Well, isn’t this a treat? Mere months after the release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, comes its sequel, and finale of its storyline: The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure. Confusing names aside, this two-part JRPG set snugly in the middle of two incredible Legend of Heroes series (The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel) has finally made its way to Western audiences. But, can the second part of the Crossbell arc live up to the high-praise we gave the first title?
If you haven’t played Trails from Zero, then you’re going to be at a complete loss when it comes to the storyline here. Although the main menu features a synopsis of the previous game, the emotional weight of the full storyline won’t be quite as impactful if you’ve decided to jump straight into number two.
Set just a few short months after the ending of Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure continues the tale of Lloyd Bannings, the leader of the SSS (Special Support Section) a division of Crossbell’s police force. After tying up a few loose ends from his previous adventure, Lloyd begins working with some new members of the SSS — although they’re no strangers to anyone who has played the first title — whilst party members we know and love are off taking care of their own business. Don’t worry though, they’ll be back!
The story here isn’t just great, it may just be one of the best in the entire franchise. The pacing is much improved from Trails from Zero and the stakes have never been higher! This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into details, but after the first few hours of the game it becomes a constant rollercoaster of a journey that never lets up. Characters are well-written, with detailed personalities and backstories that make each member of the group more than just the “healer” or “tank” when in battles.
Trails to Azure looks identical to the previous entry, meaning its pixel art-esque visuals are still as vibrant as ever. Character sprites are very well-animated and detailed, as are the environments, which really help to make the town and cities feel lived-in. Battles are full of great looking special attacks and magic, all suitably over-the-top and flashy in a way that only developer Nihon Falcom knows how to pull off.
Once again, a Legends of Heroes title features a brilliant soundtrack, with so many tracks that fit any given situation. Likewise, the voice acting is superb, which really helps bring the emotion from the subtitles to life, as just like before, the game only features a Japanese voice cast.
It’s worth noting that as both games are set in the same main location, there will be numerous areas that you’ve visited countless times in Trails from Zero, although the abundance of new locals ensures that tedium is reduced to a minimum when roaming around a town or dungeon. Just expect a few recycled environments, but the addition of a car to fast travel to a destination makes this less of an annoyance.
From a gameplay standpoint, little has changed in Trails to Azure that we haven’t already seen in the four entries that precede it. This is the final game release in The Legend of Heroes series that features the grid-based battle system with a 2.5D perspective, and it’s still a lot of fun to play!
Combat is turn-based, with three main offensive actions to perform. You have your standard attack, the more magic-based Arts, and finally the Craft actions (very flashy, mainly physical attacks). A display on the left side of the screen shows the turn order of both party members and your foes. There will be the occasional buff or debuff set to a turn, and it was always quite a frantic rush (Not sure why I did this, the battles aren’t in real-time!) to attempt to alter the turn order, so that I would land on something like an instant-kill buff.
This is also the first game to feature Master Quartz. Sure, Trails of Cold Steel has them, but this is a port of a 2011 release, so it was a brand-new feature for the series back then. What the Master Quartz does is essentially dictate what sort of other Quartz (gems that characters can equip to use various Arts) are going to benefit that particular party member best. Think of it as similar to the job system from FINAL FANTASY V, where improving the Master Quartz will lead to more powerful Arts of its type (fire, water, etc.). Each character has their own, but can freely swap if you want to mix things up, or discover one that’s more beneficial to the team whilst exploring the world.
Speaking of the world, I found wandering around and talking to random NPCs genuinely rewarding. Small conversations will uncover so much more detail and lore for not only Crossbell, but the neighbouring territories and characters with less screen time. There are also side quests to tackle — which are much more robust than the previous game — and even some fun minigames that will easily make you lose track of time!
As great as Trails from Zero was, it’s difficult to deny that Trails to Azure does so much more to create not only a deeply-engaging gameplay experience, but also a plot that will often have players on the edge of their seats. A wonderful journey from start to finish.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A truly fantastic game that ties up loose ends from the previous titles whilst setting up for future storylines. A must-play for every JRPG fan!