A thousand years.
That’s how long it’s felt since the official announcement from NIS America that the long awaited Crossbell arc of The Legend of Heroes would finally be localized in English. Anticipation will do that to you, my mind knows that it takes time to translate text from Japanese to English and Trails from Zero has a lot of text, but when you love something so much every day apart seems like an eternity. This isn’t my first playthrough, I was lucky enough to download the Geofront localizations for both Crossbell games before they got taken down after the team of volunteers got hired to do the official localizations. But the wait for the official versions was worth it, Trails from Zero feels even better the second time around, and especially so when playing on a portable device like the Steam Deck.
The Legend of Heroes is the only video game series I can think of where the story continues to unfold over multiple decades and a dozen plus games. The first question on the minds of anyone trying to get into the series is always the same: Does my first game have to be Trails in the Sky? The short answer is no, each of the different arcs tells a different story and knowledge of previous events is not a prerequisite for enjoyment. Trails from Zero introduces a whole new set of heroes and a brand new location in which they live. Taking place in the city-state area of Crossbell, Lloyd Bannings returns to his home city from three years of police training to lead a brand new division of the police department, the Special Support Section. Along with his three comrades, Elie, Randy and Tio, the group of four take on tasks normally completed by a beloved group of mercenaries in order to repair the damaged reputation of the Crossbell police department.
Or that’s at least how the story begins, Trails from Zero is a wonderfully complex adventure that starts with a group of rookies developing their skills and ends with a gripping cliffhanger that entangles everyone living in the city. Following the exploits of the Special Support Section feels more intimate than the large number of students to follow in Class 7 but doesn’t quite hit the emotional highs of Trails in the Sky. In a lot of ways, Lloyd Bannings and Rean Schwarzer, the protagonist of Trails of Cold Steel, are a lot alike. Both are young heroes that understand their need for growth and both would put themselves in harm’s way to protect a friend. One could argue that Lloyd is much less complex, having fewer character flaws with his boy scout demeanor and less personal demons to overcome. Of the three main heroes of the series, Lloyd is probably the least interesting, but the supporting characters along with the personality of the city of Crossbell make up for any heroic shortcomings.
Given that Trails from Zero was originally developed for the PlayStation Portable, the graphics are representative of that era. That’s not to say they aren’t fantastic, quite the opposite actually, but fans who got hooked on the series because of Trails of Cold Steel may not appreciate the wonderful chibi style animation. The visuals of the Nintendo Switch and Steam versions are improved upon from the originals thanks to the porting efforts of Durante, aka Peter Thoman and his studio PH3. The visuals look incredibly sharp on the Steam Deck and the colours are bright and beautiful. I didn’t run into any graphical issues, crashes or related problems, Trails from Zero ran very smooth and very fast. Unfortunately, The localization got a nice refresh, most notably keeping the treasure chest messages a fun mix of jokes and puns.
The Legend of Heroes features probably the best turn-based combat system in RPGs. Trails from Zero uses a grid based battleground that utilizes several mechanics such as physical attacks and magical attacks called Orbal Arts. Enemies are always on screen, no random encounters in a Trails game. Each of the battles feels as long as it needs to be, with lower enemies being brisk and stronger ones providing a reasonable difficulty. The pacing is well designed, never feeling too easy or too hard, and multiple difficulty levels available to play at your preference. Setting quartz to equip magic is very intuitive, the more quartz of a certain element that is set, the more spells become available. It can feel overwhelming for someone new to the series but anyone with even a little experience in the series will feel at home. The ratio of story to combat is perfectly balanced, a hallmark of a Trails game.
What more can be said about Trails from Zero? The Legend of Heroes is one of the best series in all of video games and the Crossbell arc is one of the stronger titles in the franchise. It’s disappointing that the PlayStation version uses the old visuals from Kai port which is a Japanese only PS4 release from 2020, but it’s worth playing whatever version you can get your hands on. Trails from Zero is the total package, an incredibly well written story, a cast of characters that you’ll fall in love with, and a wonderfully complex battle system that’s a joy to master.
- New graphics look fantastic
- Best battle system in RPGs
- Story is wonderful and previous Trails experience not required
- Plays flawlessly on Steam Deck
- PlayStation version is inferior to the new Switch and Steam ports
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero releases on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation on September 27, 2022. This review is based on the Steam version with a code provided by publisher NIS America.