The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak Review

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After seven large games covering the full tribulations of Crossbell and Erebonia, it was about time that Nihon Falcom’s long-running The Legend of Heroes series injected some fresh blood. Fortunately, the developer has answered that call with aplomb, as The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak marks the start of the series’ next arc with proof that it is as strong as ever. Offering an incredibly welcome refresh for the series with its story, cast, and gameplay, the game is a delightful way to re-enrapture existing fans while being an excellent opportunity for newcomers to get on board.

Trails through Daybreak is set in Erebonia and Crossbell’s eastern neighbour, the Republic of Calvard, a couple of years after Trails into Reverie. The events of recent times have led Calvard to continue an era of unbridled prosperity and progress into perhaps becoming the continent of Zemuria’s leading superpower. However, there is still underlying strife with concerns that the good times may not last forever, political issues including racial tensions, and various factions vying to advance their own machinations.

Stepping into the protagonist role for this arc is Van Arkride. He works as a “spriggan” based in Calvard’s capital city Edith under the name Arkride Solutions; wholly independent from known factions such as the Bracer Guild, he takes on work where clients feel they are unable to go to legitimate authorities for whatever reason. He is drawn into the game’s events when hired by high school student Agnès Claudel to help her find the eight Geneses, prototype Orbments — the driving force behind all technology in the world — created by her great-grandfather before a terrible calamity that he foretold comes to pass. This quest sends him across Calvard, gathering new allies in the process while encountering a nefarious group looking to use the powerful Geneses for their own ends.

The Republic of Calvard has effectively jumped up to modern-day technology and life conveniences.

In his mid-twenties, Van’s extra maturity and life experience make him a different, refreshing flavour of protagonist, even if it does encourage the game to make plenty of jokes, generally tongue-in-cheek, about him being “old”. Trails through Daybreak offers an incredibly likeable main cast that’s easy to root for, coming from varied backgrounds and swiftly developing an infectious camaraderie whose bonds get tighter as the game progresses and new allies join. Meanwhile, Calvard offers perhaps the closest look yet at how the series’ curious blend of fantasy, contemporary, and sci-fi elements combines to create a world that is at times incredibly familiar, yet also strikingly different in terms of the underlying mysteries and metaphysical powers that be. The game doesn’t do any handholding of explaining why a character or concept might be important or familiar, but all of the contextual clues are given to allow players to get an understanding of everything going on and swiftly identify character personalities and relationships; ultimately, knowledge and experience of past appearances and events is certainly a useful bonus but not at all necessary.

Character bonds and communities have always been a key part of the series, and Trails through Daybreak does a superb job of establishing the bonds between the cast members while underpinning his ability to form them as one of Van’s greatest strengths, even if he doesn’t realise it himself. The writing shines through in the interactions between characters major and minor in events covering the spectrum from relaxed to downtime to urgent race against the clock. Although the Trails series has always covered darker themes, with some particularly grueling backstories, Trails through Daybreak skews in a more mature direction than the previous titles. The game is happy to go into the seedier parts of life, while the villains of the piece are ready to get their hands bloody from the get-go, including accomplishing perhaps the most reprehensible singular on-screen act in the series so far. The contrasting drives between Arkride Solutions and the ultimate foes help build upon what is already a thrilling and fascinating set of conflicts and mysteries. Naturally for the series, questions are left open for future games to examine, but Trails through Daybreak closes the book on its own events in an incredibly satisfying manner.

Nihon Falcom’s sound team has consistently put out excellent soundtracks, and Trails through Daybreak’s is readily among its best. The musical backing is outstanding from the outset, packed full of catchy, uplifting in-town tracks as well as sweeping battle themes and moments that punch up a wide variety of emotions. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to and one where one can easily just put down the controller for a moment to enjoy the musical vibe. NIS America’s localisation of the game is excellent, as is the English voice acting. Damien Haas does a great job as Van, but virtually all of the rest of the cast do fine jobs evoking their characters’ personalities and helping to make them memorable. It would be nice if more of the game was fully voiced; while understandable from a budgetary perspective and despite being an interesting workaround to ensure that more characters get a voice players can associate with them, many events will only have one or two characters voiced during them, which loses a bit of impact.

Many of the quests will have choices that impact Van’s alignment ratings.

Trails through Daybreak uses a new graphics engine for the series, which is most easily identifiable in the upgraded textures on the game’s character models and combines well with the cutscene direction to further build upon the series’ identifiable style. Nihon Falcom has never attempted to emulate the photo-realism of big budget titles, but its visuals have always made the best use of the resources available and that remains the case here. The game benefits from all of the little details that the team paid attention to in painting the world and its environments, while all of the major characters have distinctive and memorable designs to go along with their personalities. On the other hand, the general populace does suffer from a small pool of character models, and players will notice many regular citizens looking exactly like others found elsewhere in Calvard. Elsewhere, Trails through Daybreak features a refresh of its UI elements and designs that works very well, drawing from a bit of a Wild West theme to go with Van’s spriggan activities as well as infusing a technological feel into its character-build options.

Trails through Daybreak features the same basic chapter structure of the series; the first part of each story chapter largely sets the scene while Van has the opportunity to undertake some sidequests and bond with various characters in the capital of Edith, before he and the other recent hires of Arkride Solutions drive out to the town or city that the chapter’s events are centered around. The events in that city, many of which serve double-duty of introducing a new party member in addition to advancing the plot, are further punctuated by additional requests for Van’s assistance. Quests tie into the game’s new alignment system, giving the player a bit more agency in events. With each quest completed, and with decisions undertaken during both quests and certain story events, Van is given points towards Law, Gray, and/or Chaos. While also impacting how certain quests are resolved, Van’s alignment comes into play in a bigger way during a late chapter, which faction(s) the party is able to ally with during its events. It isn’t as far-reaching or ultimately impactful as some players might hope, especially as Van feels more naturally inclined to certain sides, but it’s a nice little piece of extra engagement.

Generally, the game is a bit more streamlined than its immediate predecessors, with no mini-games, and is largely better for it as it fully devotes itself to establishing the setting of Calvard and its characters and story. There are still options to collect items and an internal set of achievements, which includes a rejig of cooking and food to more heavily reward sampling all the cuisine Calvard has to offer, but these are more closely tied into the game’s character growth systems, making the whole a more cohesive singular experience. It’s still a game that will eat up the hours; while it’s possible to rush through and miss out on much of the optional worldbuilding, those fully diving into the experience and taking their time will still find themselves approaching or surpassing a hundred hours for completion.

Like other nations in the series, Calvard’s locales are intricately crafted.

With the changes in setting and protagonist comes a refresh of the turn-based combat system. All of the standard tenets are still there: each turn a character can use a regular attack, one of their unique Crafts, a magical Art, or an item. Where Trails through Daybreak mixes things up compared to its predecessors is in character placement, plus the new S-Boost and Shard Skills that replace many of the more advanced mechanics from the later Erebonia titles. Characters now have free movement within a certain range before they take their action. This combines with many Crafts having added effectiveness when striking from the rear or side, as well as combo links — where a partner will do a follow-up attack or boost the ability being used — now being reliant on standing next to that character, making character placement a key part of risk-versus-reward strategy. The vast majority of enemies will use area-of-effect attacks, so while players will do more damage with their party together, more party members will get hit in the process.

Meanwhile, S-Boosts use a shared meter across the party — similar to Cold Steel’s Brave Points — and work alongside each character’s Shard Skills. Shard Skills are passive bonuses that have a set chance of activating when appropriate, such as adding elemental damage to an attack, resisting status effects, reducing an ally’s damage taken, and more. On a character’s turn, players can elect to activate an S-Boost, which significantly increases the chances of any Shard Skills activating for the next few turns. S-Boosts are also required to unleash the unique S-Crafts that act as each characters ultimate ability. It’s well worth using S-Boosts when possible, and the game encourages aggressive opening gambits, especially as using an S-Craft increases the maximum size of the S-Boost gauge. All these changes further enhance the freshness of the combat and openness to newcomers, as combat requires some different strategies to those that worked in the preceding games, putting everyone on a closer playing field. As returning players will expect, Trails through Daybreak includes the five difficulty settings at the outset that players can freely switch between, as well as the option to retry any lost battle as-is or with a reduced challenge.

The adjustments that refresh the combat system are supremely effective.

In addition to the turn-based combat, Nihon Falcom has also added some action combat to the field. This ultimately ends up being more complementary to the turn-based system rather than a major game-changer, especially as it only applies to regular dungeon encounters, but it makes the game’s dungeons more engaging. While exploring, the character currently being controlled is able to attack enemies while potentially dodging attacks. The goal here is generally to stun an enemy, then press a button to activate the turn-based combat, which gives a significant advantage in combat, though some enemies can be defeated using the field combat alone. However, players can put themselves at a disadvantage if they get hit too much themselves.

With all of the elements, it can seem to an immediate newcomer like there’s a lot going on, but in practice everything comes together beautifully and feels surprisingly streamlined. Nihon Falcom has reworked the combat UI to further reduce the traditional menu-driven nature of turn-based combat, to make almost any action available through just a few button presses, and it works wonders in creating a system where players can swiftly unleash strategic plans. The setup of Combat Orbments to determine character builds, including their Arts and Shard Skills, has also undergone a rework that again helps streamline things while mixing them up at the same time. Trails through Daybreak’s combat really manages to find the best of both worlds; players are kept engaged during fights against regular enemies by the general swiftness the combat and controls allow, while there is still a rewarding amount of depth and planning when it comes to the more challenging fights and bosses.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak is an incredibly satisfying combination of familiarity and freshness in a rightfully much-loved series. There was a danger of things becoming stale, but Nihon Falcom has done its utmost to ensure its new main cast and setting are joined by enough adjustments to the series’ other elements to make the game appealing to loyal fans and newcomers alike. Van Arkride steps up as perhaps the series’ most entertaining protagonist so far, and with the strong backing of his supporting cast and new mechanics, the series has taken a hugely welcome step forward.


Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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'Excellent' -- 4.5/5

Switch in setting with more mature protagonist is refreshing

Adjustments to combat flow superbly

Excellent jumping-on point for newcomers

Awesome soundtrack

More voice acting would be nice

Limited model pool for regular citizens

24 is not old


Alex Fuller

Alex joined RPGamer in 2011 as a Previewer before moving onto Reviews, News Director, and Managing Editor. Became Acting Editor-in-Chief in 2018.

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