I‘ve been following Falcom’s Trails series since 2019, accompanying Estelle and Joshua in their adventures through Liberl with Trails in the Sky and then shifting to Erebonia with Rean Schwarzer and Class VII in Trails of Cold Steel. I watched as the Aureole came into effect, ventured into Phantasma with Kevin Graham, and witnessed The Great One’s curse.
However, at the end of the latest saga, the absence of one storyline felt pronounced, namely that of Lloyd Bannings, Elie MacDowell, Tio Plato and Randy Orlando – the Special Support Section or SSS of Crossbell. From their struggles to the challenges faced to reform the Crossbell Police Department and ultimately save the city-state.
For the first time, Trails from Zero has been localized into English and made officially available in North America and Europe. If you’re a fan of either series, then Trails from Zero is already a no-brainer. The best part is that even newcomers will find plenty to like on jumping in, even if some aspects can take getting used to.
"Unlike other titles in the series (those localized in the West, at least), there’s a greater emphasis on investigation, gathering clues and then piecing these together to solve cases."
The story sees Lloyd Bannings returning to Crossbell, his hometown, after three years following the passing of his brother Guy. Lloyd has trained to become a police officer and detective like Guy, hopefully living up to his legacy. So when offered a position in the Special Support Section, a new group full of unique characters and a laissez-faire approach to case-solving – which subsequently earns some mockery for imitating the Bracer Guild – he’s not nearly as enthused. Nevertheless, there is something to its establishment, and it may be (just maybe) the solution to rooting out the darkness in Crossbell.
The pacing, especially in the early going, can take some getting used to. Conversations mostly strike a fine line between being crisp and drawn-out, but there’s still plenty of dialogue to go through, even when sticking to the main story. There are also some situations where some dialogue could be trimmed.
Thankfully, this doesn’t take away from the atmosphere, and Zero plays its cards very close when it balances the characterization, plot development and world-building. Unlike other titles in the series (those localized in the West, at least), there’s a greater emphasis on investigation, gathering clues and then piecing these together to solve cases. Keeping track of witness testimonies and evidence while presenting a theory is vital.
Crossbell’s shiny exterior and rapid economic progress slowly give way to a hidden, murkier side. There is some heavy subject matter, but it’s handled well and with restraint. You’ll learn about each party member over an extended period, which perfectly aligns with the development of the team’s dynamic.
"Of course, the localization deserves tons of credit. Fan group The Geofront’s work served as the base for the official English translation, and it also lent its talents to the same."
The characterizations are also on point. Lloyd is optimistic but still skeptical of things due to his training while also harboring doubts about his skills. Elie is kind and sophisticated, but her social status is often at odds with her wanting to handle things. Tio can be standoffish and sarcastic yet kind and understanding, and Randy is a laid back dude whose happy-go-lucky nature belies his violent past.
Watching their relationship as the Special Support Section slowly but steadily grow (especially when a certain someone joins) is a joy, especially as they cast aside public doubts and consternation while fighting for what’s important. Some very familiar faces also appear – including one with a very large stick – and mesh well with the cast while still being great in their own right.
Each character in Crossbell, right down to the average patrolwoman on the streets or Wendy in GenTen, has unique dialogue. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as events develop, they each get new lines, some shedding light on the current situation or simply updating you on their happenings. This adds character to the world, encouraging you to explore and get to know its citizens but also seeing how their lives are progressing.
Of course, the localization deserves tons of credit. Fan group The Geofront’s work served as the base for the official English translation, and it also lent its talents to the same. The results are excellent all-around, with perhaps only one mistake or odd translation spotted every dozen hours or so. It doesn’t always endeavor for direct translations but maintains the tone and essence of each exchange without completely going off track. Again, it’s a good balance which feels extremely comfortable over time. Also, shout out to the chest messages – they’re back and punnier than ever, for better or worse.
"The visuals are almost entirely remade, right down to the clean and sharp-looking environments and map textures. Character sprites are also superb, coming across as detailed but not too smooth as to feel unnatural."
Special mention must also be made of the porting work done by PH3 and Peter “Durante” Thoman (who is also responsible for other stellar Falcom ports to PC). The visuals are almost entirely remade, right down to the clean and sharp-looking environments and map textures. Character sprites are also superb, coming across as detailed but not too smooth as to feel unnatural. Performance is also on the mark, even when running the game with 8x MSAA and 16x Anisotropic Filtering, and the UI is crisp while offering scaling options.
Features like the Message Log, which aren’t present in the original release, are also incredibly welcome. In terms of blemishes, there was one part of a building with glitched textures (which was normal later) and a sign that didn’t feel properly upscaled, which says a lot about the sheer quality of everything else. The soundtrack, from travelling through Crossbell to navigating the Geofront and engaging in different battle situations, is just excellent all-around.
As noted earlier, combat starts slow. Like the Sky trilogy, you have a timeline with your party’s turns and the enemy’s. Attacking is immediate and based on one’s distance from a target. Some actions, like casting Arts, can take time to execute depending on a character’s stats. Crafts are executed immediately but require building up Craft Points, which are earned from attacking.
Certain Crafts can delay an enemy’s turn, which is great for gathering any random bonuses on the timeline – like healing, an immediate extra turn etc. – for your team. You also have S-Crafts which provide massive damage or benefits and can be initiated anywhere in the timeline with S-Breaks.
"It can all seem deceptively simple at first, but for me, it was a wonderful throwback. The focus on exploiting elemental weaknesses and using Crafts at the right time, especially when you need to interrupt a powerful incoming attack, is key."
Over time, you’ll unlock new features like Support Crafts, where the fifth and sixth members of your party can serve as Support members. They’ll appear in combat but aren’t directly controlled, doling out buffs or damaging and delaying foes. For instance, Lloyd’s Extend Hearts provides a 25 percent boost to Strength for all active party members while doling out 30 Craft Points.
You also have Combo Crafts, where two party members spend 100 Craft Points each to deal massive damage. Some are unlocked through the story, while others are available behind quests, providing plenty of incentive to go out of your way.
It can all seem deceptively simple at first, but for me, it was a wonderful throwback. The focus on exploiting elemental weaknesses and using Crafts at the right time, especially when you need to interrupt a powerful incoming attack, is key. However, there are plenty of other strategies that come into play, from applying buffs and debuffing enemies to using S-Breaks at the right time. The enemy design aids this as well – upon learning the right ways to combat foes, regular battles go by at a rapid clip. Meanwhile, boss battles are wonderfully designed and require more strategic thinking.
There isn’t much to be said about Quartz and the Combat Orbment that series fans won’t already be familiar with. Slot Quartz to use Orbal Arts, combine them for specific Arts, and upgrade Slots for more powerful Arts and benefits. Straightforward, yes, but still offering tons of depth as you delve deeper into the game.
"Objectively, some things prevent Trails from Zero from being perfect, and it may not be to every RPG fan’s taste. But as a fan of Falcom and the series, this is pretty much it"
Trails from Zero is a long game, punctuated with side quests or Support Requests in each chapter, in addition to the hefty story quests. Gameplay-wise, many of the Support Requests devolve into monster slaying or finding items. The writing makes them feel like something more, immersing you in the city and its infrastructure when not further acquainting you with its citizens.
Whether it’s shining a light on Wald’s personality, learning more about the baker Oscar, or opening an account with the International Bank of Crossbell for better Mira exchange rates, there’s a lot to discover and do. Plus, it feels good to see the reputation of the SSS grow with each subsequent request. You also have activities like fishing, Challenge Chests, gathering recipes and cooking, reading books and the Crossbell Times, and so on. It may feel a bit tedious at first as you run back and forth between districts, but High-Speed Mode and eventually Fast Travel help alleviate this.
Objectively, some things prevent Trails from Zero from being perfect, and it may not be to every RPG fan’s taste. But as a fan of Falcom and the series, this is pretty much it. A compelling story with great characters, backed by superb localization; a stunning port with great quality-of-life features and visuals; compelling combat with extensive depth; and much more. It’s a hallmark of the series and well worth the wait.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Stellar writing and characterization with excellent English localization. Visual improvements go beyond a simple remaster and look gorgeously clean. Top-notch soundtrack. Tons of stuff to do and a meaty story. Combat is easy to get into but offers plenty of depth, especially with Support Crafts and Combo Crafts. Quality of life features like Message Log, High-Speed Mode, and so on work great.
It takes some time to get rolling, and some exchanges could be trimmed. Backtracking between locations before fast travel is unlocked can be tedious. A few graphical glitches and oddly translated lines are present.
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