Title (JP): Eiyuu Densetsu: Hajimari no Kiseki (英雄伝説 創の軌跡)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nihon Falcom (JP)
Release date: 27 Aug 2020 (JP/PS4)
As this game is a sequel, the review may contain spoilers for previous instalments in the series.
Hajimari no Kiseki is an epilogue-style spinoff to the Trails series games from Zero no Kiseki to Trails of Cold Steel IV, and the latest game in Nihon Falcom’s long-running The Legend of Heroes/Trails series.
While The Legend of Heroes series has long-running roots going back to the PC-8800 in 1988, the setting currently used in the Trails/Kiseki sub-series was first introduced in The Legend of Heroes VI: Trails in the Sky which was originally released for the PC in 2004, and was first brought to the west on the Playstation Portable in 2011.
Hajimari no Kiseki is the tenth instalment in the Trails series, and serves as an epilogue to the Crossbell arc seen in Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki, and to the four Trails of Cold Steel games. As such, it is absolutely not made for newcomers to the series, as the story counts on the player being familiar with the previous games. Also, as with Cold Steel IV, the game contains massive spoilers for Zero and Ao no Kiseki, which were never officially released in English.
Taking place some time after the events of Cold Steel IV, Hajimari no Kiseki, for the first time in the series, follows three different protagonists: Rean Schwarzer, who was main character of the Cold Steel games; Lloyd Bannings, who was main character of Zero and Ao; and the mysterious “C”, a masked individual who dons the same alias as the former leader of the Imperial Liberation Front seen in the first Cold Steel game.
The game begins with Lloyd and the Special Support Section of the Crossbell police taking down a terrorist group that occupied the city after the events of Cold Steel IV, before skipping a month ahead to the day when the city-state is to officially declare its independence. The festivities are brought to a sudden halt, however, when the proceedings are interrupted by the terrorist group that had previously occupied the city, this time led by Rufus Albarea, who was supposed to have been imprisoned after the war.
Meanwhile in Erebonia, Rean and his companions receive a secret mission to search for prince Olivert Reise Arnor and Scherazard Harvey, who had gone missing on their honeymoon, their only clue being a statement from C of the New Imperial Liberation Front claiming responsibility for the kidnapping.
Finally, former assassins Swin and Nadia (previously mentioned in the in-game novel 3 and 9 in Cold Steel IV) carry out a job in which they deliver a suitcase to C, the contents of which turn out to be a sentient doll made by Jorg Rosenberg named Lapis, who has no memories of why she was sent to C. C hires Swin and Nadia to accompany him, and sets out to accomplish his goals with Lapis in tow.
The game follows the three protagonists’ stories simultaneously, with the player being able to switch freely between the three after the prologue via the “Cross Story” system. While this may initially seem non-linear in how the player can choose which route to play first, the story is divided into chapters in which all routes for that chapter have to be cleared before the game will progress, and some routes also have hard locks on progression which require the player to clear other routes first. Additionally, the content of the routes is mostly streamlined compared to previous games’, making the overall experience generally feel more linear than before. There are parts in the game where the player has to switch between routes several times to progress, but these are functionally the same as the party-switching mechanics in some previous Falcom games.
This linearity is somewhat broken, however, by the introduction of the “True Reverie Corridor”. Unlike its namesake, which was Cold Steel II’s postgame dungeon, the True Reverie Corridor is accessible at almost any time once unlocked in the main story, which happens relatively early. In the True Reverie Corridor, the characters from all three routes are gathered in an otherworldly realm where they can delve into a randomly-generated dungeon which unlocks new areas as the game progresses, allowing players to take a break from the main story at any time.
Unlike Cold Steel II’s Reverie Corridor, however, the one in Hajimari no Kiseki brings back features from Trails in the Sky the 3rd, allowing players can unlock side stories and minigames accessible from the hub, and new playable characters. This is done through random stones and shards which are obtained from defeating bosses and mid-bosses in the corridor’s dungeon, which are used back at the hub.
Stones come in multiple varieties: Gold ones unlock characters, blue ones unlock side stories, red ones unlock minigames, and silver ones give the player items such as quartzes, accessories, sepis shards, and consumable items. Players accustomed with Japanese mobile games should find this description familiar: It is essentially a gacha system, albeit one that only uses in-game currency, like Xenoblade 2 did; while Hajimari does have the usual assortment of DLC for things like consumable items and crafting, the gacha currency is noticeably not included in this lineup.
Upgrades to functionality in the hub and general upgrades such as increasing BP or assault gauge caps or the party size are done with a different in-game currency that is mostly obtained by clearing “missions”, which range from more simplistic things such as using specific skills a certain number of times, clearing a battle using a party wearing a specific cosmetic accessory, to long-term goals such as opening all the treasure chests in the game. This too should seem familiar to players of mobile games, being extremely similarl to the mission systems of those games.
The playable characters unlocked in the corridor are mostly ones that only join temporarily, if at all in the main story, and are only playable in the corridor itself. They can however be added as support characters in the main story, giving the player access to their Brave Orders in battle and also letting them participate in the Valiant Rage commands elaborated on further into this review.
The corridor’s dungeon also adds some variety to exploration but throwing in elements such as surprise enemy ambushes, treasure chests that can only be unlocked by winning a battle with random characters not in the player’s party, and areas where the party starts each battle with a specific status effect.
Hajimari’s battles remains mostly unchanged from Cold Steel IV’s, with the biggest modification being the addition of the Valiant Rage system: In addition to being used for special attacks to engage enemies with an advanage on the field, the assault gauge can now be used in battle for one of the three Valiant Rage commands:
- Valiant Attack: Raises STR, restores CP, adds 2 BP, removes seal and debuffs, and deals physical damage
- Valiant Arts: Raises ATS, restores EP, adds 2 BP, removes mute and debuffs, and deals magic damage
- Valiant Heal: Heals the party, adds 2 BP, and removes all status ailments
Valiant Rage commands can only be used when there are five or more members in the party, and increase with power when there are more members (the maximum being 10, with four main party, four reserve, and two support members). Being able to gain BP from these is an especially welcome addition, as it gives the player more leeway to spend BP in battle.
By the late game, the player is given ample access to quartzes and accessories to give all of their characters their ideal setup, and in the postgame more of pretty much everything can be obtained. Players who enjoy tinkering with orbment setups should find this extremely enjoyable.
Going back to the story, the writing in Hajimari, while following a different format than usual with the multiple protagonists, begins as thoroughfare for the series, with the main difference being a bit more focus than usual on nostalgia, with most of the locales featured being from Zero and Ao, or Cold Steel 1 and 2. Crossbell is featured the most, with the majority of the game taking place there, and most of the characters from Zero and Ao return, including NPCs.
The plot does however take a big turn in the latter half of the game, introducing new elements and twists which some might feel to be out of place. Regardless, the story is mostly enjoyable, and the new characters introduced are all fantastic additions to the cast.
Additionally, while the game does allow players to revisit some older locales, the “some” should be emphasised: While pretty much all of Crossbell is open to the player, only a select few locations from Cold Steel 1 and 2 are revisited in the main story. This can be disappointing for long-time fans who might have wanted to revisit Reeves or Trista again.
While gameplay in general is further refined from its previous iteration in Cold Steel IV, Hajimari does perplexingly have a couple of issues when it comes to user-friendliness, mainly stemming from resuming routes via the Cross Story system. In the early game, good quartzes and equipment might be scarce, and when the inventories are shared between routes, they might have equipment set for the route they are currently on. When the current route ends and they resume another route, however, the player might find themselves thrown immediately into a boss battle without a chance to redo their equipment. Given how similar situations in previous games did give the player chances to mess with their equipment, it is very odd that Hajimari does not.
Though Hajimari has the greatest number of playable characters ever to be seen in the series, with 40 in the main story and 51 in the Reverie Corridor, it should be noted that there are a few characters who were playable in Cold Steel IV who cannot be used in Hajimari.
The number of playable characters does not make changing equipment and orbment loadouts a chore, due to the addition of a new party menu which allows the player to swap characters around easily, access their equipment and orbment menus, and easily use the auto-equip functions.
Hajimari by default comes with the high speed mode included in most of Falcom’s PS4 ports of older games implemented, which makes battles and exploration far more convenient. And despite exuberant usage of this mode, this reviewer still took nearly 100 hours to clear the game with all side and postgame content done.
The minigames in Hajimari are somewhat of a mixed bag: Most of the newly-made minigames are of somewhat dubious quality when compared to the rest of the game, or Falcom’s usual standards, with the worst offenders being the mecha action minigame Project Tirfing and the shooting minigame Magical Alisa RS, which this reviewer thought felt like low budget Playstation 1 or PSP era games; both have unbalanced and unsatisfying gameplay, and Alisa’s three stages all feel overly dragged out, while Tirfing conversely only has two very short stages.
On the other hand, returning minigames such as the Puyo Puyo-like Pomtto and the card game Vantage Masters are better than ever, with Pomtto adding more avatars and tough opponents to go up against, and Vantage Masters having more people to play against, and with all the “boss” type cards usable by the player, if they can obtain them through victory against tough opponents. The high speed mode is also usable during most minigames, which can be used as a makeshift way to make some of them harder, and in the case of Vantage Masters it can be used at the same time as the minigame’s own separate high speed mode, allowing for even faster games.
Hajimari no Kiseki is of course not without its flaws. Although significantly more effort has been put into animations and camerawork, the majority of character animations being used still have the same stunted looks to them, and they are frequently recycled. Graphics in general look the same as they did in Cold Steel III and IV, meaning that they can seem dated. The game is not fully voice acted, and while most important scenes in the main story do have full voice acting, some important parts in the postgame sequences also only have partial voice acting, in an extremely noticeable fashion.
The addition of the gacha system also seems to be a questionable decision; many players would probably have preferred to be able to just buy items in a store. It is also essentially no different from random drops, with the only difference being that it adds additional unnecessary steps.
Tying the addition of obtaining playable characters to the gacha system can also be very frustrating for completionists: The characters are added to the corridor’s hub, where they have dialogue as the game progresses. However, the characters you obtain are random, and you can only obtain a certain fixed number at each point in the game, with some slots not even opening up until the main story is cleared. This means that the player will always miss out on some amount of dialogue.
New game plus does not fix this problem: The player only has the option of either resetting progress in the corridor entirely, meaning they run into the same problem, or keeping the progress, which locks the corridor in its postgame state, meaning that they do not have access to the story progression dialogue. Though this may not seem like much of an issue, and probably would not be considered one if encountered in most other series, the Trails series is one where players are encouraged to talk to NPCs and are typically rewarded for it, so this can be quite frustrating for a player who has been conditioned for it by previous games in the series.
Though Hajimari is a celebration of the series, the sheer number of characters in the series means that despite the length of the game, there are many named characters with little screentime, if any at all. This is understandable, however; though Trails in the Sky the 3rd did do a far better job of giving attention to the characters who had appeared up to that point in the series, it only had two games that had come before it, while Hajimari has nine to cover.
One cannot discuss Hajimari no Kiseki without addressing how the Japanese version also suffered from a bit of a troubled release: In little over a month from release, no less than five patches dealing with progression-stopping bugs were released. The game was also missing some content, which was patched in over a month later, which included the majority of the postgame dungeon and its boss, equivalent to if Cold Steel 2’s Reverie Corridor was entirely missing on release. That being said, it can be assumed that COVID-19 had a part to play in this, meaning that the developers should not be blamed entirely, and in any case all of the content should be ready on release when an international version comes out.
Finally, it should also be noted that Hajimari focuses more on the city-state of Crossbell and thus the events of Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki than it does on Trails of Cold Steel, meaning that fans of the former would appreciate. However, as of the publication of this review, there have not yet been any official English language releases of Zero and Ao.
All in all, Hajimari no Kiseki should satisfy series fans, serving as a nice sendoff for Trails of Cold Steel and proper closure for Zero and Ao no Kiseki.
The Good: Most major characters from Zero no Kiseki, Ao no Kiseki, and Trails of Cold Steel return, and most of Crossbell being open means that most NPCs from Zero and Ao return as well. Ample access to accessories and quartzes means that players who enjoy tinkering with the battle system can do so to their hearts’ content. The Pomtto and Vantage Masters minigames are also better than ever.
The Bad: The gacha-style random loot system can be cumbersome, especially when it comes to bonus characters, and some of the minigames are not very well implemented.
The Weird: Where the plot goes might not seem so strange if you take into consideration how fast technology has progressed in Zemuria, but some might still find the things done in Hajimari to be quite odd.
Conclusion: Hajimari no Kiseki should satisfy series fans, serving as a nice sendoff for Trails of Cold Steel and proper closure for Zero and Ao no Kiseki.
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions.
Also see: Trails Series 15th Anniversary: Falcom’s President Discusses Past and Future of the Series