Review: Trails through Daybreak gives The Legend of Heroes a fresh restart

trails through daybreak, the legend of heroes

As I’ve said multiple times in the past, The Legend of Heroes is one of gaming’s criminally overlooked franchises that has a faithful and extremely energetic fanbase. It’s been around for just about 20 years and has gotten quite a number of entries, ranging from portable ones such as Trails in the Skies up to modern systems, like the last one I’ve reviewed, Trails into Reverie.  

Regardless of which point you might have jumped into the series, one thing is common to all of these games: the lore surrounding them is deep and ridiculously detailed, if sometimes a little convoluted, but has plenty of elements that make it a blast to try and follow. Characters aren’t as paper thin like your usual videogame and the consequences of each entry’s story last through the series as a whole surprisingly far.

Up to this point, we’ve gotten to see various parts of the continent of Zemuria, whether it is the small country of Crossbell and its struggles for freedom as it’s jammed in between two huge warring states or the bustling lives of those having to make to with living in a constantly changing society of Erebonia. Still, among all of those, one that’s constantly mentioned and never shown is Calvard, and that’s about to change with Trails through Daybreak

After having closed the book on nearly 20 years of storytelling with Trails into Reverie, developer Nihon Falcom and publisher NIS America have sort of a blank page to work with in their new game, all the while having a rich tapestry of references to call upon if needed. And they certainly do an excellent job in setting Daybreak as both a natural follow-up and a new start for the series in the way they introduce gameplay elements that are in line with what we’ve grown to know and love, along with plenty of excellent additions.

trails through daybreak, the legend of heroes
GARGOYLES! Of course!

First and foremost, it bears talking about its story. You play as Van Arkride, also known as spriggan, a jack of all trades investigator that’s known for taking cases that neither the police or the bracers, a sort of vigilante group inherent to The Legend of Heroes, are willing to look into. All is going as normal for him until he meets with his new client, an otherwise average student named Agnes, who wants him to help him find a family heirloom that was stolen.

As you’d expect, things aren’t exactly what they seem as their search eventually leads them to the underbed of society and the pair gets entangled with all manner of lowlifes and worse. In among these troubles comes a mysterious source of power that molds Van and turns him into an all-powerful being during battle, which comes in handy as they get deeper and deeper into more trouble.

Overall, the narrative in Trails through Daybreak is of a substantially darker tone compared to the rest of The Legend of Heroes, and that starts up right away as people are outright killed in front of seemingly innocent Agnes. Similar to the recent Crossbell games such as Trails into Zero, this one is of a somewhat more urban setting, having you explore a surprisingly vast city and its inner structure during your adventures, not to mention taking cases for the people who live there.

While the tone might have shifted, there’s no denying that this is still a very anime-inspired affair, from character designs that have female models following a very busty model and extremely thin cut males with crazy hairdos and more belts and buckles that would make Nomura proud to funny food-related moments that help break the tension. Then again, much like the rest of its home franchise, Daybreak has excellent character and world development that make it very worthwhile to devote time to even if its presentation at first might not seem like something in your wheelhouse.

trails through daybreak, the legend of heroes
Combo actions are extremely powerful and come in very handy during battle.

And gameplay-wise, it’s surely a step ahead for The Legend of Heroes, thanks to its more dynamic combat that has you fighting both in real-time and via turns at the press of a button. Basically, you roam dungeons with weapons in hand and are able to freely attack enemies as you see fit in the form of a simplified action adventure game, like Metaphor: ReFantazio, which I previewed last week. By engaging foes in that way, you can apply status effects or outright kill them if they’re weak enough.

However, if you feel like fighting them more traditionally, you can activate what the game calls shards and engage in turn-based fights. But even those are faster and more streamlined, featuring a faster moving timeline where your characters and enemies take turns whacking at each other. By having your team clump up together, they can combo off attacks and do some real damage, and the various S-crafts and links that you know and love from previous games are also present and accounted for if you feel like charging up magic.

Along with those comes the orb system, elemental stones that are slotted into your group that give them special powers and bump up their states, all of which level up as they are put to use, as you’d expect from an RPG that has you exploring and getting into plenty of trouble with monsters. Overall, the sense of speed in Trails through Daybreak is refreshing as I was kind of growing tired of the repeated approach taken by Nihon Falcon with their previous titles. They are still fantastic games, don’t get me wrong, but tend to be on the grindy side especially when compared to this!

Otherwise a long and rewarding game in its own right, Daybreak is also technically sound and features a competent cast of voice actors who pop in every now and then to deliver spoken lines in an otherwise somewhat text heavy dialog box game. What got me the most here is how well the game runs on the Switch and the sharpness of its presentation. 

trails through daybreak, the legend of heroes
Watch out! It’s a maid with a gun!

Granted, it’s clear that the budget on this isn’t nearly as vast as a Square Enix production, but the graphics are cartoony enough and make good use of the simpler models, delivering charismatic if not a bit samey faces for the wide and colorful cast. It’s surely a great title to keep in your dock for portable play thanks to the faster battles and short load times – I for one have been dabbling in it between work breaks and loving it.

Even if you have yet to experience any of The Legend of Heroes up to this point, it’s safe to say that Trails through Daybreak is a fantastic starting point as it doesn’t lean as heavily on the references as the previous games, and in case you start feeling a little lost on the lore, the material included does a decent job at summarizing the series’ rich backstory. This is one of the best games so far that I’ve played in this long-running saga and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not at least giving it a chance. Daybreak is a brilliant new start for The Legend of Heroes and I can’t wait to see what will come next.   

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