The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is the long-awaited fourth entry into Falcom’s popular Trails series of Japanese role-playing games, finally released in the west courtesy of NIS America. Originally released twelve years ago on PSP, Trails from Zero has received an excellent new port to modern platforms which combines modern conveniences and quality of life improvements. In addition, it has content added from various different editions of the game over the years, making this release the definitive way to play.
The premise is a solid hook
While Trails from Zero provides a tried-and-true turn-based RPG experience any JRPG fan will be familiar with, the real hook of the game is its storyline, characters, and unique setting. The game breaks from the previous Trails in the Sky games, which followed Bracers in the kingdom of Liberl, and instead focuses on a new, rookie division of the police in the city-state of Crossbell. This gives the game a unique feel compared to the Sky games, as you remain in one large city and its outlying areas, primarily doing detective work and working against organized crime.
Trails from Zero differs from other Trails games in that the core cast is quite small, consisting of only four characters for the game’s entirety.
The main character is Lloyd Bannings, a young man from Crossbell who has recently graduated from the Crossbell Police Academy and passed his Detective’s Exam with flying colors. He joins the CPD to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Guy Bannings, who was a top detective with the CPD that died in the line of duty three years prior to the start of the game.
Lloyd is kind and compassionate, with a strong sense of morality and dedication to his work. He is the glue that holds the whole group together, and his strong sense of intuition and problem-solving skills prove invaluable to the party even if he isn’t the strongest or smartest member. His primary conflict deals with stepping out of his brother’s shadow and finding his own path forward to protect his home of Crossbell.
Ellie McDowell is a wealthy young woman who comes from Crossbell’s political class. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the politics and culture of both Crossbell and the surrounding nations and is as intelligent as she is dedicated. Raised from birth to follow in her family’s footsteps and be a politician, she breaks from tradition to instead join the CPD, hoping to get real world experience and make direct change to the country she loves.
Ellie helps the group navigate the complex web of domestic and foreign politics in Crossbell and blend into high society when necessary for investigations. She is the most level-headed and mature member of the party, and Lloyd’s love interest.
Randy Orlando is a brash, flirtatious party boy who served in Crossbell’s Guardian Force. Laid back and carefree, he provides the game with most of its comic relief. However, it seems as though his womanizing nature and laissez faire attitude are a façade covering deep wounds from his mysterious past.
Randy acts as an older brother character for the rest of the cast, and despite his flirty antics he never crosses the line into being misogynistic or predatory like some characters from Japanese RPGs. He is by far the strongest member of the party and saves them from some sticky situations as the game progresses.
The last member of the party is Tio Plato, a child prodigy and expert in Orbal Arts and Orbal Networks. While all characters can use Arts, Tio serves as the party’s main mage and hacker. She was brought to Crossbell by the Epstein Foundation, a corporation at the forefront of Orbal technology which identifies young people with unique skills to help develop new technologies.
Tio first comes off as cold and calculating, almost like a robot, but softens as the game progresses and she bonds with the rest of the group. She is like a little sister to Lloyd and is the primary intel gatherer for the party.
The game begins with the four main party members coming to Crossbell City to join a new division of the Crossbell Police Department called the Special Support Section, or SSS. The SSS is a vanity project of the CPD, dedicated to taking civilian requests and burnishing the public image of the CPD which has been marred by the corruption that permeates the government of Crossbell.
Although the game has you playing as police officers, it can be quite critical of the role of police in society, directly acknowledging that the CPD exists to serve the demands of the politicians and wealthy elites, and not necessarily to protect the people.
This conflicts with the Bracer Guild, an independent, state-less organization which takes requests directly from citizens and is primarily concerned with helping and protecting people. The role of the SSS is very similar to the Bracer Guild, and the main characters constantly butt heads with the conflicting interests of both the CPD and the rival Bracers as they attempt to help civilians.
The primary antagonists of the game are the underground crime syndicate called Revache. Throughout the game, the SSS will take requests for help from civilians, and stumble repeatedly on plots by Revache, who are able to act with impunity due to their connections to the city’s political class.
Lloyd and co.’s pursuit of the mafia will see them mediating disputes between rival gangs of hooligans, investigating monster attacks, tracking down a hacker, saving a dancing troupe from an assassin, and even infiltrating a secret black-market auction. The game maintains a steady pace and the scenarios are interesting enough to keep the player engaged while building towards a climax that gets to the heart of the city’s corruption.
Like most Trails games, there are copious amounts of side content to complete, which flesh out the world and characters. A fishing mini-game provides a fun diversion, and there are lots of collectibles to hunt down and hidden side quests to find. It’s recommended to talk to every NPC you can for this reason, as they will often have new things to say or new quests to complete that you wouldn’t find otherwise. All these elements combine to give the game a very lived-in feel and make the world of the game come alive.
Trails from Zero mostly feels like a set up for what’s to come, as expected from what is part one of a two game duology. The game mostly wants to get you invested in the main characters and the world of Crossbell and spends a lot of time on character interactions and backstory. Thankfully, the writing is very good, concise enough to not bog down the player and flavorful enough to make you laugh at their antics and empathize with their struggles.
The setting of the game is one of the most interesting in the Trails series, as Crossbell is a city-state between the borders of the two largest and most powerful nations on the continent: the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. The two nations have been at war with each other in the past, and Crossbell was formed as part of a tenuous peace agreement between the two nations.
Due to this precarious situation between two rival powers, Crossbell’s politics are divided into factions which ally with either Erebonia or Calvard. This creates political gridlock in the country and allows corruption and organized crime to flourish, as Crossbell serves as a playground for the rich and powerful from Erebonia and Calvard free from the laws of their home countries. Crossbell is similar to real world city-states in Europe like Monaco or San Marino, which exist mostly as tax havens and entertainment spots for the rich and famous.
Crossbell is also incredibly technologically advanced due to investment from both Erebonia and Calvard, and is the testing ground for the Orbal Network, which is a primitive internet in the Trails universe. The infrastructure for this network exists beneath the city in a vast network of tunnels called the Geofront, which serves as a large dungeon the player will keep returning to throughout the game.
The outlying areas of Crossbell are more rural, with farming and mining towns, military bases at the borders, a hospital & medical college, and ancient ruins left by civilizations long since forgotten. These areas add some much-needed variety to the game, which keeps the player from ever being bored with staying in one place for too long. By the end of the game, the player will know the city like the back of their hand and be invested in the future of Crossbell and its people.
Combat and progression
The game’s combat system is a standard, turn-based system. Battles take place on a grid, and attacks will affect a certain radius of the battlefield. While the player can choose to move characters into position, melee attacks will move characters on their own and Arts (magic abilities) can be cast from any position, though they take a bit of time to cast.
There is a turn order on the lefthand side of the battle screen showing when both the player characters and enemies will act, and some abilities can manipulate the turn order by delaying enemy turns or speeding up your own. Occasionally, certain turn spots will confer bonuses, like a guaranteed critical hit or healing, and enemies can gain these bonuses as well, so the player needs to keep an eye on the turn order.
Which arts a character can use is determined by their Orbment, which is changed by slotting a different Quartz into each slot. Slots need to be unlocked by spending sepith, a reward from battle, and this sepith can also be used to create new quartz or exchange for money. Quartz has different colors which correspond to different elements of magic, and combining many different types of quartz in an orbment will grant access to new arts.
There are specific shops for creating quartz and unlocking orbment slots, and the player is encouraged to experiment with different combinations to get access to different spells as the game progresses. Powerful quartz are often rewards from chests or side quests, and some even grant passive bonuses outside of battle when equipped.
Crafts, on the other hand, are abilities unique to each character, which use a resource called Craft Points. Any action in battle will generate craft points, and characters can work together to use Combo Crafts, which are very powerful. As characters level up, they will get new craft abilities and as Lloyd’s relationship improves with his party members, they will unlock new combo crafts with him.
Equipment is mostly purchased from shops, with its inventory expanding as the player progresses in the game, but it can also be found from chests or dropped from monsters. Equipment mostly increases player stats, while accessories can protect the player from status ailments, increase stats or provide other unique benefits.
Trails from Zero is available on PS4, PC, and Switch. However, it is not the same game on all platforms. The PC and Switch versions are both new ports done by porting wizard Durante’s company, PH3 Games, and have a whole host of new features and visual enhancements. Chief among these are improved textures and a turbo function which can be fine tuned for both battles and movement on the field.
There are also a whole host of small improvements and additions, like a message log, soundtrack titles popping up when new music is played, etc. None of these improvements are present in the PS4 version of the game, as it is exactly the same as the PS4 version released in Japan. That means the PS4 version is a significant visual downgrade from the other two versions, without many of the additional features.
Players should only pick up that version of the game if PS4 is their only way to play. Luckily, the PC version is not demanding at all and should be able to run easily on most modern laptops and PCs, even those not designed for gaming.
Trails from Zero is a great game that any fan of classic JRPGs should play. While it takes place in the middle of the storyline, it’s okay to jump in with this one if you plan to go back and play the others before Trails from Azure comes out in 2023. The combat won’t wow you, but the story and characters are top notch and carry the game to its bombastic conclusion.
- Lovable characters
- Great world building
- Engaging storyline
- Combat is serviceable but nothing groundbreaking
- Dated visuals
- The PS4 version is missing features