It’s been a while since I played a game in the long-running Legends of Heroes series. My first experience with the long-running franchise was back on the PlayStation Portable, with its Trails in the Sky arc. I dabbled with the popular Trails of Cold Steel arc but didn’t get too far. However, with the western release of Trails from Zero now available, I wanted to jump back in. Thankfully, you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the franchise to experience this arc. However, while I absolutely love the game’s combat, I struggled to enjoy its story.
A new team in town
In Trails from Zero, you control Lloyd Bannings, a young detective who returns to his hometown of Crossbell after three years away. He’s been recruited by the local police department to be part of a new team, the Special Support Section. The team is formed to help with the odd requests that wouldn’t necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of the police.
Lloyd and the rest of the SSS fit your typical RPG tropes. You have Elle, the granddaughter of the mayor. Tio is your young but incredibly talented tech member. Then, Randy, the former soldier rounds out the crew. Each has its own backstory that we slowly learn as we play the game.
At the start of the game, the core cast of characters is pretty small. But as you progress, we get introduced to so many more. For a game that focuses on a relatively small world to explore, it’s kind of impressive just how many people we interact with. Thankfully, there is a uniqueness to each one. If you take the time to wander around and converse with everyone you can, you can learn a lot more about them and the world they’re a part of.
Slow pacing with more talking than doing
The biggest problem I had with the story is its pacing. Japanese RPGs are known, both good and bad, for their long narratives that take far too long to actually get going. Trails from Zero suffers from this issue. The game relies heavily on exposition, and there are far too many moments in the game where you are just going through long sections of dialog.
The story is broken up into chapters, each with its own focus, but with little bits of information pertaining to the main story. I was into the game’s third chapter, and I still couldn’t pinpoint who or what our main antagonist was. Also, we were still learning only little bits of information pertaining to the rest of the team. Not to mention, we had questions about Lloyd’s past that were mentioned early in the game but still not addressed.
I understand the need to build suspense. But, rather than letting us actually grow closer to our characters, I was struggling with why characters were being introduced at the start of one chapter, then completely forgotten about later on. Trying to avoid teasers, these kinds of story/character beats that come, disappear, then come back can be hard to track.
While I wasn’t too keen on the story, the combat is what kept me going. This isn’t your standard RPG battle system with the heroes on one side and the enemies on the other. In Trails from Zero, like the other games in the Legends of Heroes series, the combat is played out on a grid battlefield where both hero and foe can move around it. Depending on attacks, your placement on the grid determines who and how you can attack. But it’s much more than that. On top of your standard weapon attacks, you have Crafting Attacks and Art skills, which really open up how you tackle a battle.
Crafting Attacks are special, player-specific moves that can do significant damage. As each character either attack a foe or is attacked, they earn Crafting Points. They can use these points to perform one of a variety of different skills. After reaching 100 Crafting Points, your hero unlocks an additional, S-Attack that uses up all the points but is incredibly more effective.
As for your Art Skills, you unlock these by collecting and equipping Quartz stones into slots that you unlock for your characters. As you unlock the ability to carry and use more, you can combine certain colors to create more complex and powerful abilities. It’s a very deep system that does take a bit of time to get used you. But once you start to understand how to properly mix quartz stones, you can give your team some incredibly beneficial arts to use in battle.
…but not enough of it
Unfortunately with the combat, I felt like there just wasn’t enough of it. After 20 hours of playing, my characters were still only at level 20. I wasn’t struggling with any of the battles early on, but it’s clear that I wasn’t getting into too many fighting situations as I’d like. Again, there is more of a focus on the story in Trails from Zero, all while I was craving more combat.
Along with each chapter’s main investigation, the SSS can take on special requests that help you earn some cash and decent rewards. Most of these are standard fetch quests, like helping locate a person’s missing wedding ring, or collecting certain items for a recipe. Thankfully, there are a few that actually put you into combat situations.
If it wasn’t for those situations, there were only a few points in the early stages of the game where I was actually fighting monsters/foes in the main storyline. Combat isn’t random, you clearly see the monsters as you walk around. I was regularly clearing an area, leaving it, then coming back just so I could earn a few more experience points. Unfortunately with that, you don’t actually earn that many points in regular battles. After I while I just had to settle with the slow level progression until I entered a new part of the game.
Please respect my time
Before jumping into The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, I knew it would be a long game. What I was expecting was something that would have a nice mix of combat and story. The best RPGs know how to balance the two. I absolutely loved the combat and the world of Crossbell, but the story just didn’t grab me in the same way. Had I skipped most of the SSS requests and only focused on the main story, perhaps I would have seen the game’s conclusion much sooner. But then I would have deprived myself of the enjoyable combat.