The most important RPG release of the year

In March 2020 a fan group called The Geofront released a translation of the massive RPG The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero.

Two years later that translation forms the foundation of the game’s official Western release.

Outside of the game’s fascinating road to launch, Trails From Zero stands as a phenomenal JRPG with a vibrant cast of characters and a unique setting, all backed up by a combat system that’s easy to pick up but has hidden depth.

Trails From Zero is a part of the larger “Trails” series that included the Trails in the Sky trilogy and the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy. The events and timeline of the series can get complex, but Trails From Zero is a mostly self-contained experience that takes place between the Sky and Cold Steel games. For years Zero has been seen as one of the “lost” games of the franchise, but whether you know Trails or not there’s a lot to love.

Trails From Zero’s story and writing are definitely high points, with a narrative that always keeps an air of mystery while slowly building things up.NIS America

A metropolis like no other

Zero casts players as a young detective named Lloyd Banning, who’s recently received an assignment to join the Special Support Section of the Crossbell Police. Upon arriving at the Police Station, however, Lloyd finds that his assignment is anything but typical, as the SSS is a brand new odd-jobs branch that’s designed to take on seemingly small and menial tasks like fighting monsters or saving cats.

The city of Crosbell itself is one of the stars of Trails From Zero, as it’s a complex location that plays an interesting role in the continent of Zemuria. Crossbell is a vibrant mega-city that’s self-governed and sits right in between the massive powers of the Erebonian Empire and the Republic of Calvard. It’s flush with technological advancements and wealth, but these advancements have continued to cause a rift between the rich and the poor. Trails From Zero isn’t shy about delving into Crossbell’s politics and socioeconomic issues, with the game exploring how Lloyd and the others fit into the puzzle of the city.

Lloyd himself is a strong protagonist, but he’s only made even better through his interactions with the rest of the main cast. There’s the sweet but sarcastic Elie MacDowell, the young supergenius Tio Plato, and the brash and hot-headed Randy Orlando. These disparate personalities initially clash, but the way the cast grows together as they face the struggles of Crossbell is something to behold. There are also so many interesting characters outside of the main party, whether it’s the mysterious bar owner and gang leader Wazy Hemisphere or the unnervingly charismatic President of Crossbell, Dieter Crois.

Crossbell is a fascinating setting, with the massive city separated into different districts like the Entertainment District, Banking District, Slums, and more.NIS America

Not a moment wasted

Part of what makes Trails From Zero’s story feel so vibrant is the way it uses side quests and side content, something that Trails of Cold Steel would build on. Every single side quest feels relevant to the overall narrative in some way, whether it’s building on the politics of Crossbell or showing another side to one of the main characters.

Because of the nature of Trails From Zero’s release, it’s important to note the overall stellar quality of the game’s script and writing. The Geofront’s translation was already in good shape when it was released in 2020, but there’s definitely a little more fine-tuning that’s happened. Considering NIS America has a shaky history with translations, like the terrible typo-ridden initial translation of Ys VIII, it’s good to see a release that feels really strong in terms of its writing and presentation.

Of course, the glue linking the narrative and exploration together is Trails from Zero’s combat system, which turns out to be deceptively complex. Like the rest of the games in the series, Zero uses a turn-based combat system that puts an emphasis on character placement and area-of-effect attacks. Before battle, you’ll equip your party with not only weapons but gems known as Quartz that grant stat boosts, abilities, magic attacks, and more.

While combat might seem a little too simple at first, Trails From Zero does a good of incrementally introducing new Quartz and attacks that can drastically change your strategy, as well as new features like Support Members. Random effects also get introduced in battle and can apply to either your party or enemies based on the turn order. For example, an effect might boost critical hit chance, so if it’s applied to an enemy you might want to use an ability that delays the enemy’s turn so it instead applies to your character.

Trails From Zero’s combat makes it important to think about each character’s placement on top of the area-of-effect of attacks and magic.NIS America

Rise and grind and get a bit bored

The only real issue you run into with combat is that it can start to feel a bit too slow-paced as you grind through dungeons, a similar issue that crops up with the overall story as you explore Crossbell. Trails games are notorious for being slow burns and Trails From Zero is absolutely no exception. The good news is that this release of the game includes a fast-forward button, which makes getting through both battles and lengthy story segments so much easier.

The Nintendo Switch version looks and plays fantastic, with sprite art and backgrounds feeling exceptionally detailed and vibrant. There were also only a few tiny instances of slowdown I experienced and, as a whole, Trails From Zero feels like the perfect handheld RPG to play in bite-sized segments. Although I haven’t played the PS4 version, it is important to note that outlets like RPGSite have noted that it is graphically inferior to the PC and Nintendo Switch versions.

Trails From Zero is an exceptional JRPG that feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as the golden era of the genre when games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII were released. Its deep and complex narrative has a strong sense of mystery and isn’t afraid to dive into tough topics, all of which make the setting of Crossbell feel that much more realistic. An integral part of this experience is the translation work from the fan group The Geofront, and it’s easy to see how the success story of Trails From Zero could serve as a blueprint for bringing even more forgotten JRPGs to the West.

9/10

Inverse reviewed The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero on Nintendo Switch. It releases on September 27 for PS4, PC, and Switch.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

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