I’ve always wanted to get into the Trails series only because I’ve heard so many good things about it from mutuals and fans but I just never dived into the franchise proper for whatever reason. That all changed recently when I got the chance to complete my first game in the franchise, Trails from Zero. This Trails entry is an enhanced port of the first game in the Crossbell arc (fourth game in the series overall) which was first released in 2010 on the PSP but never made its way to the west officially until now.
After putting 85 hours into this game I’m glad I took the chance as I’m now a fan of Nihon Falcom’s beloved turn-based JRPG series. Trails from Zero delivers a genuinely great JRPG story with memorable characters in a setting that at times mirrors aspects of our own world both societally and politically. As an entry point into the series, for the most part, Trails from Zero feels like it stands on its own overall. Although the insertion of the characters from the Trails from Sky Trilogy can at times be confusing as they do reference moments and other characters from the past games.
Trails fans who know the history of those games might get more out of it than I did. Taking myself out of it though, that’s an awesome way for the series to approach building out continuity by making every game feel like they matter in even the smallest of ways, hope to see more of this as I get more into the Trails series.
Seek the Truth
The story of Trails from Zero kicks off with the game’s protagonist, Lloyd Bannings napping on the train – he wakes up when he hears a voice say ‘FIND ME’. The hero of our story is a recent graduate of the Police Academy, the only one in his class who took and passed the optional detective exam which he was motivated to take after the death of his older brother, Guy Bannings.
Lloyd is on his way home after getting a message he was assigned to the City’s police department. Lloyd is more of a smarter protagonist who uses his intelligence to seek out the truth in the narrative, but he is kind of an airhead when it comes to relationships which is a running gag in the game. Lloyd’s on his way to Crossbell, a city-state governed by the world’s two great nations, the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. After getting to his destination, he is a little surprised at how much the city has changed over the three years he’s been away and then quickly makes his way over to the Crossbell Police Department (CPD) so he can get assigned to his new division.
Following some confusion with his CPD recruitment, Lloyd meets his superior officer, Sergei who informs him he was personally recruited by him for a new CPD division and follows him to a meeting room to learn more details. This is where Lloyd meets the other officers in the division who are all suspiciously all rookie officers just like him. Lloyd is put in charge as the group’s de facto leader and is introduced to a political heiress, Elie McDowell, a former soldier turned lady’s man, Randy Orlando, and tech genius, Tio Plato. This gives the player the full party right off the bat, with no time wasted as you get everyone early in the game.
Afterward, Sergei tells them that he recruited them for a new division called the Special Support Section or SSS for short as it’s referred to in the game. The new branch of the CPD is an odd jobs division where each day the SSS fulfills support requests from citizens to the government itself which include returning overdue library books, monster exterminations, finding a missing person/items, and so much more as there are a lot of side quests. The SSS is basically a plagiarized version of the previous trilogy’s Bracer Guild, a non-government group that pledges to preserve peace and protect civilians which are comically acknowledged by the SSS crew as the Bracer Guild has a branch in Crossbell already set up so guild members do look down on the SSS a lot of the time in the game.
It’s About Family
The purpose of the new division is to be the CPD’s last hope to regain the trust of the public following the city’s infamous uncontrolled crime spree that the government can’t seem to manage or just ignores entirely as some criminals are even in the pocket of politicians. As you go through the motions of each chapter, there is one big case that progresses the plot which is mostly you dealing with the mafia and other antagonist forces. Later in the game, the SSS unravels a huge plot involving a long-standing cult long thought dead and a mysterious young girl named, Mia who becomes family to the SSS after a series of events which has all the Fast and Furious energy in the final chapter.
Going into Trails from Zero, I was aware of the game’s police perspective and remember not being a real fan of that approach. When I started playing the game, I was honestly surprised by how little the game didn’t hone in on the police propaganda message I was expecting; it was almost quiet. It goes out of its way to acknowledge that Crossbell’s police and political systems are corrupt to the point civilians just accept it for what it is as there isn’t much hope of changing it. The higher-ups at the CPD kind of see the SSS as a 6-month experiment just waiting to fail, but it does show you how much good can get done when a corrupt system doesn’t get in your way, for the most part.
While govern duties are shared by two separate countries in the game, it’s reiterated multiple times that nothing gets really done in Crossbell as politics get in the way with bills from one party immediately denied by the other side. For myself, I took that as a huge commentary on the North American two-party system in which both countries are ironically represented by red and blue. The story of Trails from Zero was easily my favourite part of the game, as the characters develop more as time goes and most of the time their interactions are so entertaining to watch, plusyou do get to know them more as their backgrounds begin to unravel themselves in latter parts of the game.
Continues on the Legacy of Trails from the Sky
Getting into Trails from Zero‘s gameplay, Trails from Zero has a more refreshed look to the battle system of what worked in the Trails from the Sky trilogy. Like other turn-based JRPGs when you get into an enemy’s personal space you transition into the combat zone. To attack, players can move any of the four party members up to their enemy in a large Fire Emblem-style grid to deliver massive damage.
Unlike similar games in the genre, each turn for both your party and enemies is determined automatically in a timeline on the upper left portion of the screen. While its approach feels like it borrows a lot of elements from other games, when combined the gameplay surprisingly works as its own thing. What the game specifically borrows from is the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII, players can install Quartz into their Orbment device which allows players to boost their stats, magic spells called arts, and so much more.
The type of actions you can select in battle includes a normal attack, arts, and crafts (special techniques). One extra special craft is the S-Craft which is a huge cinematic limit break-like attack that does thousands of damage to enemies that you can release after accumulating enough craft points during battle. The enemies in the game, feel uniquely designed but like other JRPGs there are a lot of instances of models being reused/recoloured for more powerful variations. You just don’t fight monsters but also human characters like mafia goons you’ll end up facing in the game often.
NPCs Have More of a Voice
One of the key gameplay features of the Trails games is the NPCs themselves which is felt in Trails from Zero. As the player goes through the game, NPCs have actual names and ever-changing dialogue as they react to what’s going on in the story in optional dialogue to a point they feel important to the overarching story and impact the reveal of the Trails from Zero‘s narrative. This approach makes it feel like NPCs are actual characters and not there just for the sake of being there.
While the gameplay is fun, it does feel slow but Trails from Zero does offer a high-speed mode which speeds up the game in a comical fashion like you’re fast-forwarding through a movie almost. I don’t like using this mode that much but for the PlayStation version I’m playing on it feels sadly necessary to use at times with Trails from Zero being locked at 30 FPS. In a world where the PC versions of the previous games have a 60 FPS option, I wished there was an option to optimize my experience in the console version on PS5.
Lack of Enhancements on PlayStation
I think the overall look of Trails from Zero is where I’m down on the game the most as this release is supposed to be an enhanced port but that is not the case with the specific version on PlayStation, the version I’m reviewing. The upcoming release is supposed to come with significant upgrades like “comprise UI scaling, a custom text log, increased frame rate, mitigated distance pop-in, updated sprites, and cleaned-up textures” but this is only coming to the PC and Nintendo Switch versions, a fact I learned about on my own from Gematsu after redeeming my review code.
What PlayStation players are getting on PS4 and PS5 (via backwards compatibility) is an inferior localized version of the original Japanese release with no enhancements included what’s so ever and after playing Trails from Zero it’s noticeable. There were so many times when the game felt dated visually, especially in the pixelated character models and CG scenes. I’m not one to recommend which specific platform to pick up this game but this is a unique case where you’ll be missing out on some awesome features that only enhance the game experience if you get it on PlayStation.
Honestly, if you’re still interested in getting Trails from Zero I’d say stay clear of the PS4 version because you’re just gonna waste your money, so just pick it up on either PC or Nintendo Switch and should be good. Either way, NIS America the game’s publisher should be ashamed of putting out an inferior version of Trails from Zero on PlayStation in this state, as this wasn’t the best move.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is a great game with a fantastically told well-paced detective story as a JRPG that features a memorable cast of characters that develop over time. The city-state of Crossbell at times felt like its own character while unexpectedly mirroring modern society, specifically the approach to Crossbell’s political landscape. While the lack of port enhancements on the PlayStation version is disheartening, it is still a great game that’s been a long time coming for Trails fans who’ve been waiting over a decade for the official release which only adds to the overall continuity of the franchise. If you’re looking to pick up Trails from Zero, I’d highly recommend going for the PC or Nintendo Switch versions (rather than the PS4 version) instead if you want those port enhancements to come with your purchase of Trails from Zero.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]