Trails to Azure Review

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is the fifth entry in modern The Legend of Heroes series (I’ll refer to it as the Trails series). The game was originally released in Japan in 2011 for the PSP, but now in 2023 it has been localized in English by NIS America with quality of life improvements, and is available on the PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

You don’t need to play all of the other Trails games such as the original three Trails in the Sky games to understand the plot of this game. However, Trails to Azure is a direct sequel to Trails from Zero, so I’d strongly recommend playing that game before this one because the plot continues where it left off and has all of the characters returning who received lengthy introductions in the original game. This game also spoils certain plot events from Trails from Zero as well.

The game’s overarching story is heavily influenced by the events of the previous Trails games, with numerous callbacks and references to previous games in the series, so you will understand more references if you did play the original three Trails in the Sky games, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

I’ll provide a synopsis of the game without any spoilers. The game is set in Crossbell, a small city-state physically located between two superpowers: the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. Trails to Azure follows the story of Lloyd Bannings and his team of police officers in the Special Support Section (SSS) as they investigate a case that threatens the stability of Crossbell.

Trails to Azure Screenshot 2 BAI GAMING
The Crossbell Police Department is a building you’ll be frequently returning to, and it also has your own personal room you can decorate. (Image Credit: Nihon Falcom & NIS America)

The gameplay of Trails to Azure is similar to most JRPGs. The player controls a party of characters and navigates them through various environments including towns, dungeons, and maps connecting the areas together. You encounter enemies in map (it’s not random encounters) and you can fight them or avoid them, and your characters gain experience points to level up and increase their stats.

Skills in this game are called Crafts. In addition to Energy Points (EP is basically MP) used for spells (called artes) you also have Craft Points that allow you to use your characters’ crafts as well as their S-crafts, which is each character’s most powerful move if they have 100 or more Craft Points accumulated. You also have currency you manage (called mira) and you can buy equipment and items for combat.

The most unique gameplay mechanic of the Trails series is the orbment system. The orbment system in Trails from Zero is basically the magic used by characters in the game. You can use different magic spells by equipping and customizing what orbments you’ve equipped on the characters.

Orbments come in different types, including earth, water, fire, wind, time, space, and mirage, which are each an element with different effects (water for healing, fire for attack to name a few). Each orbment on a character has slots where quartz crystals can be inserted. Some increase a character’s stats, while others grant new abilities or improve their magic depending on whether you want to make a physical or magical character build.

Characters can customize their orbments by equipping different quartz crystals in different slots, creating unique combinations that suit their playstyle. The types of quartz you can use in your characters’ slots are limited at first but they can be upgraded later to allow you to place more powerful quartz later on. It’s not too difficult to understand, but in the worst case you can look up in the in-game tutorial menus (the detective notebook) to see what combinations of quartz you need to make a certain spell.

The game features turn-based combat, where the player chooses commands for each character and battles against enemy forces. In combat, characters can use their orbments to cast spells, attack enemies, and support their allies with healing or buffs. Different spells have different ranges, so your physical positioning around the enemy is important, otherwise you may get all your characters hit by a boss’s area of effect attack.

Turn order depends on the speed stat (SPD) and how slow the action you’re doing is. For instance, using an item or just moving without performing other actions is usually fast and you can get another turn with that character soon afterwards, whereas casting a powerful spell may result in that character not being able to act for a while.

It sounds complicated but it’s really not, you’ll naturally gain more quartz by exploring the game and you can even craft or disassemble them if you want to create different builds. Quartz gets broken down into sepith that can be used to create new quartz.

It’s not necessarily the most optimal build, but I personally enjoyed making my Tio into a “dodge tank”, where I’d put all her equipment and accessory to almost max out her evasion stat as well as cast spells in battle to increase her evasion even further, causing her to dodge most of the enemies’ and bosses’ attacks on her.

Trails to Azure Screenshot 1 BAI GAMING
The combat is turned-based and also allows you to position your characters around a field. Crafts and artes have certain ranges. (Image Credit: Nihon Falcom & NIS America)

It’s not a graphically impressive game but the art direction is terrific and the city of Crossbell feels very alive with many distinct areas such as the Orchis Tower, the Crossbell Police Department, the Downtown district featuring an active nightlife scene with bars, the Entertainment district with a theme park, aquarium and theater, the Residential Street featuring both rich mansions and seedier slums, and the Geofront, which is an underground facility beneath the city.

Crossbell City is a big city and it serves as a hub area to relax between story missions, pick up side quests, upgrade your equipment, and buy new items. Like other Trails games, the NPCs in Crossbell have a lot of dialogue and if you talk to them after story events they’ll always have new dialogue.

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Crossbell is a very fun hub area to relax in between story missions with many shops in close proximity. (Image Credit: Nihon Falcom & NIS America)

Some of the standout features of Trails to Azure is its intricate world-building and its characters. The game is filled to the brim with political intrigue and conflict, with various factions vying for power and influence. There is a lot of dialogue in the game featuring different groups involved in Crossbell’s politics, and Lloyd has to navigate the complex relationships between them.

My favorite scene in the game without spoiling was a world leaders summit, featuring many extremely influential characters from countries all over the continent that had extremely high tension because you didn’t know if a world war was about to break out.

The game also features a wide cast of characters, each with their own unique personality and backstory. Most of the supporting characters were recruited in the previous game, Trails from Zero, return in this game, and the main cast of characters are extremely distinct with their backgrounds and motivations.

The game also features a bonding system, where the central protagonist, Lloyd, can develop stronger relationships with other party members by engaging in various activities and viewing exclusive conversations with them. One small criticism I have is that the bonding system isn’t as easy to understand as it is in the Cold Steel games, which does make sense considering Cold Steel was released after this game. In this title, you get bonding points for each character by talking to them, but it’s randomly done between story scenes (they are unmarked conversations indistinguishable from any NPC conversation) and is often nonobvious.

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There are many areas to visit and many NPCs to speak with who reveal more about Crossbell. (Image Credit: Nihon Falcom & NIS America)

You can also get more bonding points for doing certain sidequests, choosing certain characters to take with you during the main story missions, and by adding decorations to your room in the police headquarters. With a guide it’s possible to acquire enough bonding points to view special bonding scenes with all the characters, but you can only see one final bonding scene per playthrough so you’ll need to reload if you want to see them all in your game.

Trails to Azure also features a crafting system, where you can create and upgrade weapons and equipment for their party. Like all of the other Trails games, this title also has a fishing mini-game, where the player can catch various fish and trade them for rewards. In addition to the main story, there are many side quests that which usually involve helping out side characters in various ways, such as solving a problem, delivering an item, or defeating a monster, and these help flesh out the city of Crossbell further.

The game’s soundtrack is excellent, with a wide variety of tracks that fit the game’s various moods such as when you’re investigate corruption in Crossbell or fighting bosses, and there are many memorable tracks that are still stuck in my head. The game’s music is composed by Falcom’s in-house composer, Falcom Sound Team jdk. The soundtrack is good to the point where I’d happily buy the digital soundtrack to listen to even when not playing the game.

The game’s localization is professional and the dialogue flows very naturally. It’s very interesting because the game was not localized for a long time, so a translation group called the Geofront made an English fan translation of the game which was used as a basis for this official localization. This is one of the few rare cases where a fan translation group was allowed to work on the official localization and is definitely a good example of NIS America working alongside the community surrounding the game.

There’s also an hour long audio drama CD that connects Trails from Zero to Trails to Azure, also translated by Geofront. You don’t have to watch it to understand the plot, I didn’t watch it until after I finished both of these games, but if you’re hungry for more plot and to see more character interaction then definitely check it out.

Another small criticism is that the game has only a Japanese voice acting dub with no English dub available. I would’ve definitely preferred if they added a small amount of English voice acting for the most important story scenes. Although there is no English dub, the Japanese voice acting in the game is top-notch, with a talented cast of voice actors who are able to bring the game’s characters to life. The localization also includes numerous quality-of-life improvements, such as an improved user interface and faster text scrolling.

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Trails to Azure has a very likeable cast of characters. (Image Credit: Nihon Falcom & NIS America)

Trails to Azure took me about 40 hours to complete after doing all side quests but not necessarily talking to all NPCs. Your playtime can really vary depending on if you’re a completionist, your difficulty level and how fast you can get through battles, how familiar you are with the Trails series, and how quickly you can read through the dialogue. If you want to talk to all the NPCs after each story event, you can get dozens more hours of playtime. It is definitely a longer game than Trails from Zero and does a good job of wrapping up all of the plot elements previously introduced.

Even if you already played the games that came out after this such as the Cold Steel games, it’s still fun to play this title to understand the overarching plot and to understand the role that Crossbell City plays. It’s also interesting to see the plot played out from the role of a police officer, Lloyd Bannings, and his team of professionals in the Special Support Section. This game really has many likeable characters who really do a great job of playing off of each other and there’s never any character bloat because it’s such a tightly knit team.

Trails to Azure is an excellent JRPG that fans of the genre should definitely check out. The game’s intricate world-building, engaging story, and lovable cast of characters make it a very fun game to experience. While the game’s graphics may not be as impressive as modern releases, the game has well-designed 2D sprites and has great art direction for the visuals. Its English release finally allows Western audiences to experience this excellent game on modern platforms.

The Legend of Heroes:
Trails to Azure

Our Score: Amazing

Pros

  • A very grand story, with many great plot twists and a lot of characters, both likeable protagonists and unlikeable villains.
  • The gameplay is addicting, and it’s very fun to create different character builds using orbments and quartz.
  • Although the graphics aren’t amazing, the 2D sprites have great designs, like a retro game.
  • The city of Crossbell is large and has many distinct areas to explore. The overall world-building is impressive as well, where it feels genuinely stressful that Crossbell is wedged between two rivalling superpowers ready to go to war at any time.
  • It has great character development, and it clearly feels that the characters have become more experienced compared to the previous game.
  • Many quality of life improvements have been added compared to the original release of Trails to Azure in Japan.
Cons

  • The game can be on the long side, and if you can’t handle long scenes with just narration and character dialogue this might not be the game for you.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on PC

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.


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