Game Review | TLOH: Trails from Zero
Should you play The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero first? Well it depends. If you’re the type of person who cares about chronological progression on a plot then no. Despite being a somewhat launching point into the Legend of Heroes games, it’s still technically a sequel. The proper way to enter this illustrious franchise would be to play the Sky games first then organically transition to Zero but if you’re not much of a stickler for plot order then you can technically play this first then revisit Sky. Being among the former meant not completing this game but rather playing enough to give a solid opinion on the initial experience with plans to finish it proper after completion of Sky.
So what is the legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero about?
Its plot centres around main character Lloyd Bannings returning to his hometown to follow in his late brother’s footsteps by joining the Crossbell Police Department. Unfortunately he finds himself assigned to a ragtag new division called the Special Support Section, which performs odd jobs and helps people in need. Not what he initially wanted but probably what he needs. While getting to know each other, he and his new teammates slowly discover that their vibrant city hides a dark criminal underbelly…as well as a few terrible secrets. Similar to other legend of heroes titles, Zero uses its world, NPCs and characters to great effect. It all feels real, lived in. Well from a narrative perspective at least.
Llyod and his band of misfit cops; Tio, Randy and Elie are a likeable bunch and you’re definitely gonna want to see how they develop along with the rest of Crossbell.
Originally released for the PSP and UpResed for the PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, Trails from Zero looks dated. In comparison to more modern games it’s dated. Zero uses a fixed camera outside of combat while sporting a somewhat 2.5D style. Not what most would expect from a game releasing in 2022 but consider that this is technically a port of a 12 year old game. Played on the Nintendo Switch it looks quite dated on a 4k monitor but when played in that beautiful handheld mode it’s sublime. Games like these are meant to be played like this. In fact I’d go so far to even say that playing this on any other platform excluding the Switch and Steam Deck is a disservice to the experience as a whole. Not having a Steam Deck at the time of writing made the switch the obvious choice for me. It ran smoothly both in handheld and docked mode but obviously looked better outside of the confines for the dock.
Visuals aside, Zero is similar to other Trails games in that it doesn’t suffer the dreaded silent protagonist-Kun illness. Llyod is his own person. He has personality and he speaks as such. Voiced in Japanese for important portions of the experience, it’s clear who he is and what he embodies. Of course for any of us who’ve played a JRPG or two, it’s obvious what he stands for. You know, your standard protagonist stuff. Passing the Detective exam means he’s got keen deductive skills. Of course not JRPG protag can lack compassion for those in need or a great sense of justice. Lloyd is the perfect police officer in a corrupt town. It all connects from a narrative perspective and despite not understanding any Japanese, it sounds good too. Whether or not any of the voice work was rained in, I certainly couldn’t tell.
An almost perfect package
Add to that the banging soundtrack and engaging combat for a must play experience. It’s one and only flaw being the slow pacing at the beginning. Trails games can be quite dialogue heavy and this one is no different. As mentioned before it’s even more so in the beginning of the experience. For the initiated this serves as splendid world building but that may deter others. My advice, pace yourself if you’re not accustomed to such experiences or share the fun by reading dialogue with a friend or spouse. Once the plot picks up it’s more of an even split among dialogue, fetch quest and combat.
Quests in Trails from Zero come in two varieties; Sub quests and main quests. Sub quests can and should be completed before addressing the main one as they will expire, thus locking out potential exp, funds and world development. Yes you can pretty much stick to the main quests alone but why would any sane person play a JRPG in such a blasphemous fashion. You wouldn’t and you shouldn’t. Gained via the computer in your SSS base, players are able to choose the quests they undertake at their own discretion. Once accepted the quest criteria will be present in your detective notebook – accessible via holding the X button then pushing left on the d-pad. Here you can also access the manual and a list of all quartz in the game.
What are quartz?
Quartz are a key part of the Trails series skill three system. Early in the experience you’re given an item called an orbment. It’s kinda like a phone in which you can place gems called ‘quartz’ to boost stats and grant your characters super powers. Each member in your party has a different affinity to these quartz which all have varying abilities. As you play you’ll gain new quartz and be able to unlock more slots in your orbments. Once set up you’re able to also outfit your party with different gear and set their formation for combat.
When in combat it’s your standard turn based affair with a bit of a twist. Trails games consider spatial awareness akin to tactical RPGs. So rather than just choosing your attack, you’re also able to select where your characters are positioned in relation to enemies. If not in range, attacks won’t hit, so this can and should be used to impact the battle. One example is with escorting NPCs into battle and needing to coral the enemies as far away from said NPCs to protect them while picking off the monsters. On each character’s turn you’re able to either move them, use an art, attack, run, use items or crafts.
It’s magical time!
Crafts are the game’s special abilities and arts are its magic. Along with attacks, Arts add to your CP. This CP is then usable for either crafts or S-Breaks. These being hyper stylized attacks which deal serious damage. S-breaks can be used at any time once a character has over 100 CP. By holding X and a corresponding direction on the D-pad an S-Break will be activated. Used effectively, they can sway the tide of battle or even decimate an enemy in a single turn. If that’s not enough firepower for you there’s also combo Crafts – a combination of multiple character crafts. All in all the developers give you lots of options for disposing of foes.
I’m sure I missed some other aspects of the combat like Team Rush but focusing any further on the robust combat would result in us being here all day. Instead we should focus on what else Trails from Zero has to offer. This remaster has some quality of life functionality like a new speed mode to cruise through the city at your preferred pace. I wouldn’t recommend its use in dungeons or during dialogue heavy sections but outside of those two instances I’d say it’s a life saver. Visually it’s of course enhanced compared to the original and there is that translation too. Finally having a game like this in English is a blessing for fans of the MCU equivalent of JRPGs that is the trails franchise. And like its contemporaries, Zero has lots of activities outside of your standard questing to mix up the formula. Fishing. Gambling and more make up its appeal.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero is my third foray in this illustrious series and I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time with it. If not for repugnance towards spoilers, I’d have already finished by now. Alas that I’ve had to shelf it while longingly looking forward to returning after completing the Sky trilogy. Until then I’m happy I got to meet Lloyd and the SSS team. Obviously my opinion on the game is based on a limited amount of the experience but if there’s one thing I can confirm, it’s that The Legend of Heroes games are well worth their price of admission.
The copy of The Legend of Heroes Trails from Zero used for this review was provided by its Publisher NIS America.