The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails Review
Trails of Cold Seasons
Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes franchise has seen a surge of popularity in the west, particularly as NIS America has recently worked to localize past games that were never previously released in English. Part of that effort arrives with The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails, which originally released in 2012 as a Japanese exclusive on the PlayStation Portable before eventually being remastered for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Finally in 2023, this Trails series action RPG spin-off has arrived in North America and Europe. It’s an exciting and high-energy installment that, despite a few archaic design choices, is sure to delight fans of the franchise both new and old.
Nayuta opens with its titular hero and his childhood friend Cygna returning to their secluded tropical home of Remnant Isle after a semester studying abroad. Remnant Isle is well known for a strange natural phenomenon where ancient ruins fall from the sky, leaving behind star fragments that hint at a mysterious, undiscovered world. Nayuta is a dreamer and eternal optimist who longs to be the first person to explore this world. Shortly after the pair arrive back at the isle, an enormous ruin crashes into the ocean just offshore. Rushing inside to investigate, they discover an ailing fairy named Noi clutching a gear-shaped item. A dark-robed man and his masked accomplice appear out of thin air and steal the gear away, leaving Noi for dead. Our heroes nurse Noi back to health, then pursue her as she flees through a portal to the alternate world of Terra. It’s in Terra that the story truly unfolds as Nayuta, Noi, and Cygna pursue the villainous Zechst across its four continents.
The Legend of Nayuta’s story starts as a straightforward tale about friendship, family, and helping those in need, but it doesn’t take long for the stakes to escalate to cataclysmic levels. There are a number of twists (some predictable, others less so) to keep players’ engaged in Nayuta’s adventure in Terra, but it’s on Remnant Isle where the game really finds its heart. While Remnant Isle is small, its diverse cast of NPCs are well fleshed out with unique personalities and goals. Every time players visit, characters are in new places and have new dialogue about recent story events or personal activities. Remnant Isle ends up feeling like as much of a living place as any of the huge cities from across the Trails franchise due to the care and effort put into building out the lives of these characters. It’s easy to understand why Nayuta and Cygna love their home, a love which is critical in determining the fate of the entire planet.
After arriving in Terra, the heroes discover its entire ecosystem is on the verge of collapse and set out to investigate climate disasters affecting each of its four continents. An enormous machine called the Astrolabe carefully monitors and controls each continent’s environment to align with a certain season; Zechst’s theft of the master gears has thrown them into chaos. Each continent acts as its own chapter of the story where Nayuta and Noi must recover one of the master gears needed to return the Astrolabe to full power. Continents aren’t open-world affairs, instead broken out into stages: three standard stages, one longer temple, and a standalone boss battle.
Standard stages are action-packed and brief, usually only requiring five-to-ten minutes to complete. Players control Nayuta and blitz through levels by taking down enemies in action combat, solving simple environmental puzzles, and gathering gem currency and items. A combo counter encourages players to stay on the move by increasing physical strength or upping currency rewards the more they attack enemies, expiring if players take a hit or wait around too long. The longer temple stages are the level highlights as they test players’ combat endurance through sprawling, multi-part castles and dungeons. At the end of each stage, players earn up to three stars for achieving various objectives such as simply completing the stage, finding all hidden items, and various secondary objectives. The stars attained are given to an ally on Remnant Isle to unlock new combat abilities.
The island and its inhabitants are incorporated into every element of Boundless Trails to create an addictive gameplay loop. Shortly into the game, an ambitious couple opens a museum at the docks where Nayuta can donate insects, fossils, and relics found in the stages for currency rewards. Once enough donations are made, the proprietors open Animal Crossing-style exhibits with all the treasures on display. Nayuta can take food he collects to his sister Eartha, who makes delicious meals that offer healing and significant experience points. Characters will send requests to Nayuta’s mailbox that often require manipulating the climate on Terra to complete. For example, one request requires fruit from a tree that takes several months to grow. Nayuta can plant the tree in a stage during Spring, use the Astrolabe to change the season to Summer, then return to pick the fruit. There’s always a reason to head back to Remnant Isle after every stage, and each stage offers a constant flow of items and collectibles as players battle through them, in turn granting further upgrade opportunities.
Make no mistake, players will battle a lot. Each stage is populated with dozens of aggressive animals, insects, monsters, and machines. Combat is initially extremely simple; Nayuta starts with one combo attack and no defensive options. The star rewards from stages expand Nayuta’s abilities to include longer combos, contextual attacks, and defensive options such as dodging, air-dodging, and blocking. It’s a curious decision to gate something as simple as block behind an unlock hours into the game, and by the time its unlocked, most players will have adapted to other methods to avoid damage. It’s especially curious as avoiding damage is easily the most frustrating aspect of combat. It’s often difficult to tell when an enemy is attacking or what a given attack’s hitbox will be. Due to the large character models and zoomed-in camera, players will often walk straight into attacks an enemy initiated off-screen. Hit boxes expand vertically, leading players to frequently take damage from an attack that appears to miss above or below them. Fortunately, the game is quite forgiving, at least on its Normal difficulty. Nayuta can absorb dozens of attacks before needing to heal up with a meal. Players get further help from Noi’s magical abilities. These powerful, limited-use elemental attacks can affect enemies with paralysis or poison and grow in strength the more they’re used. Eventually four of these can be equipped at once, adding to an already potent arsenal. While combat is simple and can become repetitive, it never drags on or becomes so frustrating as to damage the overall experience.
Boundless Trails’ numerous boss battles are easily a highlight of the adventure. Each chapter culminates with one of these memorable climactic encounters. Almost all of them are against enormous creatures or machines that throw a multitude of attacks at players through different phases. The stages they take place in are often dynamic and kinetic, moving and shifting and requiring different strategies as they progress. While some of the hit detection and visual clarity issues still exist in these, they’re exciting exclamation marks on Nayuta’s journey.
Presentation-wise, Nayuta is a bit mixed. With the title originally built for the PlayStation Portable, visuals are understandably a bit dated. Geometry is blocky and simple, textures are low-resolution, and characters are big and chunky. There are some tricks employed to enhance these primitive visuals. Characters models are shaded to give an animated look and cover up their simplicity, while many of the backgrounds (particularly in Remnant Isle) are densely packed with 2D sprite items. The game uses a vibrant color palette that pops off the screen as Nayuta roams through jungles, marshes, snow-covered mountains, and volcanic lava flows. Technical performance is excellent; the game runs flawlessly at a locked 60 frames-per-second with very few other graphical issues. Trails fans will find lots to love with the game’s soundtrack, which offers catchy high-energy tunes to accompany the action. There is limited voice acting for the characters that is adequately performed. It can be jarring for a character to be fully voiced in a dramatic story moment, only to have their next line be text only, but it’s an understandable product of limitations from the original release.
Nayuta’s adventure to save the world will take most players around 15-20 hours to hit the first credits. Each of the three standard stages has four seasonal variations, but only two variations of each stage will be played through during the main story. A follow-up epilogue chapter gives Nayuta reason to return to Terra for the third seasonal variant of each stage, while a New Game+ option eventually unlocks the fourth. Tackling the New Game+ mode, unlocking all abilities, and completing all the side quests will likely take completionists around or upwards of 40 hours.
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is a fun, breezy action RPG with an interesting story and great cast. Though combat can become repetitive and frustrating, it’s never enough to significantly detract from an addictive gameplay loop. Its boss battles and visual performance are excellent highlights, even if its simplistic look alludes to its decade-old portable origins. Trails veterans should enjoy some of the references to the main series and lore-building, while any action RPG fan will find lots to love about Falcom’s latest effort to bring the entire series to English-speaking audiences.
Addictive gameplay loop
Charming cast of characters
Excellent boss battles
Frustrating hitboxes and visual cues