The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review
Our review of this game will contain no spoilers. I’ll cover a brief synopsis of the characters and plot presented in the first hour of the game and any screenshots shown herein will be spoiler-free. I’ll also explain where this game takes place in The Legend of Heroes’ and Trails of Cold Steel timeline but I won’t spoil those games either.
This game is the fourth entry in the modern The Legend of Heroes games – the first three games being Trails in the Sky First Chapter (FC), Second Chapter (SC) and Trails the Third. The Trails games are categorized by their protagonists and the regions where they take place. Trails From Zero takes place in Crossbell and is the first Crossbell game, and is a duology with its sequel, Trails to Azure, so it’s actually fine to start with this game as your first entry into the series. I’ll be referring to this title as the first “Crossbell game” herein for brevity.
The game’s story is definitely its high point and makes it worth playing, even if it’s an older game. To give a brief summary, the protagonist is Lloyd Bannings, a detective for the Crossbell Police. To put it simply without spoiling, he has to solve a big conspiracy involving terrorists and gangs that are threatening Crossbell’s safety.
He gets the help from Elie MacDowell, Tio Plato, and Randy Orlando. It’s a mixture of very diverse and dissimilar characters, but they all play off of each other pretty well. Lloyd is the strict leader who became a detective because his older brother, who was also a detective, passed away in the line of duty. Elie is well-rounded and is the granddaughter of Mayor of Crossbell, Mayor MacDowell. She went into the police force against her family’s wishes. Tio is distant and enjoys programming and gathering intelligence, and she knows how to use her staff for magic. Randy is extremely laid-back and loves drinking, but actually very good at his job and protecting his friends. Unlike the Cold Steel games, the main cast of characters are very few in number and are very tightly-knit.
It’s a very plot heavy game with a lot of dialogue as you uncover mysteries, so be aware of that and it may not necessarily be everyone’s kind of game. It’s not rare to have cutscenes that are half an hour or more if you take your time reading through it. At the same time, the mystery itself you’re solving is very intriguing, and I always felt extremely engaged in the plot, even if the cutscenes were long.
If you rush the main story, the game can be completed in about 35-40 hours, but to complete all the side quests and gather all collectibles it would take maybe 70 hours. This is shortened if you’re already familiar with these games or could be lengthened if you want to take your time and talk to all the NPCs.
Trails of Cold Steel 1 to 4 take place after the two Crossbell games. Characters in the Crossbell games appeared more frequently in Cold Steel 3 onwards, so if you want to find out more about Lloyd and Randy through their backstories and if you want to see how they fit into the franchise as a whole definitely play Trails to Zero and also this game’s sequel, Trails to Azure, when it releases.
In theory it would’ve been better if these games were localized earlier to play it in release date order, but you can treat them like very fleshed-out prequels, kind of like how Better Call Saul is to Breaking Bad, or even how Metal Gear Solid 3 is to Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2.
If you’re new to the franchise and haven’t played the Cold Steel games yet, do play these before the Cold Steel games because these Crossbell games came out earlier than Cold Steel and you can enjoy the quality of life and graphical improvements as you play the later games in order.
At the same time, if you’re coming back to these titles and never played them because they weren’t localized yet, it’s fine as well because even if these Crossbell games are a bit dated compared to Cold Steel you still get the same high-quality storytelling and world-building you’d expect from any Legend of Heroes game. They aged rather well.
My only note is that if you’re new to this franchise, watch out because Crossbell games very mildly spoil the endgame of Trails of Cold Steel 2 and vice-versa (you’re meant to expect the twist in Cold Steel 2 after playing these) and Cold Steel 3 onwards heavily feature the characters in the Crossbell games and even have you visit Crossbell City. But even if you played all four Cold Steel games first, you can still enjoy this game and be surprised at all of the plot events.
One of the best parts of this game is that you get to experience a new region. Trails in the Sky takes place in Liberl and Trails of Cold Steel takes place in Erebonia, so seeing this game takes place in Crossbell helps complete the puzzle on how Crossbell fits into the entire continent, which is especially important in Trails of Cold Steel 3 onwards.
For the gameplay, it’s very similar to all the other games in the Legend of Heroes series. It has better gameplay than Trails in the Sky, but it’s not as refined as Cold Steel which came out after these games either.
Be aware that this was a PSP title originally, but was then remastered and ported to modern consoles before getting localized. It’s not ugly though; although the game is not technically or graphically impressive, the sprites are very well-designed and charming. The art design is really up there and the dungeons look like fields or roads you’d explore. The game has been remastered since its original Japanese release to include cleaner artwork and portraits and upscaled textures on the maps. You get 2D character portraits when the main cast and major supporting characters are speaking.
You explore simple 3D environments in both safe towns as well as open fields and dungeons with on-screen enemy encounters. You can ambush the enemy to get advantages in battle or they can ambush you.
The game features many difficulty levels, ranging from Easy to Nightmare, so you can choose if you want to just experience the story or if you want challenging gameplay if you’re already familiar with these games. The game has a New Game Plus feature, allowing you to carry over items and equipment if you prefer doing a Nightmare difficulty run with more powerful characters.
The dungeons are not complex at all and you typically just need to explore all of the hallways or vents to compete them and get all of the treasures. It’s very fun and relaxing to explore the dungeons.
In general when comparing the same difficulty level to other games, Trails to Zero is generally an easy game especially since it’s the first of the Crossbell games (the later entries of games in each region are the harder ones). The developers introduced many new gameplay mechanics after Trails the Third that make this title easy, but the sequel to this game fixes this with harder bosses.
The hub area is Crossbell City, where you’ll be doing all your shopping. The different kinds of shops are thankfully marked on the map to make it easier for you and the layout stays the same for the later games as well, so if you played Cold Steel 3 you would’ve already seen these maps.
I suppose that my only criticism of the game is that it only has the one main city, but it is a giant city with different streets and sections, such as Downtown, the Harbor District, Entertainment District, Residential District, Administrative District, Central Square, and more. It is actually a city that’s a sovereign state in the game’s universe and you do have a lot of subplots occurring in each district of Crossbell.
The combat is turn-based. The turns are not “your party acts and enemy party acts”; rather, your characters have stats that determines turn order and you can use spells to hasten your characters or slow down the enemies. This means your characters and the enemies will have more or less turns depending on their stats, illustrated by turn order with portraits.
The battle area is a 3D space and you can move the characters around the enemies. Different spells (arts) and skills (crafts) will have different area of effects. This is true for the enemies and bosses too, so one rule when playing this game is to never have your supporting characters bunched up in front of a boss! At the same time, if you want to heal everybody quickly then you can have your characters group together in range of a healing art.
In general you have the mainstays of any JRPG such as equipment you can buy in shops or find in treasure chests in dungeons. These include weapons for each character, armor, shoes and accessories. Weapons are exclusive for each character, while some armor and shoes are unisex and some are gender-specific.
Like other Legend of Heroes games your characters can equip “Quartz” which are equippable crystals with elemental properties including earth, water, wind, and fire, as well as more unique ones such as time, space, and mirage. These will determine the kind of spells and arts your characters can use as well as change your character’s stats, so you can customize your characters however you want. You can craft Quartz from Sepith fragments, which you collect from defeating enemies or from treasure chests.
Each type of Quartz typically falls into a category: earth is for physical defense, water for healing and magic offense, wind for evasion and magic defense, fire for physical offense, time for increasing turn speed and offering insta-death skills, space for reducing arts’ Energy Points (EP) cost and increasing attack range, and Mirage for increasing a character’s EP.
It may sound daunting but you can have a lot of fun playing around with different setups or you can check out character builds online if you don’t want to stress out. One common technique is to make characters into “evasion tanks” through raising their Evasion stat as much as possible, making enemies always miss attacking your characters with the exception of bosses with special moves.
Crafts are unique to each character and can do many things from attacking enemies to buffing/healing your characters, etc, which also have varying ranges. Crafts are performed from using Craft Points in battle, which are acquired from dealing damage, having damage dealt to your characters, or even from special kinds of equipment that regenerate Craft Points faster.
There are also S-Crafts which are the ultimate attacks of each character that can be used by spending all 200 of their Craft Points at once. Some bosses have pretty nasty S-Crafts they’ll use on you too! If you perform S-Crafts with two characters at once, you’ll perform a Combination Craft, which was never brought over to the Cold Steel games.
There are also status ailments, which include common ones in JRPGs such as Poison, Blind, Seal, Sleep, Confuse, as well as Deathblow (instant death) and many others.
All of this sounds complicated, but putting all these elements together makes for a very fun JRPG battle system! These games also have a non-linear leveling-up system, where if you’re very under-leveled you’ll get a lot more experience from fights than if you were the same levels as the enemies, so it’s better to always move to new areas and progress the story.
Like other Legend of Heroes games, this game is organized into chapters and days as you progress the main story. This title does have a lot of missable content, so I do recommend double checking with a guide, but in general if you talk to everyone (you should because every NPC has updating dialogue with each plot event) you’ll have no problem. It features many side quests that really flesh out the world as well different characters and factions. If you complete more side quests you will obtain more Detective Points, DP, which give you extra rewards in the game.
The game also has the same collectibles you’d see in these games such as Recipes for meals you can cook, Books to read, and even Fishing. These collectibles aren’t intrusive at all and add a lot of lore to the game world, kind of like the books found in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Skyrim. Fishing in The Legend of Heroes is fun too and I always try to catch one of each species of fish for my collection book.
The original Trail in the Sky games had cooking, but in this game you can cook with a character of your choice, so depending on if a certain character is good at cooking a particular meal or not will affect the quality of the meal. Superbly cooked meals with give you bonuses in battles and peculiar meals might poison you!
This game also has a bonding system where Lloyd can form friendships with other supporting characters, but unfortunately it’s not as obvious as the bonding events in Cold Steel 1 where you’d get free time off and you could choose anybody to hang out with. Instead, you increase your friendship through dialogue choices throughout the story, using Combination Crafts a number of times (crafts that you perform with both Lloyd and another character), as well as through purchasing room decorations for the characters. If their friendship points are high enough by the endgame, you can unlock a final bonding scene as well which actually gives a lot of backstory on the characters.
I really recommend this game, whether you’ve played the other Legend of Heroes games or if you’re new to the series! It’s a really fun JRPG with a great story and a fun cast of characters with a great dynamic. The plot is really good too and involves solving a mystery as a detective. You uncover seedy groups in Crossbell and you get to see how Crossbell fits into the larger picture of the Legends of Heroes franchise. The plot is full of twists all over the place.
The gameplay is addicting too; it’s very fun to create builds with your cast of characters. You have regular equipment in JRPGs but you also have the Quartz system, which is pretty unique to The Legend of Heroes games. It’s fun to craft your own Quartz and mix and match them between characters.
The only thing I need to mention is to be aware that it’s a very plot heavy game that’s very driven by character dialogue and it is a lengthy JRPG. You never need to grind because the battles are not too difficult, but it takes a while to get through all of the game’s cutscenes since the story is length, so you need to determine if that’s the kind of game you’d like. The plot is a bit back-loaded as well, but the final chapter is really well done and has a lot of payoff.
I’ll close this by saying that you shouldn’t be intimidated by how long these games are. There’s absolutely no need to rush through these games and you should enjoy them at your own pace.
Trails from Zero
- Very fun JRPG with a colorful cast of characters.
- Although the graphics aren’t cutting edge, the 2D sprites and character faces are drawn well with a charming artstyle.
- The turn-based combat is very addicting and the orbment system is fun and allows you to experiment with various kinds of builds.
- Like other Trails games, the world-building and character development is top notch.
- The plot can drag on early on and there are some pacing issues. You do need to enjoy a long narrative to enjoy this game.
- There is no English dub in this title which is disappointing since other recent Trails games received English dubs.
– Brandon Harris
Reviewed on PC