Spoilers probably (for an incredible series of games that no one should be spoiled on so warning potential stumblers of the internet) because I have no chill and can’t keep my mouth shut. Apart from that one time I knew one thing and didn’t spoil it for exactly one person. Everything else is off the table, unless I’ve forgotten it.
There was no way I could add in the Cold Steel games into the title but this is my current love letter to The Legend of Heroes: Trails series of video games. Over the last 14 months or so I have developed a small obsession with a series of games that started off very innocently enough after a recommendation and has become an all consuming obsession that I can not get enough off. This is largely because there are still a few games out in Japan that haven’t been translated into English and as I can’t read, speak or understand Japanese I am at a loss. The Trails games are story-rich JRPG’s set in a science fantasy world and full of amazing characters that are easy to fall completely in love with. And some are incredibly easy to despise too.
When I first played Trails in the Sky in 2022 I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was sold on the idea of turn based combat and a slower-paced game that required a lot of reading and as Trails in the Sky just so happened to be on sale on steam I went ahead and purchased it. Then Trails in the Sky SC, then 3rd and so on. In July I played the most recent localised game Trails into Reverie and now I am impatiently waiting for Trails Through Daybreak; the English titled name for Kuro no Kiseki (which is not my favourite choice of translation but I’ll have to go with it). I played the three Sky games first, then I think I played Trails from Zero on the Switch before playing Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2.
I then painstakingly waited (slightly teasing, because I know I haven’t really had to wait that long compared to others that have waited a very, very long time to be able to play these games in English) about three months or so to be able to play Trails to Azure, then finally went back to Cold Steel 3 and 4 and finished with Reverie in the summer. I say finished, if I didn’t miss two treasure chests in one of my playthroughs I would have a platinum trophy right now but alas…I have also played The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails although yet to go through NG+ which has additional information added and is either related to the Trails series or not. I have my suspicions, theories and I have questions, naturally. Whether is is part of the same universe or not it’s certainly a fun and interesting game to play.
What started as a slow burn cozy RPG became something so much more…
Now I sit here with fan theories buzzing in my brain continously fueled by dangerous territory , favourite characters, organizations I don’t understand the motives behind, more questions than answers, spin off games I have made up in my head that I want to see (basically just a game where Ries visits every culinary institution, bakery, cafe and so on to taste test all of the things – she could rock an Instagram account full of food pictures by the way) and an obsession with a world that is truly awe inspiring. This is the type of story craft and world building that makes me so envious yet so inspired. People came up with all of this and have turned it into something that people can discuss and theorize in great detail. The fandom may be small in comparison to other franchises but it is aggressively dedicated. I like that and I like that I am a newbie, but a part of that now too because these games have become treasures.
What started as a super cute and cosy game following these two teenagers adventuring around their kingdom to learn to be Bracer’s and help others in need has become so much more. It’s so easy to forget some of the finer details but the charm of Trails in the Sky with such likeable protagonists in Estelle and Joshua Bright continuing with the series was kind of a no brainer. I find starting new games really difficult because it’s a lot of new information to process, particularly RPG’s which are usually character driven and require learning a lot about the world you’re in. Trails doesn’t shy away from this and there is a lot to learn about the world by reading it all however there was no point I felt completely overwhelmed because it was a slow burn game. The plot development and pace was subtle and interesting. The orbment system was confusing and took me a long time to get into but now I understand it, you can make such strong characters it’s insane.
I intended to pace myself a little more between games because I was a little intimidated going from the 3rd Sky game to Zero with a new cast of characters to learn about and a new city to explore however I found the idea of it being pretty contained within the city of Crossbell and just having four party members helped convince me to try and without a doubt From Zero to Azure is my favourite arc. It sets so much up and made me realise just how much more there is to these games, particularly Azure. Because it was smaller and more self contained you get to really know the characters. Tio and Randy had so many laugh out loud moments but there were some heavy hitting themes too. Plus it introduced me to the wonders of the cast Avalon Gate and that became my favourite AOE heavy hitting spell from there on, which didn’t continue in later games which is very sad for me.
So many characters have depth to their back stories making it hard to choose just one favourite
Sky 3rd follows a hare’s breath behind if not on par with Zero/Azure if not for the unique style of play but for just how tragic and heavy it is. Having to traverse the literal abyss to find the truth behind my favourite character’s (Renne) backstory was an emotional task in itself because I already knew I was going to cry and just hate what I was about to see. Not to mention the protagonist of 3rd, Kevin, also has to deal with some incredibly hard moments and reading about why he is the way he is and what happened to him completely broke my heart.
Renne may be my favourite character and for very good reason because she is excellent but Kevin and Ries are without a doubt my favourite duo, or couple, I guess it’s hard to see one without the other now but their relationship genuinely is like no other. There is nothing outwardly romantic between the two, everything is really subtle because that isn’t the point of 3rd but some of the moments between the two are really intimate. It’s hard to describe fully, other than saying its just more between the two of them. I think it’s because of the content of 3rd being as hard hitting as it is and the shared trauma Ries and Kevin have over Rufina that makes it that way but I truly could not see them as anything but Ries and Kevin. Like, there is no one without the other. Ries literally jumps into hell, sword over her head ready to fight whatever Gehenna has to throw at her and she will stay and fight for as long as she can. She has a lot of those big impulsive moments that don’t always go in her favour but with both of them together they are just wonderful.
That being said Estelle and Joshua too go through quite the ordeal but have a very different dynamic and seeing that really flourish through the Trails games and then continuing to see them grow in later games is something really special. Estelle Bright is an amazing character to experience the Trails universe in because you learn things through her. She’s completely sheltered in her small hometown in a relatively small kingdom and exploring with her not only shows you just what a resilient character she is but also her reactions as she learns things about the world echo that much louder because you, the player, react the same way instinctively. At least I did because I had many ‘what is going on here’ moments which became more and more frequent as I carried on.
There was something really quite lovely about seeing Estelle search for the Bug of Legends to try and cheer Joshua up in the only way a small child could. Her resilience to keep going and to make sure it was the best bug, legendary even, as that was the only one that would clearly do. She never looses that charm about her and with everything she learns, her entire world opening up, she continues forward with such drive and determination. It’s inspiring and even more exciting to see in a female protagonist. Joshua never takes the spotlight from her despite him having things that make you curious and a heartbreaking enough backstory but they both shine individually as well as together.
I feel like I’ve not really given much time to the Trails of Cold Steel games and it isn’t because I dislike that arc. It has some of the most shocking and intense moments, introduces more fantastic characters and finally gives the player a chance to see Erebonia, a country you’ve been hearing about from the start. That’s what these games do best, plant tiny seeds early on and then develop them, give you bits of their history, so that when you are actually playing as people of Erebonia it kind of flips what you’ve learned on its head a little bit. You kind of thing of it pretty badly but then you see how the people of Erebonia’s lives have been enriched by the drastic, harsh and quite cruel methods of chancellor Osborne but it was all for a reason and getting to that point, learning what it was all for, certainly took its time but for me it was worth it.
The Cold Steel games play differently to the others and have that kind of life sim attribute to it of strengthening relationships with class mates in your free time. The difficultly I found was having so many people I wanted to get to know and learn about and having to choose between them kind of took away from the game a little bit. Not enough that I didn’t care or didn’t enjoy it but enough that I felt there were characters I wasn’t interested in getting to know and so later on some of the plot based decisions, conversations and dialogue felt a bit strange. I did however find many characters I really loved in all four games. Beryl for one, despite not being a main cast character is an enigma no one can figure out. She knows all kinds of things she shouldn’t and if only we’d been able to spend more time with her we could have reached Peak Beryl but earlier on…
Trails into Reverie was a pretty interesting game to play in the summer and one I had a lot of fun with. Bringing most of the characters together in one game and being able to create your own ‘dream team’ was really fun. Reverie, in a similar way to Sky 3rd has it’s own unique plot alongside a whole series of mini games and The Reverie Corridor dungeon to explore. One detail I really loved in the latter part of the game, or perhaps even NG+ was unlocking little character scenes and sequences in the Reverie Corridor after certain fights or conditions had been met. After battle you’d get a little scene between characters that was just a little cute victory thing but these added more detail to that and had for some real fun moments. Renne, Nadia and Musse couldn’t resist winding up Towa in this one in particular.
It’s so difficult to sum up everything I feel in a way that is both coherent and does this series justice that isn’t inconceivable squealing. Each game has kept me thoroughly engaged with the story and the characters, developing the world and the plot with each installment. They are unlike anything I’ve ever played before.