Trails to Azure has arrived half a year after the long-awaited English release of Trails from Zero, heralding the completion of the missing Crossbell arc from developer Falcom’s Trails series of role playing games. One question remains: Has the thirteen year wait been worth it?
Trails to Azure is as direct a sequel as you can get, picking up straight after the events of Trails from Zero. The climax of that title saw Crossbell’s Special Support Section (SSS) – a group of police detectives – thwart a secret cult that had threatened not only citizens’ livelihoods, but the Crossbell state’s standing with two neighbouring nations.
It’s these very underpinnings behind the international relations trade superpower Crossbell finds itself in that form the very backdrop for Azure’s narrative.
The game begins with the temporary disbanding of the SSS as each character sorts out some unfinished business before the group is reinstated following the need to investigate the recent emergence of foreign intelligence activity.
The early game plays to Falcom’s strengths in upholding attention to detail. Revisiting old haunts will reveal a wealth of information and dialogue to follow up even the most minor events from Trails from Zero, while you’ll also find dialogue choices from that game are often taken accounted for as well.
Similar to its predecessor, the first half of the story slowly lays down the pieces for what’s to come. Halfway into the game, ramifications from an important trade conference set the stage for turmoil to unfold within the second half.
This familiarity in structure ends up defining other parts of Azure. Its status as a direct sequel set in the same game world means that – story aside – it can be rather devoid of surprises in its approach to role playing.
Still, there are some worthwhile changes to note. Take combat for instance, which has seen a couple of refinements. Each chapter’s finale unlocks a super ability during fights, enabling party members to cast spells immediately along with other benefits. This in turn allows developer Falcom up the stakes with its boss battles, appropriate given the raised stakes that come with each chapter’s climax.
Furthermore, Orbments – devices that grant magical abilities in battle – now require a Master Quartz to function. Each Master Quartz changes character stats in their own ways, and combining them with the appropriate abilities and equipment is often key to beating boss battles – at least in the Hard difficulty we played.
Boss battles also demand a more thorough understanding of the game’s battle system. Combine this with the aforementioned alterations and Trails to Azure just about manages to avoid treading old ground with its fights. You get a natural progression in difficulty despite effectively having to start over with equipment, spells, and the like.
On the contrary, Crossbell as a setting for RPG Things has been stretched to its limits. For starters, you’ll be revisiting many of the same locations that you might have already gone over with a fine comb in Trails from Zero. While that’s not inherently bad, Azure lifts its game structure wholesale from Zero while also regurgitating dungeons, quest ideas, and routes. The feeling of Déjà vu is unavoidable here. Put simply, developer Falcom hasn’t done enough to make exploring Crossbell as much of a joy as it was the first time around in Zero. Moreso than ever before receiving another generic monster subjugation or similarly menial task tends to feel like going through the motions, especially as their relevance to the plot carries less weight than before.
As we pointed out in our Trails from Zero review, Crossbell and the locations that branch out from is arguably the main character of this story arc. But it’s spread too thinly across the game’s massive scope. Stick to the main story, however, and you’ll find less of the rote.
This rings true in the side activities as well. An intermission halfway into the game forces these upon the player, and it’s no coincidence that they are more creative here than they are when they are presented as side quests, especially as one serves as a rollercoaster-themed minigame.
Despite the inevitable repetition, Trails to Azure largely succeeds in its role as a direct sequel. Considering how much is reused here the narrative was always going to carry greater importance. And it largely delivers on those fronts, only spoiled by a couple of late-game reveals of a dubious nature.
Crossbell is still one of the best locations to ever grace an RPG, serving up liberating freedom as you’re granted access to the entire map very early on in the game.
Being able to spend more time with the dynamic bunch of the SSS is a major boon, too, since they arguably remain the most interesting cast in the series’ long history, with the loose ends from Zero finally being tied up.
If you’ve played Trails from Zero there is really no reason to hesitate picking up Trails to Azure. And if you’re instead new to the series, this was never going to be a good starting point. What it does do, however, is cement the Trails series’ Crossbell arc as a worthy addition to the role playing genre.
Published by NIS America, Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is out March 17th on PC, PS4 and Switch.