The legend of the heroes: paths from scratch | Review – From Zero to Hero

After bringing the entire Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy to the West, of which you can find the reviews on our pages, NIS is still indebted to the local public for the narrative arcs concerning Crossbell and the Republic of Calvard, to each of which they are dedicated several titles published so far in Japan only.

Today, however (or rather, in a few days, with the official launch date set for September 30 for Europe), the historic Japanese software house begins the process of completing one of the most mammoth sagas in videogame history, bringing to the screens of PS4 (reviewed version, played in backward compatibility on PS5, you can find it on Amazon), Switch and PC The Legend of Heroes Trails from Scratchfirst chapter dedicated to the events in the city-state of Crossbell, an unstable buffer between the Empire and the Republic.

Let’s see how it went in our review.

Arch of crossed bells

Of the endless lore of the Trails of series, Falcom has so far shown to European users only the quadrilogy dedicated to the Empire, anxious to cast its threatening shadow over the entire continent of Zemuria starting from the west.

After having experienced firsthand the vicissitudes of Rean Schwarzer and his class of heroes, as widely documented in our reviews, this time we find ourselves instead at play the role of Lloyd BanningsCadet of the Crossbell Special Police Corps put in charge of the SSS, the Special Support Section, designed to counter the popularity of the Bracer Guild and help ordinary citizens by satisfying their most disparate requests.

If everything seems tangled to you, let’s start from the beginning.

It all starts with a train trip, as in other Falcom titles …

Falcom proposed, at the time (we are talking about 2004, the year of publication of the first episode of the series Trails in the Sky), to show us an entire continent at war from the perspective of all four actors involved: the Empire, with the four Trails of Cold Steel, Liberl, with the Trails in the Sky trilogy, Calvard, with Kuro No Kiseki – of which a Western version has already been announced – and Crossbell, with the two games of the Trails from Zero subseries.

The one under consideration here is therefore only one of the ten total tiles that make up the mosaic designed by the Japanese developer, yet, being the first of the two set in the thriving city-state mentioned above, it is also approachable by those who were totally fasting from the endless lore of the franchise.

Specifically, the events narrated here are placed chronologically after those of Liberl (Trails in the Sky) but before the quadrilogy that saw the aforementioned Rean Schwarzer lead the Class VII of the military academy of Thors.

This is the reason why those who have already completed those titles will find several familiar faces in Trails from Zero, and will grasp hints and references to facts and people that will inevitably escape the neophyte; yet, unlike three of the four titles in the Trails of Cold Steel series, Trails from Zero is an ideal entry point into the seriesfocusing on a rather limited map and a large but not unapproachable cast of characters.

The talking heads are the only ones to have enjoyed a consistent restyling

The story begins with the return of Lloyd Bannings to Crossbell, after three years of military academy during which ours, despite his young age, distinguished himself so much as to obtain a license as an investigator: a job in the First Division is envisaged for him. the one dedicated to the investigation of the hottest cases, and instead fate has something different in store for him.

He is in fact assigned to an entirely new division along with three other young people, Randy Orlando, reckless but reliable, Elie MacDowell, nephew of the mayor of Crossbell, and Tio Plato, a very young marvel when it comes to technological engineering.

Initially trivial events revolve around this team, which will not be long, however, a take a much more serious turn and of fundamental importance for the fate of Crossbell, city-state and buffer between the two superpowers of the Empire and Calvard.

Between corrupt politicians, thriving trade lines and warring underworld factions, Crossbell will end up being the tip of the balance in the huge war that will soon involve the entire continent of Zemuria.

A little wine, a little vinegar

If you move on to analyze the gameplay, it is impossible not to find in this RPG all the classic distinctive brands of Falcom productionssome in a fairly developed form, others less so.

From the combat system from the turn to group attacks, from gems to be embedded in weapons that guarantee additional elemental effects, passing through the rotation always visible in the upper left corner and modifiable by the player’s actions, there are all the prerogatives not only for a dense and well developed, which Trails from Zero is, but also the blueprints, if we want to call them, of the entire role-playing production of the Japanese team in the years to come.

There are essentially two problems that prevent this chapter from shining among the best of the franchise: the one is represented by the fact that, having arrived after the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy, it is affected by the inevitable comparison, from which it comes out defeated from practically all points of view .

The second, inevitable twelve years after the first publication, is instead inherent in theaging of some of the proposed game mechanicsthat undermine the rhythm of the narrative in several points and for which this re-edition does not propose effective solutions.

Some boss fights will give you a lot of trouble

Thus, in the face of a solid and enjoyable combat systemwe find ourselves dealing with phases of the campaign (but also with many of the optional missions) where it is not clear how to advance, leaving the player the choice of talking to all the NPCs, hoping to have missed something, or rely on one of the many guides available on the Net.

Similarly, the choice of do not include any type of fast travel from one location to another it seems artificial and aimed at lengthening the stock of one of the otherwise shorter chapters of Falcom’s long career: it is true that the dimensions of the map, as already pointed out, appear decidedly smaller than those of the adventures of the Class VII, but having to retrace (even with the option of speeding up time by pressing the left trigger) the same roads dozens of times in a few hours, between primary and secondary assignments, it soon becomes tedious.

The impression that the player’s time is not always fully respected is also returned animations that it is not possible to jump and merchants who sell very specific goods, forcing you to wander around Crossbell just to be able to get your hands on all the equipment you need.

Net of the questionable choice to bring this chapter to Europe only after the adventures of Rean Schwarzer, however, we would do a wrong to a solid and fun JRPG if we said that the forty hours spent in his company have been difficult to digest or tedious.

Trails from Zero has learned the fundamentals well, from the combat system to history, passing through extremely nice characters which we will then find in the universe of the series, but perhaps a little lacking in the finishing touches, thanks to a remastering operation carried out with minimum effort and with a laughable budget.

You will probably appreciate it more if you have been playing video games for a few years and are over thirty years old, but it still represents an important piece of one of the most popular series of the Japanese developer that was to arrive sooner or later also in Europe. Too bad he couldn’t do it in an even more convincing form.

Twelve years and hear them all

If, on the one hand, therefore, we are happy that Falcom and NIS are working to bring all ten titles of the franchise to Europe, on the other we are sorry to see how, despite the good public and critical success achieved by the quadrilogy by Trails of Cold Steel, the budget allocated for this franchise continues to be tiny, as pointed out above, especially when compared to that of many direct competing congeners.

For this remastering, the production effort was almost nil, in hindsight: for the localization Falcom relied on the basis constituted by the excellent fan translation (in English only) that had made the product playable so far, making very few changes and thus saving considerably.

The title does not skimp on even very long dialogues

Alas, that money has not been reinvested in other sectors, if it is true that the polygonal modeling, the models of the protagonists, the game engine have not been touched in the least, and being therefore still those of the 2010 debut on PSP, they are a real eyesore on a modern TV.

We tested the PS4 version in backward compatibility on PS5, on a 4K OLED screen, and, despite being old school gamers, accustomed to pixels and games that focused more on substance than form, we must admit that presentation remains one of the weakest points of the package.

Neither the menus nor the texts on the screen make a good impression, with a modest resolution that blurs them tremendously on a screen with a generous diagonal like the one used for the test, and, despite not having tried the Switch version directly, we are confident that it can be the one in which these defects emerge less, especially in portable mode.

It also disappoints the lack of features that nowadays many players, especially of the new generations, take for granted, and that would certainly have made life easier for newbies: self-rescuefor example, has not been implemented, nor is there a button for the automatic advancement of the dialogue lines, forcing the player to continuously input on the occasion of the many dialogues present.

The technical sector feels the weight of the years

It would have been useful too being able to change the level of difficulty during constructionwhich, on the other hand, remains unchanging throughout the adventure, always with a view to bringing even players not accustomed to the typical peaks of the genre: we have completed the adventure on a difficult level in just over forty hours, but we believe that even at normal level some bosses could give a lot of headaches to those not accustomed to the genre.

The grindingpractice now almost completely out of fashion in role-playing games, it was inherent in the role-playing experience in 2010 and here we need a good dose of it in at least three or four circumstances along the main campaign, with all that follows in terms of repetitiveness of the action and artificial dilation of playing times.

In short, more could have been done on the purely graphic side, where only the talking heads of the characters have enjoyed a satisfactory restyling, as well as on that of the so-called quality of life features, stopped at the re-edition for PSVita of the game published eight years ago and insufficient at the dawn of 2023.

Version reviewed: PS4

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