Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Having taken a long time to come into the hands of fans of the series, Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero is finally here with the help of NIS America Inc.'s localization efforts. Starting off on their first day on the job, Lloyd Bannings, Elie MacDowell, Tio Plato and Randy Orlando find themselves in a unique position. Having joined the Crossbell's Police Department's newly formed Special Support Section, our protagonists must navigate both the day to day routine that is anything but as well as Crossbell's has a unique structure as it belongs to both the Erebonian Empire and the Republic of Calvard.
Note: Please be aware that this review contains some spoilers either in the text or in the screenshots taken during gameplay.
Not just the main cast, but the players too will find themselves in a unique situation. Placed after the events of the Trails in the Sky series, Trails From Zero starts before and then runs parallel to the beginning of Trails of Cold Steel. The reason this is important is we in North America have already had the chance to explore Trails in the Sky's First Chapter, Second Chapter (Digitally Downloaded) and Third Chapter as well as Trails of Cold Steel, Cold Steel II, Cold Steel III and Cold Steel IV where the Special Support Section appear in both Cold Steel III and IV. So because of this, we already know "how this ends" with the upcoming localization of Trails to Azure in 2023, but how does it all begin? This was a 40+ hour JRPG adventure that I wouldn't have traded a minute of as the credits rolled just shy of the 51 hour mark.
Moving onto Trails From Zero itself, having originally released back on the PSP over a decade ago it uses the same engine and artstyle as Trails to the Sky's First / Second / Third Chapters. What’s impressive with this style, as well as Falcom’s Ys Series that had releases in the same time period, are that the system and the artstyle don’t hold any part of the presentation back. Character models are unique and detailed and in true Falcom fashion, they weren’t afraid to take their time and tell a story. Whether the releases of yesterday that we are now getting to see today or the releases that we’ve recently had a chance to experience, there is a LOT of text, dialog, and storytelling. The only downside to this? It’s a time investment and to truly understand what’s going on? You’ll either need to play every entry or consult several wikias. Otherwise, what are you waiting for!?
So to tell this story, the events of Trails From Zero will happen within the various districts and surrounding areas of the city of Crossbell. From the city center to the upper lavish residential quarters down to the downtown slums, each of these spaces holds its own charm, people and establishments to go with it. What I really appreciated with this design is that while new and exciting at first, it never gets tiring as the hours go by. While always at your fingertips, and while it will obviously contain a lot of back and forth, the city has been designed for this alongside the stories being presented. This in a form of retrospect really helped set the stage for the Trails of Cold Steel series’ move over into the Empire’s Thors Military academy which somewhat emulated this approach but on a much larger scale.
Starting off on the very first day of work, Lloyd, Elie, Tio and Randy will have their work cut out for them. While the unit that they’ve been assigned to has a fancy name, the Special Support Section, it may not be as glorious as it sounds once you get to know what’s required. Basically being the Police Department’s attempt to gain better favor with the townsfolk, this new unit is, at least in the beginning, looked down upon from the core Police Department Divisions as well as the Bracer’s Guild that already does what the Special Support Section is supposed to do, help the people out first, and worry about the rest second.
Divided into chapters, each chapter will have “days” that play out in which you’ll be taking on requests from finding lost people, looking for vendor stall thieves and taking on dangerous monsters. Basically, everything that a Bracer (a member of a guild that exists to help people and should not be confused with mercenaries) would normally do to keep the people safe and happy! What’s great about this style, and the series itself as it’s almost the core function to move everything along, is that the “side quests” or “side content” don’t feel like they are simply there for padding. In a more modern take as they came out after, think of Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 which takes place in a single city merged with CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3’s quests. They are both entertaining and fulfilling and next thing you know? It’s ten hours later and you’re only now moving onto the main story event.
The flip side of this is that you don’t actually have to do these side quests. It will reflect poorly on you of course, you’ll be out a fair amount of reward money and items and finally? It would be a disservice to Trails From Zero itself as it’s also through these side events that you’ll both get to better understand Lloyd, Elie, Tio and Randy as well as the city of Crossbell. Taking it a step further is that, while I did finish just under 51 hours, there is a lot that I probably missed. Not all of these side events are given to you at the beginning of each day, or in some cases half days. Some of them require you to do what you’re supposed to do. Explore the town, talk with people and find out if they need anything. Through those conversations it’s possible to get new quests to follow further expanding the experience.
Not all sunshine and lollipops for our Special Support Section, it’s a good thing that each is trained in a form of combat because they are going to need it. Street thugs, various mafia, military training exercises, ghosts, monsters and just general crazy pants cultists, you name it, they’ve faced it. Having to remember that Trails From Zero was in fact released before Trails of Cold Steel, while combat still has some enhancements from the Tails in the Sky series (which I REALLY need to play the Third Chapter that was more of a stand alone), there were some items that I had to remember didn’t exist. Or that they didn’t exist in the same manner.
Combat for the Trails series is a unique take on turned based JRPG systems. Having a set turn order, this turn order can be flipped on its head in a manner of seconds depending on character actions. Split into normal attacks, arts and crafts (that never gets old), every battle participant can choose an action on each of their turns. Normal attacks are just that, normal attacks where Lloyd will use his tonfas, Elie her long ranged orbal gun, Tio her orbal staff that emulates arts (magic) and Randy with his modified halberd. Each having their own uses, these will keep with the normal flow of battle.
For those stepping in now, arts and crafts and where things get nuts. Arts are basically magic which can be split into the core elements of Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, and then the higher elements of Time, Space and Mirage. Once a quartz of these types has been equipped, these not only allow for stats buffs and new abilities such as seeing enemy stats without an analysis or all chests on the field, but they allow for casting magic. The more powerful the ability, the more energy points (EP) that are going to be required to cast it alongside time. This will shift the order or battle around as characters are no longer in the normal flow because of it.
Crafts, unlike arts, are character specific abilities that can be used in battle. Having their own pool of points, craft points (CP), unlike HP and EP, these are set in number from start to finish. Totaling up to 200, CP can be used for normal abilities costing 10-20-30-40 points, or, when using 100 can be used for a seriously powerful solo or partnered character ability. Unlike the partnered abilities that cost 100 CP each, if a character can accumulate up to 200 they can unleash an even more powerful version. Where crafts are a bit different is that they can also be used to stop an art in its tracks, preventing it from ever being cast and wrecking havoc against you. Just remember, whatever you can do? So can the enemy!
So it’s a little bit of rock, paper, scissors to keep things in check however battle doesn’t stop there. That timeline of who is going when and doing what? It has a side element such as being able to restore HP, EP, CP, cause critical hits, gain more sepith (currency and can be used to turn into quartz) as well as two functions that will see a revamp in the Trails of Cold Steel Series. Rush attacks and all out attacks while needing points in future entries, are here within part of the timeline. Rush will allow a character to go twice and all out attack will allow every party member to attack at the same time. Because it can’t just stop there! Once the higher elements are involved you’ll also have to deal with hits being able to vanish a character from battle for a limited amount of time, flat out block attacks and deathblows that you do NOT want to be on the receiving end of.
It sounds like a lot, and at times depending on the boss fights it can be, however it all works so well together. This is actually a big point that I want to make as unlike the other entries that I’ve played, I barely touched arts until about the 40ish hour mark. The reason? I didn’t need to as each character's crafts were so well designed that it just wasn’t needed unless I needed a mass healing from someone other than Elie or Tio. In those cases I would use breath or holy breath under the wind quartz from Lloyd, Randy or one of the other supporting characters at that point in time such as the Bracers Estelle or Joshua from Trails in the Sky who tag along now and then.
So with all of the above put together? Trails From Zero was fantastic from start to finish. Well paced and well written, what really brings everything together is how everything is intertwined. Seemingly unrelated, everything has a way of coming together making you realize just how deep some storylines went and how important other self-contained stories really were in the larger picture. Finally? As good as it all is, I don’t think it would have carried the same weight without the musical talent of the Falcom Sound Team which are always a pleasure to listen to either while playing Falcom’s work or otherwise. I often have their albums playing while working on something or another.
Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero was worth the wait and I’m happy that NIS America Inc. have localized both it, and the upcoming Trails to Azure in 2023 for us. Well paced and well written storytelling is only ever elevated by the characters that you’ll get to adventure with as they establish what the Special Support Section is all about as they trek through and around the city of Crossbell solving problems big and small.Score: 9 / 10