The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure Review
All the Crossbells and Whistles
The intrigue in Crossbell is at a boiling point, and it’s up to a scrappy band of wannabes and weirdos to save Zemuria from disaster. Fans of the Trails series are no doubt ecstatic that The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is both finally seeing an official localization, and launching just six months after the game’s immediate predecessor, Trails from Zero. With improved pacing, more quest variety, and engaging combat, even the title’s issues with an over-long finale, aging graphics and beautiful, albeit overused, music can’t pull down an otherwise excellent adventure.
With the narrative picking up shortly after the events of The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, the Special Support Section or SSS is a microcosm of the increasing tensions within the city-state of Crossbell. Pulled in multiple directions by powerful leaders, Lloyd Bannings and his team of police misfits must navigate helping the local populace without angering neighbouring states, the Jaeger Corps, and a questionable cabal of traders all packed into Crossbell City and the surrounding countryside. Previously a notable NPC in Trails from Zero, Wazy Hemisphere joins the SSS and adds a much-needed level of lightheartedness; without his addition the plot, while excellent, would be dreadfully heavy. Instead he serves as a perfect counterpoint to the melodrama, and even when the story becomes deadly serious his irreverence in the face of hopeless odds helps keep the plot from crashing down. The rest of the cast carrying over from Trails from Zero also sees satisfying amounts of maturation and resolution to many ongoing problems. It culminates in an emotional final story arc for Lloyd and KeA, with the finale being one of the most emotional tour de forces in a series packed full of them.
The sheer amount of world building, lore, foreshadowing and hard-hitting plot cannot be emphasised enough, and none of which would be evident without a spectacular localisation. The updated version of the Crossbell duology also includes some subtle nods to the Cold Steel titles, such as a member of Thors Academy being present during negotiations with the Erebonian chancellor. As both Trails to Azure and the first two Cold Steel games happen within the same time period within the larger Zerebonian story, these added tie-ins help make the titles feel more tightly tied together — however as a result of this, Trails to Azure is not an appropriate starting point for anyone interested in the overall series. Despite this, both Crossbell games come highly recommended, as the story is fantastic and pays off in both large and small ways, especially in Trails to Azure.
Combat shows further refinement and foreshadows where the series ends up with Trails of Cold Steel. Players can prepare their characters for a variety of combat situations by ensuring their orbments, combat devices that use Quartz to unleash various spells and bestow power-ups, are in tip-top shape. Quartz come in seven different varieties, and bestow combat perks, largely via stat boosts, as well as exploration benefits, such as showing where all treasure chests are in an area. Enemies are generally visible on the map, and the SSS can try to get the jump on foes by attacking them from behind and stunning them, or by simply running into enemies that have not yet noticed the party, for an advantage.
Each character has a slightly different layout for their orbment, and stacking the right types of elemental Quartz unlocks spells, known as arts, that can be used during combat. Trails to Azure introduces a very welcome menu screen that shows exactly which spells a character has unlocked. Diversifying spells across the four main party members is both useful and necessary for some of the more challenging fights. Quartz can be discovered in chests, received as quest rewards, or crafted via sepith dropped by enemies. Debuting for the first time are the Master Quartz — gems that fit into a special slot on a character’s orbment and grow over time, providing both increased stats and special passives, such as providing temporary buffs at the start of combat or increasing the chance debuffs or stat altering effects will land on enemies.
Once combat begins, turn order is displayed at the top left of the screen, with a variety of icons denoting special boons (or occasionally penalties) a character may have during a specific turn, such as a guaranteed critical, recovering HP, or in rare circumstances dealing or receiving no damage at all. Some abilities can change around the turn order, such as a special craft which delays the opponent’s turn, though these cost Combo Points, or CP to use and cannot be repeatedly cast. Orbal arts, bestowed by equipped Quartz, have a charge time, can also shuffle around the turn order in favour of the player or enemy combatants. During heightened points in the story, a new Burst meter will appear; once filled, players can activate it to prioritise their team’s turns for up to five turns. During Burst, arts also have no cast time, and the cooldown for other abilities is reduced.
Throughout the game, special extermination quests are offered to the SSS, each of which drops a special book which teaches a paired special attack skill. These cost 100 CP from each character and generally provide large area-of-effect, high-damage attack skills. Lastly, any character with over 100 CP can interrupt the turn order at any time with a powerful S-craft, which drain all their CP but have major benefits, such as a party-wide heal, blocking all incoming damage, or applying major debuffs. Much like its predecessor, Trails to Azure is noticeably easier than both the Trails in the Sky and Cold Steel titles, though players can adjust the difficulty to find the appropriate level of challenge. Overall, combat is fast-paced, stays interesting throughout the game’s eighty or more hours of gameplay, and offers ample flexibility to experiment with.
The game’s music is spectacular, with the flair series fans have come to expect, but after two full games with a nearly identical soundtrack, repetition does sink in. Without the facelift the Nintendo Switch and PC versions received, the PS4 version’s graphics are showing their age, and while this is understandable as the game began as a humble PSP title over ten years ago, combining together slightly tired graphics with recycled music is a bit of a letdown. Also notably missing from the PS4 version is a dialogue log, which in a text-heavy game lacking English voice acting, is supremely frustrating. The voice acting also occasionally suffers from oddities, notably some lines being much louder or quieter than the rest of the scene, even when a character isn’t shouting or whispering.
For those looking to kick back and relax between missions, a variety of side activities can be undertaken, with ample rewards for doing so. Cooking recipes can be found scattered throughout the region, generally found on posters hung on walls or in conspicuous books; completed dishes all have uses in combat, including as damage items. For those who prefer pulse-pounding puzzle action, PomPom Party! makes its first appearance, and can be played at the SSS headquarters. A match-3-meets-Tetris style mini-game, each opponent has their own quirks and Lloyd will need to fill their field with poms by creating matches; chaining multiple matches together increases the rate the opponent’s field fills. Alternatively, Lloyd can relax and drop some bait into fishing holes found scattered throughout the world. Despite being side activities, all three provide tangible benefits for combat and are enjoyable ways to break up big blocks of story content.
Pacing is significant improved from the previous title with the game moving along decently for most of its length; quest variety, while still leaning towards being fetch-driven tasks, has markedly improved, buoyed by fast travel inside the city unlocking almost immediately, and the team acquiring a vehicle which acts as a quick method of moving to points of interest. While there are still times the SSS has to walk to a location, particularly in the overly long finale chapter when areas are heavily restricted, often for extended periods of time. However, these are the exception rather than the rule, and generally traversal on foot is limited to dungeons or locales where a vehicle doesn’t make logistical sense.
For those who enjoyed Trails in the Sky, Trails from Zero or the Trails of Cold Steel titles, diving into Trails to Azure now that an official release has arrived is an absolute no-brainer. Despite the game’s aging presentation, an excellent story, quality localisation, and multiple quality-of-life improvements will overcome any qualms players may have about minor issues and fills in a critical narrative gap in the overall series. While it isn’t recommended as the first Trails title for newcomers, for established fans of the series, The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is an absolute must-play.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Vastly improved pacing
Multiple quality of life tweaks
Occasional voice acting oddities
Not enough musical variety
Graphics showing their age