Being a Trails/Kiseki fan is weird. While several Japanese game series with an audience in the West are usually relatively caught up here in the modern-day, Trails is one such series that feels more akin to the 2000s and earlier, with the West still lacking critical content. This isn’t a knock on localizers or anything of the sort though, it’s just the unique position this series has found itself in, and honestly, the fact that Trails has grown to such an extent here feels like a miracle in itself.
Still, every dedicated Trails fan is aware that a brand new title in the franchise has just been released in Japan, and it is the start of a new story arc; Kuro no Kiseki. Now, to be as transparent as possible, even though I am not literate in Japanese, I have been playing these games’ Japanese releases ever since Cold Steel III first came out. I love this series, probably to an unhealthy extent, and the prospect of waiting years for localization is not something I’ve ever wanted to deal with.
Therefore, thanks to a generous friend of mine, I have been playing Kuro since it was released late last month, and it has been a simultaneously jarring yet delightful experience. While I have been following these games since Trails in the Sky FC first got localized on PSP and have been through 3 sagas, entering a new beginning of sorts with a new setting, main cast, and combat mechanics took some getting used to. The cause of this feeling is likely due to how the Cold Steel saga went on for so long, and even the upcoming localized Trails into Reverie is a direct continuation of Cold Steel IV’s events.
Still, this isn’t me expressing discontent with the last saga, though. Contrary to popular opinion, the Cold Steel arc has been my absolute favorite segment of the Trails series so far, primarily thanks to its enthralling character interaction, characterization, and addictive combat system, even though the gameplay mechanics of Sky and Crossbell still captivated me more strongly.
With all that being said, I possessed cautious optimism when diving into Kuro because regardless of one’s feelings on the latest release of any franchise, a new direction in a new entry spells infinite possibilities. The Cold Steel saga has not exactly been well received by many vocal fans. As someone whose least favorite arc of Trails is Crossbell, the fan-favorite arc, I was admittedly concerned over whether Kuro would pursue a character and storytelling direction that I would grow displeased with based on fan feedback.
Thankfully, those worries of mine have been thrown out the window after a few days of playing. I won’t go into specifics regarding narrative or characterization for the sake of not distributing spoilers. So, my remarks here will be relatively general. Still, this new main cast is quickly becoming one of my favorites as each member has been receiving significant degrees of focus with effective and meaningful interactions. I have found myself gradually caring for each cast member in similar veins to how I felt when first playing the Sky and Cold Steel titles. Most importantly, there is a clear focus on the new main cast, with the returning characters not extensively stealing the spotlight, one of my main critiques with Zero and Azure.
Still, the changes made to the gameplay formula are immense and are definitely what I was most curious about when heading into this experience. The most unexpected change to combat is the ability to play in real-time action, which for a consistently turn-based series, is a bold step to take. While not available in some key story fights, players can switch between turn-based and action combat on the fly with regular mobs. And even though the action combat leaves much to be desired due to its simplicity as standard attacks and dodging are all that’s available, it’s definitely unique and provides grandiose gameplay ambition.
Plus, the turn-based and action combat are not mutually exclusive in many scenarios. Players can switch between them on the fly with enemies damaged in either scenario retaining their degraded health. Other systems like the altered Orbment system now utilizing new elements called Shards aid in this feeling of treading new waters. While I’ve yet to experience the full extent of combat in this title, I’m impressed with what I have played so far and am eagerly awaiting an understanding of its intricacies. I feel consistently gratified when defeating enemies now in a way the past sagas didn’t provide because of this seamless switching of combat modes coupled with these new gameplay ideas.
Even general exploration feels entirely different. As bizarre as a point as this may be to make, the sheer act of running feels distinctly smoother from previous titles, and the lack of screen transitions when entering shops and other abodes makes the world feel altogether more cohesive. I could go on and on, but I think it should be clear that Kuro is a much-needed, courageous step for the Trails franchise. The dramatic alteration in gameplay identity is even more drastic than the jump from Cold Steel 2 to 3. The expected enticing characters add to the standout identity and change in approach that these games need.
Remember that this is not a professional overview, and I can only understand story scenes based on others’ unofficial translations, so my impressions here can undoubtedly alter in the future. Still, I’m pretty damn excited for a localization regardless. Speaking of, based on Zero releasing in 2022 and Azure, Nayuta, and Reverie releasing in 2023, a 2024 localization, unfortunately, seems like the soonest this title can arrive. I’ll be continuously hoping for a miracle, though.
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