Falcom and Trails at their absolute best
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Geofront Fan Translation patch on a Japanese PC copy of Zero no Kiseki. There is no official western release for this game.
The Legend of Heroes:Trails games are an underrated series of JRPGs known for having excellent world building, sharp witty dialog and meaningful NPC interactions. The series is also famous for having a middle chapter, the Crossbell Arc that was never released outside of Japan. While die-hard Western players could resort to fan translations, the translations often did not live up to the quality and standard set by the official Western releases of other Trails games. The Geofront Fan Translation patch is a game changer. The translation patch smooths out a lot of the odd text issues found with prior fan translations. The patch also includes many quality of life improvements, like controller support, boost mode, enhanced graphics settings and the ability to load the last save of the game without going through menus. It is a joy to report that this patch will finally introduce Trails fans to one of the finest games in the franchise.
Zero no Kiseki or Trails from Zero takes place months after the events of Trails in the Sky the 3rd. While it is not strictly necessary to play the Trails in the Sky games, your enjoyment of Zero will be hampered greatly due to plot spoilers and cameos within the first few hours of gameplay.
You play as Lloyd Bannings, a recent police academy graduate who joins the Crossbell Police Department. Lloyd gets assigned to a division called the Special Support Section. The division is unusually small, only consisting of Lloyd and three other members. If that wasn’t strange enough, none of Lloyd’s coworkers have police experience. Elle is a Crossbellian sharpshooter. Randy is an ex-guardian force soldier. And Tio is a teenage tech wizard. Lloyd finds out that this “special” division that they were assigned to, is essentially a joke. In an eerie reflection of today’s times, the police are hated by most Crossbelians due their poor assistance to the public and corruption in the upper ranks. The SSS was created to improve the police’s public image by serving as faux bracers. Instead of solving crimes and arresting perps, the group’s mission is to clean up monsters and answer to requests by the public. Of course there wouldn’t be a game if it were just Lloyd and friends being wannabe bracers and they eventually stumble into a conspiracy that involves the local mafia and corrupt politicians.
Trails from Zero immediately differentiates itself from the Trails in the Sky games. You are not playing plucky adventurers journeying the land. You’re playing as cops investigating crimes in a major city. Also unlike the Liberl arc, the scope of Zero is remarkably narrow. There are only four core playable party members and a few guest members. Outside of Crossbell City, there aren’t many places to visit other than a few landmarks, two towns and a hospital. The small scope of the game is not to its detriment and it highlights Crossbell City as a character in itself that grows and changes over the course of the game.
You get to learn fairly quickly that Crossbell is an important region in the entire Trails world. Crossbell is a neutral territory and is a meeting ground for diplomatic relations. Due to its neutrality, Crossbell does not have a military force and relies on the police and bracers to resolve disputes. Crossbell is also the monetary capital of Zemuria housing the most sophisticated bank in the world. Even more, the city serves as the foundation for the Orbal Network which is the Trails’ equivalent to the Internet. The city of Crossbell is bustling with life and diversity. There are Western-style and Eastern-style districts. A back alley where a night-life scene thrives. An entertainment district filled with a casino, theater and a high-end hotel. And numerous cart vendors and street peddlers who constantly vie for your attention. It is easy to get lost spending time just talking to every NPC in each chapter.
It is expected for a Trails game to have excellent narrative and world-building, but the gameplay is another story. In the prior Trails in the Sky games, the gameplay is mediocre. It’s a turn-based area grid battle system with clunky UI, sluggish animations and uneven difficulty. The best I can say here is there are sensible iterative improvements made in Zero (these features also made it to the Cold Steel games). The UI has been overhauled to a radial menu making selecting combat options slightly easy. Getting a preemptive attack often allows your group to execute Team attacks to mop up lower level monsters. There is now an EXP bonus mechanic rewarding specific actions like finishing a battle without taking damage. Lastly there are dual special skills and guest character actions to help make longer battles more interesting. Outside of combat there is still the quartz system, ability to cook food and opportunity to fish at certain locations.
The Geofront Fan Translation patch is excellent. The localization is top-notch and is comparable to the localizations found in the official Trails games. My slight qualm with it is there are some interesting liberties the fan translation takes with Japanese honorifics. The patch drops almost all honorifics, except when Randy speaks to two main characters who are both young girls by adding a “-tot” and “-do” to their names. This is the rough equivalent to a person who adds “-chan” or “-tan” to one’s name basically emphasizing the youth and cuteness of the individual. It’s an odd decision because it makes Randy sound like he’s some foreign person, a doting father/brother figure and/or a perv who gives nicknames to young girls. I understand the intent behind this decision, but I feel like Randy’s text could have been better translated such as if he’d given nicknames to everyone or did not give them at all.
Trails from Zero is one of the best Trails games out there. The core four members are all thoughtfully designed each with their own perspectives of life as well have their own inner turmoils. The small roster gives each main character more time to develop and breathe compared to the large rosters found in Sky and especially in Cold Steel. The game is well paced and strikes the right balance between story and adventuring. One of my favorite moments that summarizes why I enjoyed this game is when Lloyd and his friends infiltrate a private auction by disguising as attendees. It’s a sequence where all you do is speak with other NPCs. It doesn’t sound like much but I enjoyed the freedom to speak with other characters rather than watching a cutscene summarizing the whole ordeal. Zero is Trails in its purest form. It’s a game full of excellent dialog and interesting NPCs for you to explore at your own pace.