The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero
Before you read
The entire review is spoiler-free, so you can read it without any former experience with either this game, or the series in general. I am a pretty massive fan of the Trails series, or Nihon Falcom games in general. I have played the Trails series since Sky was released for the first time, and have played Ys before then. Suffice to say, I am well experienced with the franchise. The approach of this review is to sometimes compare it the with Trails in the Sky series, but not with the games that came after. I want to look at this game as if I was able to play it at the time of release. Of course, the only way to play this game in english is through the Geofront Localization patch, which I will also talk about in this review. Before I started writing this review I’ve tried to do as many stuff as I could on one playthrough, but my aim was not completion. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve done around 90% of the game however, not counting New Game+. Note that the patch provided by The Geofront ONLY WORKS ON PC! The games are on Sony’s handheld consoles, but only in Japanese or a… pretty bad translation.
Nihom Falcom’s sound team are literal music gods I swear. Listen to some of my favourite tracks while you read the review! My favourite track is a toss-up between Intense Chase and Formidable Enemy!
I believe this is a first for me: I’m reviewing a game only available in English due to a fan localization! The great folks over at The Geofront have been very dedicated to provide all of us fans with a superb localization that rivals those the actual localization teams do. No kidding here; the quality of the translation and the good amount of Quality-of-Life updates makes this look like an official project done by an AAA publisher. I am very grateful to The Geofront team and gladly use this opportunity to express my feelings. Long-time fans of Nep’s Gaming Paradise–or people who know me in general–know that I hold the original Trails in the Sky trilogy as some of my favourite games ever, so obviously I was very excited to jump into this project. I played the game at release and only recently finished it, spending pretty much all my free time on it. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get over that barrier!
The messed-up state of Crossbell
The Trails series is well-known for its rich world-building, by some even regarded as being the best at doing so. Trails from Zero is no different; I’d even say it possibly surpasses its older brothers. This has a lot to do with Crossbell being a smaller state than Liberl is, and thus makes it easier to learn everything about the state and have more consistent conversations with the same inhabitants. The prologue does a perfect job at this and introduces you to all the basics that you need to know for the remainder of the game. In this prologue, you already learn that the Crossbell Police Department has a very bad reputation in comparison to the Bracers Guild, and the initial idea behind the creation of the Special Support Squad is to show the Police in a brighter light. But not everything is as easy as it seems, as the Crossbell state is one with a very complicated political- and corrupt government. The underworld has a very noticeable appearance, and their crimes are not punished as hard as they should be due to the weird laws set in place. This is pretty much all that you need to know as a basis because you’ll be dealing with both situations constantly. This is very noticeable when talking to the residents of Crossbell, who each have their own stories- and dialogue that intertwines with the state of the city. The games actively encourage you to go out of your way and talk with every resident after every story progression, because they have something new to say every revisit. Almost none of this is necessary, but it will make the overall world building- and story that much better. In the Downtown district, there’s a student who is studying for the entire span of the game, just to take his exam at the end and succeed. Will this benefit you in the greater scheme? Not at all, but it just feels really good to form a relationship with these non-important NPCs to the degree that they almost feel human. There are also a lot of non-story related gossips going around, and eventually you’re able to confirm that gossip for yourself just by continuous conversations. All these NPCs are named as well, making the argument that they feel human even more on point. For example, I know that the nurse Chiron is a very klutzy girl who messes up everything she does, and very few other games would give non-important characters like these such a continuous story that takes place through the entire game, and probably the sequel as well. Also Chiron best non-important waifu fight me. And if you’ve played the Sky trilogy–which you really should before this one, trust me–there are even some characters- or story parts that return in this game. The moment you come across a particular family with a family name that’s the same as someone from Sky who went to visit Crossbell for a reason, you already know that story will also have some form of presence here. Before I continue on, I just wanted to mention how strong the game started with the prologue and first chapter, but ended on an even stronger note in the final chapter. I won’t go into spoilers obviously, but do look forward to it! Also, the chest messages are back and they’re great as usual. Thank you Geofront for the amount of humour those chest messages provided me with!
A group of loveable characters
The game follows the story of Lloyd Bannings, a Crossbellian resident who left the state for a few years to study the art of being a detective. We learn pretty quickly that he was not aware of the darkness that looms the city, and had a brother who was killed in the line of duty that led Lloyd to follow in his footsteps to become a detective. Lloyd has a good amount of development in this game, as he struggles a lot with both elements of the plot. He wants to get rid of this darkness, but gets told constantly that he is powerless to do so. All of his higher-ups–and most of the city in that regard–initially look down on him and his Special Support Squad because they’re basically a bootleg Bracer Guild. Yet, he will attempt to overcome those barriers even when the odds are stacked against him. Lloyd grows from being ”Guy Bannings’ little brother” to a well-respected detective throughout the course of the game, and is the key that holds the Special Support Squad together. All members of the SSS had no prior relationship with each other, but they quickly adapt to each other and just becomes a loveable group of characters altogether. I’d say out of the other three members, Tio probably has the most character development due to her backstory. Elie is quite well-known in Crossbell and therefore is able to create a lot of connections for the squad, and has a lot of dialogue in the city with people she knows. Randy gets enough development as well though I feel like they’re keeping most of his development for the sequel, where we’ll probably see more of Noel and Wezy as well who at this point are just important side characters. But like I mentioned in the world-building segment, there are a lot of other named inhabitants who aren’t necessarily important to the plot but still get their own character arc. I can remember everything about the main characters pretty well, and I’m looking forward to how they further develop in the sequel… whenever I get to play that game as the localization for that game is unfortunately not comparable to this one. Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to play his beloved games I guess, so sacrifices will eventually have to be made.
Mostly the same gameplay with nice enhancements
Not a lot changes from the gameplay system brought forth by the Sky trilogy and instead, most of the new mechanics are quality-of-life improvements. It still follows the turn-based RPG gameplay on a grid where you can freely move around. S-crafts remain the same, though combo s-crafts have been given more attention this time due to the smaller pool of playable characters. Arts also still function the same with how you can customize your character’s stats or overworld behaviour, and what spells they are able to use in battle. If an enemy misses an attack on you, you automatically counterattack it and vice versa. Enemies can now be ”attacked” on the overworld however, and if you approach them from the back you can stun them for an advantage in battle. This makes regular battles easier to do as when you’ve struck them from behind, the first attacks will all be critical or you can even gain access to the Team Attack which can do a huge amount of damage to a group of enemies. Or even better, if you come across enemies that you surpass quite far in levels, you kill them on the overworld instead of having to go into battle. As you can see, the combat system has mostly been kept intact and has only been improved a good amount. And frankly, there wasn’t anything wrong with the original combat system from my perspective so I’m glad they didn’t do a whole overhaul. They have been handing out more rewards for completionists as well, like a bonus item for every amount of unique fishes you catch or the more monsters you register in your notebook. Sidequests are of course still a thing and will also give you rewards depending on how well you perform. Achievements also have a function but you’ll have to find that out yourself. I never really bother with full completion of Trails games since it is extremely easy to miss something or do something the mission didn’t intend you to do, and I’ve never really been a fan of it. But overall, the gameplay is basically an upgraded Trails in the Sky and that’s good enough for me. The Geofront have also added a bunch of quality-of-life improvements themselves such as the much loved Turbo Mode, so yet again I’d like to express my gratitude towards them.
It comes as no surprise that I absolutely fell in love with The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero. Gameplay-wise it’s a nice improvement over the original Sky trilogy with a good amount of quality-of-life enhancements for an even better experience. But obviously when it comes to games like these, the world-building, story and characters are the driving force behind the game. Trails from Zero delivers on all three fronts with a good story that keeps the action going, a loveable cast of diverse characters and excellent world-building. Particularly the last part is noteworthy, as Crossbell uses its smaller region size to keep relations with citizens and important characters very consistent. You also learn straight away just what kind of messed-up state Crossbell actually is due to a strong start, and the game keeps being strong right till the very end with its characters and story. For a game this consistently good, it should come as no surprise that I give this game my highest possible rating: 5 Mishy’s out of 5!
I was so happy to be able to play this. Let me mention again that I recommend playing the Trails games in order of release to get the best experience. There are several references to plot points that happened in the Sky trilogy and while it’s not necessary to understand this game, it will make it much better. I am very much considering playing Ao no Kiseki (or Trails from Azure) very soonish to keep the hype train going, but I might wait a little bit and see if either the Geofront- or official localizer will localize the game. If not, there’s always the english patch to consider which I’ve heard is not as bad as the original Zero no Kiseki but eh, we’ll see. I’m always burned out after playing a Trails game anyway so it’s a good time for me to catch a breather.
Question of the Review: What is your experience with the Trails franchise? Have you played any of the games before, or are you still new and looking into it?