It wasn’t that long ago since I played my first Legend of Heroes game: Trails of Cold Steel IV. From there, I wasn’t sure where to go with the series. Do I go back and play the third game in the Cold Steel series? (the only one available on the Switch), or do I wait for Trails From Zero, the first game in the Crossbell arc, which has had a complicated history of its own before finally being released in with English subtitles? Luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice, as NIS America was kind enough to provide me with my very own review copy.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero follows three months after the final game in the Trails in the Sky trilogy and follows Llyod Bannings, a rookie police detective and the appointed leader of the newly formed SSS (Special Support Section) of the CPD (Crossbell Police Department). Along with three other new recruits, Llyod and his team are put in charge of renewing the police department’s reputation, which has been lost due to the local guild showing them up and doing a better job of handling monsters and more.
While the SSS may seem like any other guild doing odd jobs here and there to up the CPD’s reputation. It isn’t long until Llyod, and his team finds themselves in the middle of a war between two crime syndicates fighting for control of Crossbell.
Trials From Zero is, like the other games in the series, a turn-based RPG. Even though this is an early title in the series, a lot of the mechanics from later games are still present, like having attack, arts (magic) and crafts (strong attacks) at each character’s disposal. The ability to move around the battle area during your turn, and random bonuses that sometimes show up when it is your character’s turn. Even the rush mode is still present (although not the same as Cold Steel IV) and super fun as ever. Do I know how it activated, not really, but it is still fun to see all four of my characters attacking at once to beat a group of weak enemies.
Then there are special Crafts that are still present and as fun as ever to use in combat when characters have built up 100 CP or more. Again, this can be activated anytime and give your team the edge in most battles, depending on how strong the enemy is. If you are playing on an easier difficulty, it probably doesn’t matter as much, but on the higher difficulties, the special craft almost acts as a life-saving moment if used correctly.
With Trails From Zero being an older game in the series, you would think there are no improvements the game could add that would notch it above the other games. And to that, I would say you are dead wrong, because there is one feature available in Trails From Zero that needs to be added to every RPG from now on, and that’s its high-speed mode. Unlike other RPGs that have had a High-speed mode, Trials From Zero’s doesn’t affect story cutscenes and only affects the speed of battles and running around the world.
Speeding up the game in this way felt almost like a necessity. Instead of the game feeling like a slog running around completing quests and running back and forth, the high-speed mode made the process feel almost organic like it had to be done this way. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with playing the game the way it was made, but having the option to speed up battles without accidentally skipping cutscenes was a lifesaver, especially for someone like me who doesn’t always have enough time for a good RPG, but doesn’t want to miss the story. It also cuts down a lot of that grinding time, and let’s be honest, anyway that cuts down grinding time is a godsend for any RPG gamer.
Team of Four
One of my biggest gripes with Cold Steel IV was the number of characters in the game available for the main party. While I liked having the option, I found it at times to be overwhelming. Which made Trail From Zero’s party much more grounded with the focus on only the four characters. Sure, there would be times when another character would join the team, but these moments were minimal and happened at major story points. It felt like my party was a party and not just a rotating group of characters I never got to know. Although in saying that, playing this has allowed me to appreciate characters like Llyod, Elie, Randy and Tio because I have now got to know them as characters.
I normally wouldn’t talk about graphics for a game, but if you did a lot of your RPG gaming on portable consoles, then Trails From Zero is going to take you back, especially if playing on the Switch. If you have played a PSP or DS RPG then you would know that chibi look all RPGs on those consoles had then, and Trails From Zero is no different, making it an almost must-play either in handheld mode on Switch or on a Steam Deck. Not like it doesn’t look beautiful on the big screen, but there is just that nostalgia feels when playing it in handheld mode.
While I played this on Switch, I will point out that the PS4/5 version is the inferior version, and yes, you read that right, inferior. The reason is, from what I have read the PS4 version is the emulated PS Vita upgrade while the PC and Switch versions were remastered from the ground up. Which is to say that it may not look as smooth as the other versions. In saying that, I have no way of knowing as I played the Switch version, but I will say look at videos before deciding on the version you buy, provided you have the luxury of choosing.
I know this might be controversial to say, but I almost want to say that I prefer Trails From Zero more than Cold Steel IV. While Cold Steel IV is the better game in most aspects, Trails From Zero is more accessible to new players. Whether that is from the grounded story, which is the beginning of something bigger of the tight-knit team that we grow to love or the ability to speed up the gameplay, it is all here.
Trails From Zero shows that even an old game can feel new and rewarding even if most gamers have only experienced the later games in the series. If you are looking to start The Legend of Heroes games, I would highly recommend starting here and working your way forward.