HomeUncategorizedThe Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review – Crossbell Was Worth The Wait
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review – Crossbell Was Worth The Wait
September 21, 2022
Trails From Zero may be late to the scene, but even now Nihon Falcom’s JRPG remains one of the best Trails games to date.
I never believed this day would come. Almost 12 years have passed since the Japanese launch of Trails from Zero, and many JRPG fans had given up on the idea of an official Western release. We had fan translations, of course, and while Trails fans know all too well the difficulties of waiting for localization, Zero and its sequel felt destined to stay out of reach. Until last year’s announcement, of course. NIS America did what many thought was impossible, and personally I couldn’t be happier.
My own journey with Trails began in 2020. After finishing Ys VIII a friend recommended Trails of Cold Steel and a year later – Reverie and Kuro aside – I had finished the larger series. Considering Kuro No Kiseki just kicked off the second half when there were 10 games before, you can appreciate the sense of scale we’re working with here. Still, I would have a hard time naming a bad entry. Between stopping sinister forces in Liberl, ending a civil war in Erebonia, and even landing in Hell on one occasion, life has never been dull. I’ve seen some amazing stories and world building has always been Trails greatest strength, but it’s the telling of a great story across so many games that sees Trails really stand out – a level of engagement rare for a continuing saga.
Nihon Falcom is set to create one of the most ambitious series in gaming, leading the way with fantastic character arcs. I would say that no entry exemplifies this better than Trails from Zero. Playing as Lloyd Bannings, our journey begins with commanding a new police unit called the Special Support Section (SSS). Joined by Ellie, Randy, and Tio, Zero kicks off the second arc of Trails by taking us to Crossbell, a self-governing state inspired by Hong Kong. Here we find this land caught in a decades-long geopolitical conflict between the continent’s two great powers, Erebonia and Calvard. With each nation claiming sovereignty over Crossbell, this intriguing world construct is in play from the start. However, Crossbell’s greatest charm is undeniably himself. From the worn-out SSS building to the outskirts like Armorica Village, there’s real character to it all.
As SSS, our role is to respond to direct requests from the public, similar to the Bracer Guild during Trails in the Sky. Unsurprisingly, this contains many optional secondary requests, selected from your team’s PC. Between requests to exterminate monsters, scavenge cooking ingredients, and retrieve a missing statue, the SSS has no shortage of things to do. Some of these quests are slightly repetitive, there is no getting around this, but again you are under no obligation to complete them. Naturally, you can’t keep people waiting forever – it’s kind of rude when they need help – so there’s a set time limit to complete them. As soon as you’re ready to move on, start tackling the mandatory request.
Crossbell is a small city-state compared to the titans it’s squeezed between, so we’re not going to take a long trip like Trails of Cold Steel does. But there are plenty of places to visit and if you’re in a hurry, you can switch to high speed mode to get into exploration and battles. Unfortunately for the SSS, the roads are full of monsters ready to attack on sight, so be prepared to fight. There are no random encounters, you can easily avoid enemies while exploring if you don’t feel like it. Or, you can hit them unknowingly to gain an advantage. Don’t let them sneak up on you, because the reverse is also true.
Once started, battles turn into turn-based battles with grid-based movement. In addition to a standard attack, you can equip different team members with Quartz – more on that later. These can provide new utility arts like healing or artistic attacks with elemental properties, like fire or water damage. However, arts take longer to cast and cost EP, so use them wisely. Some enemies have elemental resistances and weaknesses, though enemies can be scanned to learn these crucial details. It requires a strategic approach, careful thought, and the combat is tactically quite satisfying.
Each party member also has crafts that use a separate CP meter that accumulates during combat. There is no time limit like Arts but I would suggest suspending fire until you hit 100 CP which allows you to activate an S-Craft. Basically an “ultimate move”, this can be used for both attacks or support, depending on the character. Better yet, wait until 200 CP and it will double the effect, so better be patient. Even now, the combat remains very enjoyable, aided by an upbeat combat theme, and there’s a heart-pounding sense of victory when taking down bosses. Winning fights through absurdly powerful S-Crafts is still undeniably enjoyable, in a way that only over-the-top animated action scenes can deliver.
After winning, you will earn EXP, possibly with percentage bonuses if you meet certain criteria like taking no damage. If you’re struggling with combat, unfortunately the difficulty levels can’t be changed mid-game, but rest assured there are several changes that can be made that waive level correction. Along with a standard gear system, there’s more to using Quartz than just giving you more attacks. Some provide stat boosts such as increased defense, moves per turn, evasion, or increased HP/EP. If you can’t find every fighting character the way you want, Zero offers plenty of ways to get creative.
Once everything is done in a Chapter, Zero ranks your performance with Detection Points (DP), awarding new items when you reach certain ranks. This is determined by the number of requests you have processed and the decisions made during them, such as preventing key NPCs from taking damage in battle. Fair warning though, several quests are hidden and will not be mentioned on PC. It’s annoying because Crossbell is a big town and unless you’re following a guide, some quest locations aren’t exactly obvious.
Still, that doesn’t take anything away from Zero overall. Not only is there excellent character development, but Nihon Falcom has crafted a very engaging story that doesn’t shy away from the toughest themes. Between corruption, religious fanaticism and growing worries about colonial ambitions, the inner workings of Crossbell presents a powerful exploration of the innocent lives caught in between. Zero’s story needs time to kick off, it’s a slow burner in these opening chapters as it sets the scene. But once you got there, once it clicked, I didn’t want to stop. By placing you at the heart of its battles, I invested myself in its future.
Nihon Falcom delivered a powerful story, capped off with a thrilling finale that both chilled me with its revelations and proved to be emotional. I dare not spoil the details here, but I was certainly moved. That said, it’s not all serious business. Thanks to a good sense of humor, Zero never takes himself too seriously either. Being guilty by empty treasure chests for rechecking them made me laugh, as did the team calling Lloyd’s frequent corny speeches. The music is as catchy as ever, with Zero’s theme song being a particular favorite.
Better yet, the NIS America port isn’t just a case of slamming into the licensed fan translation and leaving it. Switch and PC players will find several quality of life additions, including the new message log, more UI options, and some graphical tweaks. Unfortunately these changes are missing from the PS4 version but I don’t consider this a dealbreaker. Zero has never looked bad and having tried it on PS4 as well, that still holds true. It’s just a little cleaner elsewhere.
These small changes don’t hide Trails from Zero’s PSP roots, but twelve years later Nihon Falcom’s JRPG is still a winner. A fantasy RPG in 2010, Zero remains a great game now, thanks to an engaging story, entertaining combat, and wonderful character development. With Trails to Azure localized next year, it won’t be long before the Crossbell arc is finally complete, and I can’t wait.
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