- System: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4
- Publisher: NIS America
- Developer: Nihon Falcom
- Release Date: September 27, 2022
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is a strange title to review, given its position in the overall The Legend of Heroes franchise. Finally arriving in the West twelve years after its original 2010 release in Japan, players are most likely approaching Trails from Zero after having played the series’ newer installments, the Trails of Cold Steel saga.
Trails from Zero is the first part of the “Crossbell Arc,” with its sequel Trails to Azure set to release in 2023. Telling the story of Lloyd Bannings and the corruption sinking into his hometown of Crossbell, Trails from Zero is an important part of the overarching franchise, and a missing piece of the puzzle until now.
But do you really need to play The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero? And, perhaps more importantly, is a twelve-year-old port of a game worth your time and money just to fill in a few missing story blanks?
Join us today on Honey’s Anime as we review The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero!
Legend of Backstory: Trails of Complexity
So, how did we get here?
Nihon Falcom’s sprawling JRPG series The Legend of Heroes is an intimidating franchise, perhaps rivaled only by Kingdom Hearts in terms of interconnected gameplay and story. The “Trails” subseries, Falcom’s current and best-selling subseries, has 12 (twelve!) directly related games, released between 2004 and 2022, from the PSP to the PS5.
Unfortunately, such long-running series—much like Kingdom Hearts—suffer from accessibility issues for newcomers, in terms of availability and gameplay. The original Trails to the Sky series was released between 2004 and 2007 in Japan but didn’t see a Western release until 2011. The franchise reached a new fanbase and gained a sharp increase in sales with Trails of Cold Steel, released in Japan in 2013, and coming to the West just two years later, in 2015.
Falcom’s problem, then, is a product of their own grand vision. The twelve interconnected games tell a story of war, rebellion, grief, growth, love, and a whole bunch of stuff about ancient robots punching each other (true story). The series creates deep, complex political factions, a staggeringly deep backstory—some of which is only found via in-game books— and an overarching narrative worthy of the greatest epic writers of our time.
Legend of Heroes is not, however, a book series that you can grab on your Kindle and get up-to-date with over a summer break. With various games stranded on different platforms and huge delays between the Japanese and English release dates, slogging through the franchise is a huge undertaking. Until recently, there were two entirely missing games in the series, Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure, otherwise known as the “Crossbell Arc.”
Here we are, then, in 2022. Trails from Zero, arriving on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC, is a slightly improved version of the 2012 PSP Vita port, with some additional graphics and sound settings thrown in for good measure.
Arts and Crafts
For better or worse, Trails from Zero plays exactly like every other entry in the Trails series.
Combat takes place in a turn-based format with a small amount of positioning required. You’ll be dispensing magical damage via “Arts” that take multiple turns to charge; unleashing powerful skills called “Crafts”; and then dishing out big damage with S-Crafts that act as ultimate attacks. Enemies can inflict and receive a wide variety of status effects, from simple speed debuffs to dangerous stun effects that will see you lose valuable turns.
This combat system is polished, and clearly one of the best parts of Falcom’s brainstorming, given that it’s been largely unchanged for twelve games. Some of the series’ later additions—such as the Combat Links introduced in Trails of Cold Steel—are sorely missed, but otherwise, the gameplay holds up quite nicely.
Team composition isn’t as important as the later games, since you’ll rarely have more than your four main characters. This is somewhat refreshing, particularly if you’ve played, say, Trails of Cold Steel IV, which features a staggering thirty-nine characters to swap between.
Equipment management is vitally important, as with all of the Trails games. Between missions, you’ll need to collect, synthesize, and install “Quartz” that gives your characters stat boosts or new Arts. Each character has different potential Quartz affinities, creating a large system of customization to fine-tune combat to your play style.
Of course, none of this is news to any previous Trails players. As we mentioned earlier, Trails from Zero is simply a missing chapter in the saga—so let’s talk about the most important reason to play this re-release: the story.
Would You Like Some Game With Your Story?
When you’re not in combat, you’ll be stepping through the game’s expansive story. And that’s a huge story, mind you. The Japanese script length for Trails from Zero is 1.3 million Japanese characters—it’s no wonder translations take such a long time.
The Legend of Heroes series is well-known for its expansive storylines and excellent characterization, and Falcom’s world-building skill is on full display with Trails from Zero.
From the game’s opening moments, you’ll be dropped into the city of Crossbell, an independent city-state that’s sandwiched between the militaristic nations of Erebonia and Calvard. Taking control of police detective Lloyd Bannings, you’ll be joined by a colorful cast of characters as you investigate gang warfare and corruption within Crossbell, while powerful political factions vie for control.
Trundling around Crossbell, you’ll have no shortage of NPCs to converse with, and dialogue and exposition practically explode around every corner. This pacing is, unfortunately, something that drags a little in almost every Trails game. There’ll be very large patches of talking, talking, and more talking, followed by an open section of the game where you can beat up some monsters, only to be interrupted by yet more talking. It’s a problem that later games smoothed out by adding various minigames to shake up the pacing, but here in Trails from Zero, it’s a more prominent issue.
That said, Trails from Zero also benefits from being earlier in the franchise—notably, by having a smaller roster. We won’t lie—we definitely miss Rean and Class VII—but since your party is quite small in the Crossbell Arc, you’ll have more time to get to know your characters. The dialogue is smart and witty, and matched by some excellent Japanese voice acting, so that’s an all-around win for Team Crossbell.
We’ve been talking about gameplay, so let’s discuss the elephant in the room: the visuals.
The Buttery-smooth Charms of Yesteryear
Honestly, we expected Trails from Zero to look much worse than it does. Trails of Cold Steel I was the first game in the franchise to have fully-3D models, and it’s aged significantly worse. In contrast, Trails from Zero’s quirky clay-like animation holds up quite nicely, and although this is clearly an old game, it’s hardly an eyesore.
A combination of Geofront changes and updates from Falcom have added new UI options; on PC you’ll have multiple high-resolution display options, and on Switch, we can even change the font size for handheld, TV, or allow the game to automatically swap. On our Nintendo Switch OLED, we rarely had any performance issues, even when running the game in the ‘Fast-Forward’ mode that increases character and cutscene speed.
That said, we have to question Trails from Zero’s value for money. This is a full-priced game, the same as you might expect to pay for an actual remaster or remake. Visual effects are quite lackluster, and enemy models often look like varyingly different blobs. We’re not against the retro charm, but compared to recent HD-2D games like Triangle Strategy or Octopath Traveler, Trails from Zero comes across a little lacking.
Some Killer, Some Filler
Now we come back to the question we first proposed. Should you, and do you, need to play Trails from Zero?
If you’re a true series fan, living and breathing the rich tapestry of characters and nations that Falcom created, then we absolutely recommend grabbing Trails from Zero. It’s the origin story for the Crossbell characters who later appear in Cold Steel III onwards, and a vital installment in the overarching story of The Legend of Heroes.
However, if you’re not already a Trails fan, then Trails from Zero doesn’t make a strong argument for itself. In an era of remakes and remasters, simply translating a PS Vita game isn’t much of an advertisement. We like Trails from Zero, and we do enjoy the Trails franchise overall, but there are many, many other JRPGs out there that stand on their own—and earn their price tag, too.
Much like starting on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, diving into a random Avengers film isn’t going to answer all your questions. So if you’ve never played a Trails game before, you’ll probably want to start with Trails to the Sky, or perhaps Trails of Cold Steel since it’s just slightly more modern.
It’s impossible to talk about Trails from Zero without discussing the larger franchise that surrounds it. Falcom’s sprawling storyline is truly a work of art, and would probably receive much higher praise if the games weren’t so difficult to access and enjoy.
If you’ve been waiting to play an officially released version of Trails from Zero, then this is a perfect opportunity. Yet it’s also hard to recommend the title to anyone that isn’t already completely invested in the Trails universe.
For story completionists, this is the perfect chance to dive into the missing parts of the franchise, but for casual JRPG players, this might be a trail you safely leave untraveled.