There was once a time that the Crossbell arc of games from The Legend of Heroes franchise seemed forever locked to Japan with no official way to ever experience the two games that featured characters and events that would play into later events in the franchise but that all changed last year when NIS America brought over the HD release of the first game in the Crossbell arc, Trails from Zero. This time around, the publisher wasn’t about to let fans sit and wait for the conclusion to this story arc as six months later, we now have the release of Trails to Azure, looking to finish the story. With the first game offering a quality storyline and satisfying gameplay, has Trails to Azure managed to reach the same level of excellence?
A few months have passed since the events of Trails from Zero and the members of the Special Support Section (SSS) have split up to focus on a number of important tasks that have fallen to them as the group has now become a household name, well respected by the residents of Crossbell and even the local guilds. Lloyd Bannings, the leader of the group, finds himself working alongside a number of important figures as he hunts down some loose ends from the previous game’s events. Once completed, he quickly finds himself joining back up with Elie, though the reunion with Randy and Tio will take just a bit longer.
In the meantime, Lloyd introduces two new members to the SSS, though they will be familiar faces for fans as Noel Seeker, the former sergeant of the Crossbell Guardian Force, and Wazy Hemisphere now join the team as permanent members. Noel serves as a great addition to the cast with her loyal but easy to confound personality, while Wazy continues his playful yet aloof interactions with the rest of the cast. This bit of extra breathing room allows players to get reacquainted with these two characters again and learn a bit more about them and witness their interactions with the townsfolk and fellow SSS members, as writers have already had an entire game to flesh out the original four party members. That being said, the original cast members still get plenty of love throughout the story with a number of major character arcs developing nicely as the game progresses. Of course, letting these character interactions and developments shine doesn’t stop Trails to Azure from being one of the best-paced and well-written storylines in the entire franchise as even the signature slower start of The Legend of Heroes games doesn’t quite apply here since this game hits the ground running.
With political turmoil brewing throughout the city and the surrounding nations, numerous dangerous organizations moving into the region, and threats from the past resurfacing, Trails to Azure’s storyline goes places that fans will definitely not be expecting, as it almost constantly keeps players guessing as to what can happen next. It also helps that there are a number of more personal stakes intertwined with these conflicts as well, with the writers taking full advantage of the bonds players have built up through the first game to pull at their heartstrings in this following release. It must be said that, outside of the introduction and a more slice of life intermission that gives fans a bit of breathing room, this storyline is one that keeps things interesting and well-paced throughout, with a number of unexpected twists, dramatic moments, and even a number of special appearances from familiar faces, both good and bad. Combine this with the character moments that the franchise is known for and Trails to Azure tells a gripping and emotional tale that players will adore.
When it comes to a game in The Legend of Heroes franchise the question that always comes up is whether this is a good place to start and when it comes to Trails to Azure the answer is certainly no. While the game does provide a summary of what happened in Trails from Zero as well as character profiles for nearly all of the important characters in the first game it really would do players a disservice to jump in here. Not only is it because Trails to Azure‘s storyline feels like a natural continuation to the events of the previous entry but it capitalizes on other games in the series as well, giving those who have been with the series since the Sky trilogy even more to enjoy as a result, though this amount of experience isn’t required to get the most out of the game. Thankfully, with both Crossbell games being available on the same platforms and within a year of each other, those looking to experience this story can find themselves enjoying Trails from Zero just as much before diving into and understanding so much more of what Trails to Azure has to offer as a result.
In most ways Trails to Azure will be quite familiar for returning players as most of the gameplay elements remain the same. Dungeon exploration and combat remains mostly the same as fights still take place on a turn based grid where positioning can play a major role in determining how many targets the player can attack at a time as well as moving out of an incoming attack from an enemy’s AoE skill while also taking advantage of Arts that can interrupt Craft casting or delaying the turn of a target.
This time around though players will eventually see their standard four person party grow to a mostly permanent six character crew with two fighters set as reserves during battle, though even this can be adjusted a bit as various guest characters will also join from time to time. The reserve party members can be swapped in during the middle of combat but they will also occasionally jump in and make an attack of their own or provide a valuable buff to the team as a bonus and once again giving players plenty of tools and options for taking on the numerous types of enemies they come across. It is also worth noting that, since this is the second game in the story arc, players start around level 45, providing quite a few Arts to work with right off the bat.
Another element that has been modified a bit is the Orbment system and this is mostly thanks to the addition of a familiar element from more recent games in the series, a Master Quartz. Players will still use the combat orbments to determine what types of magic a character can cast as well as how many spells they have access to but with the addition of Master Quartz the party can now see some significant buffs and extra stats. To add to this, every Master Quartz has its own elemental property giving players a chance to take customization to another level by providing more ways to unlock additional Crafts for their characters or even going all in to unlock high-level elemental Crafts far earlier than usual. It is also worth noting that a Burst System which allows players to fill up a gauge that, when triggered, offers massive boosts to the party and lets them deal massive damage to the enemy, is also offered in key moments throughout the story as well as the entirety of the final chapter giving players something that can prove to be an extra leg up on some notably difficult boss encounters.
Exploration in Trails to Azure is mostly handled the same as well though it is worth noting that, unlike the first game, Crossbell opens up to players far faster than before. Along with this players will quickly gain access to a vehicle that allows for fast traveling between areas, mercifully reducing the amount of backtracking which comes as an extra boon thanks to the fact that players will be treading through mostly familiar areas most of the time though the option to speed up the game also returns. There are some new locations peppered throughout the game including many of the primary dungeons but players will be seeing a lot of reuse throughout their journey here. It is also nice to note that NIS America and the localization team they worked with has provided a lot of extra content throughout the game, including the always enjoyable easter eggs that are talking treasure chests that not only reward an exploring player with treasure but also some extra dialogue when inspected twice.
Visuals & Audio
Once again the art style chosen by Nihon Falcom has held up incredibly well as this PSP original game has seen a noticeable improvement with its release on the PlayStation 4, though once again this version of the game does not benefit the most from these improvements. While character portraits remain as bright and colorful as ever and the character sprites are handled incredibly well in and outside of combat, there are some noticeably blurry looking textures during exploration and other rougher areas that are apparently far better looking on the Switch and PC versions of the game. That being said, Trails to Azure still looks great here in 2023 even with the PlayStation 4 version being not quite up to snuff compared to other platforms thanks to the aforementioned quality of sprite work, character portraits, and details with Arts and Crafts in combat.
Just like its predecessor, Trails from Azure features only the original Japanese voice track accompanied by an expertly handled English text localization that offers a massive amount of dialogue and flavor text that truly does this story justice. Speaking of expertly handled, the soundtrack found in Trails from Azure does just that as the game features some of the best background music that an RPG can ask for with impressive music tracks all around and a number of absolutely outstanding battle tracks used for boss battles.
It takes a lot of work to surpass something that was already seen as impressive but between Falcom’s development and NIS America’s work on localization The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure has done just that. Trails to Azure manages to improve upon nearly every aspect of Trails from Zero and while it still may have some shortcomings this RPG features an excellently paced storyline with great character arcs and an outstanding soundtrack that anyone that happens to be a fan of RPGs needs to try out, even if they have to start from Zero to do it.
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