Initial release date: September 30, 2010
WW release date: September 27, 2022 Series: The Legend of Heroes Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita Developers: Nihon Falcom, PH3 GmbH Genres: Role-playing video game, Adventure game, Strategy video game Publishers: Nihon Falcom, Clouded Leopard Entertainment, Nippon Ichi Software, Joyland, NIS America
"Review Copies Provided By NIS America"
When it comes to JRPGs. Many will default to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest as a long running franchise that is timeless with numerous godtier entries, but what many may not realize is that ther is another series that’s literally just as old and has numerous entries in it that many should check out and that is none other than the Trails or Kiseki series from Nihon Falcom. The Kiseki series in the modern era has had a long running story that started in 2003 with Trails in the Sky that originally released on PC and has seen numerous ports since then onto Steam, PSP, PS Vita, and even PS3. There were 3 entries within the Liberl Arc which consisted of Trails in the Sky, Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter), and Trails in the Sky The 3rd of which following that we in the west ended up getting the Trails of Cold Steel games which were known as the Erebonia Arc and yet for some reason we never received the set of games that formed the bridge between the In The Sky games and the Cold Steel games known collectively as the Crossbell Arc consisting of Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. Oddly, they were always skipped here in the west until the folks over at Geofront decided to translate them for us to play and then here in 2022 we finally get the first official release in the west of the Crossbell Arc with Trails from Zero!
Trails from Zero starts of in medias res with our rag tag band lead by Lloyd Bannings who are on a rescue mission. After a few scenes, we are then shown a black screen and hear a female voice that says “Find Me”; Lloyd comes to and is on a train heading to Crossbell and all of that seems to have been a dream that he was experiencing. Upon reaching Crossbell, Lloyd reaches the CPD (Crossbell Police Department) where he is to be stationed and meets with the police Chief and meets his fellow officers Elie, Randy Orlando, and Tio.
Graphically, if you’ve played the Trails in the Sky trilogy then you’ll be right at home here as you’ll not only get the same graphical style but also several enhancements as well, however, if you started this franchise with the Cold Steel games then just understand that the graphics are very much early 2000s style with chibi like characters that have limited animation similar to the earlier Ys games which isn’t a bad thing at all. The characters in the chibi style are in my opinion much more expressive than the ones in Cold Steel 1 and 2 as you can see that the devs worked with the limitations of the hardware in order to get the most out of every scene we find the party in.
The gameplay is a lot of fun as threes so much that you can do outside of the main plot such as enumerable mini-games and side quests of which go a long way towards helping the citizens of Crossbell and your standing with them. The side quests can range from menial tasks like finding missing items for a tourist that went shopping and had a hole in his pocket to checking on housing ledgers for the local government all the way to extermination requests in the Geofront and more. The emphasis on the importance of doing these side missions is strong as they really hammer home what it is to be an officer in Crossbell and doing all that you can to not only help the citizens but also to restore the broken reputation of the CPD to the people who have come to rely solely on the Bracers Guild.
When it comes to the battle system, it’s very much an evolution of what we had in Trails in the Sky and is a precursor to what we would get in the Cold Steel games as it is still a turn based affair with grid based combat. Like Trails in the Sky, there are no random encounters when it comes to the combat within dungeons or out on the field as enemies are clearly visible and based on how you approach them is how the battles will initiate. If you run into an enemy head on then a battle will startoff normally with no one getting any buffs or bonuses while if you hit the enemy and stun them or approach them from behind then you get both a surprise attack and also some brief stat buffs. If an enemy approaches you from behind then they get to premtively strike you for several turns and gain temporary stat buffs.
Combat is very much strategic as you’ll need to pay attention to your placement along with keeping an eye on your EP and CP as EP is basically your magic points and CP is for your Crafts abilities and builds up as you both dish out and take damage. When your CP reaches over 100 then you can perform a powerful attack or ability called S-Break that will override the turn order and give the character priority.
The OST of this game is fantastic as it fits every area that youre in from the Geofront to the town of Crossbell and more. Honestly, given that Nihon Falcom made this game should be all you need to know as they have a track record of over 30+ years of making some of the absolute best music in video games ever. Given that this is an upscaled port of the EVO versions of the game, we have voice acting however, it is only in Japanese. While I get that this was a port that didn’t involve or require much if anything at all from NIS, I am still a bit let down knowing that they did not bother with doing an English dub for the game which means that Trails from Azure is also note going to have an English dub and leaves only the Crossbell games without any dub other than Japanese. Do I think this is a bad thing? Yes and no as it’s not bad given the majority of the dialogue as is isn’t voiced but its also a bad thing as those coming from Cold Steel or even the Liberl arc games may find it jarring that these characters and returning ones do not have their current English voice actors.
The other thing I noticed is that visually, the PS4 version is the worst looking version of the game in comparison to the Nintendo Switch and Steam ports as there are notciable jaggies on character models and also certain background items like store front signs and more have incredibly blurry font and models whereas the Switch and Steam ports do not have this issue whatsoever and have almost everything in the game especially the background items touched up and in a higher resolution than the PS4 version. I assume the PS4 version is simply an upscaled port of the Vita version of the game while the Switch and Steam versions are built from the previous PC port.
I played this on PS5, PC/Steam Deck, and Nintendo Switch. I didn’t run into any performance issues on any of the platforms although I did notice one feature that the PC port has thatg the console versions don’t and that is the ability to read previous conversations with the dialogue tree with the press of a button. Trails from Zero is also Steam Deck verified and runs smoothly with an average of 4 and a half to 5 and a half hours of battery life with default settings and minimum screen brightness. The Nintendo Switch port gives you around 5-6 hours on battery on the Switch OLED and V2 while on the Switch Lite you get around 4-5 hours of battery with minimum brightness.
So, is Trails from Zero worth your time? Honestly? YES! This is an incredibly JRPG and has some of the most human like characters you’ll see in a JRPG that not only have to deal with the typical “save the world/town” plot but also deal with their own individual struggles with their jobs as CPD officers and their own interpersonal journeys. The combat system is incredible and builds upon itself the further into the game you go, and you’ll always have something to do. Are the visuals dated? Yes, but it’s also a game from its era and the limitations of the hardware (and budget) that it was on and for what it is it does really well. Trails from Zero is a fantastic game that any JRPG fan will love and if you’re someone who is looking for a new game to sink your teeth into then make sure this is a game you pick up!