It’s Time To Jump Into One Of The Longest-Running Japanese RPG Series Out There

It’s Time To Jump Into One Of The Longest-Running Japanese RPG Series Out There

Everyone knows at least one super fan in their life who won’t shut up about the Trails series, Nihon Falcom’s sprawling universe of beefy RPGs with an overwhelming number of sequels, subseries, and interwoven narrative arcs spread out across multiple decades. Fortunately, the latest game in the franchise, The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak, is out now and probably the best jumping-on point that would-be fans are ever going to get.

Van Arkride is a private detective and bounty hunter working in the Calvard Republic during a tumultuous post-war boom. A young woman enlists his help in finding a lost artifact and all sorts of political intrigue, diabolical plots, and brutal showdowns ensue. Out July 5 on PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC, initial reviews have been generally positive for the game, with critics lauding its side-quests and turn-based combat even if some were occasionally underwhelmed by its main story and real-time combat hybrid system. I’m a couple hours in myself and not regretting it.

The real question facing prospective Daybreak players, as with almost every Trails game, isn’t whether it’s worth playing, but whether it’s a worthy starting point. It’s the 11th main game in the series, which is itself technically a subseries of Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes games. For that reason, in addition to the fact that, until recently, some key games hadn’t ever been localized, it’s always been incredibly confusing for outsiders to wrap their heads around how each sequel relates to one another and the best order to play them in, a challenge former Kotaku editor Jason Schreier tried to tackle nearly a decade ago.

In the years since, Falcom has finally brought overseas players up to speed with a steady drumbeat of ports, localizations, and new releases. But this also meant that every time a new Trails game arrived, uninitiated RPG fans would often go from “oh neat!” to “oh, oh god…” In part, that’s because diehard Trails fans will always tell you to start at the beginning with 2004’s Trails in the Sky. There are payoffs and reveals that players will miss if they jump past it. That game originally made its way west on PSP before getting a Steam version in 2014. But unfortunately there’s no modern way to officially play it on console unless you want to spend over $US100 on a used copy.

More importantly, starting at the beginning means playing all 10 games that preceded Daybreak. The Trails in the Sky trilogy contains two other games, Trails in the Sky SC and Trails in the Sky the 3rd, both of which are also exclusive to PC among modern platforms and take a collective estimated 120 hours to complete between them. Then there is the Crossbell saga, which consists of Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. Despite originally coming out over a decade ago, both were recently ported to PS4 and Switch in addition to PC. Combined, that’s another 80 hours of playtime.

Finally, you have the Cold Steel games, which build on the worlds, characters, and conflicts of the previous games in a five-game arc that wraps up with Trails of Reverie. The first two games are only available on PS4 and PC. Cold Steel III, IV, and Reverie are also on Switch. For these games you’re talking roughly another 250 hours. If you’re looking to go on an epic RPG adventure whose deep worldbuilding and character arcs grow across several games, well, you’re in luck! But if that’s you, then you probably already decided to dive into Trails long ago. And even if you don’t feel the need to start all the way at the beginning, telling someone to play five games before starting Daybreak is still a tall order.

I’m someone who’s dabbled in a handful of Trails games over the years just to see what all the fuss was about but never got deep into any of them, let alone finished a complete arc. If you’re like me, desperate to become Trails-pilled but short on time, Daybreak might be your savior. It’s the start of a completely new storyline that, while it weaves in past history and pivotal moments, isn’t going to bog you down with the guilt of coming into a messy drama in the third act. Even better, there’s a free demo on PlayStation and Switch if you want to test it out before committing.

Trails Through Daybreak II, meanwhile, has been out in Japan since 2022 and will likely get ported west next year or the year after. Then there’s Kai no Kiseki, the latest game in the Trails series and the third game following the exploits of Van Arkride. There’s no formal release date yet, but it’s supposed to come out in Japan before the end of 2024. For now it seems like U.S. players will be waiting until 2026 or beyond for that one, plenty of time for Daybreak converts to dig back through the rest of the series. And by plenty of time, I mean just enough if you spend at least 45 minutes a day playing Trails from now until then.

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