featured reviewArticuno76 (2) on 10, Sep. 2013 16:37 (HKT)
Persona 4 Golden: You may pass on the crown of JRPG goodness.
Following the phenomenal success of the Trails in the Sky games (well, by developer Nihon Falcom's humble expectations) the developer moved away from being a stalwart PC developer and started focusing on building a series of RPGs within its established 'Trails' sub-series; this time specifically with the platform in mind ...[read more...]
descriptionJoin a group of investigators, take up missions from the townspeople and discover the dangerous national secrets. The award winning Zero no Kiseki is getting evolved. The new PS Vita version has fully voiced main story events, the seiyuu from the PSP version are back to reprise their roles. The script for one character alone is as thick as a telephone book. By making use of the graphical capabilities of the new handheld console, the game comes with new mini games, new sub-missions, the graphics are all refined and the music are rearranged. There is also a brand new anime movie that reveals the spectacular world and powerful magic within.
|Original Name||英雄伝説 零の軌跡 Evolution|
|Official Release Date||Oct 18, 2012|
|CERO B (12+)|
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Official Website (Japanese)
|Average rating:||(5 out of 5)|
Please note that opinions expressed in any review are those of our customers and do not necessarily match those of the Play-Asia.com team.
This game takes place in the same timeline as Trails of Cold Steel. If you like all the Trails series and you are familiar with Nihon Falcom games, this is a good part of your collection.
If you like RPG-game so this game must have in your case , one of the best title in eiyuu densetsu franchise
Very Fun RPG I Loved The PSP Versions and This IS even better
Following the phenomenal success of the Trails in the Sky games (well, by developer Nihon Falcom's humble expectations) the developer moved away from being a stalwart PC developer and started focusing on building a series of RPGs within its established 'Trails' sub-series; this time specifically with the platform in mind that had brought them so much success; the PSP. What followed was the 'Crossbell' saga; a dualogy made up of Trails of Zero and the follow-up Trails of Blue.
Now Nihon Falcom is looking to revisit Trails of Zero with a jazzed up port that boasts higher fidelity visuals, a fully arranged soundtrack, voice acting for the main story components and other goodies like mini-games and extra side-quests. The result is the best RPG on the Vita. Good enough that yes, it even dethrones JRPG darling Persona 4 Golden. There are a few minor blemishes here and there that stop this game getting a perfect 10, but damn does it ever come close.
If you are looking for a game with an epic, world-trotting quest with massive plot-twists you won't find it here. This is a more intimate, episodic story. The game is set in and around the city of Crossbell; a prosperous economic and cultural melting pot that sits precariously between the Calvard Republic and the Elbonian Empire. Though formally at an armistice the two of them continue to fight a cold-war of political wills both publicly (through proxy of congress officials who are aligned with one or the other), and in secret (through the underground organised crime syndicates). Caught in this tug-of-war Crossbell becomes a breeding ground for corruption.
You play a group of protagonists who make up the newly established Special Services Assistance Police Division; a semi-independent police organisation that is not all that different from the Bracer's Guild mercenary group that is part of established 'Trails' lore.
This game doesn't compel characters to action through a big shadowy Sephiroth; instead you are up against the mafia who are a known quantity from the start; but ties to key political figures and the outward appearance of a stand-up business make them largely untouchable. The bureaucratic glass-ceiling is as much an antagonistic narrative force here as the would-be villains.
The story is less focused on weaving a jaw dropping narrative and instead focuses on weaving a patchwork quilt of intersecting character histories and loyalties from its 100 strong cast of characters.
In previous 'Trails' games the game world opened up in a largely linear path; you started a new chapter at a new place, unable to backtrack and left to explore a set area that stretched so far in a particular direction. These paths were made up of towns and other populated areas ―where you did most of your NPC interaction, bought the latest armour and weapons, and received quest notifications at the respective guild― and roads that linked these areas where you fought monsters and found the occasional chest. The story in each chapter would move forward by sending you back and forth within the set area to fight monsters or find a particular NPC. This was all held together by some phenomenally long sections of dialogue where every character would chime in and respond to the world and events around them.
The formula is quite similar here but it has been refined for Trails of Zero. Crossbell serves as a persistent hub-world that sits in the centre of the game world with all the other areas and roads in the game expanding out from it; making the game map something like a spider's web with Crosbell in the centre. It is here you will return for all your shopping, upgrading and quest notification needs. As you progress through the game you get the ability to fast travel as well as getting to see more of the paths that splinter off from the various roads leading out of the city.
A lot of the backtracking found in the previous 'Trails' games is still here but it is less of a hassle because of the fast-travel mechanics and also because many story events that require a change of location have the change facilitated as part of the scripting in consecutive cut scenes. Speaking of which, the cutscenes here are just as long as they were in previous games, if not longer (some running for over 40 minutes). However, just as the game abbreviates exploration with fast travel the game script is also sensibly abbreviated; sometimes you will simply get a text box explaining that 'a character explained everything to another character' rather than re-treading ground. Because of this, although the game is extremely dialogue heavy it is rarely, if ever, padded out. Instead the dialogue tends to be beefy because each character is voicing their own unique understanding of the events around them; some characters are more politically in-tune so are well-informed on the relative standing between organisations, chains of command and so on whilst other characters are natives of Crossbell and so familiar with the local customs and history of the city. Each is given time to provide their own valuable insight into the narrative proceedings.
Each chapter (or select parts of each chapter) tend to be made up of their own largely self-contained case and character focus on a particular party member, as a result it can be hard at times to see any kind of narrative thread holding the entire game together. The third chapter in particular is dedicated to a systematic examination of each of the protagonists. The game spends most of its time planting the seeds of a much bigger character drama so it isn't until the near the end of the third chapter (some 50 hours into the game) that a semblance of an over-arching narrative begins to develop. When all things are said and done the game only addresses a handful of the story arcs but unlike Trails in the Sky FC which ended on a massive cliff-hanger, here we have a story that resolves itself quite neatly but leaves your appetite whetted for the follow-up. You will be left asking 'how come character x is helping y?' 'what did z really mean when they said a' and 'why was b at c?.'
Nihon Falcom is well known for putting together low-budget games that focus on the getting the basics right. That is things like the pace of leveling up, difficulty, ensuring the world makes a kind of congruent sense (you won't walk into a 5 person house with only 1 tiny bed in it) and so on.
All that attention to detail is found in Trails of Zero as well and the pace with which you are introduced to mechanics is the fastest it has ever been; a 4 member party is available from the start as are special skills, magic and the Orbment system (a system that allows you to plug in elemental modules for stat boosts and access to magic of the corresponding element).
The AT battle system―a turn based battle system that assigns bonuses such as critical hit, healing and double-turn to specific turns―is back. You use skills to speed up yourself, slow down the enemy or cut-in line in the turn order list so that you can steal turns with juicy corresponding bonuses. The defense and attack bonuses from Trails in the Sky are gone but a new team-attack bonus (along with several others) has been introduced that allows you to mob an enemy group and dispatch them quickly.
Early on you are introduced to other mechanics such as the line-system; a tactical way to stack the Orbment bonuses so you can get access to increasingly higher classes of magic. The way the line-system works varies by character which helps give them further specialisations beyond weapons and skills. All of these elements are doled out at a rate that doesn't hold the player's hand. Most tutorials can be skipped and some mechanics you won't even be alerted to unless you check the in-game journal or take part in certain side-quests.
The game also introduces new skills at a good clip; just as a character is becoming seemingly obsolete they will get an ability to bring forward the turns of other characters; suddenly the versatility of the character and the number of ways they can be used is increased. The only exception to the rule is Randy who starts out as your main source of physical attack damage and has HP enough to absorb plenty of damage on the frontlines. During the second half of the game however, his ability to deal 600 attack damage on a single enemy is kind of cute when you consider your backline mages can cast 3000+ damage AOE spells. It also doesn't help that the two status effects he used to be adept at inflicting stop being useful as most enemies gain resistance to them. At the beginning of the game you can also make use of his large movement distance and have him run head-on into the enemies to act as bait, which would appear to make sense as his S-Craft (the game's version of Limit Breaks) is a spinning-attack that hits enemies that have wandered close to him. This utility is undercut later on in the game as you find an increasing number of encounters that are based around fewer, stronger monsters rather than mobs made up of many weaker ones (not to mention it simply isn't that useful for boss encounters). It is at this point that Randy's large range of movement is used to reduce him into a kind of irate item butler who runs shuffles madly between party members to apply bandages (a role which doesn't really need to be done). He has no taunt move to focus enemy aggro on him so his high HP becomes sort of pointless. At least this is the way things played out on the default difficulty setting; as a result I normally had him on the support character bench instead of as a key member in my party.
To be fair I did do almost all the side-quests I could over the course of the game which probably made up 25 or so hours of the 77 hour completion time. The result is some killer loot that that would have made the game easier. Even so you can only bork the game so much as exp throttling (the rate at which exp from enemies is reduced to prevent exp farming) is harsh so grinding becomes pointlessly ineffective. Come to think of it not a single minute of those 77 hours was spent grinding. The exp throttling gives you just enough leniency to benefit from exp that can be gained from taking part in the sidequests and that's about it.
The prologue of the game is uncharacteristically hard which may give players the false impression that the game is hard overall when in reality it evens out considerably over the course of the game. For those who want a mild challenge (or those who have already played the previous 'Trails' games) I highly recommend jumping straight to Hard and toughing out the first few hours as there is no way to turn the difficulty up mid-game. It would be accurate to say that Trails of Zero is both easy and considerably easier than the Trails in the Sky games.
Of course you could skip the side-quests to make things harder on yourself but when you consider that Trails of Zero is largely about character and world building―the two things that these side-quests offer in addition to unique loot―you have little reason to do so. Side-quests also double up as tutorials that get you to explore the various sub-systems in the game as well as alerting you to, and teasing out, some of the depth in them. The way the quests work as an extension of the narrative by providing extra insight into the world (and foreshadowing things to come in sequel) is one thing but what really impressed me was the events in the side-quests don't exist in a vacuum simply because they are optional; even in the voiced core story sections characters will bring up and make references to events that occurred in side-quests, thus treating them as part of the established canonical narrative just as you would expect them to treat any other event in the story.
Without the ability to grind and the bountiful loot items from side-quests it falls on the games' resource acquisition and management system to pleasantly torture the player with compromise; money is scarce and the best way to get it is to trade in Sepith dropped by monsters; the very same Sepith you use to craft upgrades to the Orbment system and create new elemental modules. Do you spend the Sepith to get more money for the newest weapons and armour? Or do you spend it on improving your Orbment slots so you can get access to better magic? If you chose the former how many of your characters can you outfit? Do you have the resources to not only buy the equipment but also forge the upgrades? Maybe you could opt out of getting new items by exchanging a combination of older items for them at the pawn shop? Does the cost of acquiring the items for the pawn shop outweigh the cost of the crafting the item new? Or is it simply a non-factor because, no matter what, you need that Sepith for something else? It is at times like this where the game compels you to take notes and draw tables and graphs so that you can keep track of things. In the end-game where you have most of the upgrades you tend to find you have more than enough money to get anything you want though (although again, this could be a very different story on higher difficulty levels). Also, throughout the game I found that you normally only need to outfit 3 of the 4 characters in your party with the newest armours and footwear simply because if you are inclined to explore you will find a bonus set tucked away in a chest anyway.
Nihon Falcom has always paid attention to the tiny details in lieu of setting up an expensive blockbuster and that shows in many of the design decisions that make this an evolution over the Trails in the Sky games. As with those games healing points are sensibly placed before bosses and enemies are visible on the map. But changes have been made to make the game more player friendly. For example; enemies in the field respond to you differently depending on the difference in level; high level enemies give chase, slightly under-levelled enemies show indifference, and if the level difference is bigger still enemies will flee at the sight of you. The twist is that if the level difference is really big you can attack the enemy on the field, as you normally would to try and stun the enemy and get pre-emptive strike, only instead of stunning them the enemy explodes into a shower of Sepith without you ever having to engage them in a formal encounter; why bother forcing an encounter on the player if all they are going to do is spam attack and annihilate the enemy?
Exploration has also been made much more enjoyable than ever thanks to two features. The first is an accessible mini-map that can be brought up by tapping the mini-map displayed on the top-right of the touch-screen. It's a small touch but it really helps. It is the minimaps' integration with the second feature however, that is much more progressive; camera control has been removed from the game. You can no longer rotate the camera. Initially taking this control away from the player might seem regressive but replacing user camera control with a scripted camera solution has done wonders for navigation. Taking an example; the camera always faces a certain way so a path going north will always face 'north' without you having to worry about whether the mini-map is rotating with it (nor do you have to worry about becoming disoriented as you would with a non-static mini-map). This burns the path that leads northwards out of Crossbell in your mind as a location that is visually distinct from any of the other paths. The camera pans, zooms and rotates at set locations so that each area looks far more unique. You spend more time navigating by the features of your surroundings rather than having to intermittently take a break to check the map; the map becomes a tool to help you navigate, not the primary means of navigation. The entire game world is built around this kind of framing; you won't find the entrances to shops obscured behind a camera rotation or otherwise hidden off-screen anymore. When you also factor in that the designs of the dungeons themselves are generally smaller and feature more unique art assets than the previous games the end result is that they too feel more like real places rather than copy and pasted levels made for a game. This is one of those things you really appreciate more when you go back and try and play the older games. How did we ever manage?
I don't think there really is all that much left to say about the gameplay. The story I've also touched on. As I mentioned earlier it is a character driven story and at times more about the characters responses to the situation than the situation itself. The characters come across as well developed, likable and by the fourth chapter there is a well-established sense familiarity and camaraderie between them. For the Evolution edition of Trails of Zero the developer has seen fit to include what seems to be around 20 hours of voice work (almost everything in the main story). Of note is the inclusion of voice actress Kaori Mizuhashi who gives a standing ovation worthy performance as Tio; a cool headed character of few words, many silences and subtle emotions. This is a character that in the wrong hands could have come across as a sulky loli; Mizuhashi has masterfully elevated the character to the status of fan favourite, and that is no small feat. This is the same woman who also voiced the much loathed Navi of Ocarina of Time fame. Got to give it to her; she can extract a range of emotions from players! It is a shame that we couldn't also get the side-quests―which are from the perspective of world and character building on the same level as the main story―voiced as well as, for the most part, the voice acting ranges from great to outstanding. This was clearly a budget restraint as the game sits comfortably well below the 4-ish GB you can cram into a Vita card. There are however, a few exceptions in the supporting cast of minor characters; a few who sound a bit too much like contemporary real-life Japanese gossips (which seem completely at odds with the setting) and another character that only has 2 minutes of screen time but comes across like a bewildered development staff member roped into a recording booth. With cutscenes so long and it would have been nice to have seen an option for the dialogue to forward itself automatically instead of having to keep pushing a button, but this is more a request than a criticism.
The soundtrack has also received a full re-arrangement. Whereas I cannot comment on how well the arrangements stack up against their originals I can say that most of it is the kind of stuff you can expect from the 'Trails' games; the tunes tend to do well at setting broad moods; conspiracy, loneliness and camaraderie for example, but everything here is classic style BGM, you won't find pieces set and timed to specific story events as has become the trend in modern games. The major change in tone for this series comes in the form of some of the dungeon and battle music which is more up-tempo than the past games and honestly wouldn't be amiss in a Ys game. Those who found Trails in the Sky SC's mellow battle theme jarring, rejoice, for it is glorious:
The visual remastering is also well done for the most part. Colours pop and blacks are as deep and inky as you have come to expect from the Vita screen. Text is pin-sharp (well about as pin-sharp as Falcom's custom made font will allow) and the menus are vibrant and easy to navigate. As with other Falcom games running on this engine the characters that populate the world and the corresponding artwork (in particular colouring) don't quite match up which can create a little cognitive dissonance. To their credit these characters are still very detailed in their own right but it is something to bear in mind. It still stands though that this was a game built for the PSP in mind and as a result some of the limitations of that system crop up here; NPCs and (less regularly) polygonal models will pop into view as you approach. I'm not convinced that a system like the Vita couldn't have ironed these flaws out if the developers were given the time.
A few minutes of dodgy voices, a slightly under-utilised character (at least on Normal mode), a luke-warm default difficulty setting and the odd appearance of an ugly texture or character pop-in don't affect the experience all that negatively, but they do stand out in contrast to what is otherwise a brilliantly well rounded remaster.
So if you are down with this game's deliberate character-centric story focus is there anything here that could dissuade you from making a purchase? Well…possibly. When the game was first released it was in need of heavy patching just to progress past the opening hours of the game. Quite how this faux pas got past QA is anyone's guess. Now for those who are getting the physical game card they should know in advance that the PSN account their system is tied to must match the region of the game card in order to receive the necessary patch updates. In other words HK accounts for those who got the cheaper Asian version and a Japanese account for the JP region game. This is true even though the game language in both regions is Japanese. Make sure you have these two line up as otherwise you are buying a paperweight. For some people this might mean having to buy an extra memory card so they can access the store of another region on their system. This is could be expensive consideration that might give some people reason to hold off and spend their money elsewhere.
Those who aren't dissuaded by the necessity of patching the game up, you will find anywhere between 50-80 hours of engaging character story and well-paced field and dungeon exploration. Newgame + is also implemented in a clever way that allows you to buy back and selectively enable which traits you want to carry over (weapons, levels, scanned data from enemies). So you can go blaze through the game again with overpowered characters, or simply opt to play on a higher difficulty with your scan data so you don't have to work out enemy weaknesses again. And you will want to go through it again, if not immediately then in preparation for the 2014 release of the follow-up: Trails of Blue EVOLUTION. Personally, I can't wait.
Post-review comment for Trails in the Sky FC players: For those who have only played Trails in the Sky FC, you may be wondering how you will fare coming into this game. Having played FC and the first 15 hours of SC my impression was that, honestly, I feel you should at the very minimum have completed FC to get a full appreciation of this game. The game references many events that happened in SC, but most of these are light spoiler territory and many of which will seem like natural plot developments you'd expect to see resolved in SC if you had seen FC through to its conclusion. Ideally starting this game after going through both FC and SC is recommended but this reviewer had no trouble appreciating the game either way. In fact after seeing the plot developments in the game I was spurned on to finally boot up SC again.
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