Continuing a Bright Future
NIS America set up a ludicrous 2023 schedule of game launches with a relatively quiet but extremely successful 2022 lineup. Last year, NIS released the recently translated remaster of Trails from Zero, a masterclass of JRPG excellence that creates strong characterization, enjoyable and sometimes challenging (but rewarding) combat, and the beginning of a story arc that bridges the events of Trails of Cold Steel. Zero features Lloyd, Elie, and Tio as members of the newly formed Special Support Section (SSS) of the Crossbell police department – a branch of the often maligned department meant to win back the respect of the Crossbellan citizenry and serve as a competition for the Bracer guild (a group of highly skilled people whose first priority is to protect and help citizens across the world; there is a branch in just about every major city).
Trails to Azure picks up after the events that closed out Zero, seeing Lloyd & Co. dismantling the mafia and now facing the darker shadows that the criminal organization held at bay. The SSS has to come to terms with the fact that they are, at least, partly responsible for the darkness that now creeps upon Crossbell – and the character growth and plot pacing of events puts Azure into a league of its own. It is a brisk experience broken into days – much like every Legend of Heroes game – that sees the SSS facing unpredictable and unimaginable foes. Without spoiling too much, Trails to Azure serves as the pinnacle of story telling fans have come to love from the best of The Legend of Heroes saga.
Gameplay is very similar to the previous entry with some tweaks to combat and quality of life. It certainly is not anything too noticeable – and why should it? – as the original title was a continuation of the series on handheld. The good news for fans of PlayStation is that they do not appear to suffer from different versions of the final remastered product as it did with the previous release. In any case, the gameplay in Azure is still excellent and, in many aspects, is improved. Additionally, Trails to Azure features more of the phenomenal Legend of Heroes compositions that grab hold of the player. This arc – this era – of The Legend of Heroes music is probably close to my favorite, as the evolution of soundtracks to the present have pushed in a more aggressive direction (though the newer titles are still brimming with musical excellence).
My biggest complaint will continue to be the lack of English voice actors. As I stated in my previous review, The Legend of Heroes boasts such an incredible list of talented voice actors that it is truly a shame to not experience them. Obviously, the Japanese voice actors are beloved, but I have always been so intrigued by the profession that I am disappointed when I am unable to experience characters I’ve grown to enjoy. I am certain that, in addition to saving a lot of money, the speed with which NIS released Trails to Azure was enhanced by not dubbing English voice actors. Whether the efficient release was worth losing that aspect is left up to the consumer.
In the end, Trails to Azure is everything longtime fans of The Legend of Heroes could want (sans English voice acting, if that is your thing). Improved mechanics on a small scale improve quality of life, the stakes are higher, and it is certainly interesting to get to experience the consequences of your actions in the previous game firsthand (the game does allow you to import your clear data in order to carry over some decisions you made previously, too). And while this Trails to Azure doesn’t necessarily tug at my heart strings the same way Trals from Zero did, it is still a gem and reflective of what makes JRPGs great – and is yet another shining example of how to properly remaster a classic.