NIS America’s new release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure follows directly on Trails from Zero, building on that game’s foundations while wrapping up the narrative. It’s out for the Switch and PC as well, but we reviewed the PlayStation 4 version.
We reviewed Trails from Zero just a few months ago, and when you consider Trails to Azure to essentially be part 2 of the same story then you’re looking at what is easily a 100+ hour adventure. In an age where gamers often complain that a game is “too short”, that’s worth pointing out, because both games together provide an amazing amount of value for money with their storytelling, worldbuilding and gameplay. And although you could technically play Azure by itself, you’d be selling yourself short as both games as so closely connected.
This can even be seen in the locations you visit – most of them were already featured in Zero so there’s a definite sense of deja vu here. Naturally, follow protagonist Lloyd Bannings and his Special Support Section again as well. Their efforts in Trails from Zero has their status improve, and even though they’ll still take on local jobs there’s also a larger political conflict to contend with, as an impending trade conference is almost certain to threaten an already fragile peace.
As with other Trails games, there are main story missions and optional missions to take on. And while the actual tasks in these missions can be a tad shallow and repetitive, nearly all of them enrich the narrative and worldbuilding by introducing new characters and/or points of view on what goes on in Crossbell. And while we’d recommend spending time doing these optional missions for that reason, the main questline is a blast as well thanks to some stellar writing – effortlessly fusing personal stories with a grand plot and tying everything into the events of other games. It even enriches your understanding and appreciation of the Trails of Cold Steel series – which will probably have been a starting point for many of today’s players in the Trails franchise. Falcom’s games have always been known for their excellent and intricate storytelling, and Trails to Azure showcases why this is.
Unsurprisingly, the gameplay isn’t all that different from what we saw in Trails from Zero, with the same turn-based combat system returning – though perhaps being put to better use thanks to some interesting enemy and battle designs that pop up during your adventure. You’ll also notice a larger role for the quartz system, letting you combine stat boosts and abilities for your party to make them more effective in combat. It doesn’t become as refined as the combat system used in the Trails of Cold Steel games, but you have to remember that Zero and Azure started off in the PSP days – a few console generations ago. In many ways, the combat system of Azure sits comfortably between the one in Zero and the one used later in Cold Steel, which makes it feel like a natural evolution between the different Trails games.
But while Trails to Azure features some of the best storytelling in the franchise and a refined combat system – making it an essential RPG – it does show its age. That’s mainly true in the ‘remaster’ area, with very few visual optimizations making it into the PS4 version of the game. The menu system from the PSP days is still intact, and the in-game visuals don’t compare favorably to other RPGs with a similar style either – some of Square’s recent games come to mind here.
If you already played this one on the PSP you might be unimpressed with the remaster treatment here, but that doesn’t make Trails to Azure any less of an essential RPG game – especially for Trails fans who started out playing the Trails of Cold Steel games and haven’t dipped into these two gems yet. Those players should do themselves a favor and pick up both Zero and Azure – you’ll be happy you did.