Trails Games Guide
Image: Push Square

Over the last few years, the Trails series has started to find some footing in the West, largely thanks to the localisation of the Trails of Cold Steel saga on PS4. And now that publisher NIS America is committed to bringing the franchise overseas, we finally have enough Trails games to warrant a guide like this. What a time to be alive!

But before we get into the discussion of which Trails game is best — as voted by Push Square readers — we're going to give an overview of what the Trails series actually is. Hopefully this article is of some help to those who are new to this dense franchise...

Trails Guide

What Is the Trails Series, Exactly?

Okay, so the Trails series is itself a subseries of a long-running property called The Legend of Heroes. It's a little bit like how the Persona series started life as a Shin Megami Tensei spin-off, but blossomed into its own franchise.

Officially, the Trails games still have The Legend of Heroes in their name. For example, the full title of Trails of Cold Steel is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel — but at least here in the West, fans have taken to shortening the names for the sake of clarity.

Anyway, the Trails titles are role-playing games developed by Japanese company Nihon Falcom (often referred to as simply 'Falcom'). They have a very heavy emphasis on character-driven stories, and feature a turn-based combat system that has steadily evolved over the course of the series.

The biggest strength (and arguably the biggest weakness, from an outside perspective) of the Trails games is that they all tie into each other. All of the Trails games have overarching plot elements, returning characters, and a clear timeline of when events take place in relation to other games in the series.

This massive, interconnected style of storytelling allows Falcom to create a truly dense and engrossing fictional world. It's like an anime that has hundreds of episodes; it can be hard to penetrate such a daunting mass of entertainment, but once you're actually invested, the payoff is almost unmatched.

We would heartily recommend the Trails games to anyone who enjoys Japanese RPGs.

What Is Trails through Daybreak (Kuro no Kiseki in Japan)?

Trails through Daybreak (known as Kuro no Kiseki in Japan) is the first game in the newest Trails arc, which primarily takes place in a previously unexplored nation called the Republic of Calvard. It released in Japan in 2021, and will launch in the summer of 2024 in the west.

Its sequel, Kuro no Kiseki II: Crimson Sin, released in Japan in 2022.

Trails Timeline

The Trails Timeline

Now this is where things get slightly more complicated. As alluded, the Trails games all take place in the same fictional world, on a continent named Zemuria.

Within the Trails series, there are essentially three subseries: Trails in the Sky, the Crossbell arc, and Trails of Cold Steel. A fourth subseries is underway, but those games haven't been released in the West at the time of writing.

Just to clarify, the 'Crossbell arc' refers to Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure. Both of these games take place in a city called Crossbell, hence the name.

Chronologically speaking, the Sky arc comes first, then the Crossbell arc, and then the Cold Steel arc. However, there is some overlap between the Crossbell games and the Cold Steel games, which means that making an easy-to-read timeline can be tricky.

Still, we'll give it a shot. This is when each game begins, as per the in-game calendar.

  • The year 1202 - Trails in the Sky
  • 1202 - Trails in the Sky SC
  • 1203 - Trails in the Sky the 3rd
  • 1203 - Trails from Zero
  • 1203 - Trails of Cold Steel
  • 1204 - Trails to Azure
  • 1204 - Trails of Cold Steel II
  • 1205 - Trails of Cold Steel III
  • 1206 - Trails of Cold Steel IV
  • 1207 - Trails into Reverie

Trails into Reverie, the latest game to be released outside of Japan and Asia, is essentially an epilogue to the Cold Steel games, while also rounding off the events of the Crossbell saga. What's more, Reverie contains, to some extent, introductions to the setting and characters of the aforementioned Kuro arc.

Does the Main Story Continue Over Multiple Trails Games?

Yes, and these games are not short. Technically, there are story elements that carry through the entire series, but the real problem is that Trails to Azure, for example, is a direct sequel to Trails from Zero. Likewise, the Trails of Cold Steel titles are all direct sequels to one another. It's extremely difficult to just dive into a game like Cold Steel III without having at least played the previous games in that subseries.

Again, the sheer time commitment necessary to play through multiple Trails games is going to be the biggest obstacle for a lot of potential players.

Best Trails Game to Start With

What Trails Game Is Best to Start With?

We see people asking this question all the time, so we're going to try and answer it as best we can.

Now, you might not like hearing this, but the ideal place to start your Trails journey is with the first Trails game, Trails in the Sky. You can't really escape the fact that the Trails games all have an interconnected story, complete with many returning characters.

However, as mentioned, not everyone has the time, resources, or patience for such an exhaustive series playthrough. It also doesn't help that the Trails in the Sky games are not available on current consoles, unlike every other localised Trails title.

Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo weighed in on this debate back when we interviewed him in 2022. This was his take:

"The overarching Trails series can be divided into the following subseries: Trails in the Sky, Trails from Zero/to Azure, Trails of Cold Steel/into Reverie, and Kuro no Kiseki. I recommend starting from the initial title in any of those subseries. The locations and main characters are different as well as when the events occur in the timeline."

With all of that in mind, we would probably recommend either starting with Trails from Zero — the first game in the Crossbell arc — or the first Trails of Cold Steel title.

Trails from Zero is a great entry point because of how separated it can feel from the rest of the series — at least initially. The city of Crossbell is a unique, memorable setting, and the game's main cast of characters are, at that point in the timeline, all new to the franchise. What's more, the Crossbell arc only has two games, making it less demanding than playing through, say, the four Cold Steel games.

Starting out with Zero will also help you get to grips with the general flow of a Trails game. Its combat system is more basic than what you'll find in the Cold Steel saga, and character progression isn't quite as in-depth. In short, there's less to worry about on a mechanical level.

However, there's a chance that you might find Trails from Zero to be a bit... dated. It was originally a PSP title from 2010, and the PS4 remaster does little to bring it up to modern standards. We still think it's a fantastic RPG, but we understand why its comparatively primitive graphics could put people off.

And if that's the case, you could try jumping in at the Cold Steel games instead. Visually, they're still a bit rough, but they mark the series' first foray into fully 3D games. They're more welcoming in terms of accessibility as well, boasting additional difficulty options and better tutorials.

It's fair to assume that most Western Trails fans will have started with the Cold Steel games, purely because they were released on the immensely popular PS4. And hey, if you end up enjoying them, you can always go back and tackle the Crossbell arc as well.

Trails Games Ranked

Ranking the Trails Games

Now then, it's time to take a look at the best Trails games, according to the Push Square community. This list is based on reader ratings for each game, and you can influence the rankings yourself by clicking on the star icons and adding your own score.

Naturally, we'll be adding more Trails games to this list once they're released here in the West.

12. Trails through Daybreak (PS4)

11. Trails through Daybreak (PS5)

10. Trails of Cold Steel III / Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS5)

9. Kai no Kiseki: Farewell, O Zemuria (PS5)

8. The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails (PS4)

7. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PS4)

Falcom's long-running The Legend of Heroes series started a whole new story arc with Trails of Cold Steel. The first game in a four-part saga, it follows the trials and tribulations of Rean Schwarzer, who attends a prestigious military academy. In classic high school anime fashion, Rean gets to meet all kinds of people, as the game establishes both the Erebonian Empire as a setting, and his classmates as key characters. An engrossing RPG at its best, topped off with a great turn-based combat system.

6. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS4)

The Erebonian Empire finds itself divided by civil war, and the spirited Class VII is stuck right in the middle. As direct as a sequel can possibly be, Trails of Cold Steel II takes place almost immediately after the events of the first game, with troubled protagonist Rean Schwarzer separated from his dear friends. On a quest to regroup and find their place in a war-torn nation, Class VII must journey across Erebonia, gathering allies and uncovering the truth, little by little. A grand JRPG, bolstered by expanded character progression and a beefy turn-based combat system.

5. Trails into Reverie (PS5)

An all-star epilogue that ties a neat little bow around the Crossbell and Cold Steel arcs, Trails into Reverie is perhaps one of the most robust entries in Falcom's series. That's not because of its story length — it's actually relatively short in that regard — but because it's absolutely packed with optional content. The True Reverie Corridor is an endlessly repeatable, procedural dungeon that can be explored by over 50 playable characters, and there are loads of minigames to keep you busy when you're craving some downtime from the dramatic campaign. All in all, Reverie is an excellent sendoff for a beloved cast of heroes (and antiheroes).

4. Trails from Zero (PS4)

Trails from Zero on PS4 is a remaster of the original PSP release from 2010. As such, it can certainly look a bit dated at times, but don't let the visuals put you off what is a fantastic JRPG. The first game in a two-part saga, Zero takes place in and around the city of Crossbell, as crime and corruption threaten to uproot the lives of its citizens. You play as rookie detective Lloyd Bannings, who, together with a ragtag investigation squad, is tasked with uncovering Crossbell's darkest truths. Excellent characters and a superb setting make for a Falcom classic.

3. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)

Bringing a bombastic end to the Cold Steel saga, Trails of Cold Steel IV attempts to tie four games' worth of stories up across an adventure that can last well over 100 hours. A daunting prospect, but developer Falcom somehow makes it work — and that's perhaps Cold Steel IV's most impressive achievement. This is as dense as Trails games get, both in terms of storytelling and gameplay. The series' turn-based combat has been adjusted for better balance, there's a greater sense of freedom to exploration, and a huge roster of playable party members allows for some serious tactical tinkering. A deeply engrossing, often brilliant finale.

2. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

A leap forward from the first two Cold Steel titles thanks to a new engine, Trails of Cold Steel III sees a slightly older Rean Schwarzer return to his beloved Thors Military Academy as an instructor. Guiding an all-new Class VII in their special ops missions, it isn't long until old friends (and old enemies) start popping up in what is often an engrossing character-driven story. What's more, Cold Steel III makes some fantastic additions to the series' already great turn-based combat system, while larger environments offer so many opportunities for exploration. One of Falcom's finest.

1. Trails to Azure (PS4)

With the story and characters of the Crossbell saga already established in the first game, Trails to Azure is free to turn the tension up to 11, resulting in one of Falcom's most engrossing RPGs. At times, it's a thrill ride in terms of pacing, as Lloyd Bannings and the gang fight against seemingly insurmountable odds for the sake of their beloved city and its people. Packed with memorable moments and great character development, Azure should be considered a genre classic.

How would you rank the Trails games? Which Trails game is your favourite? Give them your own ratings, vote in our poll, and then become a hero in the comments section below.

Which Trails games have you played? (Select all that apply)

(You can select up to 9 answers)