Earlier today, I reported that The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki was finally getting an English localization. Titled Trails through Daybreak, I picked out a talking point from the NISA announcement stream that Trails through Daybreak would be the start of a new story arc, and therefore serve as a decent entry point for new fans. Little did I know that I stepped on a landmine with this comment.
Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series has become an absolute monster of a work. Technically speaking, The Legend of Heroes dates back to the 80s with Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes. We got this one in English on the Turbografx CD, which is something I’ve been dying to talk about. But to get back on track, what modern gamers usually refer to as “The Legend of Heroes” is actually a bit more specific. They are more specifically referring to the “Kiseki” subseries within the greater Legend of Heroes brand, which has localized into what we now know as the “Trails” series. Previous Legend of Heroes games are disconnected from the Trails story.
This, of course, is not to be confused with Namco’s Tales series, which… okay, I’m starting to see how weird this all sounds for people not into RPGs.
Setting a new Trail
Starting with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo began what he would literally call his “life’s work.” The Trails series spans a huge world, telling interconnected stories that weave together one of the biggest tales in RPG history. The series started on the PC, which is currently the easiest platform to play the Trails series from start to finish. However, the games have appeared on platforms ranging from the PSP all the way to the PlayStation 5.
While Falcom has clearly spun an impressive world, trying to actually experience this massive tale feels overwhelming. It’s hard enough to find time for one 50+ hour RPG, so how is any adult going to carve out the time for ten of them just to catch up? This is why I originally latched onto that comment about how Trails through Daybreak might serve as a good starting point. As a reminder, I too am functionally new to this series.
I’ve since spent the rest of the day talking with fans of the Trails series. While Trails through Daybreak may be playable on its own terms, you’d maybe miss out on why fans actually love these games to begin with. Let’s untangle all these threads and give those curious about the Trails games something of a primer to help them get started.
In what order should you play The Legend of Heroes: Trails series?
Again, only focusing on the games within the immediate Trails story, a current, perfect playthrough of the saga so far looks like this.
- 1: Trails in the Sky
- 2: Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter
- 3: Trails in the Sky the 3rd
- 4: Trails from Zero
- 5: Trails to Azure
- 6: Trails of Cold Steel 1
- 7: Trails of Cold Steel 2
- 8: Trails of Cold Steel 3
- 9: Trails of Cold Steel 4
- 10: Trails into Reverie
- 11: Trails through Daybreak
For reference, this is the order these games originally came out in Japan. The English release order got a bit jumbled, as for a while we skipped over Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. But rest assured, the above order will present you each story the way Falcom intended.
For simplicity’s sake, I have not counted spinoffs in this list, even though I thought The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails was great. But obviously, playing all these games is easier said than done. By adding up hour counts on HowLongToBeat.com, preparing for Trails through Daybreak by playing all the preceding games would take about 485.5 hours. And that’s only counting main story playthroughs, as completionist runs would basically double that. This puts catching up with the Trails series roughly on par with watching the entirety of One Piece, if not a bit longer.
So, naturally, this is when most people would start looking at cutting corners. What games aren’t so essential, or what stories can you enjoy in isolation?
The best starting points in the Trails series
Since I don’t know the Trails series firsthand, I sought out comments from other fans about what starting points, if any, would work best. This led me to our own Cody Perez, who has played through all the mainline games. His comment follows:
I would say Trails in the Sky, Trails from Zero, and Trails of Cold Steel are the best starting points. Sky for seeing the start of the Zemurian saga, Zero for its introduction which feels built for newcomers, and Cold Steel for its more broad appeal to fans of other games like Persona.– Destructoid’s Cody Perez
Following that advice, the biggest cut corner here would be to start with Trails of Cold Steel. This would bring your hour count down to a more conservative 276 hours, which uh… okay, that’s still a lot of hours. Given the circumstances, the idea of just entering right into Trails through Daybreak starts sounding even more enticing. But here’s why fans might advise you against that.
The problem with starting with Trails through Daybreak
After talking with other fans about using Trails through Daybreak as a starting point, we concluded that starting here would be kind of like watching a Marvel movie halfway through the saga. Would you get the broad strokes of the story and enjoy it in isolation? Absolutely.
However, the appeal here is the slow burn of world building that has accumulated over almost twenty years. Stories will often have references and callbacks that reward longtime fans, which uniquely separates Trails for most other RPG series. Sure, any Avengers movie works on its own, but they wouldn’t feel nearly as special without the stories preceding them. That’s the gist of the Trails series.
So, was it wrong to suggest that you could start with Trails through Daybreak? Not necessarily. But getting that full experience absolutely does require familiarity with everything that built up to this arc, which many fans are passionate about.
Judge your time and make your call
In short, to immerse yourself in the community surrounding these games and get the full experience, start with Trails in the Sky. However, I’m of the mind that there’s no right or wrong way to play games like this, as long as you’re well informed. During my research, I found posts from people who started with Trails of Cold Steel 3 – a game most would say is not a good place to start – who said they enjoyed their time. Fun and value is all subjective, so no one can make that call but you.
However, I do very well understand why fans advocate for starting the series from the beginning. You can only experience something for the first time once, after all. So insisting that someone get that optimal experience right off the bat makes sense. It does make me sad that, realistically, I’ll probably only find time to play Trails through Daybreak without the preceding titles at best. But not everyone is in my boat, and there’s no harm in taking these longer stories slow. People are playing Final Fantasy XIV from start to Endwalker all the time, and that isn’t too terribly dissimilar in terms of time commitment.
It’s not the end of the world if you can’t start from the beginning, but that is the best case scenario if you can. Otherwise, just play the games that catch your eye and hope for the best. All I know is, the moment someone invents a time vacuum that strictly exists to play all the games in your backlog, I’m gonna go nuts with this series. Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes for the Turbografx CD is calling my name.