The Glorious End of an Epic Saga?
“One Game to rule them all, One Game to find them, One Game to bring them all, and in the brightness bind them”
Dramatic paraphrasing of J.R. Tolkien’s famous quote aside, this quote suitably fits the game The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie to a tee. Trails into Reverie is the culmination of nine previous games that span three story arcs, all set within the Legend of Heroes universe. Having so much weight on its shoulders to wrap up the story threads of literally hundreds of hours of stories is no mean feat, but Reverie pulls it off with casual aplomb.
Remaining with the Lord of the Rings analogy, although you could watch the last movie, The Return of the King, and enjoy it for what it is, many background stories and gravitas would be lost on anyone who hadn’t seen the previous entries. The same can be said here with Trails into Reverie. The game unapologetically throws you into events five months after the end of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, expecting the player to already be up to speed with the cast of characters and their relationships. It’s almost pointless to play this game if you haven’t. There is a decent recap of all that has happened before to this point, but you would be missing so much if you haven’t played the previous games in the series.
The Great Twilight is over, the land is recovering from War. You first join Lloyd Bannings (Crossbell Arc), during the build-up to the celebrations of Crossbell finally achieving its independence. Meanwhile, Rean and Class VII (Cold Steel Arc) are enjoying a well-earned vacation in Rean’s home village of Ymir, when things take a turn for the worse in Crossbell. Not only that, Rean soon discovers that Prince Olivert and his new bride have gone missing on their way to their honeymoon. Enter a new character to the series, the mysterious “C”. During Rean’s investigation into the disappearance of Prince Olivert, he soon crosses the path of “C”, who reveals himself.
With three main protagonists, Trails into Reverie’s structure is different from any previous games in the series as it has three story arcs within the game you can play in any order you choose: Lloyd, Rean, or the masked C. This ability to choose which arc to play is called the Crossroad System, and it was fascinating to experience how each story unfolded simultaneously into a single timeline. However, you can never venture too far down one timeline before you reach a wall that requires you to complete the stories of the other characters before you can continue.
One of the main draws to the series is the superb character development and interpersonal relations between them. Having literally a small army of characters, both friendlies and enemies to enjoy, watching how these characters have grown over the series has been one of the game’s biggest hooks. But, despite having the weight of the world quite literally on their shoulders at times, the characters’ unfailing resolve to never falter, especially Rean, coupled with blinding, complete naivety, has been irksome rather than the intended wholesome. So, it was with great relief and emotion that when one or two of them in Reverie finally cracked a little to show their human side, it felt all the more powerful and real.
As the main thrust of the previous nine games has been defeated, Trails into Reverie’s story as a whole didn’t quite have the same overall direction and punch. Good as it is, a new story direction to tie up all the loose ends was never going to be quite as appealing as the journey that got us there in the first place. The game does feel like a good point to halt the series but has left itself open to the possibility of more down the line.
With new characters as well as old ones, there are in total around 50 plus playable characters within the entire game, each one unique in their abilities and skills. Having personally been with the series for over 500 hours, I’m still tinkering with my best team structure and tactics. With new characters to play, that sense of experimentation only grew. This, however, leads to one of the game’s biggest weaknesses. If you are new to the series and started here, the tutorials to get you going are laughably brief. Packed with far too much information to comprehend in a single screenshot, and with scant explanations of how to use the tools at your disposal in turn-based combat, newcomers would simply be overwhelmed. Being the savvy veteran I am of the series though, I appreciated the new combat mechanics that added even more layers of depth to the already ridiculously deep-but-playable system.
When your team enters combat, you have either a melee weapon to land physical blows, spells from your Arcus, or a special set of “craft skills” unique to each character to lean on. The new added bonus for Reverie only veterans would appreciate is a new ability called United Front. This ability, which is fueled by filling the two purple meters normally associated with engaging surprise attacks, can now be used in combat too. The three options of the United Front give you mid-battle buffs that provide an even greater weight to the tactical decision-making. Also new is a quality-of-life enhancement. When casting a spell from your Arcus, players can now instantly see which of your spells would be most effective with a “weak” icon, either in yellow or orange, depending on its strength. Lastly, another new combat feature, and a very welcome one at that, is as well as having random moments of one of your team being able to cast “zero arts”, there is a new function of “zero crafts”. If timed correctly in the order of play, getting this icon land on one of your team members means a character can have free use of their most powerful attack. The combination of all these new subtle combat changes resulted in a big welcome difference in the combat encounters.
The mechanics of the game as a whole though are largely the same, that being a third-person adventure game. Whilst exploring an area, when you get close to enemies on the field, you enter into the aforementioned turn-based combat. Hit them from behind, however, and your team starts with a bonus.
As well as the main story to follow, there are side quests, mini-games, and items to find, alongside items to buy, craft, or locate to help upgrade the base numbers of your team. These, although time-consuming, always felt worth the effort to participate in, as the rewards and information gathered added depth to the experience. However, with so many playable members in your team, it was often difficult to remember who you had given the best gear to and a little pointless when you then couldn’t use that same person for some time.
The graphics of the game, nigh, in the entire series, have never been those to showcase a console’s ability. Trails into Reverie, even on the PlayStation 5, looks like nothing more than a low-end PS4 game. However, on the PS5, the richness of the colours certainly pops considerably more to the naked eye than before. The 60fps also makes the smoothness of the movement all that more enjoyable too. Where the game does excel visually is in the clarity and artwork design. Character models are excellent, even though you will encounter over 100 people/enemies in the game as there is interest in each of their designs, if not their number of polygons!
The 20-second cinematic wind-up for each character launching their most powerful Craft attacks called S crafts was never boring. So much so, I still watched them over and over, even though they were skippable! Combining these flashy visuals with excellent 2D drawings knocks the production levels of entertainment up quite a few notches. The game’s art direction, most notably in the cutscenes, also seems to have taken on a more dynamic approach. Previous games had more of a sit back and view what was occurring scene, whereas here in Reverie, it’s a more close, visual slow-mo, action movie style approach.
We have yet to see a specific, next-gen only JRPG entry from Falcom, and seeing how this series has established the company as one of the big hitters in the genre, the anticipation to see what they could achieve on a specific next-gen console only is palpable. Contemporary games in the same genre, such as Tales of Arise or Ni no Kuni, have raised the visual bar. It’s about time Nihon/Falcom did too.
The audio sequences of the game complement the visuals very well. Authentic and hefty thuds and slices add weight to the feel of weapon on flesh, as do the magical and sparkly launching of spells. The game’s soundtrack also does an outstanding job, especially when you consider you will be listening to the same white noise tunes for literally tens of hours of gameplay. The highlight must be the outstanding voice acting (in English) that I felt has been ramped up since the last game. Charter feeling and emotions shone through, especially in the heartfelt moments that were long overdue, and each line was crystal clear to listen to.
Finally, there was very little in the way of use of the PS5 hardware. Aside from the rumble in the controller for heavy hits, spells, or explosions, none of the haptic features were present. A bit disappointing for the first PS5-specific foray for the Legend of Heroes series.
As the dust settles on what has been an incredibly satisfying journey, The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie delivers what the fans will have wanted. It is another highly polished, high production level, epic game from Nihon/Falcom that players will sink a huge number of hours in to complete. It would have been better if there was more in the way of the use of the PS5 hardware, especially on the polygon count, and a little more tuition for any newcomers. Aside from that, Trails into Reverie hits all the right notes and more as it is a wonderful game to pause this amazing saga…for now.
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Release date: 7th July 2023