The second and remaining recreation within the ‘Crossbell’ saga, Trails to Azure executes on all the pieces that Trails from Zero meticulously constructed up. It instantly goes with out saying that you just should play Zero earlier than leaping into this direct sequel — however do not let the daunting prospect of enjoying two 60-hour RPGs put you off. When seen as two components of 1 massive story, Zero and Azure make for a brilliantly engrossing expertise.
We might go as far to say that it is a close to good sequel. Whereas Azure does reuse rather a lot of Zero’s belongings — there are solely a handful of latest environments to discover, for instance — the storytelling hits some unimaginable highs right here, taking plot factors and character-driven developments from the primary recreation and operating with them. The narrative payoff is genuinely excellent at instances.
As soon as once more, you fill the well-worn sneakers of the Particular Assist Part (SSS for brief) — a ragtag staff of not-quite-rookie cops. Following on from the occasions of Zero, the SSS discover themselves in excessive demand, however their newfound fame hasn’t modified the way in which that they function. Protagonist Lloyd Bannings and his buddies are nonetheless absolutely dedicated to safeguarding their beloved Crossbell — a technologically superior city-state that is sandwiched between two supremely highly effective nations.
Political tensions are at an all-time excessive all through Azure, and the sport does a tremendous job of setting the scene. It provides you glimpses of the broader world from Crossbell’s distinctive perspective, and with an all-important commerce convention scheduled to quickly happen on Crossbell soil, you simply know that the town’s relative peace is not going to final.
Regardless of the looming threats, the SSS are nonetheless available to unravel native points. From slaying pesky monsters to investigating lacking individuals, the sport retains the standard Trails construction. Every chapter begins with an introduction to approaching story beats, earlier than letting you crack on with optionally available missions. A few of these aspect quests do lean into considerably tedious territory, however all the pieces that you just resolve to have interaction with helps additional set up the title’s already spectacular world constructing. You may get to know an enormous forged of secondary characters by means of your optionally available excursions, and that feeds proper again into the entire political and societal themes of the principle plot.
However as alluded, it is the segments of core story that push Azure above and past. Significantly within the recreation’s latter half, the plot’s impactful pacing is great. From particular person moments of character improvement to seismic occasions that assist form Trails lore, it is a number of the property’s very best storytelling — and that is excessive reward.
Even higher is that Zero and Azure add a lot context to the Trails of Chilly Metal sequence. Whereas it is completely doable to play and luxuriate in that four-part saga with out having touched the Crossbell duology — as many Western followers already know — really seeing how issues unfold for Lloyd and the gang enriches the finer particulars of Chilly Metal’s equally dramatic occasions. Generally we predict developer Falcom have to be mad for creating such an intertwined narrative that stretches throughout so many alternative video games, however the emotional impression of the bigger story arcs merely cannot be denied.
By way of gameplay, Azure would not do a complete lot to distinguish itself from Zero. The turn-based fight system stays largely unchanged by way of mechanics, however it does really feel higher balanced general. As an illustration, late-game enemies aren’t fairly as spongy, and boss battles are usually higher designed with some surprisingly distinctive mechanics including a welcome layer of technique.
That mentioned, the system as a complete does nonetheless really feel like a step again from what the Chilly Metal video games have to supply. Utterly comprehensible, provided that the unique Crossbell titles predate the adventures of Rean Schwarzer by just a few years, however for followers right here within the West, who may be way more accustomed to the ‘trendy’ Trails video games, fight can appear a bit fundamental.
However there’s nonetheless a rewarding sense of tactical tinkering in Azure. An expanded number of quartz — stat-boosting and ability-granting objects — means that you may customise your social gathering in a great deal of other ways. Discovering efficient quartz mixtures is at all times nice enjoyable, and coming dangerously near breaking the stability of fight — a Trails staple at this level — is one thing that’ll preserve you invested.
Throw stuff like tremendous robust optionally available bosses and lengthy, demanding dungeons into the combo, and there is way more room for strategic expression right here than there ever was in Zero. That is form of like Crossbell’s fight system unchained, and we’re definitely not complaining.
We must always in all probability complain about Azure’s visuals, nevertheless. For individuals who could not know, each Crossbell titles originated on the PSP over a decade in the past, and boy does it present. Regardless of being a ‘remaster’, a number of the graphical high quality on show right here is woeful — and it is an actual disgrace that, like Zero’s PS4 re-release, Azure would not boast the visible upgrades that the newly ported Nintendo Change and PC variations do. Nonetheless, graphics should not make or break a compelling RPG, and we would be mendacity if we mentioned that inferior visuals on PS4 did a lot to detract from our general enjoyment.
Trails to Azure is a tremendous sequel. Alongside an expanded fight system, it takes each storyline that Trails from Zero cultivated and delivers a sequence of unimaginable conclusions, each for particular person characters and the franchise’s overarching narratives. By way of impactful plot factors, Azure is up there with the best of Trails titles — a twisting, turning, gripping RPG that ought to actually be thought of a basic.