The Legend of Heroes Series: Where to Start?
Developer Nihon Falcom is well known by RPGamers for two long-running series: Ys and The Legend of Heroes. While we have already provided some insights on getting into the Ys series, a host of localized The Legend of Heroes releases currently planned for 2022 and 2023 affords us a nice opportunity to point players as to where they might start their adventures. Several of the staff members at RPGamer have put together their thoughts on the games and the different starting points for first-time players.
By Alex Fuller, Joshua Carpenter, Matt Masem, Luis Mauricio, and Elmon Dean Todd
A Brief Introduction
Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series is primarily known for its interconnected Trails/Kiseki games, of which there are currently twelve titles, but its history runs all the way back to Dragon Slayer, a series touted as the forerunner of action JRPGs. The first two games with the Legend of Heroes moniker — Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes and Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II — are considered the sixth and seventh games of that series, though by that point they had already diverged from action combat to the turn-based systems fans are familiar with.
One area that The Legend of Heroes is notable for is localizations. Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes did get a western release in 1992, but after that it took until 2004 and The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion, a remake of the fifth game (and second entry in the Gagharv trilogy), for it to appear in the west again. Although all three Gagharv PSP remakes were localized, Bandai did such an atrocious job — more on this later — that it wouldn’t have been surprising if Nihon Falcom abandoned any future international release attempts.
Fortunately, XSEED Games came on board for Trails in the Sky and did exactly the opposite of Bandai. The localizations of the Trails in the Sky games were — and still are — a gold standard, bringing many fans on board and inspiring a new generation of localizers. This did come with some timing issues, as the incredible amount of text and the time needed to give it the full effort it deserved meant that by the time Trails in the Sky Second Chapter and Trails in the Sky the Third made it out in the west, the PSP had been fully replaced by the Vita. NIS America took over for Trails of Cold Steel III and all subsequent western releases, but has carried on where XSEED Games left off.
At this point, The Legend of Heroes is synonymous with the Trails series, especially in the west, and Nihon Falcom doesn’t have any intention of changing that any time soon. All of the mainline Trails games take place on the continent of Zemuria and, including the most recent Japanese release, they currently cover a period of around seven years. The continent is currently in a place of upheaval somewhat reminiscent of the industrial revolution following the invention of Orbal technology, which is based on self-replenishing energy generated by gemstones called Septium. Within Trails there are more sub-series of titles, each largely based within one of the nations or powers within Erebonia. Trails in the Sky is set in the largely peaceful kingdom of Liberl, while the Trails of Cold Steel games take place in its domineering northern neighbour, the Erebonian Empire. However, events in one place often have drastic and major influences on the goings-on elsewhere, leading to a complex assortment of groups, factions, and plot threads as numerous characters put in important appearances throughout.
Considering this, it’s certainly no surprise that any newcomer to the series would be intimidated by the sheer amount of lore and important people that they might have to catch up on. Fortunately, this is something that Nihon Falcom is acutely aware of and — despite the fact there are eleven games telling the chronological, interconnected story of Zemuria — the developer has actively designed it to have multiple entry points. While some of the larger story elements may require additional efforts to fully wrap one’s head around, each arc is well contained and players are made aware of all of the important details. Of course, newcomers may be missing out on the history and relative importance of some characters to events elsewhere, particularly those that made their debuts in previous titles, but the games largely do a fine job sorting the wheat from the chaff.
For our Where to Start guide, we have elected to list the mainline Trails games in their Japanese release order (even if that’s not the order we end up recommending) and group them where appropriate given their story arcs. After that we’ll take a quick look into the Gagharv trilogy and Dragon Slayer entries, before finishing off with a few spin-offs. We hope you enjoy learning and reading about the series and invite our readers to provide their own thoughts in the comments.
Trails in the Sky First Chapter & Second Chapter
Available on: PC, PlayStation Portable
Japan-only: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Released as The Legend of Heroes VI: Sora no Kiseki in Japan, Trails in the Sky is the start of the Zemuria saga and the Trails/Kiseki series as a whole. It takes place in the Liberl Kingdom and puts players in the shoes of Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua, who join the Bracer’s Guild to take on quests to help the local populace. Through these quests, Estelle and Joshua eventually uncover the major plot points of the game whilst exploring Liberl, complete with rich and immersive world-building. The second game, Trails in the Sky Second Chapter, picks up directly after the first game, where Estelle faces an organization causing trouble across Liberl, all while traversing the locations of the first game all over again.
The gameplay in Trails in the Sky revolves around characters traversing a field and town map in the traditional JRPG style. Combat in both games consists of a turn-based system incorporating a grid allowing for both character and enemy movement and area-of-effect abilities to play a role while characters have normal melee attacks, magical attacks called Arts, and skill attacks called Crafts. Turn order also plays a key role with bonuses assigned to certain turns, and a large part of the strategy comes from players manipulating the turn order to their advantage. The second game utilizes essentially the same system, albeit with a few modifications such as Chain Crafts. The pacing of both titles leans towards the slow side, allowing players to relax and explore the world at their leisure. The true gems, however, are the story, the rich lore, and, of course, the music. The theme song, ‘The Whereabouts of Light’, has a very memorable melody that is consistent with the quality of music Nihon Falcom is known to produce, which remains a consistent highlight across the entire Trails series.
The two games originally released in Japan on PC in 2004 and 2006, respectively. The west did not see the first title until 2011 when it was ported to the PlayStation Portable and localized by XSEED Games, with a localized PC release coming in 2013. Trails in the Sky SC managed to get a digital release on PC and PSP in 2015, almost ten years after it debuted in Japan. The later PC releases of these games are the superior experiences, as they incorporate higher definition assets from the Japan-only PS3 versions and have been updated with modern conveniences such as a turbo-mode which makes traversing Liberl a much quicker endeavor. Nonetheless, for those that value portability for lengthy JRPG experiences, the PSP versions have the same narrative content as the PC releases. For someone looking to get into the series, Trails in the Sky is a mighty fine entry point provided one doesn’t mind its slow start. Events are less directly important to subsequent titles than other entries, but it’s an ideal introduction to the world as well as the series’ major themes and story threads.
Trails in the Sky the 3rd
Available on: PC
Japan-only: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
After wrapping up Estelle and Joshua’s trails across Liberl, Falcom still wasn’t quite ready to move on to new locales on the Zemurian continent. Trails in the Sky the 3rd is a unique game in the series — not quite sequel, not quite epilogue — but sets up the events to come in both Crossbell and Cold Steel while also having a compelling narrative of its own. The 3rd stars Father Kevin Graham, the corny but lovable traveling priest who was a party member from time to time in the first two Trails in the Sky games. Kevin is a special agent in the Gralsritter, an order within the Septian Church tasked with hunting down magical artifacts. A new mission brings him to Liberl, along with his squire and childhood friend Ries Argent, a mere six months after the events of Second Chapter when a new artifact, the Recluse Cube, has been discovered.
During their investigations, the cube activates and transports Kevin and Ries to a mysterious different dimension called Phantasma. The dimension is a large dungeon that is filled with Sealing Stones that contain familiar faces from the first two games, and they join Kevin and Ries in their efforts to find a way out of Phantasma. The dimension also contains doors that have mini-games behind them or tell side stories related to the different characters that are found. It’s an odd design that allows the developers to jump around and elaborate on different events and bits of lore while introducing new characters and storylines that become central to the overall Trails series without dealing with the constraints of a linear narrative and a set lead cast. While players are getting a heavy dose of lore from the doors, the main story slowly peels away Kevin’s backstory in a way that makes him one of the best characters in the series.
Trails in the Sky the 3rd is a difficult game to make a recommendation on. It’s the least accessible localized game, only available in English on PC (though it should be noted that the system requirements are minimal). The structure does not lend itself to newcomers as the game expects players to have familiarity with the characters, events, and locales. However, Kevin is one of the best characters in the series and his story in 3rd stands on its own as strong and compelling. Further, Trails in the Sky the 3rd helps set up the next two arcs in the series with lots of characters and story beats getting introduced here and later fleshed out in Crossbell and Cold Steel games. The integration with the events in Crossbell is especially tight, with a number of plot points that are introduced in 3rd being referenced in the Crossbell games without being rehashed for newcomers’ benefit. So, TitS 3rd isn’t the best place to start, but even if a player has passed on FC and SC to move on to the Cold Steel games, it’s still recommended to give TitS 3rd a try. TitS 3rd also works well to play between Cold Steel II and III, serving to introduce a number of characters that play supporting roles in the latter two Cold Steel games.
Trails from Zero & Trails to Azure
To be released on: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Japan-only: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita
Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure, known in Japan as Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki, are the two titles that make up the Crossbell duology. Crossbell is a semi-independent city and economic zone located on the border between the large Zemurian powers of the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. While it doesn’t have a proper military, a Guardian Force protects the border and a police department deals with issues within the city. As the local police have garnered a reputation for corruption, Trails from Zero opens with the department establishing a Special Support Section to engender goodwill with the populace.
The Special Support Section’s charter allows for anyone in Crossbell to put in requests to the police, from exterminating monsters on the local roads to delivering packages or finding lost pets. If this sounds familiar, yes, it’s pretty much what Bracers do, and there are Crossbell PD officers that will point this out regularly to the four founding SSS members. Those members are: Lloyd Bannings, recent Crossbell Police Academy graduate; Elie MacDowell, granddaughter of the mayor; Tio Plato, a young female Orbal weapons expert; and Randy Orlando, a former Guardian Force member. The starting cast is excellently written, and each goes through personal story arcs throughout the games that make players really get to know their motivations, hopes, and dreams for themselves and Crossbell.
Gameplay for the Crossbell duology is a blend of Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel, understandable as these were developed between the two. The gameplay loop involves a chapter system with set days allowing players to complete optional requests while working on certain plot goals, all while overarching story beats weave their way through. Additional playable characters drop in and out throughout the games, and even if they don’t crack the four-person party, the standby characters will often jump into battles to use a special ability at mostly opportune times. Battles are mostly traditional turn-based affairs that take place on a grid. Characters move around and use regular attacks, Arts (magic), and Crafts (special abilities). The Arts and Crafts each have their own pool of points and a boost meter fills as battle progresses, allowing for additional moves and instant Arts casting. By utilizing all the battle system parts effectively, even bosses with massive pools of HP can be taken down efficiently and effectively.
The genius of the Crossbell games is how compact and rarely repetitive they are. The stories focus on a single city and a few small outlying towns and areas. Players will get to know the NPCs and areas well as they’ll encounter each dozens of times throughout the games, but with how the plot develops, this is a good thing. The encounters don’t seem repetitive as things are constantly taking place in Crossbell. Nihon Falcom’s excellent writing is on display from the first moment you strike up a conversation with the local Orbal saleslady to the final encounter with the neighborhood cat.
Despite being a separate arc, the Crossbell games are not the best place to jump into the Trails series. There are plenty of returning characters from the Trails in the Sky trilogy that play important parts in both Zero and Azure. While the games do a decent job of explaining most of their involvement along the way, there are plenty of things players will miss out on without context. If that’s not a big deterrent, perhaps major plot spoilers are. The two Crossbell games take place concurrently with the first two Cold Steel games. While the Cold Steel games reference Crossbell a bit, the Crossbell duology flat out spoils major plot points of Cold Steel and outright states one of the big twists that takes place in Cold Steel II. While Trails in the Sky is not necessary to enjoy the Crossbell duology, the Crossbell games would be better saved for after Cold Steel II. With Zero and Azure set to release in English in 2022 and 2023, there’s plenty of time to get those started.
Trails of Cold Steel I & II
Available on: PC, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Japan-only: Nintendo Switch
Initially released in Japan in 2013 and localized for western RPGamers in 2015, Trails of Cold Steel marked the debut of a new arc and takes players to a new nation, the Erebonian Empire. It’s the longest Legend of Heroes sub-series so far, with four games that can each exceed 80-plus hours, though it is divided into two distinct arcs with a time-gap between them. While many elements of preceding games — such as the use of quartz, a turn-based battle system, and the division of the story into chapters — continue as staples, others are transformed or expanded, such as fishing, cooking, and bonding with other characters. Visually, the series shows a more modern aspect, moving far from traditional sprite-based look. In addition, voice acting takes the series to another level. Though the beginning of this new arc is ideal for newcomers, they need to know what they are getting into: story-rich, time-demanding games.
In Trails of Cold Steel, players take on the role of a very likeable protagonist called Rean Schwarzer, a first-year student of Thors Military Academy. The game features a colorful array of teammates, teachers, and foes, with players able to have bonding moments with some of them. The story is one of its strongest assets, including a number of unforeseeable events and plot twists, and is divided into chapters marked by school field trips, with players getting used to the pacing after a little while. While those who haven’t played previous games won’t have problems understanding all the events, those who have played previous entries are rewarded with references to guilds, Bracers, and other things that appeared in earlier Trails games. Players explore many different locations, with a considerable number of quests with well-written characters and side activities such as playing cards and riding horses. The turn-based battle system is excellent, and the game offers a long yet pleasing adventure. Trails of Cold Steel is a great starting point because it is an iconic, top-class RPG that nicely introduces newcomers to the vast universe of elements that the series has to offer while leaving players thirsty for more. Some players will be intrigued about the game’s origin and will want to play previous entries, and the surprising ending will encourage others to play the sequel to tie up the many loose ends.
First released in 2014 in Japan and localized in 2016, Trails of Cold Steel II is a direct sequel that starts immediately after the unexpected ending of the first entry. Like with the other second-parters in this feature, even when the game does explain the main events and contains flashbacks, newcomers can definitely feel lost and overwhelmed since the cast is enormous. The game plays mostly the same as the previous one while making small additions: new mech battles, tweaks in the main battle system, and a airship to fast travel to other locations, among others. There are some minor differences between the versions, though none that relate to the content. The games were originally released on PS3 and Vita and supported swapping save files between the versions. However, the PS3 and especially the Vita versions do suffer from frame rate issues in some areas. The later PC and PS4 versions solve those performance issues and add other conveniences such as a turbo mode.
Going with Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II in that order is a good way to jump into the series, though perhaps with a palate cleansing in between because both are notably long time investments. Following Trails in the Sky, Trails of Cold Steel is the next best place to jump in from a narrative perspective, as it provides the beginnings of most of the major threads playing pivotal roles in the other titles in the series.
Trails of Cold Steel III & IV
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Trails of Cold Steel III is the title that saw NIS America take over localization of the series, so the company saw fit to ensure continuation by bringing several of those who had worked on previous western localizations into the fold. The game takes place a bit over a year after the events of Cold Steel II, and the Erebonian Empire has expanded, taking over both the city-state of Crossbell and the northern region of North Ambria. Rean Schwarzer returns as the main protagonist and is recruited to become an instructor at Thors’ newly established Branch Campus. It soon emerges that the Branch Campus is not exactly an expansion and the Empire’s powers seem happy to have it that way — keeping both students and faculty away from the main campus where Crown Prince Cedric has just enrolled.
Trails of Cold Steel III and Trails of Cold Steel IV are where the casts of the previous games, including Trails in the Sky and the Crossbell arc, fully converge. While it introduces a new set of characters along with the new Class VII, the old Class VII is ever present, and the ultimate conclusion to events in Cold Steel IV necessitates the involvement of nearly all major characters across Liberl, Erebonia, and Crossbell. The sheer amount of character and narrative depth is on full display, and the payoff of that effort comes with both games ensuring that players are run through an incredible roller-coaster of emotions.
Although Trails of Cold Steel III and IV end up carrying remarkably similar structures to the previous two games, they at least let players visit new locations around Erebonia not explored in those titles. An understandable consequence of four lengthy games with the same protagonist, there are times where certain traits and elements wind up being overly familiar — Rean’s fawning female fanbase being one trope that gets to be a bit much — but otherwise these showcase what Nihon Falcom does best: fully bringing to life the setting and making full use of its huge cast. Mechanically, combat is a minor evolution on that of the previous games, though Nihon Falcom eschewed the ring-theme command UI in favor of actions assigned to the D-pad and face buttons, which is intuitive and makes it quick to navigate the available options. The game also makes good use of the alternative combat involving mechs.
Trails of Cold Steel III and IV are really the culmination of what came before them. While Trails of Cold Steel III is a valid entry point to the series, it’s hard to recommend doing so if the possibility to jump in earlier is available. Although Nihon Falcom does as good a job as can be done to reconcile newcomers with past events, jumping in here means missing large parts of the setup, and though all of the required details can be imparted, it’s really not the same as coming to know the characters and world through the previous experiences.
Trails into Reverie
To be released on: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Trails into Reverie — aka Hajimari no Kiseki — is considered an epilogue to the Trails of Cold Steel sub-series and the Crossbell saga, occupying a somewhat similar transitional role to Trails in the Sky the Third. For the first time, the game features multiple point-of-view protagonists, each with their own parties, and looks to wrap up some of the lingering plot threads while extending and introducing others that look set to come into play down the line.
Trails into Reverie features three main protagonists on their own missions, but whose paths cross through the same areas multiple times. Two of these protagonists are intimately familiar to players of the previous sub-series, but the third is a mysterious masked character known simply as “C”. It takes place several months after the events of Trails of Cold Steel IV, with the political situation in Crossbell once again coming to the fore. The comments and reception suggest that it doesn’t do a huge amount to drive the series’ main story forward, but that it brings some appreciable closure to some of the aspects left unanswered at the end of Cold Steel IV.
In addition to the story, Trails into Reverie’s combat system very much picks up where its predecessor left off, and manages to extend the full list of playable characters even further. The main new element is its Cross-Story system, which allows players to swap between the playable parties at their choosing rather than being pushed into a predetermined order of events. There is also the addition of the True Reverie Corridor, a randomly-generated dungeon, though this comes off simply as a way for players to indulge in some fanservice conversations or have fun putting together certain party mixtures rather than anything else.
Given the game is an epilogue to its previous threads, it’s very hard to mark Trails into Reverie as an appropriate jumping-on point and will be best tackled after the Trails of Cold Steel games at minimum, with the Crossbell saga also strongly recommended. It certainly seems more geared towards fans looking for one last hurrah from the Erebonia and Crossbell crews before the series moves to new places or looking to see what’s next in the deeper plot threads still to be resolved.
Kuro no Kiseki
Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Japan-only)
Kuro no Kiseki is the latest entry in the series at the time of writing, released in Japan in September 2021, though Nihon Falcom has wasted no time in announcing Kuro no Kiseki II. It marks the start of a brand new sub-series with the game taking players to the Calvard Republic, Erebonia’s prime superpower rival. As enjoyable as the time spent around Erebonia and Crossbell has been, players have spent a long time in the same locales with the same cast and the sense that this game brings with it a very welcome breath of fresh air to the series is inescapable.
The trip to Calvard continues the series’ technological progress, as it gives off a slightly more modern feel than the previous locations, as an economic boom means vehicles and traffic lights are common sights and its capital city even has its own subway. Protagonist Van Arkride comes off differently from the previous protagonists as well, being in his mid-20s for one, but also having a less idealistic outlook on life in general. While Nihon Falcom has always managed to do well at offering deep casts, the protagonists have largely followed a theme, and it’s nice to see the protagonist branching out a bit more, with the reaction towards Van from Kuro no Kiseki’s Japanese release having been very positive. While the major players are new, it isn’t all fresh faces, and long-time fans will get to see some returning characters and enjoy their company again.
Although not quite as big a change graphically as from the Crossbell duology to Trails of Cold Steel, Kuro no Kiseki does make a major change to combat. Players are able to switch between real-time and turn-based modes, making for a title that should have very broad appeal across the JRPG fanbase. It’s an interesting approach and it’s hard to not be curious about how well Nihon Falcom will be able to balance them together. Another new addition is an alignment system; this affects Vans relationship’s with factions within Calvard and how he completes various sidequests.
Kuro no Kiseki may well be a decent jumping-on point for newcomers, and its hybrid combat system looks geared to try and offer maximum broad appeal. But similarly to those who join in at Trails of Cold Steel III, new players should expect to have to play some significant catch-up on a lot of events, themes, and characters that are likely to have major roles or impact as the series heads into its supposed second half. Given NIS America already has the full slate of Trails games scheduled for the next couple of years, it will be a pleasant surprise to see Kuro no Kiseki in English before 2024, so one may as well use the opportunity to jump in earlier.
Available on: PlayStation Portable
Japan-only: PC, Sega Saturn, PlayStation
The Gagharv trilogy is infamous thanks to the complete butchering of localizations when the games finally released in the west. Unpolished and confusing translations that result in nonsense sentences are joined by line breaks in completely the wrong places due to no consideration for differences in character lengths. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting set of titles for those curious to see the beginnings that would develop into the Trails games.
Originally released in Japan in the mid-1990s, it took over a decade for the games to make it west through the PlayStation Portable remakes. Things are made even more confusing by the fact that they were released out of order. The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is actually the first title, while the other two titles — The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion and The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean — act as somewhat distant prequels, though Song of the Ocean should be played last regardless, as it is meant to act as the conclusive part revealing the full connections between the games.
The games don’t have the full trappings of the Trails series, but there are definite elements that get their starts here. Considerable effort has been made in giving the world a detailed history and adding interesting NPCs with their own personal stories to bring life to the world, as well as lots of supplementary reading material. However, the gameplay is definitely not on the same level as their successors’ and there’s nothing not readily seen in other RPGs. The story, which might have been a strong point, is rendered useless with the atrocious localization. For some more in-depth thoughts on the particular titles in the Gagharv trilogy, it’s worth checking out our previous Editor-in-Chief Michael A. Cunningham’s retroviews of the three games, but there’s currently no need to jump into the Gagharv trilogy unless one wants to be an RPG historian.
Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes I & II
Available on: TurboGrafx-CD (Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes only)
Japan-only: PC, Super Famicom, Sega Mega Drive, PlayStation, Sega Saturn
Delving into the world of turn-based RPGs, Falcom created The Legend of Heroes I & II, albeit attached to its Dragon Slayer moniker. These games have no relation to the story or plot of the other Dragon Slayer titles, and the subsequent Legend of Heroes titles shed themselves of this attachment entirely.
Both games take place in the world of Isrenhasa. The first game puts players in the role of Prince Serios (Logan in the solitary English release) of the Farlalyne Kingdom, which was beset by monsters when Serios was a little boy, causing him to flee to a small town until he was older. The second game takes place some years after the first one, with players controlling Prince Atlas, the son of Serios.
Both games have slight differences across their platforms. The PC Engine/TurboGrafx-CD version boasts animated cutscenes, while the later Mega Drive releases have improved game-engine graphics. The gameplay hasn’t aged well at all since players will spend almost the entire game in perpetual combat due to the extremely high encounter rate common during this era. In the traditional Legend of Heroes sense, the story and the music still hold out well, and these two factors alone are enough to warrant an extra look from ardent fans eager to experience its beginnings.
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails
To be released on: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Japan-only: PlayStation Portable
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is an action RPG spin-off of the Trails series that was originally released on the PlayStation Portable in Japan in 2012 and is finally due to get a localization thanks to a port to modern platforms. Most RPGamers would likely assume from that basic description that Nayuta would be a marriage of Ys-style combat with plenty of narrative nods to the extensive, interconnected lore that the Trails games are known for. However, Nayuta eschews those obvious expectations with a combat system that takes its cues from a much less well-known Falcom franchise, Zwei, and a narrative that is seemingly set in a different world and shares none of the familiar faces from the Zemurian continent. While this isn’t an obvious route for a Trails spin-off, Nayuta is one of the best games on the PSP not to get a western release and the port being localized is a real boon for RPGamers.
Like Zwei, Nayuta employs a dual-character combat system with the main character Nayuta doing melee attacks while his fairy-like companion Noi employs ranged magic attacks. Each is mapped to specific buttons and it’s easy to change magic attacks on the fly, allowing the combat to flow more quickly than the Zwei games. Nayuta manages to craft its own path with lots of platforming and exploration combined with some fantastic boss battles that match the best on the platform.
While the combat is fantastic and Nayuta has some impressive visuals for the PSP, the narrative is disappointing coming from a game sporting the Trails moniker. There are no obvious direct ties between Nayuta and the Trails games — though some reveals at the end of Cold Steel IV might provide the tiniest of threads to connect these games together. The story just isn’t a strength as Nayuta has a bland, one-note cast and a predictable story of a kid going to a magical world to help save it from a baddie intent on destroying it. The gameplay more than makes up for the story’s shortcomings, but players shouldn’t expect the narrative quality and interconnected characters and lore that Trails games are known for.
Given the limited, bordering on nonexistent, connections to the series as a whole, Nayuta can be played by anyone at any point. Despite being a good little action RPG, it’s important to keep in mind that Nayuta doesn’t act as representative of anything in the Trails series as a whole.
The Legend of Heroes: Akatsuki no Kiseki
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android (Japan-only)
The Legend of Heroes: Akatsuki no Kiseki originally launched as a browser game in Japan in 2016, with many ports arriving since. The game is created by UserJoy rather than Nihon Falcom, but the two collaborated on its story. It’s set during the events of Trails to Azure and follows a pair of Bracers who undertake requests in Crossbell, Liberl, and Remiferia, with them coming across various members of the series cast who can be used as party members (although those characters aren’t actively involved in the story). The game features a turn-based combat system that looks right at home in the series.
Though main series events are clearly referenced and influence story elements in the spin-off, it’s difficult to see whether any elements from Akatsuki no Kiseki itself will actually feed back into the main series. In addition, given there is currently no sign of a localization, at this point the game can be considered one only for die-hard Japanese-speaking fans who want see another developer’s take on the world.
Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga
Available on: PlayStation Portable (Japan-only)
Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki is a 3D arena fighter that mixes characters from the Ys games with the Trails in the Sky series. There are two different modes to play in the game: story mode and local multiplayer. The local multiplayer uses the PSP’s ad-hoc connection to allow two or four players to battle against one another. In story mode, there are several different characters to choose from — such as Adol from Ys and Estelle from Trails — and each character wakes up in a mysterious world and keeps encountering characters from their respective franchise who are acting strangely. The chosen character remedies this problem by literally beating the sense back into the others. After each battle, there are short story segments that tie into an overall story for the game, though it should come as no surprise that it’s not considered canon for either franchise.
The gameplay feels like the other PSP Ys games — it uses the same engine that Ys Seven is built upon — so it’s fast-paced and fun. Also, as expected of a Falcom game, the soundtrack is fantastic, interweaving series staples from both franchises while also providing plenty of new remixes. Despite never being localized, there is a fan translation for those who want to dabble in a bit of lighthearted fun.
Thanks for reading our Where to Start guide on The Legend of Heroes series. We hope that it is useful and it helps others enjoy a much-beloved series, and welcome readers’ own thoughts on the best entry points and play order. While our recommendation would be to begin with Trails in the Sky or Trails of Cold Steel if possible, whereever one chooses to jump in, there are going to be many hours of enjoyment waiting for them.