A lot can be said about the age of remasters. Sometimes, a remaster feels forced – sometimes, a game is remastered to death. Other instances see remasters tactfully produced, with meaningful updates that make revisiting the game in question well worth the time and money. The Legend of Heroes Trails from Zero is a special case – it is a remaster of the PSP title of the same name that never made it to the west. You see, after Trails in the Sky launched on the PSP, the Legend of Heroes saga remained in Japan until the popular Trails of Cold Steel launched on the PS3 and PS Vita. Sure, we eventually got PC ports of the remainder of the Trails in the Sky chapter of this epic – but the important saga that released between Sky and Cold Steel would seemingly never arrive stateside.
Of course, the fine folks over at Geofront created, perhaps, one of the finest fan translations of Trails from Zero years ago. Heck, before I was savvy enough to know, they tried to contact me via Twitter to let me know about the project. To my dismay, I never responded (in my defense, I did receive a lot of scam/spam messages around that time, too, and I had recently acquired BitCultures, myself). Once NIS America took the over the publishing reigns from XSeed to finish out the Trails of Cold Steel chapters of the series, they were quick to partner with Geofront to translate, remaster, and release this PSP gem to western audiences.
And boy is it good. Trails from Zero is the opening arc of protagonist Lloyd Bannings work as a police officer with Crosbell City’s Special Support Section (SSS). If you played Trails of Cold Steel, you certainly heard of the SSS and its members, meeting them throughout the four titles. He is fresh out of detective school and assigned to the SSS, an attempt from the CPD to win back public support from the Bracers guild (whose star Bracer, Arios, is famous throughout the city for his heroic deeds and incredible power). As Lloyd – and joined by Elie, Tio, and Randy – you take on requests from citizens of Crossbell while investigating and solving issues around the area.
Like any Trails game, Trails from Zero features some pretty heavy twists and turns, and, like every other game in the series, the plot is a wonderful adventure to unravel. Additionally, Trails from Zero (and the whole franchise, really) is filled with some of the best character progression in gaming. Even smaller NPCs and recurring characters are fleshed out well, as if they too had a believable history. I think this is one of the reasons why the series resonates with so many fans – the world building is superb, the writing – while sometimes and knowingly full of cheese and dramatics – is excellent, and the characters on all sides of every issue have a history that most can relate to, if not sympathize with (yes, even the ‘villains’).
The gameplay in Trails from Zero sports an evolutionary take on Trails in the Sky. If you played both Sky and Cold Steel, you will see the evident growth in the combat system that paved the way for the solid turn based action we loved in Cold Steel. The battle arenas look like a strategy RPG, and you are able to move your characters across the board to engage with enemies. All of the arts, crafts, and S-Arts are here, too, so you will have a large repertoire of skills in which you can dispatch your foes. I suppose you could call it a strategic turn based RPG, but it leans much more heavily on your classic turn based combat tropes than your SRPG ones. Either way, I found combat hugely satisfying (much more so than my very enjoyable time with Trails in the Sky), with boss battles posing enough of a challenge to make the grind worth it and make those same battles rewarding.
Outside of combat, Lloyd & co. will travel around the areas surrounding Crossbell City, explore the underbelly of the city itself, and find themselves entangled in some menial task and enormous predicaments. The initial setup very much reminded me of the original Trails of Cold Steel’s school/trip designations, but Trails from Zero deviated quickly from a rinse and repeat path. While the core idea remained, it certainly felt like a fresh experience.
One of the most pleasant experiences in Trails from Zero is its incredible soundtrack. Some tunes were certainly familiar, but the overall ease with which Zero weaves its sound direction is nearly a masterclass of its own. The only complaint that I have with the entire game is that there are no English voice actors. This isn’t a significant issue, as the entire game has text to read, but I really like the voice actors for all the characters in English. Perhaps it was a logistics thing, but it would’ve been a nice addition to the remaster. Otherwise, the experience was wholeheartedly top notch.
Visually, the remaster does a spectacular job of taking a game from the PSP and making it look fantastic on big screens. My review covers the PS4 version of Trails from Zero, and my initial thoughts were that the game itself looked really good stretched across my 55’’ TV. The game is not shrunk into a tiny box like a lot of retro remasters, and I think it benefits greatly from it. I can only imagine that it looks even better on the handheld Switch, where it likely feels more at home.
I would recommend having played, at least, the original Trails in the Sky to gain a familiarity with the opening plotline. You probably know what Bracers are by now, but the dive into the Bracers Guild in the initial game really lays the foundation for a lot of the lore you may have felt was never explained. Getting to know Estelle, Joshua, and Cassius is important, too. Still, while Trails from Zero is not as easily stand alone-ish as the Cold Steel games (at least the initial three), it is still playable without any prior knowledge and works very well on its own. Finally experiencing the Crossbell Arc for fans of the series will be a real treat and is well worth the overall investment. I simply cannot wait for the next entry.