[AX 2024] Tracing the “Trails” of Trails with Toshihiro Kondo

This year’s Anime Expo marked the second time Falcom President Toshihiro Kondo made an appearance at the convention since 2019, and with his third and final panel at the event, he made sure it was a joy for western fans of The Legend of Heroes: Trails series.

Prior to this third panel, Kondo-san was a featured guest in two panels prior–one being to show off some gameplay of the upcoming Ys X: Nordics and the other to celebrate the release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails Through Daybreak while also officially confirming its sequel for an early release next year. In addition to this, though unrelated to NIS America, XSEED Games announced a few days ago that they’ll be publishing Ys: Memoire: The Oath in Felghana for release on the PS4, PS5, and Switch early next year. So despite Nihon Falcom having three games featured at this year’s show (along with a forth release that’ll be published by Aksys next month), Kondo-san was pleasantly surprised to see that all the AX panels he was in were at capacity.

Trails Through Trails

You can just tell he was delighted, but perhaps nobody was more delighted than the crowd at NIS America’s “Trails” through Trails panel.

While the panel itself had an itinerary and was the only panel Kondo-san took part in that took place in a theater-spaced room, it felt more intimate because it didn’t seem like Kondo-san was going through bullet points. He seemed to be more reliant on drawing from experiences and really being in the moment in what felt like an unscripted conversation.

That Zemuria map is looking more complete, yet expansive, at the same time.

He began the panel talking a little bit about how far Trails has come, pretty much imposing that now they’re on their fourth region and eleventh game, the team often checks the notes going back to previous games to verify authenticity and continuing to build the worlds. It’s becoming more difficult, and he used NPC’s (non playable characters) to illustrate his point.

Kondo-san joked that NPCs themselves are hard just because of names alone. Fans in the audience playfully yelled Lloyd’s name as an example. I even thought about Laura in my head because there’s one in a Daybreak sidequest to go along with Laura S. Arseid in the Erebonian arc.

Humble Beginnings in the Sky

Thinking back, Kondo-san said that he’d always remember his time as a new producer with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky because it was the first game he worked on, and that gave him a deep and special attachment to Trails in general. He joked talking about how conversations with higher ups went when it came to the game’s initial development, saying that the bosses would ask him how far along the game is.

“Well,” he said as he reminisced. “It’s around 50 percent.”

With that, Kondo-san mentioned his boss retorted saying if that were the case, they can go ahead and release the game now.

“Now you know why Sky was divided into FC (First Chapter) and SC (Second Chapter),” Kondo-san said fighting back another chuckle.

He said jokingly that his colleagues would say, “Boy, this sure is a tough one, huh?”

He mentioned that it took two to three years to make the first game. Trails in the Sky‘s tough development was no secret, but seeing Kondo-san speak so fondly of his time developing the game showed a nice side wholesomeness.

Trails Through Audience Questions

Following the quick trip down memory lane Trails in the Sky, the panel moved on to Q&A from the audience, and it was up to Kondo-san to pick people to ask questions.

The first came from Ethan, who came all the way from Malaysia. He was nervous, mentioned it was his birthday and decided to start with an easy question: Who is Kondo-san’s favorite NPC?

Like Ethan, Kondo-san’s favorite NPC is Anton and he said he’s a character that he personally created and is based on a friend from college.

“Everything with this guy is a pain!” Kondo-san said.

A question about sidequests was asked, saying that whether players are doing work with the Guild (Liberl arc), your schoolmates (Erebonia arc), or working with the police (Crossbell arc), we’re still looking for cats. Will the content of the work be any different?

Kondo-san reiterated something said in the last panel that was dedicated to Trails through Daybreak saying that Van being older allows him to really pick and choose between the various jobs he’s offered. He hopes that players find Van really interesting as a result.

He was then asked about the relationship between Rean Schwartzer and Crow Armbrust from Trails of Cold Steel and how the 50-mira piece came to represent it. He mentioned that there was no specific inspiration. The writers at Falcom really wanted the relationship between Rean and Crow to be a big part of Cold Steel, and that they simply wanted something physical to symbolize that relationship.

He then gave us some “bonus dirt on Crow” mentioning that a certain thing happens to him in Cold Steel II. The sound team actually created a song they really liked but didn’t fit, so they made two separate songs for those separate situations.

With all the people asking questions being men, Kondo-san kindly asked them to put their hands down and picked Gillian from Rowland Heights to ask her question. She asked about the inspiration behind Divine Knights and Pander Soldats. To that, Kondo-san mentioned that “giants” were a key word for the Erebonian Empire and they wanted to do nights. They also loved robots, so that eventually led them to what are now the Divine Knights. Kondo-san then added that every region in Zemura has their own Sept-Terrion, so it made it easier to blend in with the Divine Knights. He also added that Daybreak also has a Sept-Terrion and hopes that the audience looks forward to it when they get their hands on the game.

Trails Through Question from Social Media

After taking questions from the audience, Kondo-san moved on to questions that NIS America took from a call on their social media channels.

Do you take feedback from North American players when making Trails games?

Kondo-san: Yes. A great example would be in Trails through Daybreak. One of the most common pieces of feedback was with improving tempo of the combat. People feel JRPGs are stagnating a bit and we wanted to push combat while also pushing our own goals of making great RPGs.

Another example would be when you look at When you look at Ys IX. Though it isn’t a traditional open world title, there’s many open world elements, when people ask if we’d consider making an open world game.

Will we explore the Holy City of Arteria?

Kondo-san: (Laughs). I can’t say here and now wherever we’ll go there. But as we get closer and closer to unraveling all the mysteries (in Trails), the church becomes more and more important. It’s an important place and we’ll see what happens. My life would be in danger if I said more.

What inspired Falcom to include so much fishing in their games?

The president would tell us, “You HAVE to put fishing in your games!”

That’s a lie… (smiles).

There are people on staff who love fishing, but it’s more about the setting and exploring the world. It’s a fun element to add to that feeling of exploration. For Ys, it’s only when the situation allows. 

Has the approach to world building changed over the last 20 years? In what ways?

Kondo-san: Yes. 20 years ago was a long time. We want to reflect what’s happening in real life. Like with phones. As we make games they’re a reflection of the world around us so that’s something we consider as we create the settings. Then there’s me. I started when I was 25-26 so now I’m 49 and that’s affecting the game scenarios as well. 

No one’s gonna wanna be playing games from an old man, so let’s take Trails Into Reverie–the Rufus side of the story was made by a younger person in the company. 

There’s a lot of trial and error but we’re working as hard as we can to advance the Trails series despite being 70-80% finished and we hope you continue along the way.

The panel concluded with a reminder that The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak is available now. You can also pre-order the Limited Edition of The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak 2 game on NISA’s official store.

Editor’s Note: In the last question featured in the social Q&A with Toshihiro Kondo, Kondo said that the Trails series was 70-80% finished. There was no additional comment made about this statement nor was this a confirmation of whether he meant what he said after the release of Daybreak (which was obviously just released) or Daybreak II (which is out now in Japan).