The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails Review – A Masterful Spinoff

    Title: The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails
    Developer: Nihon Falcom
    Release Date: September 19, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Action JRPG, Platformer

Falcom is much more than Trails and Ys. Newer fans may not be aware of the developer’s previous feats, but they have a vast catalog of wholly underappreciated gems from different eras entirely. From the Gagharv trilogy to the Zwei duology, there’s plenty of fond nostalgia to peruse. However, one entry that remains overlooked by even veteran fans is The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails – a PSP title from 2012 that has never been localized.

Despite its name, this entry is (at least not yet) connected to the Trails series at large and is instead its own self-contained adventure focusing on a brand new cast in a brand new setting. My expectations for this title were practically nonexistent since it has no real reputation whatsoever. So, I was impressed beyond belief when I finally gave Boundless Trails a go, as it’s undeniably one of the best Falcom games ever made.

The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails focuses on the titular protagonist, Nayuta Herschel, an orphan cared for by his sister Eartha. He’s a curious and intelligent young man who takes after his parents’ research of an unconfirmed otherworldly locale known as Lost Heaven to the extent of becoming a student of an academy in the town of Saint Elysée. He also believes the world is spherical, against the assumption that it’s flat. One Summer break, he returns to his home of Remnant Isle alongside his best friend Cygna Alhazen, a member of Saint Elysée’s Vigilante Corps.

The duo eventually encounter a fairy-like creature by the name of Noi when a ruin from the sky, a not-so-rare occurrence, falls onto Remnant Isle. They then decide to help Noi recover a device integral to her native world of Terra, the Master Gear, stolen by the imposing Zechst and his mysterious swordsman. This results in an adventure that takes the two beyond the bounds of existence that Nayuta has only ever dreamed of.

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Boundless Trails is an action platformer with several RPG elements sprinkled throughout, such as a growing selection of equipment and upgradeable skills. Essentially, the gameplay loop is comprised of side activities on Remnant Isle, with stages spread across the four continents of Terra, each with its own collectibles, enemies, and hazards. Further, most stages have four versions dependent on the chosen season, which are unlocked via story progress and new game-plus functionalities.

Before I get ahead of myself, though, let’s establish the fundamentals of Remnant Isle. This hub area is quite compact, housing recurring NPCs, which, as you should expect from Falcom, have new dialogue after important story and side events. This cast is, without exaggeration, one of the most endearing I’ve ever seen, with the small size bolstering that strength. Boundless Trails takes advantage of its smaller scale by making the extra mile seem approachable, at least to an extent. Unlike traditional Trails entries, you won’t have to spend much time speaking to everyone across each instance of updated dialogue, which reveals robust and believable connections between the community.

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Of course, you also have sidequests to take care of, ranging from reaching specific spots of stages, obtaining required items, finding Mishy, or slaying high-level monsters. It’s all self-explanatory as these tasks are usually well-melded into the natural cycle of story progression, with only a handful of unnecessary backtracking ones. Remnant Isle has more going for it, though, notably cooking and training. The former takes pages straight from Falcom’s Zwei duology, making it so that eating cooked meals grants experience. While defeating monsters will also give you experience, cooking is a must-do activity made appreciatively convenient by the menus telling you exactly where each ingredient is located, assuming they’ve already been acquired once before.

As for training, it’s a reward system dependent on seals earned through stages. To elaborate, each stage has its own dedicated mission to complete, three crystals to break, and a treasure chest to open. Doing each of these tasks will give you three seals, with every six granting you access to a new technique taught by Nayuta’s and Cygna’s swordmaster, Orbus. These skills can be passive, such as giving increased bonuses when achieving a high enough attack chain or new maneuvers altogether, like counterattacking and dodging in the air. The vitalness of these abilities makes many of them borderline essential to get, making intricate stage completion all the more meaningful and rewarding.

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The level design of Boundless Trails quite amazed me because since the title was initially on PSP, the team assuredly had to make compromises for storage reasons. And they did so brilliantly. As previously mentioned, most stages have four versions based on the seasons, and they’re more unique than you would expect. Aside from enemy levels being drastically different, the environment, types of enemies, collectibles, and even certain elements of terrain layout change significantly. While you’ll recognize paths and landmarks throughout every iteration of a stage’s seasons, the actual act of playing through them feels entirely new. I never felt like I was retreading through copy-pasted ground.

As for combat, Boundless Trails is simple yet effective, letting players choose between one-handed and two-handed swords, which have differing swing speeds and stat emphases. Enemies and bosses are well-designed with terrific telegraphs, with the latter somewhat feeling like re-adopted older Ys boss battles, such as from Ys Seven, except more neatly crafted. Moreover, Noi accompanies Nayuta at almost all times, and she’s capable of firing numerous types of projectiles found by defeating powerful foes in select stages. Noi is also significant for the fact that she’s the embodiment of the movement abilities. As Boundless Trails is part platformer, you’ll gradually uncover movement-related skills such as rolling around at the speed of sound or a toggleable shield that negates hazardous terrain. Further, some collectibles can only be obtained via the acquisition of certain platforming skills, instilling clever reasoning for replayability.

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And speaking of replayability, Boundless Trails has, bar none, the best new game plus I’ve seen in any game. After clearing the main narrative and completing the After Story, you’ll unlock new game plus, which feels like a new game altogether. The fourth season of every stage is unlocked here, a new difficulty is added, new sidequests are available, and new NPCs greet Remnant Isle, with the latter two facets reliant on the new levels. Plus, even getting the new levels is rewarding in itself.

Boundless Trails has an in-game achievement system, with each feat granting points used as currency in new game plus to unlock new functionalities, such as enhanced movement capabilities, raised level caps, and, of course, the final sets of stages across each continent. This achievement system is genius and a massive improvement over select Trails entries, as some of those titles used a similar system to simply carry over elements to new game plus. By contrast, Boundless Trails lets you carry everything from your previous playthrough at no cost or consequence. This game has an absurd degree of content.

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Now, for as much as I’ve gushed about the gameplay systems, how does the narrative hold up? Well, Boundless Trails has a shockingly grim tone that permeates the later parts of the story, reinforcing the companionship between Nayuta and Noi. Nayuta, in particular, has become one of my favorite characters in the Trails franchise. Even if he doesn’t turn out to be the grandfather of Towa Herschel, I’m hoping he’ll get Endgame’d or something into modern Trails. Still, I should emphasize that this title is utterly standalone, with the potential mainline Trails connections currently remaining theoretical.

Regardless, the relationship between Nayuta and Noi is one of the central cruxes of the entire experience, and it’s strongly handled. It’s not shoved in your face, but the two face tremendous strife that makes their bond genuinely believable. The plot is well-paced, too, as, if not considering side content, it’s somewhere between 20 and 30 hours. Still, you’ll miss out on a lot by just focusing on the story since the playtime easily clocks up to over 60 hours if you do everything this title offers.

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I was surprised to see Boundless Trails have an English dub at all, and it’s thankfully terrific. There’s a decent chunk of voiced story events bolstered by effective casting choices, such as Casey Mongillo as Nayuta, Alejandro Saab as Cygna, Lizzie Freeman as Nayuta’s childhood friend Lyra, and Xanthe Huynh as Creha, another plot-heavy character. The localization is great, too, but I did notice some over-extended text in the UI when looking for ingredient locations. Also, at least on Switch, a few in-game achievements are bugged, so here’s hoping those issues get ironed out before release.

The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is a masterful spinoff boasting its own distinct identity, with an addictive gameplay loop enhanced by several excellently woven upgrade and replayability systems, as well as a finely crafted narrative and loveable cast that works well thanks to the relatively compact scale of it all. The stellar voice work and, as in typical Falcom fare, the sublime soundtrack also serve to make this adventure a must-play no matter one’s history with the developer’s lineup. This spiritual successor of sorts to Zwei is such a considerate blast from the past that I want to see more of in Falcom’s future.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.