Starting a New Arc in the “Marvel” of JRPGs: Trails Before Dawn (Kuro no Kiseki)

The "Marvel" of JRPGs finally released the latest arc on PC: Trails Before Dawn (Kuro No Kiseki in Japanese).

I'm a big fan of this series, so I was very excited when the new game came out. I've played all 9 of the previous games up until this point, so I was extremely eager to immerse myself in its world once again.

The Trails game series is a long-running series that has been going strong since 2004 by JRPG giant Falcom. It is a series that spans multiple arcs and is full of characters that are loved by players worldwide.

Many people draw similarities to the Marvel movies because they both have large casts with many heroes who fight together. Beloved characters from the previous arcs make appearances in each other's stories as well, creating an incredibly rich universe for players to explore.

All these titles take place within the same fantasy setting called Zemuria but tell completely different tales. The world of Zemuria is vast, intricate, detailed, and filled with interesting cultures and histories.

Each story arc focuses on a single country while also touching upon several others through their various relationships. The events of each arc are tied together with each other and are not only told from a different perspective, but are also tied together through a common theme.

Each arc of the series is unique and fascinating, but it is the previous arc of the series, Trails of Cold Steel, that stands out as one of the most amazing stories ever told in an RPG. This arc involves the entire world of Zemuria, and is the culmination of everything that has come before.

Just as Marvel's Infinity War and Endgame did, this arc brought all the characters into one massive battle against an ultimate villain. It took nearly two years for me to complete this epic tale, which involved over 300 hours of gameplay! And yet there were still things left unsaid at the end.

I can't wait to see what happens next in the latest arc: Trails Before Dawn. In this post, I will be sharing some thoughts about the game thus far. I will be comparing it to the prior arcs, along with my personal opinions.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!


📖Story and Characters

Trails Before Dawn takes place two years after the epic culmination in Trails of Cold Steel, in a country called the Calvard Republic.

Calvard played a role in many conflicts that occurred throughout the series, being one of the main superpowers in the world. So after many games of being in conflict with them, we finally play characters from Calvard to understand their own history, ideals and world perspective.

You play as a young man named Van Arkride, who runs a business named Arkride Solutions Office that is reminiscent of a private investigator. While he does honest work to help citizens with their requests, he's not afraid to take work that is in the legal gray area and leverages connections in the criminal underworld when it's effective.

His character feels more realistic, pragmatic and grounded than his predecessors, who were more like action heroes. He's a different type of protagonist that you're used to playing the previous games, but still very likable. It's actually refreshing to see such a different kind of protagonist in this arc.

He meets a high school student named Agnes Claudel who comes to him seeking a relic that her great grandfather left behind. She is bright and optimistic, but she seems quite naive regarding certain aspects of life. Van ensures that nothing bad will happen to her. However, she insists on helping him despite knowing little about how investigations go.

At first glance, she seems like the cinnamon roll character trope. We quickly learn through her interactions with Van and others that she is a lot smarter than she lets on. Her innocence is genuine, and she really wants to do the right thing.

Van and Agnes eventually realize that there is much more going on beneath the surface of this case after they discover the murder of a man who possessed the relic. An infamous organization called "A" claimed the relic for themselves.

Eventually, Van and Agnes are able to recover the artifact called Genesis. They are ambushed by "A" and the artifact shines: stopping time and transforming Van into an armored demon.

Agnes admits to Van that her great grandfather warned that these relics can lead the world into ruin. There are multiple types of the same relic and Agnes decides to partner with Van to recover the remaining relics that still remain. She doesn't know where they are, but she believes that if they can all be found, they will be able to stop the threat of “A”.

At first, I didn't see how their relationship would last. They seemed like two different characters from two different walks of life. But slowly, as they worked together to find the artifact, they seemed to better understand each other.

Their chemistry started to feel more natural. Agnes is eager to learn more about investigating cases, and Van is willing to teach her. I'm enjoying seeing where their friendship goes, and I look forward to exploring the rest of the story with them.

Once the Prologue finished, we got to watch the opening cinematic that is a signature to JRPGs and anime. And it was fantastic.

I saw two familiar faces that I haven't seen since the first arc of the entire series: Trails in the Sky. They first started as sprites. Now, they are in HD, fully animated, and looking stunningly beautiful.

I also saw one of my favorite characters appear, who has been in every arc in the series. She was a young child aged 11 in the first arc and grew up to be 17 in this game! Seeing these beloved characters made me smile and excited to see them in-game.

Overall, the introduction of the story and characters were spot-on, and I was satisfied with the writing and voice acting. I was really happy to see that the previous games were still referenced, and I can't wait to see where the story goes in the future.


✨Visuals and Design

After finishing the Prologue, I couldn't help but notice how visually impressive the game looked compared to previous games. It really felt like you were playing a high definition anime movie. There were beautiful cut scenes where the camera zoomed in close to show off every detail possible.

They blend the aesthetic of the older games while layering a modern flair to them. The character designs are striking, the backgrounds are detailed and vibrant, and there's an incredible amount of color in every scene.

The character animation looks natural and fluid, and the facial expressions are expressive. The transitions between dialogue and pre-rendered scenes are so smooth that I almost couldn't tell the difference! All of these elements really make the characters and world feel more alive.

I also love how the UI has been overhauled in functionality and art style. Everything from the map to your party menu feels cleanly designed with colors reminiscent of the noir genre.

There aren't any unnecessary animations that distract you when moving through menus, so it doesn't slow down gameplay at all. And this isn’t just for aesthetics either—it makes everything easier to read without sacrificing its visual appeal.

The art style subtly reminds me of Persona 5. But if anything, it stands out even more because they've taken what was great about the previous Trails games and improved upon it tenfold.

The quality of the artwork adds immersion into the story as well as making each screen in the Menu stand apart from one another visually. It adds to the noir, detective themes and atmosphere of the game. This attention to detail really shows throughout my experience so far.

The atmosphere is unlike any Trails game that I've played. While there are still some familiar elements, such as orbment technology, the overall tone seems darker than usual.

For example, characters rarely died in the previous games. Blood was rarely shown. However, in the Prologue, we see a corpse with their throat slit and blood on the ground. It was honestly refreshing to see because the previous games felt too conservative on showing death and violence, such that it broke my immersion.

The world design is also completely different. The architecture and layout of the previous games were mostly based on Western influences. This time around, it's a combination of Japanese and Western styles.

It's a mix of the old and new, with an emphasis on modernity. This falls in-line with the lore as Calvard is portrayed as the "East" in previous games and is a melting pot of cultures and people.

The country is in an economic boom with technology advancements and the design of the city reflects that. We see Van's truck driving down the freeway, and there's an abundance of driving signage inspired from real life. You'll pass by street vendors selling food and other items. There are department stores, hotels and cafes. People walking outside, driving cars, and wearing stylish clothes.

These details add to the realism of the world and give you a sense of the bustling life happening everywhere. While some elements of this design was present in the previous games, it was never to this degree. It's amazing to see the progression from the first game to now.

Overall, I am extremely impressed by the visuals, atmosphere and world design compared to the previous games. It feels fresh but not jarring at the same time. If anything, it helps create a greater immersion to the world and the characters. I cannot wait to continue my journey in Calvard and explore the mysteries that lie ahead!


🎮Gameplay

Now that we've covered the narrative and visuals, let's discuss the gameplay. Combat in the Trails games is turn-based. The battle system is familiar to that of any JRPG. You can build each of your party members as a role that best suits their fighting style. For example, you can have a physical damage dealer or a mage. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and you need to build a team that fits your needs.

The biggest addition to the combat system is the ability to switch between real-time and turn-based. This is a big deal because it changes the flow of battles significantly.

When you battle in real-time, you can gain party advantage and stun enemies by the time you transition to the traditional turn-based combat. While this is a huge change, it doesn't take long to get used to. It's ultimately a good change because it gives you more control over the pace of the battle. It makes the pacing of encounters feel more dynamic and engaging.

The way that battles are handled has changed a bit. Instead of characters standing still until you select your action, you can move your character around a certain radius on the battlefield before selecting an action. This allows you to strategically plan out your attacks. When I first learned how to use this mechanic, it was really helpful. It allowed me to fight more tactically.

Monster encounters are mostly unchanged from previous games. They still follow the same formula, such as having a variety of monsters at varying levels and stats. The only difference is that they are much easier to avoid.

In previous games, if a monster touched you, the battle would start. This was annoying if you wanted to clear a dungeon quickly. Now, it is possible to evade the monsters in most cases.

This makes the game more flexible and less restrictive to a certain playstyle. JRPGs can be notorious for grinding, which can discourage players from playing. So this change is appreciated.

Combat is more engaging, visually stunning and fun to play. Animations and effects are much improved. The visuals are better than ever. In previous games, I'd either skip or fast forward animations. Now, it is satisfying to watch them all happen.

It's nice to have the option to fight in real-time or turn-based depending on the situation. It also allows you to maneuver around the field faster if needed. Overall, the combat feels similar to the previous games, but with some added tweaks that make it feel more polished and refined.


🤔Final Thoughts

If you're already a fan of the franchise, then this is definitely worth checking out. It retains many of the features of the previous games while adding improvements to the overall gameplay and graphics. I am blown away by how gorgeous this game looks and plays. It is different from the previous games yet familiar enough for fans to enjoy.

The story starts off strong, and I'm very curious to see where the story goes from here. Van as the main character is a likable protagonist that is a fresh departure from the usual protagonist of a JRPG. The new setting is also very interesting and provides a new perspective on the lore of the world.

The tone of the writing can be dark and moody, but it's also humorous and quirky at the same time. The series hasn't shown death and blood for awhile, so I'm curious to see how dark this game will get.

The combat system is very polished, and it feels like a natural evolution of the previous games. It's exciting to see the world being built up and explored in such an immersive way.

The world design and visuals are what sets this game apart from the previous games. The world feels like it's in motion, and you can tell the creators put a lot of thought into the visual design. It is a unique experience that will be appreciated by fans of the franchise.

Overall, I highly recommend this title or series to anyone that enjoys JRPGs. Trails Before Dawn is only available in Japanese, but there is a spectacular fan-made translation patch in English on PC.

If you'd like to get into the series, I'd recommend starting with either Trails of Cold Steel 1-2 or Trails in the Sky. Cold Steel has more modern gameplay elements compared to Sky which has older mechanics from the 2000s. However, I believe Sky has the most emotional narrative and the best writing in the entire series.

Either way, I hope that you'll check out this wonderful series! It is one of my favorite JRPG series of all time and I look forward to seeing how this new arc progresses. Until next time!

All images were screencaptured in-game by me.

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