Release Date: March 14, 2023
Publisher: NIS America
Fans of The Legend of Heroes series will no doubt point out that both original PSP titles Trails from Zero and now its sequel Trails to Azure have an almost legendary status amongst turn-based RPG fans. While access to these games was once difficult to attain, fan translations from The Geofront have actually led to the official English release of this duology for the very first time – showing that hard work, love, and dedication to something can truly pay off in a huge way for players. As a follow-up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, this entry ties up the ends to the Crossbell arc, which is lauded by some as the absolute pinnacle of the series as a whole. Taking a look now, how does Trails to Azure stack up?
If you played and saved clear data from the previous game, you’re able to port that data over before starting Trails to Azure, which brings over the following: changed dialogue depending on the side quests you completed, Lloyd’s bond levels with the SSS members, in-game achievements earned, strengthened Combo Crafts earned, and dialogue depending on NPC’s you’ve met before. While you won’t be porting over items or money earned with this, it’s definitely worth noting that cutscenes can be a lot different depending on whether or not you use clear data, so consider polishing up with Zero before diving in.
Trails to Azure begins merely a few months after the events of Trails from Zero, following the protagonist Lloyd Bannings along with the members of the Special Support Section. Having to fight against the stigma of the Crossbell Police Department’s failing reputation alongside the comparisons to the reputable Bracer Guild, the SSS had a rocky start from the outset. Proving themselves during the events of Trails from Zero, though, the SSS has come a long way in winning public approval and cementing themselves as a team that people can truly believe in. This time around, you’ll be starting with raiding some old ruins where a cult used to hold up. In the ruins, the first major plot point happens and its a huge spoiler for those that have not played Trails from Zero yet, so we’ll leave it here.
The game does again feature full Japanese voice acting with English text, as well as the retro-style cutesy characters and 3D backgrounds. As an enhanced port of a PSP game, the visuals look wonderful and don’t have any noticeable lag or graininess on the Switch in either docked or handheld modes, making the experience akin to the recent Persona 3 & 4 ports. While there is nowhere near the level of beauty and detail of the more recent Trails of Cold Steel IV, for a 2011 handheld game, it holds up rather well with remastering and what you may not like visually it more than makes up for with phenomenal storytelling and overall charm.
If you did end up skipping Trails from Zero and picked this up first, make sure to check out the title screen where a glossary of terms and brief recap of the story so far can be found. While this is helpful, it’s definitely still recommended to pick up Trails from Zero before playing this one, as the first hour of Azure will go back over major plot spoilers from the previous title and may ruin the overall experience of the narrative. While its definitely not a requirement and you are free to enjoy the games in any order you wish, some will urge a specific play order of either by release date or by the in-game Septian Calendar to best enjoy the series’ incredible world building and not spoil events from other games for yourself. While overlap in these two is slim, there are moments where parties from other games will be seen in passing and may be seen by some as significant spoilers.
Combat in Trails to Azure is mostly familiar to those continuing after Trails from Zero. The isometric grid returns and characters will need to manage movement and range with abilities in order to maximize their effectiveness. A huge and incredibly fun addition to the mix is the master quartz system, which is likely familiar to anyone that has played later games in the series, but Trails to Azure marks the first instance of master quartz making an appearance. In this entry, master quartz will give access to two elements along with conferring stat bonuses to the equipping character. Leveling up them up will expand those bonuses, and at their last level will grant access to an incredibly powerful Master Art. There are a total of 21 different master quartz that can be obtained in game, and utilizing these along with regular quartz can result in different ways of building characters to suit your play style, but there are drawbacks in the form of elemental requirements and some characters not being able to utilize certain elements overall.
Another addition to the combat this time around is the Burst System. After reaching a certain point, access to this system opens up. A gauge will need to be filled during combat, which can be triggered to have the entire party gang up on the enemy team. Players familiar with the Persona series’ All Out Attacks will find this very familiar. In addition to dealing massive damage, using Burst will give the party a variety of boons: all party members will advance to the next action, all status effects will be removed on your team, Arts are cast instantaneously, and the effect can be extended as long as the Burst gauge has not yet reached 0. The downside is that this does require four party members to use and not using the feature when the gauge is maxed will cause your Burst points to begin to deplete.
Back on the subject of world building, Trails to Azure is filled with side quests that expand upon additional lore and character growth. There are a large amount of quests that are completely miss-able, and some that even expand upon Trails of Cold Steel’s storyline and lore. A lot of things will begin to come together, and you’ll still enjoy gathering collectibles and cooking just like in other games. One aspect that I spent way too much time on (as I often do in any RPG that offers it) is fishing. This worked in my favor, as a specific master quartz can be earned by completing certain criteria and I ended up doing this completely by accident. One changeover in this title compared to its predecessor is the addition of Fishing Duels, which ended up being a lot of fun simply because I already enjoyed the minigame on its own merit.
Fishing Duels are unlocked in Chapter 2 and upon completion help open access to different fishing holes. The trader from the previous game is still available and is always willing to trade items for the fish you end up catching. Spending a little time here can be quite lucrative for collecting ingredients and accessories. It is always worth it to trade for better items, as aside from monetary gains, fish aren’t really useful for anything else.
While the mention of story in this review is pretty light, I will say that the twists and turns that you may be used to in a Trails game are definitely present, with a bit more emphasis on the side content (like your typical obligatory beach scene with fanfare) and character growth this round. The story starts and feels slow, but in the last twenty or so hours it will feel like a tornado of events and you’ll be moving at a much quicker pace with a sarcastically large amount of tension. I fell even more in love with Crossbell and its people, and the incredible story conclusions have left me even more sure that the fandom is absolutely correct – Trails to Azure is definitely the best Trails experience that I’ve had so far, and may honestly be one of the best turn-based RPG’s that I’ve ever played. One point that I will make before leaving you to it: Do NOT be afraid to look up a guide for miss-able quests and items. I did way too late and missed out on a lot of stuff. Looks like I have to play this again. Oh nooooo. (Sarcasm)
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure starts us once again in the sleepy town of Crossbell, so take your time enjoying the sights and exploring everything you can to fill out your list of completed quests. As the first official English release of the game here in the west, I’d like The Geofront for their tireless work on translating these games for us, and NIS America for utilizing their work and giving us the hands down best experience possible for these titles. This and Trails from Zero should be considered must-have games for any RPG player with a Switch.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.