Trails from Zero Interview: Toshihiro Kondo on the Crossbell Problem and Beyond
The last time we had a chance to talk with Nihon Falcom's president, Toshihiro Kondo, was back in 2019 - and a lot has changed in the years since, such as with Trails from Zero's localization announcement. Now, with the Crossbell Duology's imminent western release starting in September, we've once again had the chance to ask him about the series' as a whole, with a focus on the upcoming localization.
Unfortunately, our interview this time around was only possible through email correspondence, compared to our in-person interviews with Kondo in the past - we were limited in the scope of the questions we could ask, naturally. If you're interested in some other upcoming Trails titles, feel free to read up about our impressions on Trails into Reverie's Japanese release, as well as our thoughts on the currently Japan-only Kuro no Kiseki/Trails Before the Dawn.
Q. Trails from Zero was the first title in the Trails series which wasn’t originally released on PC back in the day. Though we’re over a decade away from the original Japanese release, is there anything specifically that stood out when switching to developing the series for a handheld console?
Toshihiro Kondo: At the time, we took the opportunity to review the Trails series and how to adjust it to the PSP market. The results of that were things such as the world setting and art concept being greatly revised. I remember that some people internally who were against the idea and said, “Why would you deliberately change things when the ‘Trails in the Sky’ games went so well?” In the end, both series fans, as well as newcomers, accepted the changes, so the result of this experience is that we found a special cycle for the series of having new locations and main characters while keeping the same overall world setting and always revising the systems and graphics. I think this title taught us the importance of knowing what can be changed and knowing what to leave alone in a long-running series like this.
Q. While Trails from Zero’s Switch and PC versions are being handled by NIS America and PH3, one thing that stood out to me a few months ago was learning that Falcom was behind the Switch port for The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails themselves. Assuming the port is successful, are there any plans for Falcom to branch out to even more platforms on their own terms, like PC or Xbox?
Toshihiro Kondo: I think the number of in-house versions we do will increase, but that isn’t to say all titles will be done in-house going forward. I’d like to be flexible in our approach depending on the situation. We have many titles and series, but we don’t have that large of a development staff. Furthermore, those members who are in our development staff are mainly focused on creating new titles. In order for as many fans around the world as possible to be able to play our games, it’s necessary that we rely on the help of those around us.
Q. While many western players have met the Special Support Section before – there’s always still the chance that players will be meeting Lloyd and company for the very first time with Trails from Zero’s localization. Is there anything specifically you’d like fans to consider heading into Crossbell, whether they’ve been with the series for a while, or if this will be their first look at the franchise as a whole?
Toshihiro Kondo: Those who start at the series at Zero might be surprised at the game’s graphics or systems. However, the game’s story and how everything unfolds still possess a special charm that hasn’t lost a fraction of its original appeal even today. I would like players to be able to experience this. As for the fans who have waited years to play these, I definitely feel like we’ve kept you waiting! There are characters and events that become relevant in the Cold Steel games and Kuro (editor's note: Kuro no Kiseki), so I feel like we are finally delivering the missing piece of the puzzle.
Q. Out of all of the “main” cast for the Trails series, it feels like the Special Support Section are the most directly intertwined with the country their arc takes place in. While it goes without saying that every arc escalates to that point eventually, is it possible to explain the thought process Falcom went through when deciding to center the Crossbell duology around a section of the state’s Police department?
Toshihiro Kondo: The Special Support Section was born from the existence of this city called Crossbell, which is a place that has its own particular problems as a financial hub. While the game is still fantasy, it was necessary to have the location setting be somewhat close to modern times as well as the main characters being in a relatable position to the players. This is why we had them in the police force. The police force itself has structural issues as well, so these people that come together who don’t really have a place anywhere else must form bonds. I think this creates a very home-y atmosphere.
Q. There’s one thing that I’ve been curious about with Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure’s re-release – why a remaster instead of a remake? Going through Trails of Cold Steel III & IV, and the currently Japanese-only Trails into Reverie, I was struck by just how much of Crossbell had been remade in 3D already. Were full remakes for the Crossbell duology ever considered on Falcom’s end?
Toshihiro Kondo: I think perhaps you personally might have been hoping for a 3D remake, which is where this question came from. I always think myself that I would love to play fully 3D versions of Trails in the Sky and Zero/Azure. However, with the release of Kuro no Kiseki, we are finally at around 60%-70% of the story we want to tell and we are currently developing the next game in the series. In order to finish everything before the staff retires, we must continue forward. We might be able to make a team dedicated to remakes if we were to increase staff members, but it would need to be in a way that made sense for both the players and our needs as a company.
Q. While there have been new arranged albums for Ys titles in recent years, it feels like Trails has been getting the short end of the stick. I’m sure there are many issues that might prevent this from happening, but is there any hope that any of the more recent The Legend of Heroes titles might see something akin to a Super Arrange album in the future? I can only speak for myself, but their presence is sorely missed.
Toshihiro Kondo: While there aren't any current plans, if we receive enough requests, I think it’s entirely possible.
Q. Now that Trails from Zero/Trails to Azure and The Legend of Nayuta are finally being localized, are there any other games Falcom are considering re-releasing, whether from the Trails series itself or otherwise? When last we spoke in 2019, you mentioned that it wasn’t just Trails titles that were up for consideration when it came to re-releasing your back-catalog. Is that still the case?
Toshihiro Kondo: There are many older titles that are not playable on modern platforms, and we’d like to come up with a way to ensure that they are available to be played well into the future. Of course, we are always thinking of remakes and remasters as a way to do this. Our thoughts have not changed from the last time we spoke about titles aside from the Trails series games. In order for the Trails series to continue, it’s very important that our staff challenge and stimulate themselves by working on other titles as well.