The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure Review
Note: This review for The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is going to assume that you have played through or at least played a good deal of its direct prequel, Trails from Zero, which was released last year (you can read our review of that, here). If you have not yet played Zero, play that first before taking on Azure, as it is a direct continuation of the narrative and events of the previous game!
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure has finally arrived, and Crossbell is calling. This latest release marks the first chance that Trails fans have (officially) been able to experience this second adventure in the city of Crossbell and the start of a year full of Trails goodness! I've been eagerly waiting for this second half of the Crossbell Arc, and the wait is finally over. After some time away, it’s time to bust out the ol' Enigma orbmant, and Zeit treats and rejoin the Special Support Section and get back on the case.
Trails to Azure picks up a couple of months after the end of Trails from Zero, with Crossbell still recovering and dealing with the aftermath of Joachim and his D:G Cult shenanigans. The Special Support Section has seen a bit of a shake-up with old favorites Tio, Randy, and Elie away, contending with their own escapades while new, yet familiar, faces Noel and Wazy have joined Lloyd. Fans of the old squad won’t have to wait too long into Azure for their old favorites to rejoin though, granting you a full squad of six heroes instead of the previous games’ core four.
As a direct sequel, there is a lot of carryover from the previous game when heading into Azure. You will be visiting many of the same locations, fighting the same monsters in the fields, seeing some of the same spell effects, characters, and the list goes on, but don’t assume that Azure isn’t chock-full of surprises and new mechanics take advantage of. Much like its predecessor, Azure retains the same liberal use of side quests to help further flesh out the land of Crossbell that fans can expect from any Trails title. Even for its faults, there is a special charm to the city of Crossbell and its surrounding regions that immediately managed to pull me back in. Booting up Azure, it was like hanging out with a friend you haven't seen for a long time but immediately picking things off as if no time has passed at all.
It’s this innate familiarity that Azure players will have with Crossbell and its citizens that makes many of the moments and narrative twists sting just a little more. The surprise narrative developments in Azure are tense and gripping, and while one particular reveal fell a bit flat for me, overall the story left me on the edge of my seat most of the time. All of Azure’s rich narrative and characters (and always entertaining chest quips) have once again been brought to English audiences thanks to the dedication and immense talents of the Geofront team, much like Zero’s was.
As a person whose first foray into the Trails series was with the Cold Steel saga, whose first two titles run concurrently with many of the events of Zero and Azure, I enjoyed witnessing events I knew about, but from the Crossbellian perspective. Being able to walk around the West Zemuria Trade Conference, a pivotal moment in both Azure and Trails of Cold Steel, was one such example.
Going into Azure, I was concerned that some of the excitement I was going to have would end up dulled due to having witnessed events from the Erebonian perspective, but I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case. From having learned of some of the events as depicted in Cold Steel, I knew going in that Crossbell wasn’t going to get out of Azure unscathed, but boy-oh-boy, I wasn't prepared for exactly what I was about to witness.
A majority of the gameplay additions in Trails to Azure are found in its combat system. Players of the subsequent Cold Steel titles will find that Master Quartz actually made its debut here in Azure. These are special types of quartz that allow you to further customize and tailor your SSS team as each one grants different passive buffs, from increasing damage from your spells to putting up a reflective shield on a character when the battle starts. These will level up and get stronger much in the same way that normal party members do, which will add to and improve the bonuses they provide and eventually give the equipped character access to powerful special arts that can easily turn the tide of those tough fights.
The second biggest addition is the inclusion of the Burst system. Normally relegated to just the final areas of Azure’s chapters, as you dish out damage and avoid taking damage yourself, you will fill a bar and, once full, can be utilized to let your party take a handful of uninterrupted turns in a row. Arts have zero casting time, allowing you to cast them instantly without delay, letting you really dish out ludicrous amounts of pain on bosses when used at the right time. As touched on briefly, this tide-turning mechanic is only available during the impactful and pivotal moments of the game, and also requires that none of your active party is knocked out.
With both the master quartz and the burst system, alongside the increased number of party members (though you only have four actively participating in combat at any time), Azure allows players much more freedom and choice in designing and outfitting their party. I’m a big sucker for RPGs that give me a lot of control in how I want to tailor my party or try out strategies, so these were big improvements for me in Azure over Zero.
As much as I enjoyed my time with Azure, surpassing my experience with Zero, I still came away from it with some minor annoyances. Echoing my review of Trails from Zero, I still wish that NIS America had invested in doing an English language dub for Azure, even though the Japanese voice cast continues to do a stellar job. Who knows, perhaps one-day NISA will release a patch that adds it into the game; fingers crossed.
Another small annoyance was that there are a few moments where you are required to use specific characters in certain fights in order to progress. Much like any RPG, you are bound to find your “main crew” that you spend the majority of your time with and design a general strategy around -- whenever you are forced to swap one of them out for someone else, regardless of the game, it can be a bummer. Luckily though, these situations in Azure are on the rare side and only occur a handful of times, so it never became more than just a simple annoyance in the scheme of things.
The other side of that complaint has to do with the retry system when you lose encounters. Trails games in general have a great feature -- one that should be adopted more widely -- where you can retry a fight as-is or reduce the difficulty just for the fight and retry that way. What I would wish was also an option, one that (thankfully) was added to later games but is absent here, is the ability to retry a fight while being able to access your party menu to adjust equipment or party members first. Instead, some fights were made much more difficult simply because I had the wrong accessory equipped that didn’t stop a status effect from landing that I could not address while using the retry option. I enjoy how difficult battles can be in Azure, but it’s annoying that unless I’m willing to reduce the difficulty or reload an earlier save and hopefully not lose too much progress, you can just be stuck in a nearly unwinnable encounter otherwise.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is an incredible example of the RPG genre; with its rich world and lore paired with a loveable cast of characters, this duology of games deserves to be recognized in the same breath as the other titans of the genre. Titans that I think the Crossbell games surpass even. I adore the Trails games and Azure has further cemented this series as one of my favorite RPG franchises of all time. I can’t wait to join back up with the Special Support Section later this year with Trails Into Reverie. Trails fans, we’re eating good this year, and Trails to Azure is one hell of a starting course.