Hearing that Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero got announced for localization increased my hope that the same would happen to Trails to Azure as well. Luckily the new localization took on both games with Geofront. Geofront was a very passionate team that worked on a fan translation and quality-of-life advancements for the Crossbell Arc. They were picked up by NIS America to work on these two games, specifically with the same translation they put so much effort into making.
Game Name: The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure Platform(s): PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC (Reviewed) Publisher(s): NIS America Developer(s): Nihon Falcom Release Date: March 14th, 2023 Price: $49.99
Trails to Azure starts a few months from the ending of Trails from Zero, so I must say, go play that game, then come back to this review if you don’t want to be spoiled on minor details. Or if you’re completely new to the series and don’t know where to start, then give our “Starting The Legend of Heroes? Introduction To The Trails Series” a read.
The Special Support Section department of the Crossbell Police Department gives some individual training to our friends at the Special Support Section. Lloyd gets picked up for some training in the first-class department of the detective side of the Police Department. Randy gets to look after the survival training of the Guardian Forces Department. Tio does some more research on Orbment technology, and Elie gets to do some more training at the behest of Speaker MacDowell. Trails to Azure explores the after-effects of the cult that almost took control of the city of Crossbell. Two new people are inducted into the Special Support Section. Noel Seeker, a Sergeant Major in the Crossbell Guardian Force, and Wazy, a man who helped the downtown district of Crossbell as a gang leader.
Return to Crossbell
Trails to Azure doesn’t shake up the formula very much from the previous game, Trails from Zero. There are a few more additions that it does make. First and foremost, for most of the game, you’ll have a party of six characters. You will now have to worry about figuring out who you want for your main party of four. You will have the same four characters of Tio, Elie, Lloyd, and Randy, but now you will be joined by Noel and Wazy. The chapter consists of getting support requests from Crossbell that you can do optionally or just focus on the urgent quests to advance the story. You can also find side quests by talking to NPCs throughout Crossbell and seeing if there are hidden ones that are not monitored from the support terminal in the Special Support Section terminal.
The battle system is run similarly in Trails to Azure as in Trails from Zero. It is a turn-based system that is orchestrated by touching an enemy in the overworld. There are no random encounters with this game. You have four main gauges you will be keeping track of. Health points determine the amount of health your character has. EP or Energy Points determine what arts or spells you can utilize. CP or Craft Points determine what kind of craft or abilities you can use on the battlefield. A new addition is the burst gauge. As you are dealing damage or taking damage, the burst gauge at the top fills during combat. Once it is full, you can activate burst mode. This stops all enemy turns and adds only your character’s turns as a priority.
You can do as many arts, and crafts or just attacks as the burst gauge goes down based on the type of action you use. Once the burst gauge is back to zero, burst mode ends, and the turns go back to normal order. In one of the fights, I cheesed burst mode to get rid of all my debuffs and get the kill. A lot of the boss fights utilize debuffs on your characters that can get pretty annoying. I started to use accessories that would prevent certain ones on boss fights so I wouldn’t just have Elie or Tio unable to use arts. Or Lloyd is unable to move. Throughout the combat, the two party members not in your party will still be able to activate support moves that seem to happen at random.
If you do enough critical hits, or if you just start a fight as an ambush, you get a high chance to activate a team rush attack. Team rush starts, and each character will do a single hit against all enemies on the field at once. It can be a quick kill everything on the field move, or it can be a moment of dealing heavy damage to an enemy you are struggling with. The best part of killing all enemies on the field with a team rush is it adds a bunch of multipliers to the experience you gain after a fight. You get multipliers based on criteria such as killing multiple enemies with one move, having a supporting character kill an enemy, or not getting hurt in the battle. It is a good way to gain experience by ambushing an enemy and launching a team rush attack early on in the fight to kill all the enemies.
One thing I enjoyed was the way the world was built based on the events of the previous game. You start in the first game in the Crossbell arc as someone who is doubted because you are on the police force. In this game, you become the one part of the police force that gets trusted by the people and, as a result, will get a lot of great interactions in Trails to Azure that directly mirror the interactions of Trails from Zero. There is a lot of payoff from events from the first game in this arc, and in some cases, it made me feel a bit misty-eyed. Certain events near the end chapters also made me flat out bawl my eyes out because of how special these moments were with the characters I learned to love with the Trails series. Characters from Trails in the Sky show up in even greater numbers than in the first game.
Since Trails to Azure is a direct sequel to Trails from Zero, I would not recommend playing this game without playing the first one. I was able to notice I was rusty on my ability to navigate Crossbell when a side quest would tell me to go somewhere in the city, and I would be baffled at where it was located. It is due to Trails to Azure not helping you understand the locations of things that I recommend Trails from Zero first. You get a solid baseline of characters and locations in Crossbell that you would otherwise be confused about if you were to skip that game to play Trails to Azure.
A New Special Support Section
I noted in the previous game that I came into a few technical issues with frame stutters and some issues with blurring on faster FPS settings. Fortunately, I can say in Trails to Azure that many of those issues have been fixed or remedied. I was able to achieve a solid 144 frame rate on my current computer setup with my NVIDIA RTX 3060 at a solid 1080p. That said, I found myself gearing myself more toward how the game looks on the Steam Deck. The Steam Deck runs this game flawlessly on a 720p setting with 60 FPS, which makes the platform the perfect place to play it, without being tied down. I also tried to dock this game on the Steam Deck and could run it at an upscaled 4k from 1080p native resolution. The lines on buildings would blur a bit but not enough that it would distract me from the rest of the game. A solid experience all around and well-optimized.
The visuals in this game are still stylized 3D chibi models, but the animations and presentation seem to be vastly improved. I was honestly surprised at how good the train sequences and car chases looked. It could be due to the lighting of these scenes, but it grabbed my attention and made me so hyped to see the vehicles in motion. Many of those scenes also played around with the sun shining on the world in unique ways. It is hard to describe, but the picture I put down below will help make my point understood better.
Overall, Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure takes the storytelling and world-building of Trails from Zero and builds upon it in giant strides. Characters get fleshed out even more, with a lot of the questions getting answers. We get more insight into the history of Crossbell as well as the world of Zemuria in general. This may not be the best place to start, but this game feels like a home run with how it deals with the darker themes of Crossbell and the characters in this world in general. The voice actor for Lloyd did some amazing acting for some impactful moments, and one of those screams will never leave my mind. I highly recommend the Crossbell arc in its entirety to everyone who wants a story built with some astonishingly well-written characters.
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The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is the peak of storytelling, character writing, and worldbuilding. With enhanced visuals and solid dungeon design this game is an absolute must play for anyone who wants to see video games as a medium of narratives.
Lots of payoffs from Trails from Zero
You will love these characters
Worldbuilding is well done
Do not start the Crossbell Arc with this game, you will be confused.