The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki is the eleventh installment in the main Trails series.
The Action Time battle command used in previous installments of the Trails series has been completely revamped! This system swiftly and seamlessly transitions from field battles to command-based turn battles. In combination with the sixth-generation tactical orbment, Xipha, it offers a revolutionary combat experience unique to the Trails series!
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Kuro no Kiseki is a game that surpassed all of my expectations. I had gone in expecting to decently enjoy my time with it but I walked out loving every second. I can confidently say this game is my favorite in the series and deserves its spot on top 5.
The story is arguably the best Falcom has delivered, the cast is all around very strong and colorful (and most importantly, given enough time to grow), the world is more vibrant and alive than it has ever been before and the OST is just as colorful. This game boasts some of the best side quests in the game and easily some of the best writing. Each and every character is lovable and Falcom did such a beautiful job weaving the characters into the story, and making the story that much more enthralling. Combat is very fun and I found myself disoriented with the new Shard system at first, but quickly grew to love it. All in all, Falcom has not lost their edge and delivered one of the most personal experiences they could have.
Kuro no Kiseki ultimately becomes a story about consequence and an increasingly necessary one to tell in the dense world of Zemuria. There is only so much I can say but no words can truly convey the emotion this game made me feel. Once more, Kuro no Kiseki will easily live on as one of my favorites in the series and an entry I will continue to revisit.
This is probably my favorite Trails starting point so far, and it's insane how it's only going to get better from here judging from how Falcom has handled Trails as a whole so far. Back to back amazing games all getting better as you go through them all, and Kuro 2 might surpass Hajimari/Reverie considering how much I enjoyed this one. To be honest I was already half-expecting this to be an awesome Trails game judging from the trailers/previews over the past months and it blew me away greatly once I finally finished it. I was a bit iffy on the new cast at first but as Trails characters have been handled lately, they quickly developed into great characters throughout the story's progression. Van especially, already some of the better Trails characters and this is just off the first game in a new arc.
The battle system succeeds the previous games in numerous ways, polished turn based combat and stellar graphics. The story is Trails' great storytelling as usual but it also goes more in-depth regarding the darker parts of the series which I really loved. Brings me so much joy seeing how far this series has come.
Spoiler warning for the entire Kiseki Series, including Hajimari no Kiseki and Kuro no Kiseki. Also, rampant speculation warning for Kuro no Kiseki II: Crimson Sin including its available teasers. Oh, and one more warning, this is going to be long as shit. If you just want the tldr on if it’s good or not- of course it is dummy, it’s Kiseki. Go play it. Shoutout to Zero Field for being absolute legends.
Despite being the 11th entry in the massive overarching narrative of the almost two-decade spanning Kiseki Series, Kuro no Kiseki is an absolute breath of fresh air. It marks the first game in the long-anticipated Calvard Saga, as well as the first game in the second half of the overall Kiseki Series as a whole. But, perhaps more importantly for many, Kuro is also Falcom’s first major opportunity to acknowledge and address the complaints voiced by long-time fans with the shifting direction of the Kiseki Series- a shift which began in Crossbell and fully took shape during the Erebonia Saga. I’ll get more into specifics later on, but suffice to say, the new-look writing staff makes an admirable effort at steering the direction of the Kiseki Series back towards its roots, and does so in a way that I think many Cold Steel detractors will be very appreciative of. But even as someone who personally views the entire series as rather consistent overall, Kuro no Kiseki is still an incredibly refreshing change of pace in many ways.
Don’t get me wrong, Kuro does fall short of prior Kiseki games in several different areas. To be fair, some of these shortcomings feel like the result of Kuro being the game to suffer the full brunt of pandemic-specific disadvantages. In addition, it’s the first entry since Cold Steel 1 to have been developed mostly from the ground up (new engine, new region, mostly new characters, etc). However, some of the game’s other “shortcomings”, particularly the focus on Almata rather than Ouroboros (which I’ll get more into later), are more like deliberate subversions rather than something to outright criticize.
With those considerations in mind… There’s still a number of changes and shortcomings that need to be addressed first and foremost. Kuro no Kiseki removes all minigames, the abyss difficulty and enemy scaling options introduced in Hajimari, and all in-game novels/books (aside from newspapers). It needlessly obscures the AT Bar turn order, which used to be far more readable even at a glance. It outright removes AT Bonus manipulation via turn delaying and S-Breaks; which was the mechanic I’d considered the defining trait of the previous 10 games’ combat systems. It reuses many of its most important end-game boss battles and has several moments where the gameplay padding is about as thinly veiled as it possibly could be.
As mentioned earlier, the Kiseki Series’ longtime antagonistic force, Ouroboros, has almost no direct relevance to the central conflict of Kuro no Kiseki. The only three active members of the Society who even show up in Kuro are oftentimes content with sitting back and watching the game’s events unfold from the sidelines. However, they do eventually contribute towards the collaborative efforts to thwart Almata once they’d begun to pose a legitimate threat to the Societies’ long-term plans. Keep in mind, their inaction is directly following the Grandmaster of Ouroboros announcing the start of the Eternal Recurrence Plan, the final phase of the Orpheus Final Plan, at the end of Hajimari no Kiseki. So, surely the Society didn’t send the Fourth Anguis to Calvard for no good reason, and the specifics of this third phase are still unknown. That said, there’s really no arguing that the antagonist of this first game is Almata, not Ouroboros. But for the record, this is the “weakness” of Kuro I take the least issue with personally, as both Trails from Zero (D∴G cult) and Trails of Cold Steel 1 (Imperial Liberation Front) also both had different main antagonists. Not to mention, Almata more than serves their purpose lore-wise and was a necessity, given some of the newly introduced plot elements that are set in motion with Kuro.Not to mention they had essential ties to various key forces, including the aforementioned D∴G cult, Heiyue, Garden, and most notably the game’s main protagonist, Van Arkride.
With this many shortcomings, it might sound like the Calvard Saga has gotten off to a relatively rough and/or slow start. Well surprise, surprise, it’s actually my favorite starting entry to any Kiseki Saga so far. If anything, these detractions only serve to emphasize that Kuro does a hell of a lot right in so many other ways… Not to mention, its shortcomings make the possibility of further improvement and iteration in its upcoming sequel, Crimson Sin, an even more exciting prospect. Both the narrative and mechanical developments of Kuro have tremendous potential in how they can push the Kiseki Series to even greater heights. This first entry alone pushes the series forward in some ways that are immediately apparent, such as its revamped combat system, a gorgeous new in-house engine, a tonal shift which is noticeable right from the game’s opening hours, etc. However, it also makes significant developments for the series in far more deep-rooted and sometimes understated ways, such as the narrative intrigue surrounding the Five Demon Lords, Epstein’s prediction and the Oct-Genesis, Marduk Company, the motivations of Roy Gramheart, and so much more.
I tend not to break up my reviews into categories since tbh they’re usually a pointless restraint. But considering how much I ended up having to say about this game, I ended up using some very broad headers to categorize my biggest ideas, if not to make it just a bit more digestible. Those headers being MAIN PLOT, WORLDBUILDING / CONTINUITY, COMBAT, UNANSWERED STUFF / SPECULATION, and MISCELLANEOUS. So if you just want to skip around to a particular point, feel free to just look for one of the dividers.
It was super refreshing to start an arc with a duo for the first time since Trails in the Sky FC. You get about 10 hours of time with just Van and Agnes before any other party members join. It might seem trivial in the greater context of this 150+ hour game, but it proves very helpful for getting to know the two of them better individually and building up their dynamic as characters. Seeing the two fight monsters and support one another, fulfill spriggan requests together, and travel around Edith loading up on sweets was cozy as hell and an absolute treat. Their dynamic is certainly different from that of the series’ previous duo Estelle and Joshua, since it’s more of a mentor/protégée type of deal. But the dialogue and chemistry between Van and Agnes is still surprisingly comparable in terms of quality imo. Their relationship feels super believable and respectful, and their growth both as individuals and as friends was simply outstanding. By the end of the game, I was genuinely caught off guard by just how attached to the two of them I ended up becoming. The way Agnes rallied the rest of the Solutions Office to not lose hope in Van, despite having lied to them and made a decision to carry his burden alone, sealing himself away from the world as Demon Lord Vagrants-Zion. Then the bombastic scope of that climax is immediately juxtaposed with a gentle, intimate car ride between the two of them as he brings her home… Seriously, their relationship was set up about as well as it possibly could’ve been.
I think the way Kuro slowly introduces characters, while still placing that tiny extra bit of emphasis on Van and Agnes, is something most Kiseki fans will be thrilled about. Particularly those who took issue with the structure and dynamics found in Class VII. Cold Steel understandably gets a lot of flak for taking the polar opposite approach- since it introduced all of Class VII, aside from Millium and Crow, right at the start of CS1. Personally, I think the class divisions prior to field studies made this problem a bit less egregious than it’s typically made out to be, but the issue is still there nonetheless.
The contrasting moral compasses of Van and Agnes work to amazing effect. At the start of Kuro, Agnes is outright incapable of using the sorts of logic and methodology that Van employs to finish a Spriggan request. But over time, their mentorship and bond deepens, and she learns so much more about the world around her. As a result, Agnes gradually becomes more and more determined; not just to collect the Oct-Genesis, simultaneously deepening her bond with her family and uncovering the greater truths which her great-grandfather Professor C. Epstein urged humanity to discover. But all the while, another purpose unknowingly emerged through Agnes’ newfound determination: to support and comfort Van through every difficulty he’s endured and will continue to endure in life. This works very well as an emotional dynamic, of course, but it even gets used to great comedic effect as well. As she grows, Agnes suddenly finds herself doing things “the Spriggan way”, more often and more egregiously. By the end of the game, she often catches flak about it from the other party members, given her previously demure and naive exterior. Hell, by the very end of the game, I even started seeing a bit of Renne influence in her, and… I’m not sure if that excites or terrifies me. Particularly with the way she tricks Van about the Solutions Office not actually being permanently disbanded- teasing the surprise as “payback” for lying to them back in Genesis Tower.
Van Arkride is, likewise, a phenomenal main character. He sets himself apart from all five previous Kiseki protagonists early on, and only continues to impress more and more up through the game’s finale. I won’t go into a ton of detail about his character, even though I think he’s pretty unquestionably the best written character in the game, and is already among the best characters in the entire Kiseki series. Mait’s write-up here does a phenomenal job at breaking down why he’s so endearing and compelling, so I’d recommend reading that first if you’re interested. With that said, I’ll try to provide some extra insight about why he impressed me so much in a few other ways.
On top of being incredibly lovable and relatable, Van is a refreshingly pragmatic and self-sufficient character. A good example of his pragmatism can be seen in Chapter 1 when he saves the broken down bus in Creil. With this scene, you’re presented with a nearly identical situation from that of Trails from Zero, when Estelle and Joshua helped the SSS rookies save a broken-down bus full of citizens off a highway in Crossbell that was surrounded by monsters. But in Kuro, Van finishes the job, tells the driver that “he’s no volunteer”, proceeds to give him his business card, and then demands reimbursement for his time and efforts. Van even cheekily nudges the busdriver to “put some gusto” into the negotiations when explaining the situation to his supervisor.
Van’s behavior here which yeah, on the surface is a tad dickish sure, but it's honestly just pragmatic more than anything else once you dig a bit deeper. Van did demand to be paid significantly more than what the Bracer Guild charges, yeah. But it’s worth mentioning that the Arkride Solutions Office is entirely independent and self-sufficient, whereas the Bracer Guild is a Zemuria-wide established NGO (non-governmental organization) with financial backing directly from the renowned Epstein Foundation. Therefore his higher price tag, especially for an unforeseen emergency that he happened to get caught up in, is more than justified. These small details do wonders to not just provide humor, but further characterize Van in subtle yet effective ways. Likewise, it’s true that the first tenant of his Solutions Office (specifically for his accepted 4SPG requests) sets a fixed hourly rate of 1000 mira no matter the request. This tennant is, to be frank, comically rigid considering the vast range of clientele he gets requests from as a morally gray “fixer”. But even in spite of that rule (which I’m sure Van made deliberately stubborn), Van is still not just pragmatic, but also extremely perceptive in how he selects and views requests based on their individual circumstances.
The obvious foil to this Creil bus driver example would be the scene in the Prologue where Agnes offers him 50,000 mira for his continued service- yet Van still only accepts from her a single bill. Despite the lengthy, ambiguous, and clearly dangerous nature of the request, Van still takes all of the context of the request into account and thus accepts it. When you initially view this scene, you figure Van’s kinda just being a nice guy by not immediately snatching this huge wad of cash from some seemingly normal high-school girl. Hell, he even falsifies an additional layer of artificial motivation for having accepted the request, mentioning that it “seems like it’d be interesting”. But in reality, a lot more consideration and analysis went into Van’s decision than you might first think. Van isn’t even just taking into consideration that he put this young girl’s life in danger when they were ambushed by mafioso as they recovered that first Genesis, nor that he was impressed by her stubborn resolve which forced him into taking her along for the actual mission itself- despite being just an inexperienced and vulnerable client.
The point of much greater importance there is that Van took his own personal connection to Agnes’ 4SPG into consideration; and because of his connection, there was no way he could possibly refuse it. Van was able to deduce that the Oct-Genesis was directly related to his own traumatic yet ambiguous past. In the Finale, we find out that, as a child, Van was subjected to inhumane experimentation by the D∴G cult due to his demonic resonance. This culminated in the (mostly successful) extraction of his Diabolic Core by high-ranking Prince of the Cult, and later Kuro no Kiseki’s main antagonist, Gerard Eldarion of Almata. Despite Van’s traumatic ties to this experience, he was still able to temporarily cast aside his emotional turmoil and analyze the events of the Prologue from an objective standpoint. As a result, he was able to make sense of these seemingly unrelated puzzle pieces and ultimately arrived at the decision to continue helping Agnes- not just for her sake, but for his own. In fact, it was in this exact decision that the events of the Calvard Saga were truly set into motion. Van concluded that the Oct-Genesis were the missing puzzle pieces which serve to unify his own PAST (his D∴G cult experimentation and extracted Diabolic Core), the events of the PRESENT (the circumstances which lead Van and Agnes together, incited his Grendel transformation, and securing the first Genesis), and even their FUTURE (after Agnes shares with him the journal which detailed Professor Epstein’s prediction of Zemuria’s potential apocalypse).
The Oct-Genesis is the puzzle piece which allowed Van to finally begin tying everything together- specifically due to its role in his mysterious transformation into the Grendel. Well, more specifically, the Blue-Darkness Clad Demonic Gear Ogre… but that’s a total facefuck of naming conventions so I’m just gonna call it “Grendel” from now on. It’s kind of a lot of explanation though, so bear with me for a sec… but imo it’s worth recounting since there is a definitive connection that can be drawn from this initial scene between all of these different narrative fragments that Van was able to perceive. So basically, Van’s Grendel transformation was initiated by resonance with the First Genesis in conjunction with his Xipha’s MK-ESV004, the experimental Hollow Core he was contracted as a tester for by Marduk Total Security Company prior to the start of the game. This resonance granted temporary self-awareness and free will to “Mare”, the Artificial Intelligence housed within the Experimental Hollow Core’s Core Quartz (really rolls of the tongue, huh). Prior to the incident, Mare only possessed “personality” within the rigid limitations of current AI programming technology. However, this resonance with the First Genesis not only granted her free will, but also froze time around them and allowed Mare to manifest as a projection of sorts- a projection capable of elaborate communication with humans. Shortly after, Mare swayed Van to “don the nightmare” and take the Grendel.
So yeah, a lot to unpack obviously, but doing so is worthwhile. This scene alone confirms that the Oct-Genesis is the missing puzzle piece between Van’s own past, present, and future. And even if it’s understandable had he not put everything together right then in that moment, he was still able to recognize a thread of correlation between the 50 year old orbment prototype, his own state of the art experimental Hollow Core, and his lingering demonic resonance- more broadly, the mysterious Diabolic Core even long after its extraction. So yeah, even if he doesn’t have all the answers right away, Van clearly isn’t your average oblivious protagonist where you’re meant to learn about the world alongside them. This isn’t always a dealbreaker, but given that we’re now 11 games deep into the same ongoing narrative, the approach Kuro takes with Van’s mental and physical capabilities make a ton of sense and is extremely refreshing. He’s not only well-established with personal and business connections across Edith and “beyond” (no pun intended), but he’s pragmatic, self-sufficient, and very perceptive.
I won’t write at-length about every character like that or I’ll be here all day, but there are a few I’ll touch on briefly. Feri is a great starter character. Not only is her assault sword fun to use in combat, but she’s surprisingly sweet and endearing. Her fixation on combat tactics and strategic practicality, even when the situation doesn’t at all call for it, is passed off initially as a comedic character trait, but there’s an understated degree of emotional sincerity to it as well. In particular, her love and respect for Ayda really shines through, particularly through her determination to have Ayda’s customized rifle fixed properly all on her own. This is because, in the Jaeger way of life, one’s weapon is an extension of one’s self. So for Feri to treat it with such love and care even after her passing is quite a powerful display of her affection and appreciation for everything Ayda did for her. Not just as her mentor, rival, and fellow Jaeger, but as a genuine older sister figure. That said, I definitely wish we got more background on the two’s relationship, because it sometimes felt more of a “take our word for it” type of friendship. The scenes we did get between the two were good, yeah, but Ayda’s death lacked the weight it probably should’ve had because we just didn’t quite get to see enough of her.
Despite being sweet and endearing, it’s worth mentioning that Feri actually ended up becoming my least favorite main party member by the end of the game. This was in large part because of her dialogue quality, which frankly, fell off a cliff after her arc was resolved. Like 90% of her “main story” dialogue in the mid to end-game (esp when Kasim isn’t there) boils down to “idk wtf is going on lol”. I mean yeah, it absolutely makes sense that this young kid would be deeply confused with how many mysterious plot threads are present throughout Kuro, but MAN does it get old after the twentieth time. She’s not offensive in any way though, and her being my least favorite main character is more a result of the other 8 main characters being SO fantastic- rather than Feri being bad. Trust me, she’s not quite the soggy piece of bread that Elliot was (I kid, he’s still a sweetheart… that said, there’s not much arguing that Falcom did him dirty compared to the rest of Class VII).
The Oracion Arc, despite being a bit padded in terms of gameplay, is a phenomenal endgame chapter. The death game is a totally fresh concept from everything Kiseki has done prior. On top of that, it excels at providing motivation and intrigue to every single one of the many distinct factions. The Gralsritter participate since they have jurisdiction over the retrieval of artifacts, which all three Wardens and Gerard himself use as weapons. Iskariot participates on behalf of the broader Papal Guard jurisdiction to exterminate Almata and Garden as heretics. Ouroboros felt the need to intervene because Almata had established itself as a potential threat to the Eternal Recurrence Plan following the Creil tragedy. That said, the Society ultimately left cleanup to the Arkride Solutions Office after Van confronted the Thousand Oathbreaker for his plan to employ biochemical warfare in the ruins below Oracion. Heiyue participates in order to reestablish themselves as the top crime syndicate of Calvard’s underworld, given that Almata is their only direct competition (who, not to mention, “crosses their line” which I’ll talk more about later). The Bracer Guild, Marduk, and the CID participate due to the bomb threat attached to the death game’s consequences being a threat to the lives of each of the former capital’s 280,000 citizens. Ikaruga was there to…uh, do something for the President?? That one’s a bit unclear but I got to team up with Shizuna so honestly idgaf.These extremely varied motivations serve as great worldbuilding while also creating a beautifully chaotic web of moving parts for the ongoing narrative.
Likewise, the way the Oracion Arc uses player choice to determine your alliance within the death game is honestly kind of genius. The alliance mechanic gives legitimate agency to every choice you’ve made up to that point, without impeding the linear nature of the series’ big-picture narrative. Like yeah, it leaves room for variance regarding WHICH team you ally with in order to stop the Reactor Weapon, but the end goal is unchanged regardless of who ends up helping you. I was definitely skeptical when I heard rumors that Kuro no Kiseki had “player choice”, since the previous ten games didn’t (harems don’t count stfu). But the way Kuro handles your choice through the alliance is real fuckin clever. If I had to nitpick something, it’d be that Cao Lee, Kurogane, Walter, and Lucrezia aren’t actually playable. But still, I was blessed with the opportunity to slice dudes up with MF HIME so I can’t possibly complain. Really though, the alliance system was wonderfully incorporated. It perfectly complements the death game’s inherent structure as a clusterfuck of moving parts through many uniquely motivated factions. I genuinely can’t think of a better way to tie in so many different characters from throughout the entirety of Kuro and actually have them all be relevant to this extent.
The combat segments leading up to Genesis Tower were fun, since getting to fight around the environments you’re so used to casually traversing was a good change of pace. However, it definitely suffered from significantly worse camera and like… arenas that clearly weren’t suited for fighting. Not a big deal, but the issue was significantly worse here. More importantly, the cutscenes felt pretty lazy. Each group coming to save the Solutions Office right when they arrive at each district was Cold Steel III “That won’t be necessary” levels of corniness. I don’t hate the collaboration aspect at all, and it’s honestly a decent way to give you a bit more time to mess around in combat with all of the guest characters before the final dungeon. But the way it’s presented was super formulaic and predictable. Also, dear lord Falcom, fuck you for that Renne PTSD flashback… Pls just let my girl be happy already. Jokes aside though, it was actually a really powerful scene that caught me way off guard. Plus it was a good way to bring her closer to Van and Agnes since they hadn’t seen that side of her history firsthand despite their prior relationship. After that, everything from the Genesis Tower up to the credit sequence was straight heat. I’ll be talking about it in the later sections tho so I’ll just leave it there for now.
WORLDBUILDING / CONTINUITY
Kuro no Kiseki more than delivers when it comes to expansion and iteration on the worldbuilding of Zemuria and beyond (again, no pun intended, I promise). In fact, it’s probably the single aspect I found myself the most impressed by throughout the game. Maybe that shouldn’t be TOO surprising since, I mean it’s fucking Kiseki… this has always been its biggest selling point. But even then, Kuro goes to surprising lengths to finally begin pulling back the curtain on topics which have been shrouded in mystery since the series began. The Ancient Civilization of Zemuria, Aidios rewriting the world following the Great Collapse, the Beyond, the false and true natures of modern day Zemuria… You get the idea. Much of the specifics are still unknown of course, and honestly I might have more questions than ever right now. But the Kiseki Series’ continuity, interconnectivity, narrative cohesion, use of old characters and plot threads, and the sheer level of detail within every seam of the world it’s crafted never fails to inspire awe in me. In a way very few pieces of media have ever even come close to accomplishing. I can tell you this much, only in Kiseki will you get 15 straight lines of dialogue about the properties, geographical trends, nutritional benefits, economic interest, and processing potential of Zemurian camel’s milk in comparison to that of cow and sheep’s milk. Certified Kiseki moment. Seriously though, most of what I have to talk about in Kuro revolves around this world building and continuity. Though there isn’t really a clear starting point, so I'll try my best to keep my organization of these points somewhat orderly.
I guess I’ll start with my thoughts on Garden, since I have quite a lot to say about it. Garden is probably the organization I’ve been most eagerly awaiting since it was introduced in Cold Steel IV, and even more so after Garden defectors Swin and Nadia became main characters in Hajimari no Kiseki. Those two certainly haven’t disappointed me yet, given their incredible backstory in Three & Nine and their fantastic chemistry with Rufus and Lapis in the Picnic Squad. That said, it was rather surprising, perhaps a tad bit disappointing, to see Garden taken down completely after just one game in the spotlight.
The Wardens weren’t as compelling as Swin and Nadia, but Emperor, Arioch, Olympia, and Melchior all definitely have some degree of intrigue. But I dunno, I guess I was expecting them to be… more of a threat, I guess? They’re basically all out of commission or flat out dead by the end of Kuro no Kiseki. Not to put down the efforts of the Picnic Squad or the Arkride Solutions Office, since they’ve got plenty of heavy hitters in combat too, of course. But maybe it’s my fault for having such high expectations? Honestly though, I don’t think it’s too unreasonable for me to have expected the top overseers of an organization, who enslaved children and groomed them into their own personal killing machines, to put up a bit more of a fight.
To be fair, they certainly weren’t a slouch in terms of direct narrative significance, particularly here in Kuro. Garden’s remaining three Wardens were contracted by the quickly surging mafia, Almata, prior to the start of the game. Even though both Almata and the Wardens were taken down by the game’s ending, that was only possible through a massive collaborative effort. It took a resistance force including the Arkride Solutions Office, two enforcers and an Anguis of Ouroboros, the Bracer Guild, Marduk Company, Heiyue, two Holy Knights of the Gralsritter (and a third grandpa “retiree”), Orbal Net direction and manipulation by Renne, and direction from both the Calvard Intelligence Division and even President Roy Gramheart himself showing up in a fucking mech (best scene btw, his bickering with Harwood was amazing). When you take the combined manpower of all these factions into consideration, it’s no wonder Almata and Garden buckled under the weight of Gerard’s lofty ambitions. Plus, they did manage to get pretty damn far with their plan. They successfully executed and recorded the effects of several Genesis units, lured Van into the ruins of Vashtar Palace to incite the resonance of his extracted Diabolic Core within Gerard, and even summoned the Genesis Tower and triggered Pandemonium.
Despite Almata’s eventual failure, Garden specifically DID manage to leave one serious long-term impact on Calvard with the annihilation of Creil Village. Gerard was the one who was capable of executing the Reactor Weapon, since he was the wielder of the Apeiron relic which triggered its detonation. However, it was actually Melchior’s suggestion to begin with. So you can certainly make the argument that they were equally culpable for the tragedy which sparked that multi-faceted resistance effort against Almata- both in Oracion and in Edith during Pandemonium.
Additionally, I do very much appreciate that Kuro provides a concrete explanation to justify Garden’s vulnerability as an organization. It not only lends credence to their sudden downfall, but also gives insight into why they were unable to stand on their own two feet- and thus operated as contractors for Almata to begin with. During the Arkride Solution Office’s meeting with the Thousand Oathbreaker and Golden Butterfly prior to the Oracion arc, Harwood explains that Garden has essentially existed as “leftovers” ever since its creation. Following the clash between Ouroboros and the Order of the Moonlight Horse in S. 1194, the Order’s remnants (excluding Harwood, Lucrezia, and even Sharon who became Anguis/Enforcers) merged with the remnants of the D∴G Cult under guidance from Harwood himself. But, much like both the Order and Cult, it seems both Garden AND Almata are completely defunct organizations moving forward. I’ll talk more about what I think the future holds for Garden’s surviving members later on, but I’ll leave it at that for now. So to conclude, Garden’s impact was definitely different from what I expected, and their downfall was surprisingly quick. But there’s really no arguing the massive impact Garden left through both a giant crater in northwest Calvard and its resulting impact on the ongoing narrative.
Moving away from Garden, Kuro makes an admirable effort to further flesh out the logistics of longtime established details of the series.The best example of this that comes to mind was in Chapter 1 with the second Genesis. The second Genesis was exploited by Melchior in Creil Village to reanimate the corpses of an Eisen Schild Jaeger Corps division (including Ayda). This eventually culminated in his efforts to join their energy together into a demonic being. But originally, Epstein’s experiments in life force manipulation through this second Genesis were used to engineer regenerative orbal arts such as Tear (the healing spell). It's fantastic to see them provide a technical explanation towards these sorts of details that we’ve just long taken as a given for the Kiseki Series. We just accepted that orbments allow the casting of arts, without questioning why or how those functions were created, so it’s great to get a definitive answer.
Walter finally gets some much needed characterization in Kuro as well. Back in the Sky trilogy, I found him right alongside Luciola as being very bland and one dimensional villains. But here in Kuro he’s a lot cheekier, he has connections with Van through his prior request, and has shown a genuine passion for cars and motorcycles comparable to Van’s. Kuro also recontextualizes his previously depicted character trait of his (being obsessed with battle and destruction) in a more sociopathic light. This is a more than welcome change, since it’s way more interesting than when he used to come across as some generic villain who’s obsessed with finding a good fight just for the sake of fighting. This can be seen most clearly through his interactions with Van in Chapter 1. Van states that for someone like him, who treated Ryuga, the man who raised him, and Zane as commodities- it simply isn’t possible. There’s more subtle characterization for Walter thanks to his decent amount of screentime, which frankly shocked me considering how little Ouroboros plays an active role in the game to begin with. I loved seeing the vice grip Kilika still has on both his and Zane’s nuts. It won’t ever not be hilarious how quickly she can get them to behave even if they’re actively going for each other’s throats. I also adore how Walter’s past relationship with Van was baited as some tragic event that resulted in the death of Van’s protégée or something (Vans “I’ve found a replacement” line to him clearly serving as a red herring via Agnes). But nah, as it turns out, the dude just chucked Van’s car at a Panzer Soldat and it exploded. That shit had me in tears.
Similarly to Walter, Heiyue, the Kiseki Series’ longtime staple crime syndicate, got a solid amount of focus for the first time since the Crossbell duology. Despite being one of the largest crime syndicates in the Republic of Calvard, their role as a “balancer” is an intriguing one imo. They obviously have no qualms breaking the law as a means to an end. However, they set a very strict “line” in how far they're willing to go. That “line” is defined as anything that infringes on basic human rights, i.e human trafficking and dealing drugs. Well… Cao Lee specifies “addictive drugs', and knowing him that probably slyly suggests between-the-lines that they don’t shy away from dealing ALL drugs. Almata of course saw a sudden surge in power following Gerard taking over Enrique as boss, and quickly began to pose a threat to Heiyue’s status as the premiere crime syndicate of Calvard’s underworld. Not to mention, Almata is more than willing to cross that “line” in their stead. As a result, Heiyue pursued any means necessary to protect their control over their home turf on their own terms; a means which led to Cao Lee contracting the Arkride Solutions Office to investigate within Langport while Yin was away in Crossbell.
Heiyue’s gray morality was most clearly apparent during the Langport arc, but they certainly contributed within Oracion and during the Finale as well. Heiyue is probably Zemuria’s best example of truly gray morality, alongside the Arkride Solutions Office. They set a “line” which, when crossed, they won’t hesitate in what they consider to be lawful action. However, anything that falls short of that “line” is fair game- regardless of the suffering their actions might cause. Getting to see Gien Lu firsthand, Heiyue Elder of the Lu family, was pretty interesting as well. His motivations reflect the syndicate’s gray morality quite clearly, as he conspired with Almata by indirectly giving them the third Genesis (and deceived the Solutions Office) in order to awaken Tycoon within Aaron Wei. Gien backed off after Aaron refused his offer, then of course Rixia and Elaine intervened to protect them. But it should be interesting to see what role Gien and the other Heiyue Elders will play down the line. Especially after the Finale suggested he would be working alongside Professor Hamilton in regards to Far East Zemuria’s ongoing desertification crisis.
Kuro’s continuity isn’t perfect of course, though. One specific hiccup that comes to mind is Ayda’s background. Prior to her role in the Eisen Schild Jaeger Corps, she was apparently a commander in Zephyr AND “like a sister” to Fie Clausell. Uh… if you say so?? Idk man. To me, it’s kinda hard to buy in on something like that when Fie never once mentioned or alluded to an “older sister figure”, despite Zephyr being such a small, close-knit squadron. Especially when you consider how important Xeno and Leo, not to mention Rutger, were to her during her childhood and early adolescence. Also, I feel like this revelation kinda downplays Sara’s importance in Fie’s backstory. Because before now, Sara was the only female figure Fie could rely on and look up to (well, there’s her childhood rivalry thing with Shirley but that’s way different and less important ofc). Maybe there is some semblance of foreshadowing for this, but I sure as hell don’t remember any. To me, it just feels like a rather lazy retcon for the sake of getting Feri and Fie to be closer, since they’re both Jaegers and the writers probably felt like Feri needed more character interaction (which is true tbf).
In direct contrast to Ayda’s background, Van’s web of connections to past Kiseki characters was extremely thorough and very well implemented. His connection to Renne goes as far back as S. 1203 (just after Sky SC), as she hired Van through their mutual connection of Meister Joerg Rosenberg in order to help her evade Novartis. Additionally, Van was confirmed to be the assistant mentioned by Dingo Brad who again helped Renne with the Ronald case detailed in Hajimari no Kiseki’s “Beyond the Genesis”. Again, Van took several requests from Joerg in the past, including helping Joerg relocate from the Doll Studio as a result of the ongoing commotion during Crossbell’s push for independence. Another request Van took from Meister Joerg included helping Swin and Nadia evade the pursuit of Garden after having killed the Warden Emperor and defecting from the organization.
This triangle of connections between Van, Renne, and Joerg even served a greater purpose of bringing Van and Renne closer during her Finale Connect Event. I certainly wouldn’t doubt if the triangle of connection soon became more like a “square” of connections, given that Swin is returning to Calvard in Crimson Sin. This connection becomes even more likely when you consider the fact that Renne and Swin worked together in Rufus’ Route during the infiltration of Joerg’s Doll Studio during Hajimari no Kiseki. Back to Van and Renne though, I really liked the Connect Event as we got to see Joerg’s letters to the two of them. The letters showed Joerg's ongoing compassion for Renne even years after she left the Doll Studio in Crossbell, urging Van to look after her in his stead. Joerg even provides eerily well-timed advice for Van (not that it got through to him, but no surprise there), telling Van to “never turn your eyes away from your own soul”. Considering the decisions Van makes shortly afterwards in Genesis Tower, I found this to be pretty interesting timing. The Connect Event really made me curious to see if we'll get even more presence from Joerg later on, especially when it appears as though he was present at Marduk Company headquarters during the credit sequence.
Moving on, the Republic of Calvard is a very well established setting in Kuro no Kiseki. From its history, to its internal disputes, to the core values which defined its revolution and persist in the modern day, etc. You learn pretty early on about the Democratic Revolution which took place about 100 years ago, or 50 years prior to the Orbal Revolution. This includes the adoption of the Republican Constitution, which was put in place to counteract feelings of superiority and subsequent discrimination by decendents of the fallen Royal Kingdom of Calvard. This behavior was most prevalent towards immigrants, even citizens, who hail or descend from Eastern and Middle Eastern Zemuria. As such, this nationalism has always been a geographical issue, even before the desertification exacerbated these demographic trends. However, immigration is mostly a nonissue in southern Calvardian cities such as Langport. On the contrary, Langport openly embraces their tradition and culture, something which is made very openly apparent through its Eastern Quarter. Much of its architecture and cuisine, for example, comes from the Eastern Zemuria.
However, some areas of northern Calvard, such as Messeldam, still dealt with a much higher volume of bigotry, radicalism, and other complications resulting from feelings of racial superiority even 100 years after the Democratic Revolution. In fact, the nationalist movement gained significant traction in recent years with the advent of Calvard’s newfound technological superiority over the rest of Zemuria. Reparations from the Empire of Erebonia following the Great War (which took place in Trails of Cold Steel IV), as well as the turmoil spurned by Crossbell’s ongoing struggle for independence (Hajimari no Kiseki), propelled Calvard into becoming the lone political and technological superpower of the entire continent. This was notably accomplished under the direction and leadership of Roy Gramheart, 23rd and current President of the Republic of Calvard.
Hell, Kuro even connects the Republic’s ongoing nationalism into the ethno terrorist conflict seen.back during the West Zemuria Trade Conference. I had completely forgotten that back in Trails to Azure, the trade conference was attacked in a JOINT effort. Not just by the Imperial Liberation Front, but also by the Republican Nationalists, an anti-Immigration group operating out of Calvard. It was easy to forget about the latter group because of the fact that the Imperial Liberation Front was a major point of focus during Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II. Hell, we even got to physically experience BOTH sides of the Imperial Liberation Front’s pinsir attack on Garrelia Fortress and Orchis Tower, since the Crossbell duology and Cold Steel 1 and 2 took place concurrently). However, the ILF’s attack ended in failure with Gideon and most of the ILF troops getting outright massacred by the Red Constellation. As a result, I just kinda assumed that was the end of ILF’s relevance, and therefore, the end of the much less important Republican Nationalists’ relevance too.
Well, now we’ve arrived in Calvard, and have since learned way more about the ethnic immigration conflict. It’s a conflict of both historical importance (driving force behind the Democratic Revolution) and of modern importance (Desertification leading to more western immigration, Almata using the subsequent nationalist movement as a front/scapegoat, etc). This is a great example of why you simply can’t rule out the importance of even the most seemingly insignificant details in the Kiseki Series. Additionally, you have to take into account the economic boom that ensued from Erebonia’s post-war reparations, combined with President Gramheart’s far greater “leniency” when it comes to shady dealings and business practices (if him being introduced by hacking into the fucking Celestial Globe and striking deals with the Grandmaster didn’t make that obvious enough). Point being, the four-year period during which these circumstances took place all served to give more and more ammunition for this nationalist movement. It was then capped off by the public's focus on the Great War taking the nationalist movement out of the limelight, thus creating the perfect set of circumstances for this radicalist movement to be revived.
The public’s growing air of superiority as members of the continent’s biggest superpower can definitely be used to parallel this revitalization of seemingly outdated and dying nationalist beliefs. Keep in mind, this is all in spite of the fact that the marginalized people from Middle Eastern Zemuria, many of whom are struggling greatly with the desertification crisis, have been instrumental in Calvard's rise to technological superiority. Professor Latoya Hamilton, also known as the “Mother of the Orbal Revolution“, was finally introduced properly during Kuro no Kiseki. She is the third and final disciple of Professor C. Epstein, and played a leading role in many technological developments and projects across Calvard. Professor Hamilton’s eastern heritage, altruistic demeanor, and technological achievements make her the prime example of the importance of eastern influence within Calvard. Not to mention, they also make her a prime example of the leader of the Democratic Revolution Sheena Dirke’s pillars of ideals. Professor Hamilton’s achievements include bringing orbal technology westward into Calvard at the start of the Orbal Revolution, drafting the proposal which lead to the creation of the Verne Company, mentoring Yan Cronkite and Quatre Salision, construction of Tharbad’s Orbal Dam, designing the Langport Trade Center and Louzhou Bridge, and a ton more.
There’s also an unspoken truth and reaction to the aforementioned nationalist stirring, even if it’s not a belief held by the majority, that can be seen in various ways. An example of this unspoken reaction can be seen through Nina Fenley, a character you interact with firsthand. As one of the most famous actresses in Zemuria, her middle eastern heritage and “typical eastern traits” are hidden away from the public eye. This is done intentionally in an effort to widen her appeal to the broadest possible demographic, nationalists included. It’s an effective and believably grounded depiction of discrimination. These sorts of truths are made all the more personal to the player through the young and impressionable Feri. Like Nina, Feri is another middle eastern character, and is an even closer friend and coworker to the Arkride Solutions Office. As a result, it’s through Feri that the anti-immigration issues are made personal to the player. Given the fact she is suddenly confronted with this topic, on top of her family disownment AND mourning the death of her sister figure Ayda, these seemingly outdated issues are communicated effectively in a way that you’re actually given a personal stake in.
Aside from your own personal connections formed with these issues through Feri, Nina, and even Saara and Shahina to a lesser extent… The historical context provided in Kuro makes it clear that these harmful nationalist beliefs have permeated the political foundation of Calvard since its very inception. Sheena Dirke, the leader of the Democratic Revolution, audaciously promoted the erasure of nationalist ideals; the very stance which fueled her popularity among the Fallen Kingdom’s commoner and immigrant majority. Her core values were detailed through the Republican Constitution’s Three Pillars: equality, freedom, and unity. These pillars will be very important to understanding the nation’s ongoing conflict (though freedom less so than the other two so far… it only seems to be portrayed in minor ways, like Aramis High’s emphasis on student autonomy via observational studies). After the preexisting nobility lost their good faith due to a great famine which led to widespread suffering among commoners and immigrants, the Democratic Revolution began with the only 20 year-old Sheena Dirke as its leader. However, it was clear that even after garnering nationwide power and support, Dirke’s values remained unshaken.
The measures Sheene Dirke took even AFTER being established as ruler of Calvard prove this beyond a doubt. A prime example of this was her founding of Calvard’s prestigious Aramis High School. Dirke reemphasized these pillars of unity, equality, and freedom into the very skeleton of the school. In doing so, she ensured that the following generations would be raised with a set of ideals that wouldn’t lose sight of these three pillars in place of destructive nationalism. The pillar of unity can be most clearly seen in the founding itself of Aramis High, since Sheena did so alongside Aramis the individual, a renowned artist and close ally of Sheena during the Democratic Revolution. However, equality was just as important to its founding as a result of Dirke’s emphasis on international inspiration. Both the foreign institutes of Liberl’s Jenis Royal Academy and Erebonia’s Thors Military Academy were used as templates for Aramis High throughout its construction and establishment. These factors highlight Dirke’s drive to “combining many, regardless of race, nationality, ideology, or creed; and channeling them into something even greater.” These values extend to just about every facet of Aramis as a school even in the modern day. As one modern example, this can be seen through both Aramis High’s “abroad” student demographic (equality), as well as the school’s yearly observational studies whose locations are left entirely to the students’ discretion (freedom and unity).
The impact of Dirke’s three pillars extend beyond Aramis as well. Basil’s development is a great example of this, since it actually resulted from both these pillars of unity and equality working in tandem. Again, Basil accepted Professor Latoya Hamilton’s proposals despite her Middle Eastern heritage. Through the state of the art orbal technology she brought from her research under Professor C. Epstein, Hamilton unified aspects of both the old and new, channeling them into something greater: The Verne Company and New Town. New Town was formed through the unity of Craftsman Street and the Basel Institute of Science, which date back to the middle ages. Professor Hamilton’s proposal led to this unification effort, resulting in the birth of the Verne Company itself. The Verne Company was obviously crucial to establishing Calvard as a leading nation both technologically and financially due to its many breakthroughs in orbal technology (most notably the orbal car).
I won’t babble on about Calvard orbal car development too much, but it needs to be given some degree of attention. After all, it is the most notable invention and export of the Verne Company, and has long been detailed as such since Trails in the Sky. I like that the Verne Company utilizes intercompany division, somewhat similarly to how the Reinford Company created the Four Factories near its headquarters in Roer. This division strategy not only allowed for a more controllable degree of management despite the exponential company growth that both Reinford and Verne inevitably saw. But it also encouraged competition and specialization within the factories’ individual sectors. This can be seen even more clearly in the case of Verne compared to Reinford, as the Verne Company divides its car development between four major licenses: Leno, Ingert, Red Star, and ETWS.
Verne’s license division allows each team to craft orbal cars with unique strengths and appeal. Since they’re all still under the Verne Company umbrella, the division encourages them both to freely collaborate and compete with one another at the same time. As a result, it’s a win-win situation that greatly strengthens the overall end products of the Verne Company. Lastly, their focus on various individual specializations greatly benefits their customers as well. Between the four licenses, Verne provides many distinct styles in their lineup (pickup trucks, off-road, motorcycles, limousines, sports cars, taxis, etc) which can closely fit a broad range of consumer tastes. Through these distinct demographics, each of the four licenses can hone in on specific innovations which address exactly what their consumer base is looking for. An example the game provides is: Leno’s compact designs are in high demand among the elderly, and so the newer Leno models have redesigned seats, safety features, and instrument display catering features for increased accessibility. So not only does this division tactic encourage innovation, collaboration, and competition within the company overall. But it also broadens the demographic for their customer base while simultaneously providing highly specialized products to suit the individual buyer. Sheena Dirke’s founding pillars can be applied to the Verne Companies’ business philosophy as well. Their business model takes advantage of collaborative efforts, channeling it into something greater. Not to mention, they make products for a vast range of customers, regardless of their age or background.
Dirke’s pillars even hold influence beyond Calvard’s physical borders. This can be seen through the countries’ diplomatic strength when collaborating with bordering nations. For example, its previously military-grade RAMDA Orbment was developed in a joint effort between the Verne Company and the Epstein Foundation, who operate out of Leman State. Another example of this unity can be seen in Basil’s Cerise Drug Store, specifically via the joint products they’ve developed alongside the Principality of Remiferia, who stand at the forefront of Zemuria’s medical development. Through the combined efforts of Verne’s manpower and Remiferia’s cutting edge doctors and medical scientists, Cerise Drug Store was able to create more affordable, yet also more effective, medications for the people of BOTH nations. Just as Sheena Dirke dreamed: they combined their unique strengths, channeling them into something greater.
There’s a few other miscellaneous tidbits about Calvard as a setting I find pretty fascinating. For example, the Epstein Foundation’s presence has recently declined within Calvard despite thriving mostly everywhere else across the continent. This is thought to be related to the imminent replacement of Professor David Callaghan’s widespread RAMDA production (which was a joint effort w/ Verne Company) with Professor Yan Cronkite’s superior Xipha unit (produced solely by Calvard). President Roy Gramheart pushed this subsequent policy far more aggressively than other nations, setting Verne apart from even the Reinford Group’s actions. This is particularly noteworthy given his relation to Professor C. Epstein, as well as his ties to the Marduk Company, who Risette claims have begun widespread military testing of Calvard’s 6th-generation battle orbment..
I know I’ve hammered in a ton of historical and political details here. But clearly a ton of thought and work went into ironing out their details, and so I do think they’re truly worth praising in kind. The way Calvard’s system of values is so well integrated into its history, and by proxy the narrative that has unfolded within its borders, has quickly made it one of my favorite settings in all of Kiseki. Not to mention, it’s by FAR the most believably crafted setting in Kiseki. It’s just so… consistent? Like, even within the context of the tiniest facets of the Kiseki Series’ long-term continuity. It might not yet have the huge bombastic lore background like Erebonia does; with the Hexen Clan, the Gnomes, the Sept-Terrion of Steel and Seven Divine Knights, the War of the Lions, Zoro-Agruga, Noctfamilia, Hamel, Black Alberich, Ishmelga… Yeah, all that shit’s nuts. In contrast, I think Calvard’s strength as a setting lies in the thoroughness of its thematic and narrative cohesion. Plus there’s still plenty more time for the Calvard Saga to drop some bombshells on that level later on, since most of the stuff I just mentioned wasn’t expounded on til the second half of the Erebonia Saga. For now… I don’t think Falcom could’ve possibly done a better job in establishing a foundation for Calvard in just a SINGLE game.
Moving on, I need to praise the incredible continuity and world building boasted by one side quest in particular: Chapter 4’s “Gathering Ingredients for Painkillers”. Sounds thrilling, huh? Well trust me, it goes way harder lore-wise than it has any right to. Throughout Kuro no Kiseki, there are moments where even some of the most niche and inconsequential NPCs in the series’ past, some of which haven’t appeared in EIGHT games, saw their return in Calvard. One minor example of this is Sorbet from Grancel who got a name drop during a scene with Renne. But more importantly, Ray from Zeiss. That’s right, fuckin tomato dude is back. It’s not done just as a one-off gag, either. Not in the slightest. I actually have a ton to say on this despite it being just a totally optional side quest, but it’s worth it… well, at least for an aspie hyper-fixated Kiseki nerd like me.
Ray is currently working abroad on a joint research project with the Basel Institute of Science’s Associate Professor Esmeray, leading bioengineer and fellow Epstein disciple much like Ray’s own boss Albert Russell (though she’s more like Tita, George, or Quatre- a “2nd gen disciple” via Latoya Hamilton). Basically, Ray and Esmeray are working on a joint project to develop specialized painkillers in conjunction with the development of the latest model of prosthetic limbs. The new developments for these trial limb prosthetics provide vastly improved user control and functionality, since they can now be connected to the user’s nerve endings directly. Unfortunately, nerve connection is a new development and so they haven’t yet worked around the issue of the intense pain caused in neural prosthetics during the connection process. This is where their joint project comes in: specialized painkillers for long-term use. Painkillers in Kiseki are said to be made with plant-based ingredients, and so Ray’s long-standing expertise as a renowned botanist (surprise, surprise, he’s not just into tomatoes) is crucial to the development of these new specialized painkillers.
Oh, but there’s more. This side quest even goes on to integrate the Kingdom of Liberl’s pre-established geography to the current narrative in an insanely clever way. As an employee of Zeiss Central Factory, Ray works out of Zeiss, the adjacent city to Kaldia Limestone Cave in Liberl. The ZCF had previously developed the Arve Sovereign Serum in order to treat Agate after he was poisoned protecting Tita at the (also geographically adjacent) Carnelia Tetracyclic Tower during Trails in the Sky. Because of that prior medical development, Ray determined that the same active ingredient used back in the serum’s development, Zemuria Moss, met Esmerelay’s criteria for this new painkiller as well. Zemuria Moss could be used for producing specialized painkillers to soothe the nerve pain of prosthetic clients, while meeting her criteria of having weaker long term side-effects and dependency when compared to standard anesthetics.
The attention to detail and utilization of Zemurian geography also works perfectly in the context of providing a solution to the request at-hand. Basel is also situated directly adjacent to Liberl’s eastern border- right next to both Zeiss and the Kaldia Limestone Cave where Zemurian Moss was found in the past. Ray had determined previously that the Septium Veins, and the subsequent energy and moisture they produce, are key in allowing this particular strain of moss to grow. And again, Kaldia Limestone Cave and the cave which lies just outside of Basel are very close to one another despite occupying different nations, meaning the exact same septium veins run directly beneath both of them. Wow. Like… I don’t know who thought this level of detail and consideration was necessary for a random ass “gather x ingredient” side quest, but fuck. I am all about it.
But nah, it doesn’t stop there either... Because why the hell not- let’s get Erebonia involved too. George Nome, the now-renowned engineer from Erebonia, and likewise 2nd-gen disciple of Epstein (through G. Schmidt), is also working on furthering the development of prosthetics. Ray befriended George during his trip to ZCF, which makes sense for a few reasons. They both previously had Tita Russell as a mutual friend and coworker. Not to mention, George loves food and Ray is THE tomato dude, so. Anyway, that collaboration opens the door for even more joint research and multinational collaboration on the development of prosthetics and their relative painkillers in the future. George’s research focus on prosthetics kinda seemed a bit too random to me at first, as if they wanted to incorporate him for the hell of it. But then it hit me. George played a direct role in the attack on the Courageous, an incident which led to Victor Arseid having lost his arm. Since George is in full redemption-arc mode, of COURSE he’d want to help Victor out and make amends for his betrayal in the Gral of Erebos.
Alright, that’s it, promise. Well, nvm I lied… I still wanna gush about one more aspect of this a bit. This frankly absurd degree of continuity and world building integration clearly isn’t just done for the hell of it. This collaboration between nations serves as a living reflection of Sheena Dirke’s founding pillars of unity and equality- again leading to the creation of “something greater”. Additionally, the joint research is being done for the sake of overcoming a massive natural barrier in the medical world of Zemuria. Again, widespread use of artificial limbs isn’t yet viable because of the pain they cause during nerve connection. Esmeray even describes the pain as similar to having a limb severed outright. That level of intensity and discomfort obviously makes it unfit for public use. As such, its use is currently limited primarily to Calvard’s underground, like in Jaeger Corps for example. But this joint effort to produce a specialized painkiller could serve as a huge step forward in how medical technology can improve the lives of patients from all involved nations- Calvard, Liberl, Erebonia, and beyond. To give ONE last noteworthy point (I mean it this time trust me), these details even bear fruit on a personal level shortly after during Almata’s invasion of Basil. Following the Arkride Solution Office’s battle with Garden Wardens Melchior and Olympia, Risette loses an arm and a leg (revealing her entire body to be prosthetic) in order to protect Quatre. Afterwards, if you actually did this side quest, that same painkiller you helped Ray and Esmeray develop is used to make Risette’s operation on her prosthetic replacements more tolerable.
I swear man… Only in Kiseki will random ass details like that even get remembered, let alone be used in such clever and meaningful ways. Kiseki isn’t satisfied to simply mention that it remembers these details and stop there. It goes the extra mile to give purpose to mentioning these cameos in the first place, providing development to longtime characters while making careful use of previously established geography and narrative detail in the process. Like… I can’t be the only one who thinks this shit is nuts, right?
Moving on… The cause-and-effect nature of Kiseki’s worldbuilding never ceases to amaze me. Events and conflicts always seem to have some sort of impact on everything that surrounds them. The way events bounce off and react to one another makes it feel like Zemuria’s history writes itself. Well, saying that is a bit ironic since there ARE literal examples of history writing and predicting itself within Zemuria, like with AZOTH, the Third Causalities Describing Engine artifact from Trails of Cold Steel and Hajimari no Kiseki. This nature of cause-and-effect can be seen in continent-wide events, for example, the desertification phenomenon of Zemuria’s Far East leading to Calvard’s immigration crisis, demanding the efforts of Yun Ka-Fai, Professor Latoya Hamilton, and Heiyue elders including Gien Lu. But that same cause-and-effect trickles down to the smallest of details as well; for example, Van’s occupation of Spriggan was an underground business quite literally “born from the diversity that is the Calvard Republic” which is only the case because of Calvard’s diverse underworld and large immigrant demographic to begin with.
But let me give a more detailed and multi-faceted example of this “cause-and-effect” writing. Take the deep seated anti-immigration sentiment among Calvard’s royal descendants, for example. The burning tension of extremist disdain came to a boil through many instances of ethnic terroism, both domestic and foreign. A prominent example of foreign terrorism can be seen during the West Zemuria Trade Conference. The domestic terrorism, on the other hand, is most notably cited as an important factor in Calvard’s economic depression prior to the Great War. As a result, the incoming reparations from the Erebonian Empire served to anesthetize the nationalist conflict brought about by that prior economic depression- and as a result, the instances of ethnic terrorism which were incited by this sentiment. It’s only several years later, when that economic boom brought about by a temporary influx of Erebonian funds has begun to dry up, that these nationalist beliefs have begun to surface in the public more frequently once again.
The effect of the quickly depleting Erebonian reparations goes beyond spurring nationalist and even ethnic terrorist activity, though. It has a direct negative impact on the lives of ALL of its citizens. In the multiple years since the depression, they’ve understandably grown accustomed to their newfound prosperity. So, obviously they wouldn’t be too thrilled to give that up and go back to their way of life from before the Great War- and even less going back to the depression. But this also serves as a concrete determinant for President Roy Gramheart’s future course of action- both above and below the surface. After being elected, President Gramheart quickly won the public’s favor even over Former President Samuel Rocksmith who was also fairly well liked. This was because of the fact that Gramheart put a significant portion of those Erebonian reparations in the hands of the people.
But as a more important result, President Gramheart’s actions created a “cool-down period” of time after the Great War. During this cool-down period, the public was thriving financially, the nationalist controversy was largely quieted, and his personal approval rating as President remained very high. This cool-down period gave President Gramheart the time he needed to prepare and develop his true plans beneath the surface. Above the surface, he told of his plans to guide the nation into the modern world, with all the bad and good that comes with it. Below the surface, he most notably plans to do further research into “other possible worlds”- in other words, the Beyond. In less sinister and more appropriate terms for the public eye though, President Gramheart said he plans to guide the nation into a position where they can maintain their status as the political and technological superpower of Zemuria, even without the influx of Erebonian wealth to boost them head and shoulders above them and other surrounding nations.
It won’t be to the extent of his successor President Gramheart, but I do think Former President Rocksmith’s role in the Calvard Saga is going to be an important one. Particularly through his guidance of the Arkride Solutions Office. I view him as a thematic foil to President Gramheart, in a similar (albeit far more understated) way that Prince Olivert was a thematic foil to Chancellor Giliath Osborne. One can draw many parallels between Rocksmith and Olivert, who during the Erebonia Saga played the role of guiding Class VII along their “third path”; a path separate from both the Noble Alliance and Reformist Faction during CS1/2. He then served a similar role in CS3/CS4 by guiding Class VII as the Radiant Wings, acting separate from both the Erebonian Army’s Operation Jormungandr and the continental Alliance forged by the Weissland Army under Operation Mille Mirage. However, while Class VII forging their own path was already plenty appropriate back in the Erebonia Saga, I think the Arkride Solutions Office is even more thematically predisposed to this sort of “Third Path” ideology. This is because of the moral extremism of the Republic of Calvard’s primary factions (other than maybe Heiyue, despite being the major crime syndicate, ironically enough). This extremism would prevent the Solutions Office from moving forward if they strayed too far towards either moral extreme. Former President Rocksmith explains their moral predisposition best in this quote:
“Our nation is about to sail into stormy seas, and there will be many who wish to shine a light upon our vessel, yet just as many who wish it to be seeped in shadow. Yet you are quite unlike both the Bracers, who pride themselves as allies of justice, and the Calvard Intelligence Division, which is wrapped in bureaucratic red tape and festering with political pressures. You fixers, Spriggans as you call yourselves, are one of the few forces who lie directly on that border between light and shadow.”
On the surface, Calvard’s changing of the guard can be seen with Rocksmith losing reelection to Roy Gramheart. But naturally, the shifting tide runs much deeper. Personally, I think the tragedy of Creil Village perfectly encapsulates the internal conflict of Calvard’s shifting tide in a more truthful light. Creil as a village was the spitting image of Sheena Dirke’s pillars of freedom, unification, and equality. They were a regular exporter of vegetables and other resources to all of Calvard, and thus played a key role in the big-picture cooperation of the Republic’s trade and economy overall. More importantly though, since the terrorist attack was largely viewed as a “statement” from Almata to the rest of Calvard, Creil Village’s embodiment of the nation’s founding principles painted a massive metaphorical target on their back. Whether it was tourists, strangers, immigrants, foreigners, even dangerous Jaeger Corps like Eisen Schild openly on the run, the people of Creil welcomed them with open arms- giving them food and shelter without any need for even basic explanation. In addition, Creil’s welcoming nature and emphasis on equality made it particularly appealing for Eastern and Middle-Eastern immigrants. So naturally, it had one of the largest Eastern and Middle-Eastern demographics that could be found anywhere in Calvard. These qualities made Creil the perfect scapegoat for Almata, while proving all the more poignant for onlookers across Calvard (and beyond) in the process.
Creil also serves as another strong example of cause-and-effect world building within Kuro no Kiseki. Not just because it led to the cooperative resistance against Almata between many unlikely parties, but even on a smaller-scale. This can be found in an NPC conversation between economic consultant Huckleberry and Republican Congressman Polanski following the tragedy's announcement. The two discuss the political and economic consequences of such an incident- on top of the obvious civil unrest. It’s a political issue, as it places massive pressure on the Republican Party in how they address an attack on this scale, including but not limited to President Gramheart’s executive ordered State of Emergency. But it’s also an economic issue, due to the ensuing panic it created for both the greater public as well as with domestic insurance companies. When combined with the loss from Creil being a major exporter of produce, it places massive pressure on the government to avoid another depression like they saw prior to the Great War. This isn’t even taking into account the personal and emotional ramifications of a tragedy on this scale. Lakshar and Kaina are orphaned. Everyone and everything they’ve ever known disappeared overnight. I’d be surprised if they don’t both develop survivor’s guilt, especially since the only reason they were spared was because of Kaina’s car breaking down the day before.
Not to mention, the Creil incident even has a direct impact on members of the Arkride Solutions Office. Of course, there’s Van’s long term relationship with mentor and friend Dingo Brad being lost when he sacrificed his life to report the incident. Not to mention, Van even started his countrywide journey with Agnes and Feri in Creil. But the impact I felt most compelled by was, surprisingly, Judith’s. The famous black-and-white orbal film that was shot in Creil decades prior was the same one she experienced with her mother, and was ultimately what inspired Judith to become an actress. It was her inspiration to follow her family path- which of course isn’t just limited to becoming an actress, but to inheriting her role as the Phantom Thief Grimcatz. Judith even had a dream of starring in a movie of her own set in that same village. In doing so, she hoped to inspire someone in the next generation, the same way that she was by that classic film. But with Creil gone forever, her dream was stolen from her just before she was able to make it a reality. It’s simple, yeah, but I found it to be a really compelling scene while also serving to solidify her desire for revenge against Almata. This revenge even gets another interesting twist of intrigue later on, when the Warden Arioch praises Judith’s performance in Golden Blood prior to their fight in Genesis Tower. It’s another simple moment, but it effectively humanizes Arioch despite being an immortal shell of a warrior, while at the same time, bringing Judith’s desire for revenge into question for even just a moment.
It’s amazing how deeply rooted Kiseki’s cause-and-effect world building can sometimes be. A single event like the tragedy of Creil, or even Hamel, can have such vicious and multifaceted consequences. But at the same time, this cause-and-effect can even be seen within the most seemingly minute or even straight up pointless details. For example, pretzels. Pretzels obviously aren’t important to the story whatsoever. Yet even still, they are treated with that same type of care as the things that actually DO matter. Pretzels were an Erebonian specific treat, but were eventually introduced to Crossbell once it became an Erebonian Province following its annexation. Crossbell’s long-standing political and geographical reputation as a proxy at the border between Western and Eastern Zemuria is of great importance here, as well. The resulting spread of pretzels into Crossbell led to Crossbell developing their own unique version of pretzels using eastern spices imported from Calvard and honey from Armorica Village, Crossbell’s famous honey exporter.
Lastly, I’ll just touch on a few more random bits of continuity and worldbuilding I thought were neat enough to mention offhand: I liked seeing Lakshar’s admiration of the Bracer Guild (specifically Toval) that he developed after having read Carnelia, inspiring him to become a Bracer of his own. Lakshar’s potential for growth is made even more interesting after the Creil tragedy, as it seemingly inflicted him with survivor’s guilt. Lakshar’s trauma could serve as a unique foundation for a Bracer character, influencing him to become overprotective and endanger his own life for the sake of others. Zane and Walter were finally reintroduced into the story, both getting varying degrees of additional characterization. Walter got more, but Van and Zane’s banter was also fantastic. Gambler Jack and Halle were formally introduced, serving as Van’s local informant during the Langport arc. We got to see Rixia covertly operating as Yin once again. President Rocksmith got some much deserved focus and characterization, particularly during the Longlai Arc. We saw individual instances of the Republic’s anti-immigration movement, such as the double agent who transferred into the CID via the restructured Erebonian Intelligence Division on behalf of Lechter. We saw another example of this nationalism through Julian, an Erebonian exchange student from Thors Military Academy who is studying abroad at Aramis High. Julian describes the skepticism and apprehension he faced from others when he spoke about his decision to study abroad in Calvard, given the fact that relations between the two countries have only just begun to normalize. He also revealed that Class VII is still an ongoing thing apparently, which I found... bizarre, but alrighty. Last but not least, we got closure and development for the traumatized children mentioned in Elaine’s episode in Hajimari no Kiseki’s “Beyond the Genesis”. That ending where the traumatized little girl, who was left mute after the incident with Almata, finally managed to speak and thanked Van for comforting her during her PTSD episode made me ugly cry, ngl. Easily one of the most cathartic and hopeful moments in the entire game. Hell, that incident alone can even be taken as a microcosm for the entirety of Almata’s influence within Calvard. Despite the death, suffering, and trauma they managed to inflict on the country, there’s still hope for those victims to heal with the help of those around them. And considering how closely this outlook fits in with not just the mute girl, but Van himself given his backstory, I’m glad he’s the one who comforted her. It’s a beautiful way to show how much he’s already grown and healed thanks to those around him.
I don’t have nearly as much of interest to say about Kuro no Kiseki’s combat, but I’ll try to hit on the important stuff at least. The best way I can describe this revamped combat system is: A valiant effort I guess? There’s definitely a ton of room for improvement, though. It takes some fairly ambitious steps forward, but some of those steps proved a bit overzealous, since it does stumble in some pretty easily avoidable ways. I won’t spend much time explaining it since I’m sure anyone reading this would already have an idea of how it works. But I do have some thoughts about the execution of this new direction.
Combat in Kuro is generally more straightforward, and not always in a good way. It suffers from obscuring and even outright removing multiple layers of strategy that were present in all of the previous entries. What’s baffling about this though is… they didn’t need to, like, at all? Some of these changes were completely unrelated to the big-picture combat renovations, which in and of themselves were a point of controversy among the fanbase. Me included, since I’ve always adored Kiseki’s turn based combat. Thankfully though, the changes weren’t nearly as extreme as most of us thought they would’ve been.
Anyway, Kuro has a significantly smaller roster of playable characters, with only 14 (several of which are brief guest appearances) compared to Hajimari’s 50+ character party. I’m not even holding Kuro’s much smaller roster against it, since this change was both obvious and sort of inevitable. Not just because Kuro’s combat system saw more changes than in the 10 previous games combined, but also because Kuro looked to rebuild the direction the series had been trending in many ways. Also, considering the amount of menuing and shopping and orbal/equipment maintenance that was necessary in Hajimari, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was something Falcom got a lot of complaints about. Personally, I adored Hajimari’s massive roster. It allowed for tons of experimentation and for some incredibly fun and interesting character pairings across the three completed Sagas, especially through its Group Missions and Door of Trials mechanics. Not to mention, it led to the most absurdly large scale boss fight in the entire series against the Elysium-manifested Demiurgos.
SCLM (Shard Circular Linked Metafield) is pretty much a direct mechanical upgrade to the already innovative ARCUS system from Cold Steel. It provides the same benefits and more, while also being more strategic due to its incorporation of on-the-fly positioning. Additionally, the inherent tie between SCLM and the S-Boost (and subsequent Shard Bonus and S-Craft) mechanics makes it a crucial and well integrated factor in most battles.
The new UI looks pretty slick and modern IMO. It leaves plenty of screen space for the action while still providing most of the information you need. I love how they’ve retained the “each button dictates a different action” setup. Kuro implements this again, and with fewer buttons total (main actions use 4 buttons, which is down from 8 in Hajimari) while retaining much of the same functionality.
However, the new turn order interface is the exception to all of that. There is SO much less visual clarity than it used to have. Not to mention you even need to hold down a button just to SEE the turn order. Dunno what the deal with this change was, but clearly you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken.
While the turn order interface isn’t great, it’s nothing egregious. The removal of AT Bonus manipulation, however, is honestly kind of baffling. Like… to the point where I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. It was such a foundational aspect of strategizing in all previous Kiseki games, since you would plan all of your moves around whatever AT Bonuses happened to pop up on-the-fly based on whether or not they lined up with your actions. But now, there is very little you can do to manipulate AT Bonuses whatsoever. I guess this change might’ve been made to try and make Kuro more challenging? I mean, I know prior games struggled with having extremely exploitable combat builds (evasion tanks, endless delaying, etc), but… clearly THIS wasn’t the way to buff the difficulty. If anything, Kuro was still easy as shit, even on Nightmare. Especially after the steps Hajimari took in providing a sometimes brutal and over-the-top challenge for those who wanted it.
More importantly though, the negative consequences of Kuro’s removal of AT Bonus manipulation is twofold. First of all, it removes a satisfying and essential layer of strategy which had defined Trails combat since Sky FC. This alone wouldn’t be a big deal, since they clearly wanted to change things up in Kuro. But second and more importantly, its removal takes away much of the variety and on-the-fly strategizing during combat. As a result, this makes a vast majority of battles play out, well, almost identical. There’s definitely variance depending on your party members, builds, and the enemies ofc. But regarding AT Bonuses… all you can really do in Kuro is sit around and hope you luck into good bonuses like CP+ or S-Boost+ sooner rather than later. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that you can manipulate the AT Bonuses slightly once you get five party members, since you can start swapping them in and out on the same turn. By leaving a character with buffs and full CP in the reserve, you can at least bring them in during a critical hit bonus in order to take better advantage of the given AT Bonus. Not a replacement for the traditional AT Bonus manipulation ofc, but it’s something at least.
This lack of battle-to-battle variety is made worse when taking into consideration just how crazy long this game is. Admittedly this issue is made slightly worse for me since I'm using a spreadsheet and therefore can’t do a ton of orbment management or experimentation without it being tedious and confusing. I just wish that, since the number of party members is so low, each character had a couple more crafts, some team-up combination crafts like in Crossbell, a second S-Craft, something along those lines. Plus, all the unique craft animations were such a joy to watch that I just wish there were more of them! Hopefully they can stockpile these animations and the number of crafts and party members will continue to increase in the sequels.
The gridless movement is definitely a system I enjoy and always have since it was introduced in Cold Steel 1, but I think this game officially goes too far in making it blatantly easy to position yourself exactly where you want at all times. In the older grid-based titles, it could take you several full turns to run across the length of the battlefield. But here in Kuro, you can often move to exactly where you want immediately. Keep in mind this feels even more braindead because of the fact that movement no longer consumes your turn at all. Before, you’d have to choose to move INSTEAD of performing an action. Now you can do both with no punishment whenever you want.
This movement simplification also trivializes the “speed vs movement” tradeoff through footwear equipment- which the game clearly tries to push through its different shoe options. The speed bonus is the obvious better choice every single time, since even with a low MOV stat, you can move wherever you need to anyway. If they wanted to get rid of positioning altogether, that’d be one thing, but it takes the complete opposite approach. A large majority of arts and crafts in fact have situational properties (often some form of line/circle/cone radius, amplifications for attacking the side/behind an enemy, etc). So this movement simplification not only trivializes the potential depth of these properties, but is seemingly at odds with what it’s even trying to accomplish through position-based combat to begin with. More attacks that physically move your opponents like in past titles would’ve been appreciated. It could be an effective work-around to increase strategy and inhibit player movement, so I’m not sure why it’s no longer used.
Moving on, a point of praise I have for Kuro’s new combat is that slow default combat speed is, finally, no longer an issue. I don't think anyone will argue that for the most part, combat animations and arts on the default speed have simply been too slow for all past Kiseki games. Again, considering how increasingly long these games are, it was only made more and more problematic. Hell, Falcom themselves clearly know this, since the speed-up function has been an included feature for a long time now. Thankfully, alongside the revamped combat, speedup is no longer necessary. Though it does still provide an option to skip long arts animations and S-Crafts for those who want it. Well… unless it’s an enemy S-Craft, then you just have to sit and watch while they slap your ass for like 20 seconds.
Lastly, I definitely need to talk about the field combat. Field combat is easily the biggest change for Kuro no Kiseki’s gameplay overall, and I definitely think it’s a step up from the simple enemy advantage system it replaces from past games. That said, it’s still too basic and easy for the most part. Ranged weapons are kinda inherently broken since most of the enemies literally can’t do anything to you from afar. Plus, dodging is much easier when you’re not right up in multiple enemies’ faces anyway. I’m more than willing to give this rough field combat a pass since it’s completely skippable AND it’s their first attempt at an ambitious hybrid combat system like this. However, I really do hope it gets some serious adjustment and balancing to give it actual depth in Crimson Sin. If I had to single one thing out, the enemy hitboxes are probably the biggest complaint I have currently. Honestly, most of the hitboxes on the enemies' field attacks are straight cheeks. You’ll sometimes get hit by attacks when you’re literally standing behind the enemy, standing 5 feet off to the side, etc. That alone makes most field combat devolve into roll spamming since it gives you a shitton of I-Frames. Then, using your auto charged special, you get an easy stun and deploy shards after getting a bit of free damage. Then you can start doing, yknow, the actual combat. Seriously though, it’s kinda tough to be harsh on something like this that’s ambitious, experimental, and 100% optional. Plus, while I’m usually not a fan of purely action combat systems, the hybrid concept Falcom has created here is a really fascinating idea. It not only makes “fodder” battles go by quicker, it makes them more satisfying and engaging. Not to mention, having the option to do a bit of field combat at your own discretion lets you break up the monotony and switch things up whenever you feel like it. Sure it’s pretty rough for now, but Kuro tries something totally new and works pretty great conceptually. For that alone, it’s still an effort worth praising imo.
UNANSWERED STUFF AND SPECULATION
I’ve already given my thoughts on Garden as an organization in Hajimari/Kuro in the worldbuilding section. But the future of Garden, in Crimson Sin and beyond, is another subject I’m still quite curious about. Though admittedly, I’m a bit pensive about it given my slight disappointment in Garden’s quick extermination. In Kuro, we saw the death of its remaining three Wardens (except Olympia who I suspect might return). Therefore, it seems exceedingly likely that both Almata AND Garden are joining the ever-growing list of defunct organizations within Zemuria. With that said though, I find it hard to believe that the influence of Garden won’t live on in some capacity. Now, the extent of that influence is up for debate, but I really do hope we’ll get a lot more from them. It’s certainly possible that the previously groomed assassins prior to Kuro will play a bigger narrative role than the wardens themselves. I’m certainly hoping that’s the case, and Swin being confirmed for Crimson Sin is a promising sign in that regard. But since I’ve been burned on Garden a bit already, I’ll keep my expectations in check for Garden’s future relevance.
Likewise, I’m very curious about the role of the Septian Church, and more specifically, the Gralsritter and Iskariot, special force of the Papal Guard. Askeladd was an understated yet fascinating character imo. As vice-commander of a previously unnamed group within the Septian Church, he always had an air of mystery that drew my attention. This also made me excited to see the eventual commander of Iskariot, since their identity is kept strictly confidential for when their assistance is needed as a trump card of sorts. Even with just Askeladd though, I found that there was a surprising bit of depth to him beneath the edgelord hood. Even in spite of him being “all business” and rather secretive, we still got glimpses into his personality through both his internal conflict and being another disciple of Bergard. The introduction of the Iskariot special forces also gave some much needed insight into the bigger picture of the Septian Church. We get a better idea of the Church’s long standing internal diversity and the sometimes conflicting objectives of its various factions. We’ve been familiar with the Congregation for the Sacraments a while now, given that it’s the faction which the Gralsritter fall under. But Iskariot, and more broadly the Papal Guard, instead falls under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Likewise, one of the few things that’s already been confirmed about Crimson Sin is that the fourth and eleventh Dominions of the Gralsritter, Celis Ortesia and Rion Balthazar, will be playable. Having a playable Dominion duo is super interesting in and of itself. But beyond that, it really does make me wonder what their greater motive within Calvard will ultimately end up proving to be. Especially considering, yknow, a fragment of Van’s Diabolic Core still lingers inside of him. And in the Finale, Demon Lord Vagrant-Zion warned Van that his return was inevitable, before withdrawing into the ether. Naturally, Holy Knights of the Septian Church and the Seventy-Seven Devils which are described in the Church’s own scripture and testaments, uh, don’t exactly mix. As such, I’d suspect a loyal Dominion will be more antagonistic towards Van once they found that out- if they aren’t already aware.
Pandemonium, and by proxy the Book of Ezer, is another fascinating topic that I think might get lost in the shuffle following the defeat of Almata and Garden. Pandemonium, or the Pandemonium Shift, is a phenomenon known by the Septian Church through the Apocrypha known as the Book of Ezer. Because of this knowledge, the Septian Church is actually well-equipped to slow or even halt the spread of Pandemonium entirely- by way of the various Primal Grounds scattered throughout Zemuria. Additionally, Bergard describes reading the text as taboo for anyone outside of the Gralsritter and Papal Guard.
But of even greater intrigue regarding these Apocrypha, Bergard states that “merely reading them scrapes away at your soul”. To me this suggests they hold greater truths about the world beyond just the phenomenon of Pandemonium. Perhaps the truths held in these texts might be a key (much like the Oct-Genesis) in stopping the impending calamity predicted by Epstein. It makes you wonder just how much the Septian Church already knows. Not to mention, why that information is kept under such tight confidentiality despite the help it could provide. We’ve already known for a while the Church tends to do shit like this, as the Congregation for the Sacraments was explained to have jurisdiction over artifacts back in Sky the Third. But this seems to take their mystery (and even red flags) to another level.
Lastly, I’m very curious about what these revelations about the Book of Ezer says about Van’s history with the D∴G Cult. Rion was able to deduce that Van had already been exposed to the texts despite not having any ties to the Church. This implies the texts were somehow leaked to a high ranking cult member or Prince, whether through them being a former member of the Church or some other means. This connection also gives more possible insight into the truth behind Rion’s cold demeanor towards Van. We still don’t know exactly how much Rion knows in terms of specific details other than this tidbit, but it’s still well worth keeping in mind.
Moving on to my last major point of interest, it’s worth looking back to the Prologue, specifically to the incident with the First Genesis which sparked Van’s initial Grendel transformation, once again. Seriously, the more you think about the correlation between these individual aspects suddenly interacting with each other in the way they do, the more questions start to pop up. Ngl I’m actually really glad Kuro gives basically zero information about what the deal with the Grendel is. Because without that one piece of info, it brings to light so many other possibilities about every other factor.
To rattle off a few of these questions their relationship brings up: What are the lore implications of an artifact-esque 50 year old orbment prototype being able to directly interact with a cutting edge Hollow Core like Mare? Does the Marduk Company’s prior contract with Van to test the Hollow Core indirectly confirm that someone in Marduk (Thorndyke?) knew about both Van’s Diabolic Core AND the interactions this Hollow Core would be able to have with the First Genesis? Did they know Agnes would come to him with the request about the Oct-Genesis to begin with? Regarding the timeline, the Marduk Company was founded concurrently with the joint extermination of the D∴G Cult. So who is the one that even provided them all this information about Van? Does the concurrent timeframe in and of itself suggest potential correlation between these two factions? How does Epstein’s prediction fit into all this?
Despite the fact that Kuro only provided scraps of info in regards to the true nature of Zemuria, the Beyond, and the Greater World, it was just enough to drive me nuts with theorycrafting in the best way possible. Seriously, the crackpot theories you can stir up about some of this dialogue, particularly surrounding Roy Gramheart and the Oct-Genesis, is kinda mind boggling. Epstein described the motivation behind his efforts in creating the Oct-Genesis as a means to “observe and measure the world”. More importantly though, in his journal, Agnes states that he sought a way for “Zemuria to co-exist with the world”. Additionally, Epstein cited them as the driving force that will “light the path towards uncovering the nature of THIS world”. Now, take a moment to consider that Roy Gramheart married INTO Professor C. Epstein’s family. This is what resulted in his own daughter, Agnes Claudel, becoming C. Epstein’s great granddaughter- her claim to inheriting Epstein’s journal and the driving force behind her seeking out his Oct-Genesis.
Now, think back to Gramheart’s appearance in the Celestial Globe in Hajimari no Kiseki, where it was revealed that he’s researching other possible worlds. Not to mention, McBurn, the only character in the entire series confirmed to have originated from The Beyond, is the exact character who initiated this meeting. McBurn infiltrates the Celestial Globe using the Demonic Sword Angbar, one of three currently known Divergent Laws weapons. It’s also worth noting that Roy Gramheart was able to intercept the Celestial Globe himself. Admittedly, establishing a line of communication and literally tearing your way into the physical Celestial Globe itself aren’t quite equivalent feats, but it’s still impressive nonetheless. Not to mention, Roy Gramheart did so without a Divergent Laws weapon, but instead had assistance from Marduk Company.
Like I said, Gramheart cites an unnamed connection through the Calvard Intelligence Division acting as his intermediary with Marduk Company… which to me raises a huge ass red flag on our resident four-eyed childhood friend. When you consider that, not even a year later, he would be promoted to direct presidential aide, René is definitely someone you’re going to want to keep an eye on in Crimson Sin. But getting back to Marduk Company a bit more… It really makes you wonder what they’re planning- or hell, what they’re even capable of. There’s dialogue from Risette which gives a bit more insight into them, saying, “their profits are their top priority, and to that end they seem willing to blur the lines between reality and fiction”. So yeah, to me at least, their financial drive suggests they’re not merely a dummy company like we’ve seen employed by Almata and Heiyue. But most importantly, Marduk Company’s willingness to BLUR the lines between reality and fiction stand in direct opposition to Epstein’s desire for humanity to discern the “true nature of the world”. But idunno man, that’s all I got. I swear, you gotta open your third eye to figure this shit out.
It’s kinda hilarious that Kuro has what is by far the most definitive ending of any first game in the four Kiseki arcs (right alongside Zero) on it’s surface. But even in spite of that, Kuro leaves just as many unanswered questions as the likes of Sky FC, CS1, and CS3’s infamous cliffhangers in the process. Like seriously, there are SO many goddamn questions I don’t know where to start listing them all off. What is the Eternal Recurrence Plan? Will it be even more abstract than the already complicated Phantasmal Blaze Plan? Will it eventually conflict with President Gramheart’s own plans and how? Who is the replacement for Seventh Anguis that the Grandmaster had already found prior to Kuro? Who is the “real” Nina Fenley and what is her allegiance? What is that unnamed connection between the Mare Hollow Core, the Grendel, and the revelations surrounding the Grendel and Van’s Diabolic Core as well as the Five Demon Lords? What is Marduk Companies’ endgame and motivation for studying Mare through the demonically resonant Van specifically? Are the Five Demon Lords related to Epstein’s previously predicted Calamity at the end of the year? What role will the final Oct-Genesis play and what powers will it possess? What about the remaining Sept-Terrion? Are either of these items the motive behind Roy Gramheart’s interception of the Celestial Globe, striking deals with the Grandmaster, and studying other possible worlds? Based on red Gnosis' demonification properties, combined with the drug “freeing you from the shackles of your humanity”, can we assume the Demon Lords also came from the Beyond and thus have knowledge about it? Even if they did have knowledge about the Beyond, would they even be physically capable of communicating it to humans? What is the meaning behind the party being unable to comprehend certain concepts which Mare tries to communicate to them? Would Gnosis allow a human to comprehend Mare’s explanation? What do these revelations tell us about the Great Collapse? Was the world rewritten by Aidios in response to the materialization of these Demon Lords within the prior land and Ancient Civilization now known as Zemuria? Where the hell does Yun Ka-Fai fit into all of this?
my review was too long and got cut off oops, continued in the comments
What a return to form. Loved the cast so much and felt like everyone got their due for the most part. I loved getting to see the grittier side of this world that we've only been told about for the most part. The story had me engaged from the opening moments. Really enjoyed the new battle system and pretty much all the new additions. Connect events were very enjoyable and a great change from bonding events in CS. Van made a strong case to potentially be my favorite Trails MC.