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Kicking off a whole new saga in Falcom's storied Trails series, Trails through Daybreak represents a step forward for the franchise in so many ways. Boasting an updated game engine, fairly significant gameplay additions, and a completely new setting, this is probably the freshest that Trails has felt since the original Trails of Cold Steel — and that was five whole games ago.

The Republic of Calvard has always been a staple in Trails lore, but in Daybreak, fans finally get to explore this much-discussed nation. Where Cold Steel's Erebonian Empire was a country on the cusp of technological revolution, Calvard is borderline futuristic by comparison. It's got supercomputers, laptops, its own F1-style sport, robotic pets, and a thriving motion picture industry. It's a nation that's greatly benefitted from its war with the aforementioned Empire, with reparations paving the way for a huge economic boom.

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Taking all of this into account, Calvard makes for an exciting backdrop. Falcom is able to push themes and ideas that would have felt out of place in previous titles, and the result is a surprisingly mature instalment. This newfound maturity is reflected in Daybreak's protagonist, a 24-year-old 'spriggan' by the name of Van Arkride.

Van's been around the block. He's essentially a mercenary operating out of Calvard's capital city, and he's not averse to picking up jobs that most would deem shady. Where prior Trails leads have been righteous through-and-through (obnoxiously so, at times), Van is a genuine breath of fresh air — a hero who's willing to get his hands dirty. His somewhat aloof personality ends up being a fantastic focal point, as he's slowly surrounded by a colourful cast of party members and supporting players.

Indeed, Falcom's managed to create yet another crop of memorable characters — a feat that grows more and more impressive with every game that it releases. Daybreak's got a lot of new faces — and quite a few returning ones — but keeping track of so many roles rarely overwhelms. This is mostly down to the title's methodical pacing, as each story chapter gradually introduces new places, characters, and concepts. The Trails games continue to be a masterclass in terms of world building.

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That said, there's no getting away from the fact that Daybreak is very heavy on text. The script — which spans a campaign that lasts around 100 hours — is absolutely colossal, and things get incredibly wordy at times. Again, this approach helps Falcom in its attempts to flesh out almost every possible detail — and it is engrossing if you have the patience for it — but it does slow proceedings to a crawl every now and then.

Still, we need to praise the localisation team. The English script is immaculate and emotive, and that's one hell of an achievement given the sheer size of the thing.

Speaking of localisation, Daybreak comes with an optional English dub, but much like its Japanese counterpart, it skips the majority of the dialogue. Now, when a script is this big, it's easy to accept that corners need to be cut — but modern Trails games have this jarring thing where some characters' lines will be fully voiced, while others will reply with unvoiced text boxes. We dare suggest that you get used to it, but it's an issue that sticks out in Daybreak because there are just so many interactions.

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Fortunately, the storytelling holds up throughout, and we'd go as far to say that this is one of the best, most well-rounded narratives you'll find in a Trails title. Yes, it leans on events from previous games — especially later on — and yes, recurring characters will have much more impact if you're actually familiar with them, but as a standalone tale, Daybreak feels complete; this isn't a case of one big game being sliced into two halves, like with Cold Steel 3 and 4.

As such, we'd recommend Daybreak to newcomers, with the caveat that you might want to work backwards through past titles in order to get the full picture. Its entirely new setting and main characters go a long way in making the game feel like something of a fresh start. And who knows, you might just spark a lasting relationship with this superb series.

Anyway, let's talk about the gameplay. The most significant change to the Trails blueprint comes in the form of an overhauled combat system, which now incorporates a full-on action phase before jumping into a traditional turn-based mode. Out-of-battle attacks are nothing new for these games, as you've always been able to smack an opponent on the field in order to gain an advantage when the proper fight begins — and that mechanic has evolved quite dramatically in Daybreak.

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Van and his allies can attack, dodge, and straight-up stun enemies before opting to enter a turn-based battle. The controls are a little stiff during these action-based assaults, but they add an enjoyable rhythm to the usual dungeon crawling, as you seamlessly switch between the two modes of play. For the record, the action portion of combat is entirely optional — although as mentioned, stunning a foe does afford you a huge advantage ahead of the full encounter, and you can defeat much weaker enemies outright if you can't be bothered taking turns.

Meanwhile, on the tactical side of things, combat is more fluid. During their turn, party members can now move freely across the designated arena, while making use of clever positioning to overwhelm opponents with team attacks and abilities that hit harder from the side or behind. The system strikes a really nice balance between strategic thinking and turn-by-turn adaptation, as encounters tend to be more dynamic overall.

But the underlying mechanics of past Trails titles remain in place, and they're still some of the best you'll find in modern RPGs. Each character has access to a number of magical arts and unique crafts, as well as all-powerful super moves. You've got a lot of options to play around with right from the start, and exploring the individual toolkits of your party members is a consistent joy.

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However, there's no doubt that Falcom has tweaked combat balance as a whole. In the Cold Steel games, you could completely break the system through specific character builds and strategies, and although you can still unleash some fairly busted combinations in Daybreak, the mechanics simply aren't as abusable as they once were. This adjustment may come as a disappointment to some players, but we do think that the title's overarching difficulty curve is better for it; battles tend to be a bit more back and forth, with consideration afforded to defensive tactics, as opposed to simply nuking your enemies as quickly as possible.

On the topic of character builds, the series' returning quartz system has been given a pretty substantial overhaul. In past titles, items called quartz granted new spells and stat boosts when equipped — not unlike materia in Final Fantasy 7. But in Daybreak, quartz is tied solely to stat increases and passive perks, while you gain access to new spells — or arts — through different items, known as 'drivers'. Separating these two elements of party customisation gives you more freedom, but it does feel convoluted — especially during the opening couple of story chapters, when you're still trying to wrap your head around the basics.

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Part of the problem is that the game practically starves you of action at points. When combat encounters can be this much fun, it's a real shame when Van and the gang are forced to take on detective work that sees you run around town, talking to a seemingly endless supply of NPCs instead of walloping all manner of monsters. Indeed, some of Daybreak's side quests fall into disappointingly tedious territory — the kind of tasks that, in theory, should only serve to bolster the game's world building. But in practice, they amount to little more than trekking between objective markers and wading through a short novel's worth of dialogue.

Thankfully, the all-new 'alignment' system adds a touch of spice to these otherwise dreary escapades. Being a morally murky guy, Van will often have to decide on how to settle a quest, choosing between conclusions that are either law-abiding or rule-bending. In turn, your decisions can determine certain story beats, and although it stops short of being a truly branching narrative, your alignment does have some cool implications down the line. We'd love to see Falcom dig deeper into this sort of stuff.

Before we wrap up, we should discuss Daybreak's improved visuals. It's not a massive leap over the later Cold Steel games — and it's definitely not what you'd call graphically impressive by today's standards — but it's an attractive release given the developer's relatively limited resources. The main character models in particular look great, although their glow-up does mean that the standard NPCs can look rough by comparison. Still, the overall art direction's strong, and Falcom's crafted some of its biggest, most detailed environments to date.


Trails through Daybreak is one of the series' best games, and its most impressive in terms of scope. It's a robust, engrossing RPG that often demands patience, but it's hard to turn your back on such a strong cast of characters and a story that's stuffed with memorable moments. Throw a fantastic combat system into the equation, and Daybreak is right up there with Falcom's finest releases.