Trails Through Daybreak Video Game Releases

Review: The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak Continues The Series Fantastic Streak

The Legend of Heroes series has been running in its current form for over 20 years, with over 10 equally fantastic games building off one another. The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak is another exciting addition. The series focuses on the continent of Zemuria and the countries that call it home. Each group of titles takes place in a different place on the continent, with overlapping characters being the norm rather than the exception.

Trails Through Daybreak takes us to Calvard for the first time, an area inspired by Asia and the Middle East, with a new cast of characters (and yes, some returning favourites). It’s the perfect jumping-on point for new fans, with overhauled combat, a tight and dark narrative, and enough teasing to make new players want to go backward for more insight, satisfying longtime fans with much to dive into.

Spriggan Satisfaction Guaranteed

Trail Through Daybreak introduces our new protagonist, Van Arkride, a spriggan working in Calvard’s capital, Edith City. A spriggan works in society’s morally grey in-between, taking on odd jobs for just about anyone who will pay, focusing on cases not fit for the police or the guild. Approached by a student from a nearby school, Agnes Claudel, Van is tasked with finding a relic that seemingly belonged to her great-grandfather. Things spiral out of control soon enough, as the newly found relic gives Van new powers in the form of a Grendel, a demonic suit of armour. The pair set out to uncover the mystery of the relic and find the others while working in opposition to a new cutthroat and brutal underworld group, Almata.

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Because of Van’s occupation and age, Daybreak plays with darker themes, weaving in drugs, murder, grief, trauma, and loss, where not every situation plays out with a happy ending. The Trails series has never shied away from this, but having an older adult protagonist that allows for deeper looks at seedier places is refreshing. The main story has some moments that genuinely shocked me, with an excellent overall narrative, building and bubbling slowly over time. It’s a welcome contrast to the high school setting of Cold Steel‘s run. Van is an excellent protagonist, supportive and caring to the ones in his circle, but also wholly okay screwing with anyone to get his way. He loves his car, has a massive sweet tooth, and lies constantly. After the clean-cut Lloyd in the Crossbell arc and Rean’s angsty teenage youth in the Cold Steel arc, Van stands entirely on his own, unafraid to do what needs to be done to support his clients.

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The rest of the cast around Van is similarly excellent. Agnes may be young but motivated and dishonest about her goals and objectives. She tends to be the angel on Van’s shoulder, trying to persuade him to use softer methods and stop constantly lying out of situations. Feri Al-Fayed is a young jaeger, similar to a mercenary, usually looking for a joyfully violent way out of any situation. Her combat experience doesn’t match her age, as the young crew member may be able to shoot through a problem but does not understand what “picking up girls” means, and she is confused as to why anyone would want to be hoisted in the air. As the cast fills out, each with some form of trauma or personal reason for joining Van’s spriggan endeavours, you get to know each of them.

Van and his ensemble may be one of my favourite Trails protagonists and casts, with the initial three in Van, Agnes, and Feri essentially feeling like Gintama‘s Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagure in the best ways. Van and Gintoki share a lackadaisical demeanour, chill and calm but staunchly supportive and protective of those they care about, with their most significant weakness being their sweet tooth. Agnes and Shinpachi play earnest, straight-man roles, always trying to do things in ways they consider proper. Meanwhile, Feri and Kagura are lovingly violent fish out of the water, striving to learn about themselves as much as the new places they find themselves in. Gintama is my favourite anime, so the similarities were just an added layer of excellence on already fantastic characters.

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Day To Day Darkness

Each in-game day starts with Van and company setting out on the town to run through some requests for the spriggan made by the townsfolk, known as 4SPGs. Some are mandatory and move the story along, while others are optional. The main quests are always engaging and well-designed, taking you to a new part of town or city to tackle any given issue. From being backup for the mafia to monster extermination quests for the guild, Daybreak intelligently adds on to each. Previously, the monster extermination requests were simple – go there, kill the thing. They may be the same functionally here, but now, a story and character fill out the core cast and the world around them is tied into the extermination.

The side content, similarly, is among the best the series has seen. They take some significant swings here, delving into topics of representation, race, love, identity, and forgiveness. One of my favourites involved a thief reaching out to return a family locket to their rightful owners, an item stolen in a sideways robbery decades before. As you uncover what happened, it culminates in a meeting between the thief and his victim. The conversation they have is incredible. Trails’ fantastic world of characters, including the main cast, supporting players, and even NPCs, has always been the series’ highlight, and Daybreak continues this meaningfully. You genuinely find out more about some townfolk than you would main characters in other games. The character writing and dialogue are constantly engaging.

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Aligned In Chaotic Purpose

Another new element in Daybreak is its alignment system. It’s not far from Persona’s personality system, where instead of working on character traits, each mission or choice adds to Chaos, Grey, or Law. A side mission will further show the alignment, and those missions’ choices evolve them further. One side quest is finding a woman’s missing partner, as he’s been missing for a month after trying to leave the gang he was in to be with her. When you discover the truth behind his disappearance, you have two choices: tell your client the truth or lie to her about what happened. One option may increase Law, being the seemingly morally correct option, while the other increases Grey, a choice that some may not agree with but may protect the client.

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I loved the inclusion of these choices, some having me genuinely stumped on what I wanted to do. They’re rarely evident and easy, and it let me step into Van’s shoes in a way that made the adventure feel a little bit more my own. The alignment system kicks in later in the game, as depending on where you’re at for each trait, different choices on who to work with open up and some scenes may play out slightly differently. It may not change the overall narrative significantly, but it makes the allegiances and choices you make along the way feel real and impactful.

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The other significant aspect of day-to-day life is the Connections system, which was built into the To-Do list. During certain free time sections, Van can spend time with various characters. These have always been some of my favourite moments in the series, allowing for bonding moments with the cast that help you get to know them. From dinner dates and shopping for supplies to learning more about the backstories of the surrounding cast, they’re constantly engaging. Doing these with party members will raise your relationship level with them while also unlocking permanent stat upgrades. Meanwhile, hanging with other characters outside the main party will raise Van’s stats. You can allocate a limited amount of connection points, making who you choose to spend time with all the more critical. Completing all available 4SPG quests on that day will award one bonus point to spend, tying the quests and bonding moments together more deeply than before. Some nights, Van can go out for more quests and bonding moments, allowing for more opportunities to get to know the cast.

Action! Tactics! Turn Based Brawls!

The combat system has seen revisions, adding a real-time action system to fantastic turn-based battles. When running around, Van and company can attack monsters, with simple attack and dodge buttons being the only way to do so. Van will swing his weapon and deal damage up close, but switch to Agnes, and you gain some range. Attack enough, and you build up charged attacks, which can stun an enemy and deal more damage. Once the enemy is stunned, you have two options: swing away until defeated or toss down the shards, switching into turn-based combat. The action combat is solid but simple, never feeling as tight or complex as possible. Despite that, I like the inclusion, especially as taking down lower-level enemies and clearing mobs is faster than ever. In previous entries, you’d enter turn-based, use one overpowered attack, then sit through the end-of-battle animations and summaries, rinse and repeat across every enemy you find, which really slowed down the pacing. Now, you can keep moving, cutting through enemies as you go.

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If you toss down the shards and switch to turn-based, the classic formula comes back into play with a few changes. You can now move freely in the space; before, you had to click a button and pick the position to move to. This opens up combat as positioning becomes more important than ever before. Some attacks gain bonuses depending on side or back positioning, so letting you move around the field to pick the best spot to attack from is essential. The usual regular attack, crafts (that cost CP, replenished when attacking), and artes (that use MP) system remains, where balancing the team with heavy hitters and magic users is as important as ever. The transition from action combat to turn based is seamless and keeps the pacing moving along well.

The combat links from previous games have also been replaced with a much more fluid system. Before, players would set links between two party members to support, and back each other up in encounters, but those were limited to the two participating characters. Now, blue circles surround each character in combat. Those characters will combo, support, and defend one another if the two overlap. It makes the combat feel much more fluid, whereas positioning continues to be more critical here. Keeping characters close together increases damage output and makes it easier to use AOE healing spells, but it also opens them up to all taking damage from big attacks. A new S-Boost meter is also introduced, which, when activated, makes the circles bigger, activates secondary effects, and allows you to use S-Crafts, super moves that deal more damage but have a higher cost. Previously, you could use S-Crafts at 100CP, but waiting until 200CP made them stronger. Now, S-Crafts require at least two bars filled and 100CP. The benefit is that they can be used more times per character due to the reduced cost, but you can’t pile on multiple characters back to back as easily for massive damage. As you use the super system, more bars get added, opening up the potential for back-to-back attacks as the fight progresses.

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Friendship With ARCUS Ended, Xipha Is My New Best Friend

The orbment system has also been reworked. Each character carries an Xipha that augments their abilities and stats, replacing the ARCUS units in the Cold Steel series. Each Xipha holds a holo core that levels up with use, with each core carrying different shard skills, S-boost abilities that get activated when using S-boost, and stat boosts. Each shard skill augments attacks, whether it’s a chance of adding elemental damage to a strike or follow-up attacks when an enemy’s HP is low. Each core has four lines, one for each weapon, shield, drive, and extra. Different quartz is slotted in each line to a maximum of four, adding to your character’s stats while unlocking new shard skills. Van’s attack line, for example, may hold the red Attack 1 quartz (raises attack), purple Action 2 (raises speed), blue Shield 1 (raises arte defence), and orange Defense 1 (raises defence). Each quartz raises Van’s stats, while the colours/elements unlock new shard skills if enough are used in the same line. One orange earth quartz adds two points, unlocking a new shard skill that raises defence against specific status effects. As you unlock slots online and get more powerful quartz, your shard skills also improve.

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The other major aspect of the Xipha is the Arts Driver. Where previously, each quartz would add stats and spells, now, the art driver adds new magic artes to each character. Each driver has a preset number of active arts you can use in battle. A new driver carries new elements and artes, with a few custom slots that can be unlocked. These slots allow plug-ins with artes that may not be found on the driver. Van starts with a Storm driver, giving him wind and time artes. The slots allowed me to add healing and fire artes to that list. The Xipha, between the holo core, arts driver, and plug-ins, a deep system which offers a ton of customizability, allowing you to change up your characters as you need to. Finding the right combination for each character is addicting, reworking constantly as newer and more robust drivers, quartz, and plug-ins become available.

Grendel Smackdown

Grendel, seen in trailers as the demon-like suit of armour that Van can access in specific situations, feels a lot like Rean’s Spirit Unification ability from the Cold Steel series. At first, it’s only accessible during particular story encounters when things seem the most dire. Van gets a lot more powerful with new crafts and abilities, ditching his stun sword for claws and kicks and using two attacks in one turn. Using S-Boost while wearing the Grendel increases the number of attacks Van can do to three. Using the right combination of attacks together can lead to massive damage. The moments Grendel pops out are always excellent, and you feel like a true badass when wearing it. The narrative mystery around it continues to unfold satisfyingly throughout the game.

Performance Problems Persist in Trails Through Daybreak

The biggest issue I had with Daybreak was the performance. Playing Switch was rough, with frequent frame drops and foul pop-ins. Some scenes looked like slide shows when a lot was going on. Loading between scenes was lengthy, and when the new scene did start, buildings, people, and textures continued to pop in for many seconds after the dialogue began. Using S-Crafts would take several seconds after activation. While none of it is game-breaking, playing on Switch is not the optimal way to go. If you have no other option, you’ll still love Trails Through Daybreak but know the experience is probably much better on PS5 or PC.

Similarly, the graphics continue to lag behind many of the series contemporaries in the space. Nothing about the presentation or graphics will blow you away or even come close to being impressive. Still, the strength of the characters, gameplay, and writing carry the experience well enough that you forget about how underwhelming it looks.

Verdict

Despite all of the above, this review still barely scratches the surface of The Legend of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak. In-game achievements, rewards for raising levels, killing enemies, and other tasks can be done in the open world. The movie theatre offers films to watch and engage with during free time. There are the returning characters from previous games, which I won’t spoil here, but it made me incredibly excited every time. The high-speed mode is back, letting players move through at the best pace, cutting hours off the total runtime if that’s what the player wants. Trails Through Daybreak is a meaningful new step for the franchise, hampered by some issues but genuinely changing what we’ve come to expect from the series while staying true to its characters and deep writing. Its action combat may be basic, but layered on top of the incredible turn-based combat, it helps you move through spaces faster. The story and darker themes are a constant hit, drawing you in and not letting go. It’s a perfect jumping point for new fans, accessible from much of the history that came before while offering teases of what came before. For returning fans, it’s a fantastic step forward and hopefully a promise of more to come in the future. Trails Through Daybreak is one of the year’s best games and is incredibly special.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Trails Through Daybreak Video Game Releases
Review: The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak Continues The Series Fantastic Streak
Summary
The Legend of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak is another hit in the beloved series, delivering a darker narrative, revamped combat, and an excellent cast of characters. It has a ton to offer to both new players and existing fans of the series.
Liked
Fantastic cast
Great narrative and side content
Tight combat with deep customization
Didn't Like
Performance issues on Switch
Antagonists aren't as strong as previous entries