The Legend of Heroes series has had quite a journey in the West. Not only has this long running series seen its many releases scattered across various platforms but even different publishers have handled certain arcs with one swapping hands right in the middle of the story. As such, it seemed as if the forgotten Crossbell arc may never see an actual Western release after its preceding Trails in the Sky and following Trails of Cold Steel were released in their entirety. Thankfully that has changed with NIS America bringing the first game in the arc, The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, to the West with the sequel arriving in 2023 so now that this RPG has finally arrived in the West, is it worth diving into?
Although it may find itself placed in the middle of the series, newcomers will find that Trails from Zero is mostly accessible thanks to the fact that it starts with a fresh new protagonist by the name of Lloyd Bannings as he travels back to his hometown of Crossbell. Lloyd is a freshly graduated police detective and quickly finds himself assigned to the Crossbell Police Department’s brand new Special Support Section. What seems like a unique position for growth quickly reveals itself to be a strange stunt from the government to focus more on taking care of odd jobs for the citizens than actual policing. It isn’t long however before this unique group of rookies find themselves embroiled with the criminal underworld in Crossbell, dealing with the corruption running rampant through the city, and dealing with the political tensions that arise from Crossbell’s tenuous position between two powerful nations looking for an advantage.
That being said Trails from Zero starts as a fairly slow burn which is something of an issue for The Legend of Heroes series as the SSS starts incredibly small in an effort to restore the people’s faith in the local police but thanks to some excellent writing, even the smallest of details eventually are woven together to create an intriguing plot point and the smaller scale of Crossbell and its cast of characters help make these storytelling elements all the stronger. Players are quickly introduced to the core cast of characters that make up their party with Lloyd coming off as a bit too stereotypical as a JRPG protagonist but thanks to his allies and developments throughout the story his strengths become apparent, the standoffish genius Tio Plato who begins to warm up to the group, to the laidback Randy Orlando, and the more prim Elie Macdowell opening up as well.
By keeping the core cast of characters small the story can spend more time allowing them to develop and interact with one another in a satisfying fashion. Of course there are plenty of other great characters to be found in Trails from Zero especially with the wide array of side-characters that players will interact over the course of the roughly fifty five hour journey. In many ways, the town itself can feel like the star of the show as players will see various interactions with NPCs and shops change over the course of the story. This allows for the game to feel a bit more personal as townsfolk will remark about the latest events and even provide additional backstory and worldbuilding elements that help create a thriving narrative that, despite the slow burn, eventually culminates into an incredibly satisfying and grandiose finale.
Now it is worth noting that while newcomers can jump into Trails from Zero fairly easily, there are references to events and even the conclusion of a plot point from Trails in the Sky that only those familiar with the first three games will easily recognize. Along these same lines those who have played Trails of Cold Steel may also notice some events that can allude to future events. That being said this is a real boon to fans of the franchise as Falcom is excellent at bridging a storyline between story arcs. It is also worth noting that while the various side-quests that players can take on do reveal extra bits of worldbuilding and even some great unique dialogue more often than not, most of these side-quests are unfortunately a bit on the bland side and often require far too much backtracking or travel before the game’s fast travel system opens up.
As far as gameplay goes, Trails from Zero will feel right at home for longtime fans as it makes use of most of the same systems that fans have grown familiar with over the years while newcomers will find it fairly easy to get a grasp of. When it comes to exploring areas filled with enemies, players will usually be able to see foes on the map and aim to either stun them or run into them from behind to try and gain an advantage in combat. Once in a fight the game makes use of a fairly standard turn-based system with characters acting along an action queue where standard attacks and crafts can be used instantly and most Arts having a small casting delay before being unleashed on enemies.
Battles may take place on a grid based field but players will not be moving their fighters around, instead they will move automatically to attack enemies or, in a few cases, only move to try and approach their target. Depending on the skill being used, players will be able to adjust the area of effect to try and target more enemies or allies to get the most out of their move. It is also nice to note that the S-Crafts mechanic allows players to jump the line of attack and unleash a powerful move that can either deal extreme amounts of damage to an enemy or heal/buff the entire party. These S-Crafts can only be used once the gauge reaches 100 and can be triggered at any time, meaning players may want to save them between battles.
As mentioned before, players can ambush enemies on the field by approaching them from behind or stunning them and, besides having a starting advantage in combat, there is another combat mechanic that comes into play. These come in the form of Team Rush which can randomly occur during a battle or almost always if the player has advantage. Team Rush will play a cinematic style series of attacks that see the entire party laying into the enemies and dealing quite a lot of damage to the point that it can wipe out entire mobs of generic foes. This, plus the ability to easily aim AoE attacks, allows for players to make the most out of the combat system with plenty of options available.
As usual for the series players will be able to take customization an extra step further thanks to the Orbment system. As players earn quartz from treasure chests, completing quests, and crafting them from enemy drops they will be able to equip a number of each to their party members. Through trial and error players will learn that various elemental levels earned from equipping certain types of quartz can unlock powerful new arts that can be used in combat though it is worth noting that most of these unlocks are not hinted at and must be discovered for oneself.
It is also nice to note that the game’s fast forward option becomes an absolutely wonderful addition when it comes to combat and exploration. As mentioned before, many side-quests see the player traveling back to areas they have previously visited or facing off against enemies that are a bit too simple. As such being able to speed up the gameplay to help accelerate exploration and the game’s combat, as fun as it is, makes backtracking and grinding, should players ever need to, far easier to handle.
Visuals & Audio
Now although Trails from Zero was originally released in 2010 as a PSP game, the title’s graphics hold up incredibly well thanks to the art style and sprite usage throughout the game. It is worth noting that the graphics were given an improvement for the PlayStation 4 release however, for strange reasons, this version of the game has not seen the most significant graphical upgrades like the Switch and PC releases were given. That being said, the game runs flawlessly and still looks fairly impressive for a sprite based RPG with plenty of great looking special effects for powerful arts. It must also be said that the character portraits are quite impressive looking, though one downside that must be mentioned is that the level designs for some areas can be a bit on the simplistic side and can feel rather repetitive, an issue that is only compounded thanks to the amount of backtracking players will likely do.
With the release of Trails from Zero NIS America has provided the original Japanese voice track accompanied by some excellently handled English text localization giving the massive amount of dialogue in the game the care it deserves. The soundtrack is also an exceptional offering with every track sounding impressive, especially when it comes to the game’s battle themes and most of the exploration tracks.
There was once a time that The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero seemed like a game that would remain locked in Japan but now that it has arrived in the West it has proven itself to be just as impressive as the rest of the series. Stellar writing, a colorful and charming cast of characters that are tighter knit than usual, and a satisfyingly told story that is a bit of a slow burn make this RPG a fantastic adventure with fun and engaging combat. Those who have yet to dip into The Legend of Heroes series may be hesitant to do so but the beginning of the Crossbell arc here serves as a solid entry point while also giving longtime fans satisfying continuations of past entries.
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