Ring my (Cross)Bell
Last year, NIS America made a Legend of Heroes fan out of me with the release of Trails from Zero, the first part of the Crossbell Arc of the greater Trails storyline. I found it to be a fascinating RPG with an outstanding narrative and gameplay structure that positioned the title as some sort of “playable police procedural”. While overly talkative (and a bit ugly on the PS4), Trails from Zero ended up as one of my favorite games from last year.
Chances are I’ll be saying the same thing about Trails to Azure when we finally get through 2023.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Nintendo Switch)
Publisher: NIS America
Released: March 14, 2023
MSRP: $39.99 (Digital) / $49.99 (Physical)
Returning to the city-state of Crossbell in this direct sequel to The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure continues with the exploits of Lloyd Bannings, Elie MacDowell, and the rest of the Special Support Section (SSS) as they work against the odds in a city that is brimming with corruption. If you missed out on Trails from Zero, know that Azure generally expects players to come into it with first-hand knowledge of the events of the previous title. While there is a glossary that’ll give you the gist, to really understand what’s happening here, you should set aside 45 hours to play through the Zero before giving this a go.
Trails to Azure begins just a month after the events of the previous game, with the SSS attempting to maintain the fragile peace the denizens of Crossbell are enjoying. While corruption still looms large in the government, you get the sense that it’s somewhat more manageable this time around. That is, until the West Zumeria Trade Conference abruptly changes the direction of this city-state’s future, and not necessarily for the better.
As it was with Trails from Zero, the story of Azure will play out across several chapters that all feel like their own little episodes, with stories and characters that tie into the greater narrative. It’s just as effective here, and solving the small cases that are assigned to the SSS each day only strengthens the procedural feel of this story structure as well as the already strong world-building. I adore RPGs that are massive, world-spanning adventures, but there is something so refreshing about playing a game where it’s all localized to one incredible location. Especially when the story is this good.
Because of that, don’t be surprised if you get a sense of deja vu in Trails to Azure. You’ll be exploring many of the same locations and having way-too-long conversations with most of the same people throughout Crossbell. You’ll also be engaging in combat pretty much exactly as you did before, with your team doing battle in a turn-based, grid-based format. Characters can attack with standard melee attacks, arts, crafts, and powerful S-Craft and Combo Crafts that unlock as you progress through the game. Crafts are dictated by the quartz you have assigned to each character, and new this time around is a Master Quartz that can level up with your characters (albeit very slowly).
Also new is the Burst Guage, which fills up during certain battles and rewards your team with various buffs should you choose to use it. Its availability is limited to specific encounters and the final chapter, but when it’s around, I would consider it to be a lifesaver. Because some of these battles are pretty damn difficult if, like me, you grow absentminded in properly equipping your team and upgrading your quartz. Looking back to the tough time I had with the last few battles in Trails from Zero, I kind of wish Burst could have been retroactively added to the SSS’s first outing in Crossbell.
Speaking of the SSS, you’ll have access to six party members for the majority of your excursion this time around. A new element in Azure are back attacks, which force your rear-guard characters into battle if an enemy attacks you from behind. It’s a neat idea meant to keep players on their toes, but it only really came into play in the game’s final chapter. For the rest of my journey, I was easily able to sneak up on foes on the field map, getting the advantage over them in battle. Of course, you do have the option to skip most of the map entirely with the new orbal car that’ll whisk your team between locations, but it’s probably best to head out on foot at least once for each path to open all the chests that are scattered across the land.
Beyond that, there really isn’t much to say here that I couldn’t have already said about Trails from Zero. Because at its core, Trails to Azure is just a simple continuation of that excellent RPG. And that’s all it needs to be. I know many in the games journalism sphere tout the importance of innovation and divergence when it comes to sequels and franchises, but developers don’t always need to try and reinvent the wheel with each game they release. Sometimes, more of the same is exactly what is needed. And The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is more of the same in the best possible way.
Before Trails from Zero, I didn’t know anything about the Legend of Heroes series outside of the fact that people really like to complain about how text-heavy its titles are. And while the Crossbell arc could certainly use an editor in my mind, I would be fooling myself if I didn’t admit that, when taken together as one complete experience, Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure are easily one of the best turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played. Here’s to hoping someday I’ll be able to find the time to see the rest of what this series has to offer.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]