It’s been 84 years.
Okay, not really, but when it comes to The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and its sequel, Trails to Azure, it certainly feels like it’s taken forever for these titles to see a Western release. After all, it’s been over a decade since the Crossbell games, as they are jointly known, were released in Japan on PSP, and many fans had lost hope that there would ever be official English versions for them to play. After years without word from Falcom or its localization partners, a group of extremely dedicated fans took it upon themselves to translate these two massive games. Calling themselves Geofront, after the in-game location, they eventually released localization patches for the PC versions of both games in 2020 and 2021, respectively. This was a huge boon for fans who had been waiting patiently to play this duology, but buying legal copies of the games was still a bit of a hassle, particularly for Trails to Azure, which had only been released on PC in China at that point.
As protagonist Lloyd says, however, the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable barriers is never zero. And sure enough, news broke last year that NIS America had reached an agreement with Geofront to officially bring Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure to the West, and on multiple platforms to boot! The partnership uses Geofront’s English script as the basis for the official localization, and many of the quality-of-life additions that the fan team implemented in their patches — including turbo mode and a message log — are included. Throw in other bonuses, like the voice acting from the Evolution versions of the games and the extra content from the Kai versions released in Japan on PS4, and these releases are not just serendipitous but damn near definitive. Still, the question looms: are these games worth the wait?
Trails from Zero takes place in the autonomous state of Crossbell, a small but influential nation sandwiched in between the much larger and more powerful Erebonian empire and Calvardian republic. Being located in such a strategically important area has made Crossbell the subject of much controversy and conflict between Erebonia and Calvard, both of whom claim the state is rightfully theirs. This never-ending tug of war between the two superpowers of western Zemuria has had a profound effect on Crossbell and its people, a twisted reality that our heroes, the members of the newly formed Special Support Section, must confront over the course of the game. Along the way, they must deal with warring mafia, corrupt politicians, and something even more sinister lurking in the shadows that threatens not just their beloved Crossbell, but all of Zemuria.
Unlike other games in the Trails series, the playable cast of Trails from Zero is quite small. For the vast majority of the game, your party consists solely of the four SSS members: Lloyd Bannings, a rookie detective; Elie MacDowell, a prim and proper sharpshooter; Tio Plato, a soft-spoken and gifted engineer; and Randy Orlando, a womanizing former member of the Crossbell Guardian Force. This smaller main cast is arguably one of the game’s greatest strengths, as it allows for more character development and interaction. After finding myself exhausted by the bloated cast from Trails of Cold Steel IV, trust me, less is more. Each of these main characters gets ample time to shine, and aside from some tropes that Falcom just can’t seem to give up — like the gifted male lead unknowingly attracting all the ladies — they’re all great characters that players will find endearing.
Just like the core cast is on the smaller side, the locales of Trails from Zero are a bit more static than in other games in the series. Crossbell City itself is massive, with a bunch of different districts, and there are also a few villages and dungeons outside the city that you travel to throughout the game. But unlike the Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel games, which generally send you to a different location with each chapter, you’ll spend a lot of your time retreading the same areas and talking to the same NPCs. There are positives and negatives to this approach. On the plus side, you really get to know the city and its denizens, many of whom have little mini-arcs you can follow over the course of the game. On the other hand, this does mean that location fatigue can set in toward the end of the game, even though most chapters send you to at least one new location.
Of course, as one would expect for a Trails game, there is a lot of reading to do in Trails from Zero between chatting with NPCs and watching story cutscenes. Given the unique circumstances of the game’s release, fans are probably especially curious about how this localization has turned out. I’m happy to report that overall, the script reads well and feels mostly natural, outside of a few awkward sentences here and there. It’s worth noting, however, that while the vast majority of the script is error-free, I did notice occasional typos.
While you spend most of your time in Trails from Zero running around the city, completing quests, and watching cutscenes, you also have to fight a ton of monsters and baddies. The combat system will feel very familiar to anyone who has played the Trails in the Sky games, and it comes with many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Battles take place on an isometric grid, with allies and enemies trading blows according to a turn order that appears in the top left corner of the screen. Various bonuses (and sometimes detrimental effects) randomly appear on certain turns, so manipulating turn order can be advantageous. As you deal and receive damage, you build a meter that allows you to unleash powerful attacks called crafts. These skills can be useful for a variety of reasons, from straight damage to canceling enemy attacks to even healing the party. Each party member can also cast magic via battle orbments, and the element system that determines what spells you have available is virtually unchanged from the Trails in the Sky games.
“New” to Trails from Zero are the team rush and combo craft features. The former is a random turn bonus that allows the entire party to assail a group of enemies at once, and the latter allows two characters to combine their crafts into a powerful attack. I say “new” because while Trails from Zero is the first game in the series to implement these mechanics, players may already be familiar with them from their evolved implementation in the Trails of Cold Steel games. Additions like these are nice because while the battle system is tactically satisfying, it can also feel slow at times — yet another reason why turbo mode is much appreciated.
Moving on to visuals, it’s important to remember that this was originally a PSP game released in 2010. The graphics are understandably dated and appear similar to those seen in the Trails in the Sky games: sprites and simple 3D geometry. However, unlike its predecessors (and successors), Trails from Zero does not allow you to rotate the camera outside of battle. Instead, the camera rotates automatically as you move through areas to give you a slightly more cinematic view. It takes a little getting used to but quickly becomes natural, and there are some fun changes in perspective at times to help you appreciate the scenery.
The PC version, in particular, is probably about the best this game has ever looked. NISA brought on the legendary Durante and his studio PH3 Games to handle the PC and Switch ports of Trails from Zero, and the results are fantastic. From high-resolution textures and sprites to improved anti-aliasing and UI features, almost everything looks smooth and clean. Unfortunately, the PS4 version did not get the same treatment; it’s just a straight release of the Kai version Falcom developed two years ago, and it contains all the blurry assets that made that version look like a downgrade next to the original (and much older) PC port. As a result, I sadly can’t recommend picking the game up on PS4, unless that platform is your only option.
Last but not least, a brief word about one of the best aspects of any Trails game: the music. Trails from Zero has a wonderful soundtrack, and I will admit that part of my excitement about getting to play this game again is having another chance to experience the music. Crossbell City is so large that several areas have their own themes, and each of the main thoroughfares leading out of the city has unique music. Area themes change with time of day or main story events, and most of these pieces are pretty catchy head-boppers. “Get Over the Barrier!” is probably one of the best main battle themes in the series, and the “Roaring Version” heard near the end of the game is utterly fantastic. While some of the boss themes are a bit on the weak side, Trails from Zero introduces perhaps the best boss theme in the entire series, “Inevitable Struggle,” and if you like the in-game version, I implore you to check out the Super Arrange version. (Actually, check out the entire Super Arrange album for Trails from Zero — it’s incredible!)
The title Trails from Zero is particularly apt because the Special Support Section literally starts from nothing and has to work hard to rise to prominence in a city where police are seen as incompetent and corrupt. They face many barriers as they struggle to justify their existence, and in true Trails fashion, the road is long and slow at first. But if there’s one thing Lloyd and his friends are good at, it’s overcoming the seemingly impossible odds stacked against them. They even managed to beat the incredibly low chances that the Crossbell games would ever come out in the West. It’s been a long time coming, but to answer the question I posed at the start of this review, the wait has definitely been worth it.