When The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was released on the PlayStation 3 in late 2015, it was a weird instance for all sorts of reasons. For one, the PlayStation 4 had come out the month before, so the game might as well have been released to die, but this wasn’t even the biggest issue. The real issue was the fact that Trails of Cold Steel was essentially the third game in the series to be released stateside when it was actually the sixth game in the series.
The Trails series got its start in North America when The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky came out on the PSP in 2011. A localized version of the game’s sequel, Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter), didn’t come out until 2015 four years later when the PSP was more than an afterthought. We didn’t even see the end of the trilogy, Trails in the Sky the 3rd, on a PlayStation platform as it ended up getting localized as a PC exclusive in 2017–almost a full two years later, and as stated, Trails of Cold Steel was already released stateside.
So let’s recap. There’s Trails in the Sky (1), Trails in the Sky SC (2), Trails in the Sky the 3rd (3), and Trails of Cold Steel (6). Not only did we skip the fourth and fifth entries, Trails of Cold Steel III (7) and Trails of Cold Steel IV (8) are also already out. We never saw the fourth entry, Trails from Zero, until last year making this journey to get here more than eight years in the making. But finally, after all that time, the Crossbell dualogy is finally here and complete with the release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure.
What Is It?
Trails to Azure is the direct sequel to Trails from Zero, which was just released here last year.
Published by NIS America, who took over publishing the Trails games ever since Trails of Cold Steel III, it’s worth noting that both Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure were fully localized by the GEOFRONT, a group comprised of Trails fans who took matters into their own hands when they thought that nobody would translate these two titles. After all, who’s going to buy a bunch of PSP games to play in 2023? Well, Trails games have quite the cult following, and it’s thanks to the excellent GEOFRONT fan localizations that fans were able to play the third and fourth games in the series first place, so when it was announced that the fansubs were being shut down, the fact that they got contracted by NIS America was the actual good news for fans hoping to support the series in a more “official” capacity.
Getting back to the actual game at hand, Trails to Azure takes place less than six months after the events of Trails from Zero. Lloyd Bannings is back from training with the Crossbell Police’s First Division and so are Elie McDowell, Randy Orlando, and Tio Plato to reform the police’s Special Support Section (SSS) along with newcomers Noel Seeker and Wazy Hemisphere who fans will know from the previous game. The SSS made a name for itself after taking out a mafia syndicate in Trails from Zero, and as they were a ragtag bunch of what were pretty much interns in the last game, they’re now thought of as one of the most reliable and capable groups in all of Crossbell–even up there with the Bracer Guild.
Despite things looking up for the SSS, things aren’t so cheery in Crossbell’s political climate as rumblings about being an independent state are becoming more than rumors. On top of this, tensions are rising at the neighboring Erebonian Empire to the north as a civil war is happening, while they also have to be wary of some turmoil to the south with the Republic of Calvard. It’s a tumultuous time in the continent of Zemuria where just about anything could result in a largescale war.
Why Should I Care?
If you’ve played any of the Trails games, you’d know how important each sequel is to each arc. Trails in the Sky SC was easily a much bigger undertaking than FC, while Trails of Cold Steel II definitely raised the stakes from its predecessor. On top of that, both of them were highly anticipated sequels to games that ended in cliffhangers. While Trails from Zero didn’t end in such a cliffhanger, it was obvious that it was just a foundational piece. Like every other game in the series, Trails to Azure capitalizes on the world building that made Crossbell State feel like home.
This actually sort of works to its disadvantage. In Trails to Azure, you’ll explore pretty much every place you explored in Trails from Zero, with few new areas sprinkled in between. While welcome, making this a little weird is there’s a bunch of new treasure chests. This isn’t a bad thing, but it just feels like weird backtracking when in actuality it’s a totally different game.
As far as the battle system goes, it’s nice that you start much higher in level as opposed to level 1, but Trails to Azure essentially starts your Orbment power from square one by saying a new model of your Enigma unit is available. It’s a copout, but be that as it may, you have to restart your progress somewhere, so at least it was done in an understandable way. The Orbment system is similar to that of the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII. The Engima upgrade in this game specifically is the addition of the Master Quartz, which imbue characters with various buffs and abilities right out the gate. This same system is in Trails of Cold Steel, so while it was new at the time, it won’t be new to players who’ve already played those games.
Aside from that, the newest addition to the battle system is the Burst Mode. Available in most of the game’s dungeons and boss battles, Burst Mode gives you a leg up in battle by temporarily giving you more turns and opportunities to build your CP gauge while using less EP in the process. It’s a nice setup and adds another element of thinking on you feet, but it doesn’t really add much unless you’re playing on a harder difficulty. If you’re playing on Easy mode, it’s easy to forget that Burst Mode even exists.
In any case, if you’re a Trails fan that played these games upon their North American release, you’re obviously looking to fill the gaps in between Trails in the Sky the 3rd and Trails of Cold Steel III, and Trails to Azure is considered by many to be among the best in the series—so if you’re just here to truly understand and appreciate the big picture of it all, you’re not alone.
I’m one of these people. I played the game in the order that they came out in the United States, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Erebonian Arc (Trails of Cold Steel I-IV), I know I absolutely would’ve enjoyed it more had I played the Crossbell games before Trails of Cold Steel III. For the uninitiated, the events that took place in Trails to Azure happened at around the same time as the first two Cold Steel games, and it all leads up to the events of the last two Cold Steel games–essentially giving them an Avengers Infinity War and Endgame-like feel. It didn’t make the result less epic, but I definitely would’ve appreciated those games more (and I already loved them).
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Aside from the fact that you’ll want to piece up the rest of an epic story that was already built up, you’ll want to spend your time and money on Trails to Azure simply because it’s one of the best games in the series–one that has nothing but great games. If you enjoyed Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure is a high octane conclusion from start to finish with excellent pacing and plot twists that’ll boggle your mind even after playing Trails of Cold Steel III and IV. Despite popular sentiment, playing those games doesn’t completely spoil what happened here. There’s stuff you’ll already know as a result, but it doesn’t take away from the experience at all.
Since the game is mostly in 2D, I made the decision to play the game on Switch to give it sort of a PSP feel–not to mention I was never going to Platinum the game and I prefer to play them on handheld anyway. It took me 50 hours to beat the game on Easy mode (which I did because I only cared about the game’s story, as this battle system hardly offers anything new to fans of the series), and I can see people taking up to 70 hours on harder difficulties trying to do everything there is to do. There were hardly any issues with the game’s performance, and you also have the option of playing the game in high-speed mode as a lot of the action is rather slow.
Trails to Azure is an easy recommendation, even if it’s an old game for $50. You just need to have played everything else, which admittedly is quite the undertaking in its own right.
Check out our reviews of other “Trails…” games!
The Crossbell Arc:
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero (2022)
The Erebonia Arc:
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (2016)
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (2016)
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Decisive Edition (2019)
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II – Relentless Edition (2019)
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (2019)
– The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV (2020)