Ys: Trails to Xanadu - The Falcom Thread

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(I'll put some fancy graphics and logos here eventually)

Falcom is a developer that goes all the way back to the NES era, and is responsible for a number of excellent but generally underappreciated games. If you know them these days, odds are it's for one of their two big cash cow franchises (Ys and Trails), but they have a number of one-offs and franchises along the way that are all worth giving a shot.


Ys is the tale of Adol Christin, a red-haired adventurer who travels the continent, solves ancient mysteries, and just generally does the whole saving the world bit with minimal fuss. The series is infamous for the "bump" combat that the first few games used, where you did damage to enemies by running into them from the side and back, but these days it has more traditional action RPG style with some light platforming when it feels up to it. The games rarely feature a detailed plot (although Ys VIII and the upcoming IX put it in a much larger focus), and is mostly an excuse for Adol to wander around the island/country/whatever to murder the local wildlife to some sick beats.

The most recent title, Lacrimosa of Dana, is particularly infamous on account of its first localization being so terrible that NISA had to publicly apologize and go back to completely redo the entire thing. The PC port was a disaster that took months to get in a passable state, and when they finally got the Switch port out it was...fine. Not ideal by any means (the framerate struggles to hold at 30 when the PS4 plays at 60), but it was at least playable, which is a step up from every other release at launch.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has been announced for localization for PS4, PC, and Switch in 2021.


The other major franchise you're likely to have actually heard of from Falcom is The Legend of Heroes, a series which dates all the way back to 1989 with the PC88's Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (itself the sixth game in the Dragon Slayer series), but the world wouldn't truly be introduced to the series until 2004's The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Since then, the series has seen an additional nine games (with a tenth on the way), broadly broken up into three major arcs:

Trails in the Sky

Trails in the Sky follows the story of Joshua and Estelle Bright, a pair of young bracers in the Kingdom of Liberl. These days the game is a pretty typical Trails game, but at the time it was something very different from your typical JRPG. Rather than focusing on a big, world-ending plot, the story simply followed Joshua and Estelle as they made their way around Liberl, helping people with all kinds of mundane tasks and generally getting to know everyone. At least, until Sky SC happens and everything goes off the rails, but for most of the runtime of Sky FC, you'd be forgiven for asking when the actual "plot" was going to start. And this isn't a bad thing! I personally think it's the weakest of the "first" games, but it does an admirable job of introducing you to the world and characters.

Following the conclusion of the story in Sky SC, there is a follow-up game called Sky the 3rd which plays out more like an extended dungeon crawler where you find "doors" that lead into different scenarios all over the continent, featuring characters from all over the franchise. It serves as a pseudo-sequel to Sky in that it gives some closure to character arcs left unfinished, and it sets up some things leading into Crossbell and ultimately Erebonia.

Trails from Zero/Azure

Zero and Azure follow the story of detective Lloyd Bannings and the Special Support Section in the high-tech metropolis of Crossbell. By focusing on a single location with a small, focused party, the game is able to build a stronger connection than the more open Liberl and Erebonia, although it does admittedly get a little samey by the end of Azure. The arc in general also has some dependency issues, where Zero is functionally a sequel to the Sky games, and Azure is concurrent with Cold Steel 1 and 2, leading to some unavoidable conflicts of "Yeah you can play it but you really should play [x] first." That said, Zero does a phenomenal job of bringing you into Crossbell without indulging in the worst of Falcom's bad habits, and it's my personal favorite game in the entire franchise.

Neither game was ever localized, so while translations do exist, it's not quite as plug and play as the other games in the series. Zero has a PC port you can buy off of DLsite, which can then be patched with the excellent Geofront fan translation to not only be playable in English, but also adding in a number of cool features like turbo. Azure is...a bit trickier, since it was never released on PC outside of China and the existing translation is much, much rougher than Zero's. It can be found if you know where to look, and there are a number of fan patches that have come out recently to help soften up some of the rough edges, but unless you want to wait months (or years) for the Geofront group to finish their Azure patch, it's what we have to work with for now. It's fine, to be clear. Just rough in a lot of places.

Trails of Cold Steel 1/2

Trails of Cold Steel follows Rean Schwarzer and the members of Class VII in the militaristic Erebonian Empire. Nobles and commoners are pit against one another, and it's up to Rean and his classmates at Thors Military Academy to bring about peace where they can. Unlike the previous games, Cold Steel is built much more heavily on Rean's personal relationships with his classmates, with the introduction of "bond points" and an almost Persona-like structure outside of the main plot events.

I list them together like this because the two were very obviously intended to be a single game before the size and scope required forced Falcom to break it into two games. Cold Steel 2 is blatantly intended to be the last third or so of Cold Steel 1 (in a similar way to Azure's "Epilogue"), and subsequently has hella pacing issues as they fleshed it out to be a complete game in its own right. Additionally, as mentioned, Zero and Azure takes place concurrently with this part of the saga. Seeing as Cold Steel was released after the Crossbell duo, it's not exactly spoilers per se, but be aware that both sets of games will reveals parts of the other.

Trails of Cold Steel 3/4

Trails of Cold Steel 3 picks up six months after the conclusion of Cold Steel 2. Rean is now an instructor at Thors, and has to guide a new Class VII in a world that has drastically changed since the conclusion of the last game. This pair of games has the unenviable task of functioning as a wrap up to the entire Trails conflict so far, and as such it is highly, highly recommended that you play through Cold Steel 1 and 2 before playing it (Zero and Azure are also a good idea but not as strictly required). If you insist (or are otherwise unable to play them for lack of a console, etc), 3 does have a recap that will get you more or less caught up, but it's no substitute for the actual games. It also ends with the world's most violent cliffhanger, so maybe keep that in mind with the upcoming launch of Cold Steel 4...

Trails of Cold Steel 4 will launch on October 27th for PS4 and on Switch/PC in 2021.

The Trails series in general is special for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which being the sheer depth of the writing. Almost every NPC has their own little storyline that plays out across the plot, and you can easily spend more time talking to everyone than doing anything else in the gmae. Additionally, the series builds on itself in a way that few others do. Characters from older games will reappear with new roles and abilities, events that happen in other countries will get mentioned and re-contextualized, and major plot beats in one game will have been foreshadowed in the collectible books from three games ago. If you are the sort of person who pores over codex pages and lore, the series will let you go as deep as you want, which is both a massive strength and a crippling weakness.

We must, at some point, address the elephant in the room with regards to the Trails series. With a series this big and self-referential, it becomes actively hostile to newcomers on some level, and while I'm not a purist to the extent that some fans are, I will readily admit that I cannot recommend that anyone start with, say, Cold Steel 3, no matter how much NISA's marketing wishes it were so. If you have never played a Trails game and want somewhere to start, your best bets are Trails in the Sky FC or Trails of Cold Steel 1. Sky is a significantly simpler game, runs on a potato computer, and while I don't like it much myself, it will give you a good idea of what the franchise is about and whether or not you're down for more. My personal suggestion is to play Sky FC until you get bored, try Cold Steel, and if that doesn't hook you then nothing will.

You can also totally ignore this! In fact, feel free to ignore what anyone says regarding what you should and should not play regarding the Trails games. Cold Steel 3 is a perfectly enjoyable game even if you know nothing about the series, but you're gonna get so much more out of it if you've done the background reading, as it were.

Falcom's Other Games

I don't know a whole lot about most of these but they've made a bunch of stuff that's worth a look one way or the other. In no particular order:

Tokyo Xanadu - An action RPG built on the Cold Steel engine. Takes place in modern-day Tokyo and is a Trails game in all but name. I like it a lot!
Zwei I/II - Lighthearted action RPGs with a lot of Ys DNA.
Gurumin - Action RPG with a bit more platforming than most of Falcom's stuff but otherwise a more kid-friendly Ys.
Xanadu Next - A slower paced action RPG with more focus on exploration. Technically part of the Dragon Slayer series.

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Since Cold Steel 3 comes out on Switch tomorrow, it seems like as good of a time as any to get this up. So what's your favorite falcom and why is it Ys: Oath in Felghana?

Oath in Felghana was the first Ys game I played and the second game I finished. I'm also trying to play through the Ys games.

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If someone is planning to play Cold Steel 1 or 2 on PC, I've made a handful of patches for them to fix some minor issues I have with their ports. Check it out, especially if you want a non-animation-skipping Turbo Mode!

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I've played through all the Ys Games on Steam, Memories of Celceta on Vita (soon a replay on PS4) and Lacrimosa of Dana with the original translation (still need to finish the NG+ with the new translation). The only game in the canon timeline I haven;t played yet is 5. Where is the 5 steam port Falcom? It should be noted that Ys games are kinda weird in terms of what are the "canon" games and when they happen. 8 happens between 5 & 6. Oath in Felghana is a re-imagining of III which replaces it as the canon game. Memories of Celceta is Falcom's official IV taking elements from and replacing two other Ys IVs that were made by other companies.

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Lacrimosa of Dana depressed me. I hate its story. Hate it. Gameplay's great though; it's a blast to explore/fight.
Celceta is great fun, made even better by the fact that the story doesn't make me sad.
The only other Ys I've played was Ark of Napishtim.... a looong time ago. Not much of an opinion as I barely remember it.

I've played every 'localized' Trails game, and I love them all and will absolutely be getting Cold Steel IV this Fall.
Being Rean is suffering.
Last edited by Weeble on Wed Jul 01, 2020 5:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Honestly I was pretty torn on Ys VIII because on one hand, it was a blast to play and I really enjoyed exploring the island, but the actual story was so bad. Like, based on how everyone was selling it and complaining about NISA's localization I was expecting something much more interesting but no, it's just the regular Ys story, again, but now with less funny names like the Archezoic Big Hole (RIP).

(I am aware there were a lot of actual problems like items not having the right descriptions and whatnot but man you'd have thought Ys VIII was the next Persona or something the way people hyped it up)

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The only Ys games I've played were Origins (hack/dodge) and the I remaster for PC (bump-and-grind). Did later games improve or iterate on the gameplay front to make things not so one-note?

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Is Ys8 on PC fixed up these days? Steam Sale's still on and I'm wondering if I should add to my never ending backlog.

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Yes, the PC version should be fine these days, there was a big fix update earlier this year.

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