You won’t find many grander storylines in gaming than Trails. Nihon Falcom’s flagship series carries some of the finest worldbuilding in JRPGs,
We’ve seen eleven main entries since 2004 with a twelfth on the way, but we’ve never had the full story in the West, thanks to a troubled localization history. Long waits aside, Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure are the biggest casualties, two crucial PSP entries that form the Crossbell Arc, which is finally being localized a decade later.
However, Nihon Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo assures me that’s not for a lack of trying. “When these games originally came out, we repeatedly tried to search for publishers in the West, but were told that they would rather focus on newer titles first,” he explains. As Trails from Cold Steel got prioritized, fan translation groups like the Geofront Team got to work on their own versions of Zero and Azure, who sold the usage rights for the translated text to publisher NIS America.
Zero to Hero
"There are many things within the Trails series where we have used actual history as a reference," Kondo says. He's telling me about the inspirations for Crossbell, the nation at the center of Trails from Zero's story. Caught between two warring nations, Erebonia and Calvard, it's a pawn in their struggles. "Crossbell isn’t actually an independent country, but rather an autonomous state focused on finance, and I would say we referenced the history of Hong Kong and similar locations for it.”
This real-world influence isn't new for the series, Kondo explains. The Liberl Kingdom at the heart of Trails in the Sky was based on the "history of the country I lived in as a child – Thailand in South East Asia. A small country surrounded by larger powers."
It's also because of the Hong Kong influence that, Kondo explains, is behind you playing a police unit in Trails of Zero. “This is because of the special characteristics of the autonomous state of Crossbell as the setting," he says. “Compared to other regions, Crossbell is focused on finance and, within even the Trails series at large, many of the issues depicted are relatively closer to actual real-world events I would say.”
It's a sharp contrast from the Sky trilogy’s Bracer Guild, an international group determined to help citizens in need. When compared to the SSS police unit, Kondo explains “Bracers are the typical 'adventurers' you see in Japanese fantasy, so, in contrast to that, we thought that it suited the narrative better and was easier for players to get into with the characters being more understandable or relatable as members of the police force.”
Intriguingly, Kondo then tells me that Crossbell wasn’t always meant to be Trails’ second arc. Erebonia was originally planned to follow the Sky trilogy, but when it came to development the team had to pivot. “Erebonia is huge both in landmass and in terms of its position in the setting, and it was necessary to display the power of the man who controls Erebonia, Chancellor Osborne.
“In order to reach that point, we thought that we needed to build up our own skills a bit more. By placing the Crossbell chapters where we did, we were able to display a location actually under the control of the Empire. This allowed us to also consider ourselves just how powerful and threatening the Erebonian Empire was and thus allowed us to then create those games.”
Unfortunately, Zero and Azure’s absence left a significant gap for Western players anyway, yet Kondo is sympathetic. “For these reasons, we would have loved for players in the west to have experienced these two games first, but unfortunately, we were unable to make that happen. I apologize for that.
“We were constantly being asked when these games would be coming. Now that they are nearly here, we have a great feeling of accomplishment and happiness.”
Better still, both Crossbell releases are based on the “Kai” editions, featuring improved visuals and additional voice acting. Though Kondo downplays any major changes, he admits we can expect some familiar faces from Erebonia, enthusiastically explaining “Some characters from Cold Steel sneak their way into these versions. We were able to do this since all the events of the Cold Steel games have been revealed, so please be sure to seek these familiar faces out!”
Crossing over to Calvard
Kondo confirms Trails is far from finished. “With Kuro no Kiseki…” - the (currently unlocalized) latest entry that takes us to the Republic of Calvard – “…we have finally entered the latter half of the overall Trails series.”
Whether that future will be on PS5, Kondo wouldn't confirm – despite the surprise announcement of Ys VIII’s PS5 port last month. Kondo didn’t comment on Zero or other entries, instead pointing to Kuro's recent PS5 confirmation. “I know that fans in the west are waiting for Kuro no Kiseki and PS5 news with bated breath, so we will do our best to make sure we fulfill your hopes.”
It’ll be a long wait before Kuro arrives, though, with four Trails games confirmed for release before 2024, it’s clear that Western Trails fans have plenty to look forward to. Whether we’ll see another ten Trails games remains to be seen and currently, Eastern Zemuria remains largely unexplored. There’s a long way to go but for now, I’m just pleased to see Crossbell arc finally getting the love it deserves.
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Henry is a freelance writer based in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. When he's not wandering in VR or burning through his RPG backlog, he's probably planning his next D&D session.