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The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails Preview and Hands-On Impressions

Artwork of The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails, one of several RPGs coming this week

For Anglophone Falcom fans, patience is less a virtue and more a premise. In modern times, the distinguished developer’s bread-and-butter is Trails, an ongoing chronicle as legendarily loquacious as you’re liable to find in the RPG genre. Series diehards devour it. Every entry builds onto a single continent-spanning story almost 20 years in the telling and runs the word count of a shelf at your local library. Did I mention they make a new one almost every year? It’s no wonder, then, that these games arrive in the hands and on the hard drives of English-speaking players often long after their domestic debut. But even amidst a recently speedier overseas release timeline — not to mention improbable and impressive fan-turned-official translations of the series’ “Crossbell saga” — a single modest spinoff has quietly remained unreleased in any official capacity in English (available on Steam right now if you read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean!).

But now, 11 years, one laboriously crafted yet woefully inadequate fan translation, one separately authored grammar and readability amendment patch to that fan translation, and eight (count ‘em) library shelves of mainline Trails later, The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is properly westward bound at last, out next month on PS4, Switch, and Windows via Steam. Courtesy of publisher NIS America, I got to sample a vertical slice of the game ahead of release, a brief pre-launch bite nonetheless packed to the gills with raw Falcom style and portentous of the long-anticipated ARPG entree to come.

But first, let’s set the table: what even is The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails? Originally released in 2012 for PSP, The Legend of Nayuta is a standalone, stage-based action RPG. Despite the game’s subtitle spelling out a nominal relation to Trails proper — and its original name, Nayuta no Kiseki, even stenciling the exact nomenclature of the main Trails games in Japanese — Legend of Nayuta doesn’t have much to do with Trails beyond the branding… probably. A few oblique references hint at connections that currently make a sideways sort of sense, and a few admittedly compelling fan theories have attempted to patch Nayuta into Trails primacy. The widely settled-on stance as of this writing, though, is that Legend of Nayuta is basically its own thing, and can be enjoyed as a discrete narrative experience — good news for those unable to get over the main series’ time-intensive entry barrier of interconnected storytelling.

Nayuta, Cygna, and Noi sit around/on a bed in a cutscene.
The Legend of Nayuta features a cast and story completely separate from the main Trails games.

In fact, if the slice of the game served to me suffices to summarize the full experience, Legend of Nayuta is primarily gameplay-driven, story riding shotgun. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest mainline Trails devotees won’t enjoy Nayuta, and I’ve heard the game does tell a deeper tale than, say, a classic Ys title. But if your attraction to Trails stems from an interest in its ongoing plot and weighty narrative focus, Nayuta might not be mandatory playing for you.

My time with Legend of Nayuta began by driving this backseat quality of the story home, as the bit I sampled tossed me over its shoulder into a setup slouching narratively towards the texture of blobby jello: difficult to grasp but easy enough to swallow and forget about. Upon picking up the controller, eponym Nayuta Herschel and Navi-esque companion Noi were arriving at the Temple of Rieseweld, an ancient and imposing clockwork keep located, I was informed, on the game’s “forest continent.” The two had ventured here intending to… well, I’m not exactly sure, even after playing back the brief conversation they shared outside the temple’s front gates. Chasing down one of the game’s villains, it sounded like, while also attempting to reunite with a friend of Nayuta’s named Cygna. Had I met this scene during a full playthrough of the game, I obviously would have walked away with greater understanding and increased appreciation, but unsupplied with a baseline, I could only shrug. As soon as the plan of attack was decided, Nayuta and Noi careened headlong into the ensuing stage, leaving no time to establish further context…

…but plenty of time to get straight to what it’s all scant more than pretext to do: cleave through hellish hordes ripe for the hacking and slashing. “Pretty big Ys guy” that I self-anointedly am, I realized quicker than instantly that Legend of Nayuta is absolutely a game for me — and should be for you too if you count yourself an enthusiast of crimson-coiffed wunderkind Adol Christin’s nonstop action-adventures. Trails fans intensely invested specifically in the series’ ongoing story might understandably opt out. On the flip side, Ys enjoyers should have no bones to pick with Nayuta, so deeply marrowed is the game with a comparable design ethos. Nayuta’s stages, designed over a decade ago for quick PSP bursts, seem like colorful confetti bombs of awesome ARPG dungeoning. If the one I played is any metric, they’re short but substantial and not-up-for-debatably fun, tiny presents packed palatially with invigorating action that aims more for the deliberate than the frenetic and sticks the landing olympically. Forewarned is forearmed, Ys acolytes: Nayuta also overflows with action, but it’s more methodical, more measured. It’s slower, perhaps speaking subtly to its turn-based namesake.

Everything is still in real-time, though, and battles reward players deft at dodging and maintaining an uninterrupted string of attacks in a way Ys fans may find similar to — but not 1:1 with — the temporary stat boosts found in certain Ys games. Chain your attacks together while avoiding damage to receive stat buffs and stack enemy-debilitating status effects onto Nayuta’s basic sword strikes. Unlike in such Ys titles as Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, these temporary boons didn’t appear to wear off over time; instead, they only seemed to disappear when I took damage, just hammering home the more orderly approach Nayuta expects and demands. Platforming and light puzzling through the lens of a fixed camera punctuate the paradigm and also recall Ys during the aughts.

Nayuta and Noi engage in combat against some ghosts in a stormy woodland stage.
Combat comes fast and fun, but doesn’t necessarily infringe on the frantic.

The true Falcom faithful, however, may tell you Nayuta pulls less from Ys and more from the next series in the developer’s alphabet: Zwei. My familiarity with that semi-obscure duology is admittedly peripheral, but I think I see the similarities. Nayuta is the player’s undeniable avatar on this journey and spearheads the adventure with physical prowess and acrobatic ability far outclassing most kids his age. (I couldn’t double jump till my 20s.) But sprite-like Noi plays an equally important part in survival, casting magic spells to abolish the duo’s foes. The two characters are controlled together as one.

As I ascended the temple via springboard bounces and water-level puzzles, I learned how and why to alternate Nayuta’s sword swings with Noi’s spellcasting. Where even Noi’s most powerful magic whiffed wispily through the sorcery-adepts haunting the upper floors of the tower, Nayuta’s physical attacks struck the mark. Different enemies are susceptible to different types of damage (another Ys, and I assume Zwei, staple), and knowing which to deploy at any given time appears crucial. Other enemies, like the large and apparently hungry lions I also faced during my climb, require skillful application of dodge rolls to deal with, and offered great practice positioning key i-frames to invulnerably intercept enemy attacks.

And by great practice, I mean they almost ate me for breakfast. Mercifully, level ups mete out a full restore, saving my sorry skin just in the nick of time, clinging as I was to an almost invisible scrap of health near the end of the stage. The full heal managed to get me through the level, but I exited eager for a return trip to rectify my poor performance — perhaps once the full game is out.

But speaking of replaying stages, Legend of Nayuta invites exactly this. You see, Nayuta revolves around the concept of seasons, the in-game rotation of which affords each action stage a degree of replayability. My go at this level occurred during in-game summer (and real-life summer, go figure). Revisit a stage during another in-game season, I was told, to discover different paths and, presumably, nab new treasures. The more you discover, the closer you notch each stage towards 100% fulfillment, reaping such rewards as upgraded sword skills. The game displays your completion rating at the conclusion of each stage. Like this, Nayuta charges up its core action-roleplaying with the alternate current of a nostalgic collectathon sure to electrify completionists.

Nayuta faces a large mechanical boss in a circular arena.
The bosses, imposing and impressive, are Nayuta’s true highlight.

After clicking through my results screen, I was off to the next stage, a battle against a screen-dominating boss at the temple’s summit. In the Anglosphere, Legend of Nayuta’s boss battles have become a bit urban-legendary, said to be some of the most impressive in the entire Falcom oeuvre and mythologized all the more by the game’s longstanding English unavailability. Now that I number among the Nayuta-initiated, I see it’s no exaggeration, at least if the foe I fought — an imposingly armored, impossibly sized fish — was any indication. This boss was no pushover either: I succumbed rapidly and repeatedly to each of its multiple stages, war-flashbacking all the while to my first time playing Felghana on Nightmare, long teenage nights spent mangling the definition of “Just one more try.” The sad part? I’m pretty sure I was playing Nayuta on Normal mode.

My constant failure taught me one thing, though: swapping your loadout on a per-situation basis and considering playstyles outside the one you settle on as a staple can mean the difference between graceless floundering and near success. After menuing out my one-handed sword for a mega-sized zweihänder more suited, evidently, to dealing with fish-face’s tentacle-chocked second phase, I came sliver-close to victory. Still, no cigar. I’m nursing my wounded pride and saving the grudge match for the full release. Regardless, Nayuta’s boss battles are clearly a high-water mark, skyrocketing the game’s tight action design and sound mechanics to rollercoasterish heights.

The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is out on PS4, Switch, and Windows via Steam, in English at last, on September 19th in North America and September 22nd in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. We thank NIS America once again for the opportunity to try the game prior to launch.

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Kiyan Mullen

Kiyan Mullen

Like so many kids in the early 2000s, Kiyan cut his RPG teeth on Pokémon, trying to catch ‘em all into the wee hours of the night. Now he’s spreading the love for RPGs as part of RPGFan’s social media team. When he isn’t playing RPGs, he’s reading or writing about them. And when he’s not doing that, he’s trying to watch, read, listen to, or otherwise consume every piece of Doctor Who media in existence.

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