Also available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and Windows
Trails from Zero is the fourth game in the “series,” although defining what is and isn’t part of the series is a bit easier said than done since it’s like a sub-series of a sub-series of a late 80s series. The series we’re concerned with here is the Trails series (or Kiseki if you want to be a pedantic weeb), and that’s what this is #4 in. Despite that, it’s the 8th game in that series to be released officially in English. Life is hard for Trails fans.
So the Trails series is currently broken into three arcs with a fourth on the way. The first three games are the Liberl arc, the three Trails in the Sky games. The sixth through ninth games - and the ones I’m willing to bet were, like mine, most English-speaking players’ first experience with the series - are the Erebonia arc, the four Trails of Cold Steel games. Games four and five are the Crossbell arc, Trails from Zero and the upcoming localization of Trails of Azure. So this is the fourth game in the series, the eighth game officially localized for the West, and the start of the second arc. Again, life is hard for Trails fans.
Despite releasing on Playstation 4 and Switch, this isn’t a 3D game with mind-blowing grayfex. This is a pretty humble-looking 2D game because it’s not new at all; it’s a remastered port of a PSP game from 2010. It is, however, new to the West. Coming on the heels of Trails of Cold Steel IV, a fully 3D JRPG, it’s understandable that some folks would be a bit taken aback by the 2D sprites in Trails from Zero, but don’t let that dissuade you; there’s an amazing game to be found here. It is not, however, the game I would suggest newcomers to the series play as their first introduction to Trails. Cold Steel 1 is a good starting point, but you really ought to start with the first Trails in the Sky (sadly only available on PSP and PC in English).
Picking up a few months after the events of the Trails in the Sky trilogy, Trails from Zero focuses on Lloyd Bannings, a rookie detective with the Crossbell Police Department, as he tries to make a difference in his hometown and slowly pull back the cover on the corruption festering in the city’s shadows. One thing to note about this game - and one of the reasons I say that this is a game for established Trails fans and not newcomers - is that it’s a very slow burn. You’ll be over halfway through the game before the drama really picks up. That’s not entirely unheard of in the Trails series, but while Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel both had slow build-ups, neither felt nearly as prolonged as Trails from Zero. That’s not to say that the build-up is pointless or bad, but be prepared to play 20 hours before it goes from an interesting police slice of life to claws-in-your-flesh drama that leaves you NEEDING to know what happens next.
That said, I do think this is the weakest of the three arcs. This is, admittedly, only the first half of it, and the game ends in typical Trails fashion - a HUGE cliffhanger that has you chomping at the bit to play the next installment. The characters, though, just aren’t as interesting to me as Skies or Cold Steel. That’s very much a personal taste issue, and I know folks who say that Zero has their favorite Trails characters, so take that particular statement with a grain of salt, but I didn’t find Lloyd to be nearly as interesting a protagonist as Estelle or Rean, and I didn’t find Crossbell to be nearly as interesting a setting as Liberl or Erebonia. Despite that, though, if you’ve played either of those arcs, you’ll definitely want to play this one no matter what. For most of us in the West, we probably got a brief and somewhat confusing introduction to these characters towards the end of the Cold Steel arcs with their Crossbell cameos (which is why I suggest people play the Liberl and Crossbell arcs before starting the Erebonia arc), and that taste of Lloyd, Rixia, and KeA definitely made me excited to play this game and get to know those characters in earnest.
Trails of Zero is a tough recommendation for me. For the record, I absolutely do recommend it, but that recommendation has a big asterisk next to it - play Trails in the Sky first. It’s totally playable without knowing anything about Trails in the Sky. Still, the context definitely makes the story more interesting and easier to understand, and I feel like it will be harder for players to stick with the admittedly very lengthy build-up the story has if they have some established interest in and knowledge of the world and universe. If you have that, though, while I found it the second weakest of the eight Trails games I’ve played (after Trails in the Sky 3rd), it was definitely a game well worth experiencing, and I’m super excited for Trails of Azure to come out in English next year.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.