For those following The Legend of Heroes games since XSEED picked up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Trails to Azure is something to be celebrated. While the reliable stream of recent releases is appreciated, it wasn’t always such a given. The Crossbell duo is a long absent missing piece, only rectified after Trails from Zero finally appeared worldwide in 2022, 12 years after its original PSP debut. Trails to Azure is a long-awaited piece of a puzzle providing context fans longed for, and as expected it’s a solid conclusion and appreciated RPG.
That is, for people who do have all this context. This isn’t for people who haven’t played Trails from Zero or, ideally, kept up with the Crossbell, Liberl, and Erebonian Empire events. Go play the first game or one of the other titles and come back in 120-360 hours.
Trails to Azure even begins with a story segment that helps tie it to the first game and wrap that “case” up a bit more clearly. Lloyd Bannings and Noel Seeker are working with Alex Dudley and Arios MacLaine to apprehend Ernest Reis and Hartmann, who are apparently after the vestiges of the D∴G Cult’s power. So right away, you’re seeing the Special Support Section (SSS) leader, the soon-to-be-SSS-member but still current Crossbell Guardian Force person, a Crossbell Police inspector, and a Bracer’s Guild A-rank member all working together. Not to mention the Gralsritter Dominion Kevin Graham pops up at the end, introducing a number of different factions coming into play.
Once that’s tied up, Lloyd explains to Noel that due to the fall of Revache, the mafia that basically helped keep order despite being a criminal enterprise, and possible political instability that might come from the rise of new mayor Dieter Crois, Crossbell’s independence, and the approaching West Zemuria Trade Conference. The SSS is bulking up by adding Noel and the mysterious Wazy Hemisphere to their ranks, as well as by having existing members like Elie building up more ties with possible allies. This also, of course, means encountering all of the groups above and the Septian Church, not to mention people from other countries.
Right from the outset, it’s establishing that Trails to Azure isn’t a game for you if you haven’t been keeping up. It brings in person after person who was critical in the first part of this duology, expecting you to be up-to-date. It will also reference characters from the Trails in the Sky series, organizations present in all recent The Legend of Heroes series, and even drops Ries’ appearance with little introduction. It 100% is a game that requires context. Which means it is great and feels like a connected part of a vibrant world if you are aware of everything! It relies on Nihon Falcom’s well-built foundation. Not to mention if you do know people, they do still feel true to themselves and in-character.
At the very least, playing Trails from Zero is mandatory. This is because a character introduced in it, KeA, is a central figure throughout Trails to Azure’s plot. It’s handled in a very good way, and I really appreciated playing a The Legend of Heroes offshoot that can wrap up its plotlines relatively succinctly in two games following the four-part Trails of Cold Steel.
Okay, well, that’s 500 words alone trying to explain exactly how many spinning plate plot points come up in Trails to Azure without major spoilers. It’s a lot! Fortunately, the actual gameplay isn’t nearly as overwhelming. Like Trails from Zero and the Trails in the Sky series before it, Trails to Azure is a turn-based RPG. You have a party of characters who can use Arts as a result of equipped quartz in each person’s Enigma II tactical orbments, as well as special craft abilities tied to each person. Characters can use team attack Combo Crafts with certain allies. There are also S-Crafts, essentially limit breaks, that can be used at any time once the proper gauge is filled. Also, while it involves a fairly straightforward, turn-based battle system, each unit’s position also matters to determine range of attacks and area of attack effects. Also, there are casting times for arts to consider. So really, it’s all much more strategic and thoughtful than most turn-based games.
That thought extends to the SSS missions themselves. You’ll always get some optional and other “urgent” support requests. The former can and will disappear if you don’t get to them when they show up. The consequences usually mean missing out on some rewards or even an interesting sequence of events. The urgent requests advance the story and are always labeled as such. So there’s this distinction that allows people a lot of freedom when choosing what to do and which, which I appreciated.
It’s also great that, like in other The Legend of Heroes recent released, Trails to Azure also offers these more lighthearted elements and events. Bonding returns, allowing you to connect to certain allies. You can customize your orbal car and get items for allies’ rooms. There is an amusement parks and beach to visit, though these feel more event-geared than something like the actual Pom! Pom! Party! puzzle minigame, and opportunity to once again fish.
Not to mention how it preserves the continuity. In some games with multiple parts, carrying over save data might just mean additional items or costumes. Trails to Azure acknowledges things you experienced and did in the previous game, as well as bonding events. In my case, I was fortunate to pick up from the Switch version of Trails from Zero, which means I noticed differences in Lloyd and Elie’s relationship because I maxed out their relationship before. It’s a fantastic “reward.” You paid attention to this series and spent the 50-odd hours necessary to beat Trails from Zero and connect, so Nihon Falcom rewards us for it.
Trails to Azure also looks rather good on the Switch. Yes, I noticed some textures that didn’t look as great in some dungeon areas or during some Craft sequences. But in general the characters and environments look great, considering the original age of the game. There can sometimes feel like there’s some disconnect when you compare the visual direction and style of some monsters to people in your party. But in general, it looks and sounds great.
But even if it didn’t look exceptional or was more dated than it appears, finally getting Trails to Azure feels like a special occasion handled with the honor it deserves. This is a JRPG that I didn’t think we’d ever see released worldwide about 10 years ago, and now it’s here. It’s a joy to play. As long as you’ve been keeping up with the series over the last decade, it will likely delight you as well.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on March 14, 2023 in North America, March 17, 2023 in Europe, and March 24, 2023 in Australia.