The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero
The Legend of Heroes franchise is compared with Nihon Falcom's other long running franchise, Ys, as IPs that have transcended many generations and decades of gaming. While the games were always popular in East Asian countries, there are many games in the series that had seen limited exposure in the west. Due to many games being localized and released in English for the first time, such as Live A Live, Falcom and NIS are catching the wave of the trending "remaster released for the first time in the West." Trails from Zero is the first of two titles to have this treatment and it's something Legend of Heroes fans have been wanting for a decade.
No, literally a decade.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero was originally released on the PlayStation Portable as a Japanese exclusive, although there are fan translations available. Over a full decade later, the game is finally released on multiple platforms in the West, after every other game in the LoH series was released. In retrospect, it's similar to if Final Fantasy 9 was skipped and it took Square twenty years to release 9 when we're gearing for 16.
This wouldn't be much of an issue if each game was a standalone experience. Unfortunately, each game in The Legend of Heroes is a direct sequel to each other, at least within their sub-series. To explain this the best way that I can as it was explained to me by a friend who is a huge fan of the franchise, there are three Trails series; [Trails] in the Sky, [Trails] of Cold Steel, and [Trails] from Zero/to Azure. The games within each series are sequels to each other, meaning Cold Steel 2 follows directly after Cold Steel but are within a different timeline from in the Sky and its sequels.
Zero and Azure are direct sequels of each other, however, as it was told to me, these games take place around the same time as Cold Steel. There is interconnectivity between each of the series and playing them out of release order runs the risk of getting spoiled from pretty important details in the other series. Considering we are currently in Cold Steel 4, a game released in 2018, hardcore LoH fans may have been spoiled on Zero and the upcoming Azure. It's a process that Nihon Falcom is working on as games that were released years ago in Japan are finally getting released in the United States.
I want to give a special shout-out to my friend, billetskillet, for helping me shed some light on this dark and vast pipeline. In short, play in release order. But if you wish to play Trails from Zero as a standalone title, then it is something I highly recommend. I realized I have yet to talk about the game itself but for helping me out, allow me to plug his Twitch. He occasionally streams these games if you wish to know more information about them.
Trails from Zero by itself has no relation to the rest of the games as its story is zoomed in from the larger scope of The Legend of Heroes. The protagonist is Llyod
Banks Bannings, a resident of Crossbell who returns after three years after being accepted to the town's police academy. Upon arriving, he realizes things aren't as cut and dry as it seems, immediately being paired with three other police rookies. There's the elegant Elie McDowell, the young but talented Tio Plato, and the chilled-out fighting veteran Randy Orton Orlando.
The four of them are tasked to "clean up the sewers" filled with monsters, but a basic first task like this goes south when its discovered that it's actually a front for a rescue mission. This also serves as the game's "tutorial dungeon," filling in the player all they need to know about the gameplay itself. First impressions I felt it's equal parts Tactical RPG and Traditional RPG, not quite Disgaea but similar to Rhapsody A Musical Adventure of all games.
Each character moves in a grid with an attack range that determines whether a character will attack or simply move in range. There are "Arts," powerful elemental spells that require two turns, one to cast and one to execute. "Crafts" are unique skills dedicated to each character that requires a resource that increases over time in-battle. Once that resource reaches 100, a character can unleash their ultimate skill at any point, even during an enemy's turn. The entire "take one turn to prepare and another turn to use a spell" opens the door to strategy alone.
An example is a group of slimes you fight early on that only take damage from spells effectively. There's a fight where you must protect two children that you are attempting to rescue. Sure, using arts deals more damage to them, but every turn wasted casting an Art is a turn putting the children in danger. NPCs will occasionally join the fight and it's your duty to protect them as if they get KO'd, the game is over. This happened to me until I realized it was best to divert the slime's attention to me by physically attacking and establishing aggro.
I've only played through this scenario but it was enough for me to set the world of Crossbell as an urban jungle teeming with shadiness. Trails of Zero is not "high fantasy" which is something I greatly appreciate, but it also has enough magic and mystical traits to make it unique. While I spent half of this first impression saying "release order is the way to go," I'll give some time to play through this title as it is one that many had requested for years. It's a great starting point to Legend of Heroes much like Yakuza 0 is for the Like A Dragon series. Coincidentally, both begin with "Zero."
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is now available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, and Sony PlayStation 4.