Throughout life, we all have barriers to overcome. Whether they be impeding personal growth, career advancement, or even relationship progress, everyone has their own unique barriers that they spend their lives striving to take down. Still, with humanity being creatures who naturally form communities, some barriers are collective.
And across the spectrums of our world, one niche gaming group that has been contending with a collective barrier of their own for over a decade is the Trails community. Two entries in this ongoing JRPG franchise, The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure, are finally receiving their long-awaited official English versions, and the first title is set to be available later this month. After having played through this launch myself, I’m delighted that fans will now be able to experience a solid start to a beloved saga boasting a terrific localization.
Throughout The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, players control the Special Support Section, a newly formed division of the Crossbell Police Department comprising members Lloyd Bannings, Elie MacDowell, Tio Plato, and Randy Orlando. The cast is consistently tasked with completing jobs primarily aimed toward aiding the citizenry in various ways to potentially mend the police department’s rather shoddy image. Unfortunately, as a result, they tend to get the short end of the stick with general reception, especially when compared to the Bracer Guild, an organization active throughout the Zemuria continent praised for aiding the townsfolk, but are particularly beloved in Crossbell.
Those aforementioned factors and several more bitter tastes of reality make life in the Special Support Section an uphill battle that makes the “Trails from Zero” name literal, as the game can be perceived as housing an underdog narrative. Still, there are countless other plot threads to take note of, such as the political mires Crossbell suffers in. It is a continually troubled territory due to being located between the Eerebonian Empire to the West and Calvard to the East, as well as dealing with more domestic disputes.
Like every other entry in the series, Trails from Zero has plenty going on in the worldbuilding, character writing, and overarching story departments. If you’ve never played one of these titles before, Trails from Zero being the start of a new saga makes it more approachable than most of the other titles. Although, there are returning characters and story beats from the Trails in the Sky trilogy better understood beforehand for maximum efficacy. Still, that knowledge isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy the overall narrative.
Speaking of the story, Trails from Zero manages to skillfully balance introducing and developing most of its core cast while also adequately setting up stakes and arcs for the sequel. It’s an expectedly gradual rollout due to being such a dense experience, but it pays off in spades for those who find themselves thoroughly invested. Moreover, everyone’s occupations and the character relationships truly make them feel like they matter in Crossbell, significantly aiding its liveliness and sense of realism. However, as with all JRPGs, Trails included, mileage will vary for players, especially regarding the cast. Personally, Randy and Tio became my favorite members of the group, while I found myself more mixed on how Elie’s and Lloyd’s characterizations were executed.
Despite the cast being compact, contrasting the other Trails sub-series, their companionship sometimes feels artificial. There are not enough moments of casual interaction and non-job-related developments to instill a sense of genuine closeness. Further, brief time skips occasionally occur, where group bonding is directly implied and stated to have taken place off-screen, making me wish more of these scenes were present in the game.
Seeing more moments of congenial conversation amongst the cast happen in real-time would have drastically remedied this band-aided distance. Regardless, the Special Support Section does definitely feel like a team, even if their growth as one doesn’t feel natural.
One of the franchise’s main draws retained in Zero is the immense amount of NPC dialogue. After every story development, the NPC dialogue throughout the city and surrounding villages change in varying ways. And the Crossbell duology is unique in that the vast majority of it takes place in Crossbell City proper, so you’ll likely grow attached to the NPCs if you take the time to talk to them. A fair number of them are memorable, creating a robust community.
Unfortunately, I found the Crossbell Police Department to lack memorable characters and an overall presence throughout the game, even including the Special Support Section’s chief officer, Sergei. Their baseline relationships and appearances matter, but they feel solely obligatory without any expanded character work compared to other NPCs. These factors end up making the primary cast’s place in the department and city feel entirely disconnected as an entity from the rest of that organization, which, even if intentional, creates a jarring, head-scratching displacement.
And at times, it becomes challenging to assess Crossbell’s size. In JRPGs, you usually have to suspend disbelief about the towns you explore due to the number you visit, but since Zero only has Crossbell City and a few surrounding villages, the relatively contained size of the city gives off a false impression of its intended depiction. As a result, you have to internally concoct a vision of how Crossbell is actually like separate from seeing it in gameplay, in a far more drastic sense than other titles, which can ruin immersion.
Combat in Trails from Zero is turn-based, with two special umbrellas of techniques to utilize, Arts and Crafts. The former is the magic system, determined by the Quartz characters have equipped in their Orbments. Quartz is usually crafted in town via Sepith, a collectible frequently earned from defeating enemies. The Quartz system in this game mimics the Trails in the Sky trilogy, with the Sepith value of equipped Quartz and their placement in a character’s Orbment determining the types of Arts they learn.
For beginners, these mechanics can take considerable time to grasp, but their essence simply encourages experimentation with customization. Further, Lloyd’s Detective Notebook houses numerous tutorials, such as the exact Sepith values needed to create each Art, so new players have valuable resources to peruse. I’ve always preferred the Sepith value system of these older titles over the more recent entries because of how rewarding it always is to obtain specific Arts achieved through thoughtful planning.
The other umbrella of combat mechanics I’ve neglected to mention is Crafts, and they are simpler to summate. They are character-specific skills learned through leveling up, the most potent of which is S-Crafts. It quickly becomes evident that each character has their own specialized utilities, such as Elie being a prominent healer and Tio being a powerful offensive caster. Recognizing the cast’s strengths from their stats, Crafts, and Orbments is imperative for success, doubly so for the higher difficulties.
Other gameplay activities include fishing, cooking, and gambling, and they are all straightforward, leisurely, and gratifying to perform. There’s no strict gameplay loop to Trails from Zero since it’s dependent on how much of a completionist the player is, letting there be freedom in several ways despite the linear story progression. There are also plenty of missable collectibles, like books, recipes, and outright quests that benefit players who go out of their way to investigate every ounce of the maps.
While the amount of missables throughout the Trails games has always been somewhat contentious, I find their implementation in Trails from Zero to work well. You’re constantly traversing familiar areas with familiar people, so the density of new items and quests to find feels far less demanding and intimidating than other titles.
Earlier, I discussed how the miniature viewable and explorable size of Crossbell harms immersion, but the gameplay trait I just mentioned can be seen as an offset benefit. One last facet of gameplay worth mentioning is the Records, a menu containing in-game achievements also reflected by Steam’s achievements and PlayStation’s trophies. These offer substantial replay value, a feature I wholeheartedly welcome in all JRPGs, encouraging varying levels of time investment and combat mastery.
Voicework in this release is entirely Japanese, making this the first localized entry lacking an English dub. Admittedly, this does sadden me as someone who was a massive fan of the Cold Steel saga’s English dub. Still, a significant portion of Zero is voiced, and each character’s line deliveries, both in and out of combat, are stellar. I did find some of the sound mixing to be off, though you can alter its particulars in the settings.
The localization is fantastic as well, so no worries there. I believe I spoke to every NPC across every changed line of dialogue, so I can vouch for the meticulous quality present here. I only found a few typos, usually comprising missing periods or the once-in-a-blue-moon combined word. The most significant typo I saw was an instance of the NPC Sophia calling Lloyd “Lloy’d” in an offhanded non-required line, but that’s about it. You won’t have to concern yourself with waiting for a patch to fix numerous issues. There are really only a handful of incredibly minor slip-ups.
Additionally, Turbo mode is included in this release, drastically shortening any potential backtracking and replays. This feature has become somewhat of a staple in recent Trails entries, so seeing it implemented here undoubtedly makes the experience more approachable. Lastly, like with practically every Falcom game, Trails from Zero’s songs are excellent, providing catchy field tunes and remarkable battle themes. The Crossbell duology’s soundtracks are amongst my favorites in the series, and I can’t sing their praises enough.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is a must-play entry for any fan of the Trails series. Despite my critiques, the game undeniably offers an engaging slow-burn narrative, a multi-faceted world, standout characters, and some of the most solid gameplay integration the franchise has seen.
Trails has a fanbase with drastically differing opinions everywhere you look, so my advice is to let your heart dictate your perceptions of these games without letting outside interference impede prospective enjoyment. If you’re a newcomer to Crossbell or Trails as a whole, I hope my review can at least act as a sturdy bridge for what you can expect from this highly anticipated Western release, my critiques aside.
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