The state of Crossbell has moved to declare its independence. Negotiations at the Zemuria Trade Conference were underway when Mayor Crois proposed that the city be released from the yoke of both the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. The Special Support Squad, led by Lloyd Bannings, continues to investigate the aftermath of the DG Cult’s dissolution as tensions continue to rise. This declaration will mark a turning point in the content’s history, and all eyes are on Crossbell and the SSS to determine the fate of Zemuria.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is the second game in the Crossbell arc, following the Trails in the Sky trilogy and taking place around the same time as the beginning of Cold Steel. If you’ve been following my journey into the series thanks to GoG, I’ve only played the first two parts of Sky. However, seeing as we were given an early code for Azure on Switch I couldn’t resist the temptation. Before jumping into Azure, you should at least be familiar with the setting and the gist of events from Sky, but if you haven’t played Zero the game does provide a decent summary that will catch you up. It doesn’t cover everything unfortunately, but it’s good enough to get you started.
Starting a new game, as is tradition at this point you can import your save from Zero to carry over certain things, experience new events, and continue side quest stories. Obviously I couldn’t do this, but I never felt like I was missing out on content. Either way, you’ll need to rebuild your characters almost from scratch (you start around level 40) because, as is also tradition, the cast replaces their old Orbments with newer, more powerful ones which require new Quartz.
While characters do get stat increases from levels, they’ll become much more powerful when equipping them with Quartz. Every piece of Quartz has an associated element and effect, for example you can make blue HP Quartz and red attack Quartz. Slotting these into a character’s Orbment (provided their slots meet certain requirements) will not only improve the stated stat but also allow them to cast that color of Art in battle. Just one of a color will get you that type’s basic spell, but more of a single color will give access to more powerful spells and mixing and matching will reveal some as well. Blue usually gives you a few healing arts, but equipping a green on top of that will let you use group heal spells. It’s always a fun system to play around with, though it feels somewhat downgraded from Sky.
A big issue is those group heal spells. In Sky, you needed to equip a fair amount of blue Quartz to gain access, but there were multiple levels and could cover a wide area. In Azure, I only found two group heal spells. The basic covers far too small of an area to be useful, while the second variation requires a ton of MP and Quartz. I can see why this change was made for balance reasons, but I’d rather just have both options.
The UI and UX also feel like a big downgrade. Menus are much bigger and more visible, but are harder to read and convey less information at once. In the Quartz screen, using arts and equipping Quartz are now in two different sub menus and you can’t see how your spells change when equipping Quartz without going to yet another sub menu and toggling between damage and buff/heal arts. Sky’s menus were not perfect by any means, but these changes just make things a bit more difficult.
In terms of positive additions, you now have the option for the lead character in a party to be the only one to initiate battles (thank God). The SSS eventually gets a car that you can quickly travel around with, which is super convenient. You can also get multiple levels of advantage by attacking an enemy from the rear before walking into them to start a fight. Simply walking into their back will have your party go first, but stunning them beforehand will guarantee each preemptive turn results in a critical. Conversely, having an enemy walk into your back will have them go first as well as disrupt your formation. It’s a nice way to spice up the risk/reward system when exploring while also having the option to just get to your destination immediately if you want..
Speaking of your formation, the SSS will quickly grow beyond the original four members with new recruits Noel and Wazy. You can only have four active members in your party, so whoever is left out will serve as support for the Special Support Section. Characters have support skills and attacks that are only available in the support role, such as Ellie’s group heal or Wazy’s debuffs, giving you another factor to consider when forming your squad. For most of the game, my main party consisted of Lloyd for damage and all around spell casting, Noel for healing (later replaced by [REDACTED] as a damage dealer), Tio for her powerful arts and defensive crafts, and Randy for physical damage. In the back row, I had Wazy for his speed buffs and debuffs and of course Ellie for some pinch healing. This is just how I built my party, but you can basically do whatever you want thanks to the customization Quartz provides.
While my party could easily mop up most normal encounters and quite a few bosses, Azure easily has some of the most unfairly difficult encounters I’ve ever seen in an RPG. One of the bosses near the end of Sky SC was extremely difficult and required a cheese strategy, but it never felt like something I couldn’t beat with enough patience and planning. Here, however, quite a few feel like they just come down to luck, especially the final boss. I hope you like Tio, because her S-Craft which grants one to two hits of invulnerability to the party are essentially required. So many bosses late in the game and even a few normal enemies can just instantly kill several members of your party at once, often also reducing their MP to 0 for giggles. You’ll be constantly caught in loops of reviving characters only to have them die again instantly, so you have to spend even more turns getting everyone back up and progressing the fight. Pretty much every boss will summon additional monsters to further beat on you and steal resources, to the point where you can’t see your characters on the turn order anymore. Some awful turn modifiers were added here too, like guard which nullifies all damage, both incoming and outgoing for that turn as well as Deathblow, which causes any attack to become an insta-kill (except on most enemies because that’s fair right?). I like the gameplay and battle systems Trails offers, but I shouldn’t have to totally master and break it open just to finish the story.
In terms of story, Azure spends more time than usual on fluff. In fact, the first 20 hours of the game barely move the story forward, until it remembers there needs to be payoff for all that foreshadowing and you spend the next 20 hours in a mad sprint to the end. To say Azure has pacing issues is an understatement. The first half feels too slow and the second has absolutely no breaks in tension. I did all the side quests, so you could probably cut down on that time by quite a bit, but those are the only way to make money to upgrade your equipment, and if you’re not properly geared you’re going to get your head handed to you.
That’s not to say the story isn’t good. I really enjoyed all the twists and turns the plot took as well as some of the characters (Lloyd is a boring protagonist compared to Estelle, but Tio, KeA, Randy, and [REDACTED] are amazing). It’s easy to fall in love with Crossbell too, it’s a small state but feels more intimate and connected as a result. Continuing our Sky comparison though, Azure’s treatment of its female characters leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a scene with groping breasts early on in the game that becomes a tasteless recurring joke. When the gang has a beach episode, most of the time feels like it’s spent ogling the girls in their swimsuits, who I remind you are almost all under the age of 20, with one being 14 and another only 9. It’s just gross. Stop it.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure has a lot going for it, but even more holding it back. The story and characters are mostly fantastic, but the game does so much to get in the way of enjoying it both through dialogue and gameplay it becomes hard to recommend to those not already invested in the world.
- Crossbell is a great setting
- Great characters
- Good additions to the battle system
- Poor treatment of female characters
- Incredibly frustrating bosses
- Story takes too long to get going
- Terrible pacing