The release of the Crossbell Saga in English has been a long time coming for fans of the Trails series. And with The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero’s cracking debut last September, the wait for Trails to Azure has had us salivating. And finally, the missing gap in the series has been filled, and the conclusion of the Crossbell arc has reached us. We’ve already said that Zero makes a case for being one of the series’ best entries, and Azure takes that statement and runs with it.
Set a few months after the end of Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure once again follows the Special Support Section (SSS) as they help the citizens of Crossbell, which is enjoying a temporary period of peace. But as political turmoil looms around the corner, and multiple nefarious organisations begin to worm their way into the state, the SSS – led by Lloyd Bannings – also has personal stakes wrapped within the tangled web of Crossbell’s fate. One, the truth behind the murder of Lloyd’s older brother Guy, and two, the importance of a little girl the SSS saved in Zero, KeA.
That little summary doesn’t begin to even scratch the surface of what Trails to Azure has to offer. The game comes out of the gate swinging from minute one, and right up until the final hour. There’s barely a moment of reprieve. Crossbell becomes a hotbed of drama for the whole 60-hour runtime.
We really can’t talk about the plot any more than this, but we can say that it’s excellent, and quite possibly the series’ best. However, if there’s one aspect the story falters, it’s with the endgame villains and their associated reveals – some hit better than others, but one reveal in particular left us wanting a bit more.
Fortunately, everything else about the narrative is riveting. The pacing in general is among the series’ best, as Azure is just firing on all cylinders for a lot of the playtime. Each chapter is filled with dramatic moments, and even though the final chapter makes up perhaps 40% of the game, it never outstayed its welcome and really emphasises everything that the series is outstanding at. Where Zero got us familiar and attached to Crossbell and the SSS, Azure tests our love and loyalty to both the state and the characters in the best possible way, and the emotional payoffs, as a result, are astounding.
More than Zero, this is a game that rewards long-time fans of the series. We still think that Zero and Azure can be played without having experienced the rest of the series, but with organizations from the Sky trilogy entering the action this time around, and even more characters from previous games making an appearance, you will get so much out of this if you’ve played at least the Sky games – if only they were on Switch! It doesn’t require the narrative familiarity that Cold Steel III and IV do, but the treats become all the sweeter if you come in with the prior knowledge.
Something we can talk about, however, is the new additions to the SSS. Noel Seeker, a member of the Crossbell Guardian Force, and Wazy Hemisphere, leader of a gang in the Downtown district, are a fantastic pair of additions joining Lloyd, Elie, Tio, and Randy, and fit in perfectly. Noel’s dedicated, easy-to-fluster attitude and Wazy’s aloof, playful personality both slot into the dynamic perfectly, and it makes an already loveable cast even more wonderful.
It’s also impossible not to fall in love with the adorable KeA, a young girl at the centre of a huge mystery. She is the beating heart of Azure and brings a lot of emotional and personal stakes to the story. Don’t worry, though, the existing members of the SSS aren’t forgotten about — Randy in particular has an outstanding character arc with moments that had us on the edge of our seats.
Outside of the story, Trails to Azure is mostly more of the same. You help out citizens by undertaking quests, and eventually, you’ll need to undertake a major story segment or mission. The state of Crossbell opens up much quicker this time around, and you get a car towards the middle of chapter one, which enables fast travel much earlier in this game. Most of the locations are the same, with a few new areas peppered throughout the story. It’s a sequel for the fans in every single way and every bit as familiar and comforting as you’d expect — even the repetitive sidequests make a return, though as always, you’re rewarded with more wonderful writing, more lore, and sometimes even a few tears and a laugh.
This familiarity manifests in the combat, too, though you have a larger party more consistently throughout Azure as opposed to Crossbell — six characters compared to four for most of the runtime, with a handful of guest characters joining temporarily. Pretty much everything, however, is the same as it was in Zero, and because characters start off at around level 45-50, you already have access to a wide array of Arts from the start, with others and upgraded versions to unlock as you level up.
The Orbment system — which enables characters to use magic — has received an upgrade from Zero, which will be familiar to Cold Steel fans. The ENGIMA combat orbments can now take a Master Quartz, a quartz that you equip in the centre of the orbment and that can level up and improve characters’ stats or give them special buffs. One, for example, gives a character a physical defense buff for the first three turns of the battle, but that increases as the quartz levels up. Because these Master Quartz come with elemental properties too, it’s also much easier to get higher-level spells earlier, making customisation a little easier this time around.
If you get the Master Quartz to level 5, your character learns an extremely powerful Master Art, which is a huge spell that can either do tons of damage or provide some excellent buffs, which are incredibly important for the endgame challenges. There are some very tough boss fights in Azure that deliberately appear unbeatable but are absolutely not impossible. With Azure’s wide array of orbments and customisation, it’s immensely satisfying to crack the battle system wide open and struggle through these challenges. The high we got from beating a few particular bosses is unmatchable.
The other new addition in combat is the Burst Gauge. During key story moments and the entirety of the final chapter, a blue gauge appears in the top-right corner of the screen, which fills up with every attack you make and every hit you take. Once it’s full, you have a limited amount of time to ‘spend’ the gauge, which allows you to make six consecutive turns, cast spells instantly, recover CP quicker, and also remove negative status effects instantly. We really like how this is implemented and adds another wrinkle to your combat arsenal — particularly in those tougher challenges again. With the right execution, it might even be a little bit busted, but it takes a bit of time to build up the gauge again in a boss fight, meaning you can’t constantly abuse it.
All of NIS America and Geofront’s efforts return with the same high quality from Zero, from a message log to high-speed modes and another excellent localisation. This is more of the delicious same, but with lashings of juicy story and character moments layered on top. ‘More of the same’ is often a a negative, but this is absolutely the case where that was exactly what we needed, and Trails to Azure almost always delivers. There’s more excellent music from Falcom Sound Team jdk (the final boss music is quite possibly one of the best in the entire genre) and the same cosy visuals as before, and it all just wraps together to make a jam-packed JRPG gift.
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