The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is 2023's JRPG that should be on everyone's radar
Even though NIS America has stated their plans to release The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails late next year for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, did you know it’s technically already out on PC? Yes, the company published studio PH3’s PC port on Steam early late last year - exclusively in Japanese. I picked it up at launch but never really intended to play it before it received its English patch; but due to several circumstances, I had an excuse to play through the game on my Steam Deck. Despite what I’d heard about the game heading in - how it was, in many ways, a Zwei!! 3, and only had a tertiary connection to the rest of the Trails series at best - I wasn’t prepared for what Nayuta actually is as an Action RPG.
First things first; you’ve read the title. Whether you’re new to the Trails series, or a veteran who’s played them all, everyone starts on equal ground with Nayuta. Any connections it may or may not have to later entries don’t matter, as Nayuta as a game is entirely standalone. You can start here without any worries; and even if you decidedly dislike Trails, there’s still plenty of reason to give the game a shot. The gameplay, story and presentation are all vastly different from Zemuria’s long-running epic.
Gameplay-wise, while Nayuta has all of the staples of an RPG - levels, stats, equipment that modify said stats - it’s probably better to call the game an action platformer with RPG progression. Instead of exploring a large open world, Nayuta is a stage-based affair, in which players will receive a grading depending on their performance within the level. There’s platforming, puzzles involving hitting switches, maneuvering boxes, and contending with whatever environmental gimmicks a given stage possesses. RPG progression is handled by both story progress gating Gear Craft abilities, as well as earning stamps for your tally card you can return to Nayuta’s swordmaster in exchange for new skills, buffs, and even occasional equipment.
There’s a very nice loop to it all, especially owing to Nayuta’s background as a PSP exclusive upon its original release. One comparison that’s sure to come up is with Nihon-Falcom’s other 3D platformer - Gurumin - and there’s certainly a lot to compare. For as much as there is to compare Nayuta to Falcom’s Zwei!! franchise - with Noi acting in a similar role to the secondary playable characters in both Zwei!! titles and the ability to consume food to both restore health as well as gain EXP - there’s just as much Gurumin DNA present as well. Whether it’s the enemy designs, the hub world that players can return to for side activities and rewards, or of course the much higher reliance on platforming gameplay.
Falcom has always been a company that has been quick to reuse gameplay concepts in its titles. The Legend of Nayuta is probably the best example of that working in a game’s favor. For instance - Nayuta’s combat absolutely mops the floor with Ys Seven. Not only does Nayuta gradually gain much of Adol’s moveset from the Napishtim-era Ys games, but he learns his own unique set of moves, while also retaining dodging and blocking from the more modern party-style Ys games. It’s the best of both worlds, and arguably Nayuta is still the best-feeling 3D action combat that Falcom has ever made. Especially once players have full control of Nayuta, with all of his and Noi’s Gear Crafts; the game feels solid enough to play at the start, but by the time you’re in the post-game and into New Game+ it’s truly a joy to play around with.
Between how well Nayuta feels to control, some stellar art direction, excellent level design that fully makes use of all of the player’s movement, boss fights that feel perfectly tailored for your combat options, and a fascinating method of re-using assets in the Seasonal Shift system, by the time I was done with Nayuta I was hard-pressed to think of anything I’d actively disliked about the game. It’s easily in my top-3 Falcom games at the moment, and something tells me it will stay that way into the foreseeable future. Even the story - with its diminished focus - was still a good time, though by this point it was easy to see many of its twists coming.
There’s a lot more to be said about the game, but the one thing I want to stress is if there’s one game I’d recommend to nearly every RPG player to keep an eye out for next year, it’s this one. The Legend of Nayuta feels like the type of game you could recommend to everyone; and yet I can very easily see the title fall between the cracks with what is looking to be a very stacked year for JRPG releases in 2023. That would be a shame, because even if it’s not the most bombastic Falcom release that NIS America is putting out next year - it’s undeniably one of the company’s best. The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is a Falcom classic, and one nobody should want to miss.