magical elements that make it a compelling game to play. The game also has some challenging battles that require preparation and strategy to win and is one of the absolute best RPGS out there!