The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review (Switch)
Release Date: September 27, 2022
File Size: 3.1GB
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.3.5
Known for its expansive lore and deep battle system, the Trails series can be very intimidating to step into. And for those looking to take the plunge but are looking for games only on the Switch, your options are a bit limited. So with the release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, the Switch is slowly becoming a gathering spot for this series. If you’re only looking to take the plunge from the very beginning, then unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for the Trails in the Sky series to wander its way onto the Switch. Otherwise, Trails from Zero is available right now, and what an RPG it is.
When it comes to where in the timeline Trails from Zero takes place, it happens after the events of the Trails in the Sky trilogy and concurrently with the events of Trails of Cold Steel. As such, there will be some spoilers when it comes to characters and certain events if you haven’t played Trails in the Sky. Other than that though, Trails from Zero is a nice place to start off with for newcomers who don’t mind that fact, as prior knowledge isn’t necessary for understanding the plot. Of course, there will be world-building lore that may not make a whole lot of sense when it comes to the different kingdoms and territories, but it’s simple enough to connect the dots on how everything operates.
Crossbell is a trade city in the region of Zemuria. After the Non-Aggression Pact was signed, development in the city kicked into high gear and for the protagonist Lloyd Bannings, Crossbell looks completely different from the city he grew up in. Coming back home after living abroad, he’s joining the Crossbell Police Department to follow in his brother’s footsteps and to hopefully get some answers as to who murdered his brother and why.
Lloyd has been recruited into a newly created team known as the Special Support Section alongside Elie, Tio, and Randy. All four are rookies, but each has their own goals that they wish to accomplish within this team. However, you come to find that there’s a dark underbelly in the city of Crossbell and due to rampant corruption, it seems like only the Special Support Section can truly tackle the darkness that is threatening to overflow.
The storytelling in Trails from Zero is pretty captivating, especially once the climax of the story hits and things start moving in high gear. Along with action, there is quite a bit of political intrigue, both in terms of how Crossbell politics play out as well as relationships between rival gangs. It’s very easy to get invested in this world and, at the very least, want to see justice play out against those taking advantage of others. You’ll also see how the Special Support Section grows as they take on bigger missions, even with some people talking down on the team in general.
Trails from Zero goes through its major story elements in chapters, with the option of completing side quests along the way. Side quests have time limits, ranging from short to long. If you’re looking to complete all of the side quests available, it’s important to keep track of those timelines. Side quests can range from examining an area, defeating monsters, collecting items, and so forth. And while some of these side quests will automatically finish after completing the task, for the rest, you’ll need to speak with the quest giver in order to officially finish it out.
Much like the other Trails games, Trails from Zero is a turn-based RPG where you control a team of characters and face off against enemies. Enemies can be encountered while you’re traveling by interacting with their model, as well as required boss fights. Outside of battle, you’ll be traveling around Crossbell and its immediate surroundings, completing missions given to you by other characters in the game. There are four difficulties to choose from, from easy to nightmare and depending on how familiar you are with Trails and its combat system, choosing your desired difficulty can end up setting the tone of the game in terms of how difficult battles end up being for you.
Once combat has been initiated, you’ll see all characters displayed on the battlefield. If you’re facing random enemies, depending on how you initiated the battle, either you or the enemy can end up with a battle advantage at the beginning. Along with whether you or the enemy were ambushed, turn order is decided by speed. Turn order can be manipulated using specific skills, which can end up turning the tide of battle easily. During your turn, you can do one of the following: use a melee attack, use an Art, use a Craft, use an Item, or run away. Against regular enemies, you’ll probably find yourself using your melee attacks mostly, since they’re faster and usually do enough damage to not need Arts. But against bosses and tougher enemies, Arts are your bread and butter.
Arts are special skills that you are able to use at the cost of AP. Which Arts are available for use depends on the Quartz that you have equipped to your Battle Orbment. Arts happen in two phases: the first phase is when you initially select the Art you want to use and the second phase is when the Art is actually unleashed. Since Arts take a turn to charge, turn order is very important. Each Art has its own effects, such as a chance to give the enemy a status ailment or decreasing a stat for a set amount of turns. Making use of these abilities can make battles a lot simpler. If you’re not the type to enjoy doing character builds and just want to slap any old quartz onto your characters, you’ll probably run into issues with specific boss fights (especially late game).
Along with your Arts, you also have access to another type of attack known as a Craft. As you give and take damage, your CP gauge will slowly increase. You have a range of Craft skills that you can use, but it’s typically better to just wait until your gauge hits 100 (or even better, 200), to use your S-Craft ability. Using an S-Craft ability ignores turn-order and lets you attack at the next possible moment. The only downside is, should your character end up being knocked out, their CP gauge drops down to 0.
As you take on missions, there will be some dungeons that you’ll need to explore. These dungeons tend to be linear in fashion, with a few branching paths that have treasure chests with items or monsters inside. There are a few puzzles available in these dungeons, but given the linear nature, they’re simple to solve. At certain points, however, it can be hard to miss a staircase that leads to the next section or an interactable item, so you’ll want to make sure to keep your eyes open and navigate your character everywhere in a room.
Monsters will be prowling throughout dungeons. They don’t have a set pattern in how they move, so if you’re looking to hit them from behind to gain battle advantage, you may find yourself waiting for a few seconds. If an enemy does spot you before you can stun them from behind, they’ll start chasing you. None of the enemies are faster than you, so you should be able to run away with no problems. Entering into battle without battle advantage isn’t the worst thing, but it can end up drawing out battles longer than usual.
Orbments and Equipment
Upgrading your Orbment slots and making sure to keep up with your equipment and quartz are the main things that make or break battles. There are several slots on all of the characters’ Orbments that can hold quartz, although they will need to be unlocked first before any can be equipped. In order to unlock these slots, you’ll need Septum fragments, which drop from enemies as you defeat them. In general, you won’t need to heavily grind to get enough to unlock slots and create quartz. But at the same time, if you’re avoiding enemies, then you’re missing out on a huge source of Septum fragments. The cost to unlock and upgrade slots will increase as you go.
You can also create quartz using Septum fragments, which is one of the main ways to collect specific quartz types outside of finding them in treasure chests or through battle. Most quartz have higher levels, such as Attack 1, Attack 2, and Attack 3. In order to use the highest level quartz, your Orbment slots need to be upgraded.
Since character building is big in Trails games, it can be very overwhelming to figure out which quartz are best for which character. Of course, there are some characters that you can tell fit specific roles, such as Randy as your main offense while Tio is more support. But past that, there may be a feeling of not knowing how best to select quartz and actually handle battles. There are a lot of guides on character building in general with Trails and they’re very easy to understand for those looking to dip their toes into the pool. Otherwise, if you’re not the type to look at guides, you’ll have to play things by ear and experiment. Trails from Zero doesn’t go too deep into how to build your characters out, probably to give players the freedom of choice.
Along with your Orbment, you also have equipment that you’ll want to stay on top of upgrading. All characters have a weapon, a clothing item, boots, and two accessories that they can wear. And while you can find some equipment in treasure chests, you’ll need to stop by the store to purchase all of the upgrades that you need. Money can be a bit hard to come by, so the easiest way to get more money quickly is by exchanging Septum fragments at the bank. But of course, make sure that you have enough to exchange while also upgrading your Orbment and crafting quartz when necessary.
Trails from Zero was originally released on the PSP back in 2010. Therefore, the graphics and UI, while cleaned up compared to its original release, do show their age a bit. Like its predecessor, Trails in the Sky, Trails from Zero makes use of chibi models for all of its characters. And while they are adorable to look at, there is little in the way of emoting, given how small the models are. However, the 2D character sprites that appear during cutscenes does make up for that, showing clear pictures of each character and how they are feeling at any point.
The UI is passable, however the fact that several text based options weren’t added to the main menu, such as your Detective Book that contains all of the information about missions and side quests, is a bit confusing.
The environment of Crossbell and areas around it look really nice. Crossbell truly feels like a large, sprawling city, with each area giving a different feel. Along with its distinctive features, the city in general feels alive without feeling too overwhelming once you’ve explored everywhere and have gotten your bearings.
The music is very memorable, the type of music that will stick in your head while you’re adventuring around. It’s an excellent mix of blending into the background without being too boring. A lot of the tracks are very feel good and mellow, almost nostalgic in their tones as they bring back memories of playing JRPGs centered around adventuring. But along with those chill tracks, there are also some that follow up on the increasing intensity that the story has to offer.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is what I would call a quintessential JRPG. A great story told with a strong cast of characters, fun gameplay with a lot of room for experimentation, and an amazing soundtrack all wrapped up in one. It can be overwhelming for those who don’t have experience with Trails games, in terms of character builds and the amount of lore dumped on you. But it’s almost like jumping into a pool. Once you have your footing, it’s an enjoyable experience that shouldn’t be missed.