April 21, 2024
Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero [PS4]

Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero [PS4]

If you’ve been reading the PS blog for a while, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I like The Legend of Heroes series from Nihon Falcom. In recent years, the Trails of Cold Steel series, also known as the Erebonia story, has been released in the West. The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is the first of two parts of the Crossbell story set before Trails of Cold Steel and was originally released in 2010 on the PlayStation Portable, but this is the first time it has been released in the West with an official translation to English.

Crossbell’s police force has created a new unit led by rookie Lloyd Bannings and has a motley crew of people from different backgrounds. The redheaded girl charmer Randy, a mysterious woman named Elie and the 13-year-old electronics genius Tio. The aim is to raise the status of the police with ordinary people by helping with requests from the public and clearing monsters where they appear. Competition from the Bracer organization has caused the police to lose popularity and this has led to the creation of the Special Support Section, or SSS as it is known.

The speech bubbles offer hand-drawn versions of the characters that otherwise have a chibi style.

The main characters in Trails from Zero have been in later parts and it is inevitable that I make some comparisons as both terms and game mechanics have a large overlap. The story feels significantly less police-like and more down-to-earth than in the Erebonia parts, but that may change as I’ve probably made it through half the game at the time of writing. As expected, the dialogue consists of a lot of text and I’m more bothered than I expected that the voices are only in Japanese. When I watch anime I always prefer original language with subtitles, but here I would have liked a dubbing of the voices. Overall, it is noticeable that the script is more concise than later parts and the conversations come to a head faster and are generally more straight to the point.

All characters are rendered in a chibi style except for hand-drawn versions when they speak, and the relatively expressionless doll-like figures don’t convey the same depth of emotional spectrum that they would have with more detailed appearances. Overall it feels like I’m playing a 12 year old game where the object models are really angular and the textures are very low resolution. However, the performance is phenomenal and the loading times both when I go into battle or when I fast travel or change screens are lightning fast. In addition, there is a built-in turbo mode that can speed up the entire game.

The battle screen offers well-balanced information while allowing you to see the attacks in the middle.

Despite some criticism, Trails from Zero is a really good Japanese role-playing game that mixes mysteries with humor and a solid game loop. I really enjoy helping the residents of Crossbell City with things like finding the owner of a found kitten or clearing a deserted house of a monster invasion. Even though I visited the majority of the locations in later games, there is a joy of discovery and the collector in me wants to open all the chests and see all the monsters there are. The turn-based combat system is relatively similar to that of Trails of Cold Steel and is really high class. And if you like mini games, there is a casino with various games of chance and, perhaps not completely unexpectedly, a fishing system. However, it feels a bit simple and becomes more of a way to collect more stuff than relaxation from other chores.

The system of upgrades through a combination of equipment and magic stones is absolutely top class and a little later in the game you can direct your characters towards different roles. For example, I try to have a tank with a lot of defense and health and one that is better at avoiding being hit and doing counterattacks while the last two are built against offensive and defensive magic respectively. The fact that that system is completely decoupled from rank or professions feels liberating and gives an incredible dynamic to adapt the battles to how you want to play them.

Maybe there will be both dog whispers and dancing with wolves…

I’m very fond of Falcom’s soundtracks and Trails from Zero is no exception. Whether you’re scouting for monsters in a dark clearing or fighting mafia members, you can be sure that there’s an atmospheric and fitting piece of music to accompany you. And if you find yourself in battle with a more powerful enemy, the electric guitars will come just like usual. The music, just like in all role-playing games, is incredibly important and enhances my experience both one and two notches.

If, like me, you like The Legend of Heroes series and can look past some outdated graphics, then you absolutely cannot miss The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, which not only provides context for characters you may have already met in the third and fourth installments, but also an exciting and interesting story on its own. Crossbell is a tiny country right in between the great powers of Erebonia and Calvard and will be drawn into the inevitable war whether they like it or not and every piece of the puzzle to get more information about the world wide events is welcome.

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