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Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak

A surprisingly great place to start the series.

The Legend of Heroes franchise from Nihon Falcom enters a new land with Trails through Daybreak’s journey into the modern-styled, gorgeous Calvard Republic.

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With an almost entirely new cast of likable main characters, this is one of the strongest entry points for newcomers to the series. Trails through Daybreak evolves the series with key gameplay changes, but still retains the classic wit and charm fans expect.

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak (PS5 [reviewed], PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC]
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Released: July 5, 2024
MSRP: $59.99

For the first time in a good while, players need almost no knowledge of prior games to jump into this one. The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak kicks off with a swift and fun intro to Van Arkride. Van leads his titular Arkride Solutions, a handyman-like office in the Calvard Republic’s capital, Edith.

In some ways, Van’s day-to-day life mirrors past Trails heroes like Lloyd or Estelle. He takes on random jobs like deliveries or investigations for money. The catch, however, is this protagonist is far from the heroic type. Van lives and breathes the moral gray area in everything he does. He has no qualms, for instance, in lying to law enforcement or killing someone when necessary.

This “true neutral” stance from Van results in Trails through Daybreak’s most impactful addition to the series: alignment. Players have three different alignments known as Law, Gray, and Chaos. Rather than pledge yourself to one side, they act more like Persona’s social stats. One side quest might be altruistic in nature, like tracking down a scammer, and result in a few Law points. However, another task might be shadier and give you Gray or Chaos points if you choose to, say, threaten a stalker yourself rather than turning him over to the law.

Many of the requests, known as 4SPGs, that Van receives even have multiple conclusions. You could turn someone in for stealing or let them off the hook once, both of which grant different alignment points. This freedom of choice is rather novel for the series and adds this layer of player control to the story. Better yet, these aren’t just flavor text, either. There are entire emotional ending sequences you can miss out on in story beats if you pick a different choice.

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Nihon Falcom’s incredible storytelling from past games returns in this title, too. While the main story suffers a bit (more on that in a moment), the side missions and requests are the true stars here. Going back to the exclusive scenes, there is an early request about an older thief turning over a new leaf before his death.

The request takes the player on a rollercoaster of emotions to return a stolen item to someone from the thief’s past, which I won’t dare spoil here. However, at the end of it all, the player is given two vastly different options for how to finish the request. You can honor the thief’s wishes, or go against them and do the “right thing.” The latter was what I chose, and it led to the most tear-jerking moment in the series. And the wild part is, you can miss all of that if you pick the other ending.

Trails through Daybreak sprinkles so many fascinating moments like this throughout the game. I would even argue these optional side quests are better than the core main story. Unfortunately, this is one of the more weaker, by-the-numbers main plots for the series. Van and his rapidly growing crew of problem-solvers have a pretty unsurprising plot about searching for mysterious items that eventually leads to saving the country.

All in all, this is a story we’ve seen many times before in the Trails series. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but the cast itself leaves a bit to be desired. Van himself shines as this rugged and older hero compared to the happy-go-lucky Lloyd or Estelle from past games. He also isn’t afraid to do what even Trails of Cold Steel’s Rean wouldn’t do and murder someone, if necessary.

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However, the cast somewhat falls apart aside from Van. Most of the party members, such as the child mercenary Feri, have rather heavy-handed backstories that are a bit too forceful with its tragedy and doesn’t give enough time to care. Then there are even worse situations with the lovable playboy Aaron, which Chapter 2 entirely centers on. For some reason, though, the chapter just brushes past his unresolved, rather problematic inner conflict and never addresses or even mentions it again for the rest of the game, despite him traveling with you.

This idea of moving a little too fast with the main plot and missing out on key character and story developments even applies to the gameplay. Past games are known for their plethora of minigames, from gambling to card games. None of that is here in Trails through Daybreak. It is the first core game in the series to not feature fishing, for whatever reason. Worse still, you visit a casino multiple times at one point and the game doesn’t bring back classic minigames like Blackjack.

I have to wonder if those side activities were sacrificed in order to deliver the aforementioned extremely well-written side quests and combat evolutions. Though some of the combat will feel familiar to fans, Trails through Daybreak is by far the most revolutionary game in the series when it comes to its battle systems and visuals.

Players move characters around within a certain distance on a battlefield. You then execute various commands each turn, such as use skills, physical crafts, or defense. Each move or spell the player uses has a specific range, such as a huge circle, single target, or long line. You have to carefully maneuver around the field in each fight to win.

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The catch in this game is the addition of action combat. Yes, Trails through Daybreak has both turn-based and action-RPG gameplay. You can opt for the usual turn-based combat, or hack-and-slash your way through enemies. This action alternative is a bit too simplistic; only offering a single attack and dodge, but it speeds up most of the easier fights. Plus, this makes the game more approachable to players who may not like traditional turn-based combat.

Things get a little more complicated from there, though. The party member links system from past games returns in this title. You can link up with a party member in the classic turn-based fights for that person to do a free follow-up attack for extra damage. The difference this time is it centers around positioning. Before, you picked the link partner for each party member and they can run anywhere on the field. This time, though, they physically have to be next to each other to work.

While this is fluid, since you can switch links with someone anytime, it also forces you to bunch characters together. This slowed down combat for me. In addition, I felt forced to make awkward decisions, like put a weak ranged character up in danger up front just to benefit from the extra damage. Fortunately, the action combat makes up for that. I spent most of my time using it, but the game forces you to use turn-based for certain bosses and the like.

I didn’t mind this too much, since Trails through Daybreak has a pretty breezy difficulty. This helped me to take my time and explore the stunning country of Calvard. This game starts out in the richly detailed and surprisingly modern Edith. But it later takes you to idyllic villages I would want to live in; Chinese-inspired port cities, a tech-focused metropolis, and more. Nihon Falcom even got me to like deserts. Every single inch of this game feels like the designers had a reason for it to exist. I stand by the fact that Nihon Falcom has the best city and world design in gaming — just look at Crossbell — and the developer continues to shine in this entry.

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak feels like the Trails game for newcomers. The sharper graphics, modern cities, action combat, and general lack of fluff make it a solid starting point. Some existing fans may dislike the lack of minigames and extra content, but Nihon Falcom makes up for that.

Trails through Daybreak has the best side quests in any game I’ve played. I mean, I cried like, three different times. And these are just optional moments, too. The sheer storytelling and world-building alone makes this game worth a look. Overall, this is a great foundation for the next era of this series.

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Cody Perez
Contributing Writer - Cody has been a huge fan of Destructoid for more than a decade as well as a freelance writer for various publications. Now working for Destructoid, he has the chance to share his passion for Final Fantasy XIV, Pokemon, Call of Duty, and many more games.