How to Get Into Nihon Falcom's Trails Series

Published: Friday, October 23, 2020 - 11:00 | By: Courtney Ehrenhofler
Untangling the Confusion Ahead of Trails of Cold Steel IV

Ever wanted to get into a game series but wasn’t sure where to start? Sometimes it’s confusing to know where one plot ends and another begins, particularly if you’re factoring in translations, multiple platforms, and the fact that it’s a long-running series. The Legend of Heroes: Trails series is a prime example of that, and we think it’s a series well-worth getting invested in. With the series’ newest English release, Trails of Cold Steel IV, coming to the West for the first time on Oct. 26, it’s a perfect time to learn more about the series and see what you’ve been missing.

If you're looking for an RPG series with interesting characters, plenty of story, and a multi-leveled, over-arching plot that's easier to keep track of than Kingdom Hearts, then the Trails series—also known as the Kiseki series—might be for you. Also included are adorable fluff creatures called Poms, more Strega sneakers than you can shake a stick at, and more snakes eating their tails than anyone should really feel comfortable with.

 
 

What is the Trails Series?

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails, is a meta-series comprised of several games in the Legend of Heroes series, which is itself a spin-off from producer Nihon Falcom’s earlier Dragon Slayer series. To answer a common question: No, you don’t have to have played any previous entries in Dragon Slayer or The Legend of Heroes for the Trails series to make sense.

The Trails series is known as the Kiseki series in Japanese, as that's the commonality in the titles. For example, Trails in the Sky is originally Sora no Kiseki, and Cold Steel is Sen no Kiseki.

The Trails series is made up of several sub-series, which all have an overarching plot and many recurring characters. Do you need to play them in order? Not necessarily, but that’s a surefire recipe for confusion and spoilers about certain characters’ fates. All entries in the main series take place on the continent of Zemuria, and the plots and characters progress with the timeline, in order of the games’ initial Japanese release order:

  1. Trails in the Sky FC
  2. Trails in the Sky SC
  3. Trails in the Sky the 3rd
  4. Trails from Zero
  5. Trails to Azure
  6. Trails of Cold Steel I
  7. Trails of Cold Steel II
  8. Trails of Cold Steel III
  9. Trails of Cold Steel IV
  10. Trails of Beginnings

Trails in the Sky

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The first series in the arc, Trails in the Sky is also known as the Liberl Arc. It’s comprised of three entries: Trails in the Sky (Also known as FC), Trails in the Sky SC and Trails in the Sky the 3rd.

Trails in the Sky FC was originally localized in English for the PSP, and there are still physical copies available for sale secondhand. FC was released for PC via Steam and GOG.com in 2014, with SC following in 2015 with a digital PSP release included. The 3rd was not released on PSP and instead was only localized for PC, released to Steam and GOG.com in 2017.

If you want to start the Trails series spoiler-free, Trails in the Sky is the launching point. While the game itself plays like a fairly standard JRPG, the events of the last few hours completely turn the plot on its head and cascade directly into the events of SC and set off a chain reaction that precipitates the rest of the Trails series as a whole. Characters from Trails in the Sky also reappear in both the Crossbell Duology and Trails of Cold Steel games.

 

Crossbell Duology

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The next two games are known as the Crossbell Duology: Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. While they do take place directly after the events of The 3rd, neither game has been officially localized as of the publishing of this article.

However, all hope is not lost! The Geofront fan-localization team has released an English patch for the PC version of Trails from Zero and are currently hard at work on Trails to Azure. While this isn’t an ideal situation—and the games are still not easily available for purchase in the Western markets—it’s a big step toward getting the complete series available in English, while also showing potential publishers that there is indeed a market for the missing links.

With the two games recently being ported to PlayStation 4 in Japan, Nihon Falcom’s president Toshihiro Kondo expressed in interviews that he hopes this will be an opportunity to finally have these both officially localized in the West.

 

Trails of Cold Steel

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Hold on to your hats and Bracer badges folks, we’ve got another complicated story. Also known as the Erebonian Arc, Trails of Cold Steel has an even more complicated translation history than its predecessors. While the first two Cold Steel games are standalone, by the time you get to entries III and IV, it's important to have played both Trails in the Sky and the Crossbell Duology, otherwise it becomes readily apparent that there's a giant honking gap of plot that you're missing.

Trails of Cold Steel I was initially released for PS Vita and PlayStation 3 in 2015. This localization was then improved upon and it was re-released for PC in 2017. It was later ported to the PlayStation 4 in 2019 and featured more tweaks and improvements not seen in the PC version.

Trails of Cold Steel II was also released for PS Vita and PlayStation 3 initially in 2016, with a similarly improved PC port following in 2018. Like its predecessor, it was then ported to PlayStation 4 in 2019 with several additional updates and improvements.

Trails of Cold Steel III was when the official translation company switched over from Xseed to NIS America. Originally released for PlayStation 4 in 2019, just a few months after the port of II, it was then released for PC and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

Trails of Cold Steel IV is the next game due to be released in the West and the conclusion of the Cold Steel series. With a PlayStation 4 release in 2020, it’s then scheduled to be ported to Nintendo Switch and PC in 2021.

Spin-offs and Side Stories

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The latest mainline entry to the series that has been published in Japan is Hajimari no Kiseki, or Trails of Beginnings. Released in August 2020, I think of it as the real conclusion to the Crossbell arc, though it takes place after Trails of Cold Steel IV and deals with a lot of plot points from all three arcs in the series thus far. It has not been announced for localization yet, and there are no currently announced fan translation projects going.

Nayuta no Kiseki, roughly translated as “A Myriad of Trails” (by someone with no Japanese fluency and only Google to rely on), was released in Japan in 2012 for the PSP. While it is part of the Trails series, this entry, as of now, bears little resemblance to the rest of the series and doesn’t feature any of the same characters or places. However, for those curious, a fan translation of this is available in English with a re-translation project reported as being underway.

Akatsuki no Kiseki or “Trails of Dawn” is the Japanese-only online entry in the series available for PC and later ported to PlayStation 4, PS Vita and mobile. While it does have a connection with the main games and includes previously seen characters and locations, it also branches out and gives us the first look at the Principality of Remiferia and helps to flesh out the world of Zemuria even more. Unfortunately, as it is an online game, there is no fan-translation available and no currently announced plans to release the game in the West.

Finally, there's Ys Vs. Trails in the Sky: Alternative Saga, a crossover between Nihon Falcom's other mega-series, Ys, and the first Trails arc. Yet again, it's one that hasn't been localized officially, but fear not! Geofront's V Sector is coming to the rescue and is currently working on a fan translation while the other team works on Trails from Azure. Like previous Geofront projects, it will be available on PC in the near future - no release date has been announced but they've publicly stated that the second editing pass on the translation is complete.

 

While this is just the story so far, Falcom has confirmed that they are already in development on the next game in the series, and that future entries will be moving to the Calvard Republic and the eastern half of the continent. There's still a lot of questions left to answer and more stories to tell, so now is the perfect time to jump on in!


Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, and TechRaptor earns a small commission off purchases made from those links in this article.


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Courtney
Staff Writer

A native New Yorker, Courtney loves playing all different genres of games, but if you start talking to her about Trails in the Sky, she'll never shut up.