Looking to capitalize on the franchise’s increasing popularity in the West, Nihon Falcom has been aggressively localizing the Kiseki games we missed out on. In September, The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero was ported across using the fan-made Geofront patch as a base. Less than a year later, its sister game Trails to Azure has arrived and we got the chance to review it.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is a direct sequel to Trails from Zero. Its story picks up straight after the end of Trails from Zero following the collapse of the D∴G cult. Having defeated the evil cult, the once-disrespected members of the Special Support Section are now heralded as heroes of Crossbell.
While Trails from Zero was a story all about the SSS overcoming the odds to gain the favor of the people, Trails to Azure shifts the focus to the larger narrative. The events of Azure feed into the four newer Cold Steel games, especially regarding what led to Erebonia’s later invasion and eventual occupation of Crossbell.
Don’t start with Trails to Azure
Trails to Azure‘s focus on the larger narrative led it to become a fan favorite in the Kiseki community. For those who are fascinated by compelling world building, there aren’t many other games that can match up to it. This is further supported by Azure‘s extraordinary amount of dialogue which gives even side characters the opportunity to flesh out personalities and motives.
Even by Kiseki‘s high standards Trails to Azure has one of the most exciting stories in the series. A lot of key events take place in the second half of Azure’s tale. Admittedly, the first couple of chapters are slow and the pacing of Trails to Azure leaves a lot to be desired. You have to stick around and be patient to get to the good stuff, but it is worth the wait.
Of all the possible entry points into The Legend of Heroes, Trails to Azure is probably the worst to pick. The main reason for this is that it assumes that you already know everything about Trails from Zero. There is a plot summary of the last game in the menus, but realistically you’re still going to be very lost if you haven’t played it.
To compound that point, your party members in Trails to Azure start out at level 45. I’m not a big fan of when games do this, but the reason why is clear. Trails to Azure is less so a standalone JRPG and more so a full-featured expansion to Trails from Zero. As good as Azure‘s story is, you would be wasting your time playing it before at least watching a playthrough of Zero.
A big question about Trails to Azure is if it justifies its pricing. Retailing at $39.99 USD, Trails to Azure is not a full-scale remaster or a remake. Also, unlike the newer entries, it has no English voice acting which some people may find problematic in such a dialogue-heavy game. Instead, NIS America has built upon the Geofront fan translation that started out life as a Chinese-only PC port released in 2013.
Some fans may balk over it using a fan-made translation, but I think that’s unfair. The reality is that Geofront’s localizations of the Trails games are possibly the best fan-made projects in the whole industry. They feature extremely high-quality translations with a wide range of PC-specific settings.
Remaking the entire port from scratch wouldn’t have just been a waste of time, it would have been a disservice to the existing Geofront version. It’s nice to see a major publisher treating a fan project with respect given the increasing trend from big companies to threaten legal action every time one starts gathering momentum.
It’s not as though NIS America has copied and pasted the code across, either. The official release of Trails to Azure features improved texture quality, 21:9 ultrawide support, tweaked dialogue, several quality-of-life improvements, and fun cameo appearances to better tie Azure into Cold Steel. If these changes are enough to justify the price is hard to say. But I appreciate the effort of everyone involved for localizing a great game that we once thought would never see a Western release.
A strong showing held back by its pacing
This localization of The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure does almost everything it needs to. Using the excellent Geofront fan translation has enabled the official release to do a good job of telling an iconic story. Although the sub-par pacing does somewhat diminish the overall experience.
Of course, a full-scale remaster would have been incredible, but that would have required an awful lot of work. And at just $39.99 USD, Trails to Azure’s pricing seems fair. Had NIS America pushed its luck and charged $60 USD I’d have a serious problem, but at $40 USD you’re getting a premium localization of a great JRPG. Just be sure to play or at least watch a playthrough of Trails from Zero first or else you’ll end up getting lost.