The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak Review - Screenshot 1 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

To someone who isn’t an avid fan, the Legend of Heroes series can seem a little difficult to break into. The dozen or so games released over the past two decades are spread across four distinct arcs that all collectively built out one of the most detailed and tightly interconnected universes in all of gaming, one which is still slowly building towards an epic conclusion. Yet, with this new release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak, it’s never been a better time to give these games a shot. Trails Through Daybreak is a fresh start for the series in more ways than one, offering an experience that will appeal to fans both new and old.

Trails Through Daybreak is set in the Republic of Calvard, an economically dominant state with a level of technological advancement that rivals the modern real world, and begins by introducing us to Van Arkride, a local ‘Spriggan’. Van’s role is as a sort of private investigator who takes shady jobs that the local law enforcement won’t cover themselves, but business for him seems to be going a little slow as he’s woken up from a nice nap in his office by a schoolgirl named Agnes Claudel.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

She explains that she would like help finding a mysterious artifact that belonged to her grandfather, and though Van is initially reluctant, Agnes manages to convince him. They eventually recover the artifact, but this is only the beginning of Van's problems, as it’s revealed that there are seven more just like it and that all of them need to be recovered lest something catastrophic happens to the world. He hires Agnes as his assistant and the two set out on a journey that takes them all over Calvard, meeting new friends and foes along the way as we learn what the artifacts are really for and who else is after them.

It's a nicely well-paced narrative, and one that we’re pleased to report is entirely approachable to newcomers. One of the best and worst features of the Trails series is that you kind of have to play all of them to really get why they’re so praised, which is becoming an increasingly daunting task considering the several hundred hours of content to catch up on.

Yet, not only is Trails through Daybreak the beginning of a fresh arc with a new setting and new cast, but it doesn’t rely too hard on existing knowledge of the events and lore from previous games. Though it’s true that series fans will still generally get more out of the myriad references and cameos interspersed throughout, its commitment to telling a largely self-contained story makes it feel like the most approachable Trails game in a long time.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Plus, it’s fun to see how the writers approached having a protagonist who’s a little more morally gray. There’s now a morality system that feels like a lighter version of something you might find in a Shin Megami Tensei game, where Van's decisions and dialogue options will influence his standing on a scale that balances Law, Chaos, and Gray. Although this doesn’t go so far as to lead to multiple divergent story paths and endings, it does influence which factions Van can align himself with much later in the narrative and which playable characters can end up in your squad. We really appreciated how this morality system added more nuance to various quests and interactions, giving you a little more to chew on and think about than simply following storylines to their inevitable conclusions.

While this isn’t necessarily a positive or a negative, it’s still important to highlight that Trails through Daybreak is a very ‘story-forward' RPG. Much like in previous entries, it really takes its time with worldbuilding through lore dumps and character interactions, which can often lead to extended sequences of 10 to 15 minutes at a time where you’re paging through mountains of text and cutscenes with hardly any gameplay to break it up.

For the most part, the story is well-paced and worth engaging with, but those who prefer RPGs to be more driven by systems and mechanics may want to pause before diving into this one. Trails through Daybreak certainly does have a lot of great gameplay, but it doesn’t feel like its combat sequences or character-progression systems are intended as the primary focus.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Gameplay in Trails Through Daybreak follows the typical formula of visiting new towns with each chapter, picking up a variety of sidequests to complete at your leisure, and diving into nearby dungeons for some good ol’ monster battles and exploration. It may seem just a bit old-fashioned, but the gameplay loop here is solid and remains consistently engaging for the 60 or so hours that a briskly-paced story run should take, largely buoyed by the excellent turn-based combat.

Said combat employs a unique mixture of action and turn-based systems, though it certainly favors the turn-based much more strongly. When you run into a group of enemies, you can usually just bludgeon them with your staff or sword to weaken or destroy them, with every hit building up a bit more of a stun gauge. Once this is full, you can then trigger an AoE stun attack for any stragglers that can be combo-ed into a turn-based fight where your team gets the first move.

Once in turn-based mode, things unfold similarly to past Trails entries. A timeline at the top of the screen lists out the turn order for both your and the enemy teams, with each action you take having a cast time that potentially leaves the door open for enemies to respond before you get to act. As part of the new combat system, you can now freely move characters around before selecting their action, which gives you the space to puzzle out which attacks would be the most effective as you line up to catch multiple foes in one strike or to trigger secondary effects, such as a damage bonus if striking from the side.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Alongside their basic abilities, characters can also attack with Arts, which uses a consumable mana resource called EP, or Crafts, which use a separate resource called CP that you refill during a fight through taking and receiving damage. Both have their use cases by offering a range of offensive and defensive actions, but the latter example is also the source of each character’s super abilities, called S-Crafts. Triggering these requires a character to be fully boosted (more on that in a bit) and to have quite a bit of CP to burn, but usually they also result in powerful effects like a screen-nuke strike or a party-wide heal and buff.

One of the key new features of the new combat system is the Boost Gauge, which feels like a modified take on the similar system from the Octopath Traveler games. Giving and receiving damage will always add a little bit more to the gauge, and you can then opt to burn up to two cells at a time to juice a character’s stats and abilities, sometimes giving them the much-needed edge to turn the tide of a fight. At least on the intended difficulty level, it felt to us like boosting was overkill in the majority of fights, but we nonetheless appreciated the extra strategic depth it adds to combat.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

We really enjoyed the pacing and design of this turn-based side of the combat system, but the same can’t be said for the action side of combat, which feels like a prototype that still needs some refinement. We were hoping it would borrow some lessons and design principles from the system present Falcom’s Ys series, but what’s actually here is barebones and hardly feels like a proper combat system. You can slash, dodge roll, and... well, that’s about it. When it comes to dispatching low-level trash mobs, this combat is fine enough for clearing out your foes quicker than if you took the turn-based route, but fighting any enemies that are a bit stronger quickly turns into a monotonous war of attrition as you slowly chip away at their health bars with a limited and repetitive set of actions.

Outside of battles, character abilities and stats are primarily built through the ‘Orbment’ skill system, which has been lightly modified from previous Trails entries. Every character now comes equipped with an Arts Driver, which essentially grants them the set of Arts to use in battle, and these can later be swapped out. Players are then given more granular control via Quartz, small crystals that you can equip to your Orbment to give your character different passive stat boosts, and some additional Arts to round out their repertoire. We enjoyed the character-building aspects of the Orbment system, especially after some time had passed and we had access to a lot more options for kitting out the party, though it bears mentioning that it felt a little too easy to ‘break’ characters on the default difficulty and trivialize most combat encounters.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Though Trails through Daybreak is the first game running on a new engine, admittedly it doesn’t feel like the major visual upgrade it could’ve been, such as what was seen when the Tales series jumped to a new engine with Tales of Arise. Animations are certainly improved and look a lot smoother, while the environments you can explore feel a lot more spacious, but the character models still look like they’re from a late release for 360/PS3-era console hardware. Luckily, the character and environment designs are strong enough that the older-looking assets aren’t too glaring, but it’s still a bit disappointing considering the opportunity this fresh release offered Falcom to really step up the presentation.

One visual problem unique to the Switch version is that, confusingly, Trails through Daybreak was clearly not designed or intended to be played on the console in portable mode, as evidenced by the comically tiny text and UI elements on the Switch’s screen. If you have anything worse than 20/20 vision, you will very likely struggle to read dialogue and menu text, making Trails through Daybreak a rare Switch experience that we’d suggest you play solely in the dock.

Related to this, another issue we encountered is that the voice acting tends to be handled in an oddly inconsistent way. Although the voice actors’ performances are all excellent, we noticed several instances where only some characters in a cutscene were voiced, or even weirder, where a character’s lines were only voiced for some parts of the same conversation. This leads to many awkward cutscenes and dialogue sequences where characters switch several times between audibly speaking and silence, or only one character out of a whole group on screen speaks while all the others remain silent.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Perhaps this is simply the product of lines being added to the game’s script after the voice-acting sessions had already been recorded, or perhaps a budgetary issue, but it ultimately makes many of the cutscenes come off as unwieldy and unfinished. A fully voiced script certainly isn’t a necessity in an RPG, but plenty of other entries in the genre have demonstrated much better organization of mixing voiced and text-based interactions, making Trails through Daybreak feel a bit out of step and 'cheap'.

This isn’t a game-breaking issue by any means—you get used to the random voices after a while—but we do hope that future entries in the series will better attend to this and have more consistent organization of their voiced interactions.

Conclusion

Trails through Daybreak stands as another great entry in the storied Legend of Heroes series, making the most of its new setting with its memorable characters and engaging turn-based combat. Though it’s held back a bit by things like the awkward introduction of action-based combat and some irritating quirks (and nearly unreadable text in portable mode), this is still an entry that we would strongly recommend to both series fans and, yes, newcomers, too. Trails through Daybreak is a strong inaugural outing, offering another fresh start for this franchise; we’d suggest you give it a shot.