|The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure
|NIS America, Inc.
|March 14th, 2023
|PS4, Switch, PC (Steam, GOG, Epic)
|ESRB – T for Teen
It’s been a couple months since overseas fans finally got an official taste of the Crossbell duology, and it did not disappoint. The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero impressed me with its solid story, memorable characters, great turn-based gameplay, and outstanding soundtrack. And now, the conclusion to the duology is close at hand. Was The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure able to live up to the great success of its predecessor, or did it fall at that barrier? Could it possibly surpass Trails from Zero and reach even greater heights? It certainly has some big shoes to fill, so let’s read on and see how it did.
Trails to Azure takes place shortly after the events of Trails from Zero. The Autonomous State of Crossbell has a new Mayor, Dieter Crois. And the last corrupt Speaker of the Diet was replaced by the former Mayor, Henry MacDowell. With these two figures in power, Crossbell finally starts to see some much needed reforms. The Special Support Section (SSS) suspended operations after resolving the last big incident, so the members could all handle personal business. But now, the SSS is restarting operations with both new and returning faces, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Due to their loosening grip on the State, the two major powers, the Erebonian Empire and Republic of Calvard, are keeping an even closer eye on Crossbell. Add to that other unseen forces behind the scenes, and Crossbell is in as precarious a position as ever, maybe even more than before. Can Lloyd Bannings and the SSS protect Crossbell and the people most important to them, or is this one barrier that’s impossible to overcome?
To put it simply, Trails to Azure’s story is fantastic. There were so many shocking developments and twists and turns, it really blew my mind, in a good way. As you progress, it really makes you question certain things. Who can you trust? Who is the true villain here? What are their motivations? Do the ends really justify the means? These questions find their answers by the time you reach the ending, and it is one satisfying journey. I enjoyed playing through a story that wasn’t so easy to figure out and really makes you think. Not only that, the events that played out evoked emotions of shock, sadness, anger, and joy in me. A story that can really make you feel for the characters is one that should be treasured, and Trails to Azure did that. Speaking of the characters, they were not lost in the shuffle. The previous game gave each member of the SSS their time to shine, and Azure is no different. Randy gets much more development than he did in Zero, and new members, such as Wazy Hemisphere and Noel Seeker, also get events reserved for them. Even NPCs learn and grow as the story progresses, like Sully from Arc en Ciel. I also appreciated how they included some characters from the Trails of Cold Steel series this time around, but I won’t spoil for you who they are. And if you transfer your clear data from Trails from Zero, some of the game’s dialog changes depending on what requests you completed and who you chose for the game’s final bonding scene. This was a really cool touch and makes playing the previous game even more worthwhile. While I love the story, I do admit some of the cutscenes can run a bit long. This may bother those looking to get straight into the gameplay, but I was perfectly fine with it. With a thought provoking main story and characters that don’t get lost in the shuffle, you won’t want to put the game down.
Gameplay in Trails to Azure is very similar to that in Trails from Zero. You complete requests (both mandatory and optional), complete main story events, and finish the end of chapter dungeon and boss. The Detective Point (DP) system returns and you get rewarded for how you complete certain requests or main story missions. You can possibly get bonus DP for how you answer questions, if you see certain events out in Crossbell State, and even for defeating certain bosses. Trails to Azure has one of the toughest (optional victory) boss fights I’ve ever contended with in the entire Trails series, so it was very satisfying when I took them down. Like before, I highly recommend completing the optional requests so you can net yourself some nice rewards and also add some world development.
Crossbell has many of the same locations you remember from Zero, but Trails to Azure also introduces some new areas for you to explore. You can visit the magnificent skyscraper that is Orchis Tower, traverse the thick flora of Knox Forest, and take in the mysterious landscape of the Lake Elm Wetlands. These are just a couple of the new locations available for you to explore. Again, you will have to traverse to the same location multiple times, but that is unavoidable due to the size of Crossbell State. You can only go to so many areas before you’ve seen it all. Azure introduces a new travel option, and that is the SSS’ brand new Orbal car. The car is available to you pretty early on, and it makes traveling that much easier. It is very similar to the bus in some respects, but it also has the ability to stop in areas that the bus can’t go, making it much more convenient. You can also upgrade the car with some nice attachments as you progress, including things that can fully heal your Health Points (HP), Energy Points (EP), and Craft Points (CP). Once you get these upgrades, it makes completing requests and battles that much easier. Of course, you won’t have access to it all the time, but when you do, it’s a valuable tool. High speed mode makes its return, so you can still zip through Crossbell quickly on foot. While not a deal breaker, I still wish they had markers on the map telling you where requests are. It can be easy to miss requests otherwise.
Combat is pretty much the same in Trails to Azure as it was in Trails from Zero, and I still feel it’s a solid turn-based system, so you can read more in-depth about it in my Zero review. But, there are two major additions in Azure: Master Quartz and Burst. Master Quartz is something brand new that you can equip to each character’s orbment, and only one Master Quartz can be equipped to each character at a time. They are available in seven different elements, and each one raises a character’s stats in different ways. In addition to the stat boosts, the Master Quartz can also grant a character temporary buffs at the beginning of battle, or in the middle of it depending on if certain conditions are met. Master Quartz can help narrow down what type of role you wish a character to take in battle. For example, the Force Master Quartz (fire element) raises the character’s strength (STR) by a good amount, so it’s great for DPS. As you use Master Quartz in battle, it slowly gains EXP. With each level, it increases the stat boost and the effects of the buffs. Once a Master Quartz reaches level 5, you unlock the ability to use the quartz’s Master Art. These are powerful arts that cost a ton of EP, but can help easily turn the tide of battle. Force’s Master Art restores 50 CP and also increases your attack and craft power by +150%, so that’s great if you need to hit something hard. Unfortunately, EXP raises so slowly for Master Quartz, that you most likely won’t be able to take advantage of Master Arts until the last chapters. I, personally, didn’t need to use them on Normal difficulty, but they may be useful on Hard and Nightmare.
The Burst gauge appears once you near the end, or as the game likes to put it, the climax of a given chapter. You can raise the gauge by damaging the enemy, and once it’s at max, you can activate Burst mode. Burst automatically pushes your party above the enemy in the turn order, heals your party of all status ailments, and lets you cast Orbal Arts instantly. So, this is great if you think you can finish off an enemy, or it can help you survive a grim situation. This is a great addition and it really helped me out in the tougher boss fights in later chapters. I didn’t really see any downside to this addition. Trails to Azure’s combat system is as solid as previous entries, and it even ups the difficulty from Zero with some rougher boss fights. So, those who are looking for a bigger challenge, you’ll love what you get in Azure.
Trails to Azure’s graphics look outdated, but the PC version does a good job of cleaning the models and environments up to make them more pleasing to the eye. There’s also a new Water Shader option available, and it really spruces up the look of some bodies of water to make them more reflective. However, it also causes a weird visual bug. If you’re talking to someone by the water and they have a reaction emote or a thought bubble, it looks like it blends in with the water, it even gets wavy too. There is a character event near the Mishelam Wonderland pier, and this is where the bug is most noticeable. It’s not a game breaking issue, but if you want a more stable visual experience, I suggest turning that option off. There is also a story cutscene that had a weird visual glitch in the background. The scene in question involves riding an animal with the scenery passing by as the animal runs. As the animal runs, I believe the background is supposed to loop and start over. However, at points it looks like the background stutters or cuts strangely, and then keeps going again. Again, not a game breaking issue, but it is jarring if you notice it. Many of the character designs I loved from the previous game make a return in this, but there are new characters, and some returning characters also got makeovers this time around. Wazy dons a much cooler outfit sporting a scarf; Noel’s outfit combines that military aesthetic with something casual. Of all the new character designs in the game, I liked Rixia’s the most. Her new outfit looks both sexy and badass, a lethal combination. There are many recycled enemy designs in this game, but there are a couple new ones, mainly for mechanical foes and the bosses. I do wish there were even more new enemies though, but I’ll take what I can get. All in all, the overall designs were good, but more enemy design variety would’ve pushed the envelope even further.