In a gaming landscape that’s constantly taking advantage of ever bigger screens, resolutions, and graphical fidelity, the Nintendo Switch version of Trails From Zero has reminded me that sometimes, there’s magic to a smaller screen.
I became a little obsessed with The Legend of Heroes (or Kiseki) franchise after blasting through the first two Trails of Cold Steel games on PS4. Here, the eclectic mix of school-based socializing and danger-filled, politically driven field trips that hint at a nation on the brink of civil war kept me hooked for well over a hundred hours’ total playtime.
Ever since, I’ve been hotly anticipating the release of Trails From Zero on Nintendo Switch. The game predates Cold Steel by several years, but this latest port marks the first time Trails From Zero has been made available outside of Japan.
That’s wonderful news if you’re a JRPG enjoyer – whether you’re a Trails veteran or dipping your toe into the series for the first time. But I think there’s an equally valid win here for Nintendo Switch owners – particularly those who primarily play the console in handheld mode.
Trails From Zero is a perfect fit for Switch. Its charming low-poly visuals look far more appealing on the Switch’s sharp 720p screen than when blown up on an ill-fitting 4K display. The latter of which runs the risk of putting the game’s upscaled PSP-era visuals in a pretty unflattering light.
Trails From Zero sidesteps this almost entirely on the Switch’s portable screen, making it a must-play if you’re after a highly polished, turn-based adventure to play on the go.
What immediately struck me with Trails From Zero wasn’t the familiar sights and sounds of the continent of Zemuria. It was something more low-key: this game runs incredibly smoothly in portable mode.
Yes, Trails From Zero is a port of a 2010 PSP game that could probably run on a smart fridge. But you never know with the Switch; it’s often a console of compromises. In the half-decade since its launch, I’ve played countless sub-optimal ports that don’t do the game – or the console – justice. Whenever Switch ports like Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered or one of those god-forsaken FIFA Legacy editions show up, soupy sub-HD resolutions, choppy framerates, and more pop up like the heads of a hydra.
I’m relieved, then, that Trails From Zero maintains a solid 60fps when played in the Switch’s portable mode. All while maintaining what appears to be an unwavering 720p resolution. It means that exploring the game’s setting of Crossbell city – and its surroundings – never grows irksome. Crossbell is brilliantly compact, taking no longer than half a minute to dart from one end to the other. It’s a place Nihon Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo likens to Hong Kong, which is crystal clear to see in its eastern market district, harbor, and seedy back alleys.
Heroes on the move
Trails From Zero has me thinking of another port, one from almost a decade ago: Persona 4 Golden.
The original Persona 4 on PS2 was an excellent game and, for my money, one of the best JRPGs still to this day. And its superlative PS Vita port brought more to it than hours of new content. Persona 4’s strength lies in its balance of gameplay and how you decide to approach that balance.
You’ll do your mandatory school attending in the morning, but your afternoons, evenings, and weekends are usually free to chase relationships with your friends, pursue side quests, or delve into the Shadow World dungeons to grind levels or progress the story.
The PS Vita version of Persona 4 gave new context to that carefully balanced structure; you could be playing through your morning and AM lessons in the game while on the bus to school in real life. Rather than sitting down in the evening to play on the PS2, you could weave the game into more parts of your day.
A good portable version of a game isn’t just a 1:1 remake of what you can play on a console; it can be a whole new experience to enjoy. But to be enjoyed, it has to run well, which Trails From Zero does impeccably.
Handheld consoles often provide a means for developers to take a much-loved game from a previous generation and create definitive ports with them. Persona 4 Golden added tens of hours of new content. And way back on the Nintendo DS, ports of Final Fantasy 3 and 4 gave those games a pleasing 3D facelift alongside extras like new dungeons and super bosses.
Trails From Zero takes this opportunity to flesh out the overarching Legend of Heroes narrative. Now that Western audiences have full access to the Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel arcs, you’ll see characters from those games newly added to this handheld Trails From Zero port. Given Zero’s place in the timeline, these cameos are a lovely surprise and offer some much-needed context to both past and future games in the series.
Overall it’s the kind of port I love to see on Switch. No, it’s not going to bag Best Visual Design at The Game Awards, but it won’t need to to impress a whole new generation of gamers checking this classic JRPG out for the first time. Trails From Zero’s humble PSP roots make it an ideal fit for Nintendo’s handheld, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite RPGs I’ve played in recent memory.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.