How Crossbell Becomes an RPG Darling
For the longest time, it felt like western RPGamers would miss out on a release of Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. With the games — collectively referred to as the Crossbell duology — nestled between the Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel subseries, the necessary conditions for a western release did not materialise until this past year. That we have been able to enjoy them is thanks to the tireless efforts of The Geofront’s fan translation team, NIS America’s decision to make that translation official, and PH3 GmbH’s stellar PC and Switch porting work. It came just in time too, ahead of the western release of Trails into Reverie, which delivers a final and very welcome epilogue for both the Crossbell and Cold Steel arcs.
Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure’s smaller setting offers a slightly different flavour, albeit a very similar structure, to the Trails in the Sky and Trails from Cold Steel games. Rather than taking players on a tour of scattered parts of the country, players are kept within the small city state of Crossbell and the few towns and villages within its borders. The duology follows the exploits of the Crossbell Police Department’s newly-formed Special Service Section, led by rookie detective Lloyd Bannings, which is formed to help citizens in a similar manner to the highly-regarded Bracer Guild, helping build up the police’s reputation. Like the rest of the series, the game’s are very a slow burn than steadily rises to an inferno as intrigues and machinations of multiple groups come to a head.
Among dedicated series fans, the Crossbell games are frequently placed right at the top of the series, and is clear that Crossbell itself is a strong part of that. The city state itself has been around for 70 years, but is sandwiched between the two great powers of the continent of Zemuria, the Empire of Erebonia and the Republic of Calvard, which have both claimed control of it at various points across the years, and it remains a key focal point of tension between them. Crossbell is considered an autonomous region, not granted full independence and heavily restricted on what its government can do by both of those powers. Nihon Falcom’s in-depth examination of this status, looking at how this impacts the regular citizens, how others use these influences for their own gains, the challenges of those looking to make changes, and more helps Crossbell rise to the fore as one of the most standout locations across the entire RPG genre.
Despite its challenges, Crossbell has used its unique position to its advantage in a number of ways. The city state has become a strong melting pot as native Crossbellans are joined by Erebonians, Calvardians, and people from other nations taking advantage of its ideal location as a major hub from western Zemuria. This has seen it turn into effectively the heart of the continent’s economy, becoming the test site for the new Orbal Network, while the International Bank of Crossbell holds the most assets of any organisation in Zemuria, St. Ursula Medical College is one of its highest regarded hospitals, and the Arc en Ciel theatre troupe is known across the land. These are all high points of pride for the citizens of Crossbell.
Trails from Zero largely focuses on the internal difficulties within Crossbell, though they all tie back to Erebonia and Calvard’s suzerainty. The city state’s parliament is divided into Imperial and Republican factions that are focusing on representing those interests rather than necessarily advancing things for the benefit of its people. This makes it very difficult for those independent members, such as Speaker Henry MacDowell, to get any substantial changes passed through as its necessitates approval from at least one, more often both, of those factions. These factions also place severe restrictions on the police and military Guardian Force. As a result, organised crime is an issue with Revache and the newly-expanding Heiyue using the police’s weakness to establish strong footholds.
The frustrations of its citizens and ways the others can come in and use their outside connections to take advantage makes up a significant part of the story as players and the SSS do all that they can to silence doubters, including those within the police force. Once those qualms have settled, however, Crossbell and its inhabitants quickly shine and it becomes easy to see why so many are drawn to it. One can’t help but cheer on the SSS and its supporters as they do what they can to steadily improve the fortunes of Crossbell’s populace in the face of their many challenges.
Taking place across the same time period as Trails of Cold Steel I and II, the overall story of Trails of Azure gives more of an examination of the international scene and Crossbell’s place within it as its latest mayor has grand ambitions and push back against both Erebonia and Calvard. However, it also offers further insights into over characters motivations surrounding the city, such as the circumstances that brought Randy there and Noel’s desire to do everything she can to protect its people. It also does a great job showcasing the fervour that can brought out by the sort of challenges it faces and how that can lead to disagreements between people who by and large want the same thing. It all leads to a grand emotional finale on multiple levels as the personal stories of the cast intertwine with the fate of Crossbell itself.
Keeping players within the same locations for such a time runs a risk of making them stale, but this is where Nihon Falcom’s worldbuilding and writing — and the stellar localisations of the series — shines brighter than all others. With everything being just a short bus ride away, all of Crossbell’s constituent parts are strongly connected. Players who seek them out can bear witness the stories of even the most minor NPCs as they react to events in their and others’ personal lives, as well as the wider issues around Crossbell. It’s a particular delight to see that the hard work of series fans at The Geofront has paid off so magnificently. Anyone with even just a passing interest in the series would do well to take advantage of its western release to bear witness to one of the most engrossing settings there is.