Trails through Daybreak Preview
Image: Push Square

It seems to be a universal rule that whenever we write about the Trails games, there's at least one person in the comments asking where they should begin with Falcom's long-running RPG series. Naturally, the ideal answer to this query is "with the first game", but not everyone has the time — or patience — to play through at least eight Trails titles in order to catch up on the overarching narrative.

Fortunately, if you're itching to board the Trails train but you've just never known how to take that first step, we think a fantastic entry point is fast approaching. It's called Trails through Daybreak, and it marks the beginning of the series' latest saga (which is already three games deep in Japan).

The first title in a fresh Trails story arch is usually stuffed with new characters, and provides a new perspective in terms of setting, world-building, and plot points. Daybreak in particular takes place in a previously unexplored nation called Calvard, and it's full of new faces. What's more, it's running on Falcom's most recent game engine, and its gameplay systems — including its fast-paced, turn-based combat — have been overhauled to a large extent.

For onlookers here in the West, this could be the perfect time to finally dive in.

Trails through Daybreak 1

Just last week, we got to sit down and watch Trails through Daybreak in action, fully localised ahead of its 5th July release date — and it's fair to say that we're really looking forward to playing this one ourselves. Based on what we saw, this is very much an evolution of Falcom's storied franchise, both in terms of overall presentation and established mechanics.

The demo we were shown covered a fairly early part of the adventure, in which main character Van — a mercenary of sorts — is contracted to rummage through an abandoned city district. We were spared a lot of the story details in an effort to avoid spoilers, but it largely felt like your typical Trails setup. Explore a new location, meet a new character or two, and then run through a dungeon to get to the bottom of the current narrative thread.

Immediately, though, we could tell that this game's scope is much bigger than what we've grown used to with the Cold Steel saga — at least with regards to scale. The demo kicked off with a quick jaunt across a major city, which was broken up between a number of broad and busy streets, complete with moving traffic in the background. While Daybreak still isn't going to win any awards for graphical prowess, it's a clear cut above what's come before, and the scale of these locations certainly helps sell the idea that it's a next-gen Trails title.

It also helps that everything looks so... clean. Character models are more realistically proportioned, complete with some surprisingly impressive clothing textures, and — as proudly pointed out by NIS America staff — environments have been given a noticeable glow-up in terms of lighting effects. What's more, the character art is typically immaculate, and even the menus look perfectly pieced together. It's an especially neat and tidy title despite Falcom's relative lack of resources.

Trails through Daybreak 2

Moving on, the majority of the demo had our hosts guide us through the aforementioned ruins, showcasing Daybeak's updated combat system in the process. As fans may already know, the headline addition is an all-new action-based battle phase, which lets you batter your opponents outside of the traditional turn-based system so that when the real fight begins, you're granted a significant advantage.

We'll need to go hands-on with this part of the game before we come to any conclusions, but there's no doubt that the action adds an intriguing new dimension to the series' proven gameplay flow. For what it's worth, you don't have to participate in these pre-battle skirmishes — and NISA made it clear to us that boss fights are always turn-based in the traditional Trails mold.

But to be honest, it's actually the turn-based tweaks that interest us more than anything. Just like in the Cold Steel games, enemies have health and stagger bars, while you look to knock your foes off balance with character-specific attacks and elemental magic. However, effectively positioning your party members is now a crucial part of the experience, as during your turn, you're free to move across the battlefield.

Correct positioning means that you can hit multiple foes with a single strike, or you might even trigger team attacks with allies who are close enough. Again, this is something that's an evolution of existing mechanics — areas of effect have long been a part of Trails combat — but it all seems in service of making fights feel more dynamic. It's fast-paced and punchy stuff.

Trails through Daybreak 3

There's one last thing we should mention: the brand new 'Alignment' system. We didn't get to see it unfold, but as Van — a more 'mature' protagonist who's not averse to bending the law — you can alter the course of the main story by making key decisions. From what we understand, these somewhat moral choices can influence your party's allegiances, open up specific side quests, and can, at points, determine who joins your team. An interesting premise that should promote replay value.

Given that we're already big fans of the franchise, we've got high hopes for Trails through Daybreak — an adventure that looks like a genuine evolution of the series. But even if you're a curious bystander, this could be the game that kickstarts a relationship with one of Japan's best RPG exports.

Trails through Daybreak launches on the 5th July, but will you be booking a trip to Calvard? Pull off your craziest team attacks in the comments section below.