The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki

released on Sep 30, 2021

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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It was truly joyous. A great time on all fronts. i like being a spriggan :)

man I'm glad cold steel is over

"You're the gentle color of the night, just before the dawn breaks through the darkness"
Kuro no Kiseki is not only the 11th game in Nihon Falcom's Legend of Heroes: Kiseki (Localized as Trails) franchise, but also for the first time in nearly a decade, the start of a brand new arc in the series featuring a new protagonist and supporting cast of characters alongside a whole new nation to explore and learn about as well, this time being set in the Calvard Republic, the 2nd biggest nation in Zemuria nonetheless. Kuro is also the start of the official 2nd half of the Trails series beginning the Eastern Zemurian Arc after Trails Into Reverie finally brought a close to the 10 game long Western Zemurian Arc. Needless to say, Kuro had some massive shoes to fill and I'm here to tell you that it not only fills said shoes, but also casually runs a 100 yard dash in them as well becoming not only my favorite starting game in a new arc (even surpassing my previous favorite Trails from Zero), but also becoming arguably one of the absolute strongest Trails games in general across the entire series and that was just after experiencing it with a fan translated English patch and I know I'll love it even more once the official localization comes out.
Kuro no Kiseki follows the misadventures of Van Arkride, a 24 year-old young man who runs his own private "solutions office" and is known as a "Spriggan" which is essentially a cross between a bounty hunter and a private investigator. Compared to previous Trails protagonists who worked for the Bracer Guild or the police, Van and his solutions office are in a more grey area of the law, being the balance between the criminal underworld and regular society. Van and his personality help reflect this sense of moral greyness as well seeing as how he is not your typical goody-two-shoes who feels like he has to help everyone out and puts their needs above his own. No, Van is only in this for the money (And sweets and his car) and Van is generally willing to do jobs for anyone from the Bracer Guild to Heiyue and even Ouroboros themselves, as long as the price is right and he doesn't have to accept every single job that comes his way like the Bracer Guild or police either, but instead he only accepts the ones he wants to as long as he doesn't deem the job as something that goes against his own personal "code" of honor.
Our story begins when Van is contracted by a student named Agnes Claudel from the prestigious Calvardian high school Aramis Academy to find an antique Obrment known as the "Genesis". Agnes herself wants to find this orbment because it somehow pertains to her own family history. It's from here on that Van and Agnes' search for the Genesis takes them all over the nation of Calvard while slowly recruiting allies and new members of the Arkride Solutions Office and has the gang unintentionally get entangled in the schemes of a mafia-like terrorist group known as Almata who also want the Genesis for their own nefarious purposes.
Kuro, much like Reverie before it has a great sense of mystery and suspense and some really mind-bending plot twists as well. The game will always keep you guessing and just when you think you've figured it all out, there comes another twist to make you question everything you thought you knew! Mystery aside, the writing in Kuro surprised me in more ways than one considering this is also easily the darkest and most mature Trails game to date not being afraid to show blood and death on screen and have some very tragic and unforgettable events occur. Which was pretty refreshing after 10 games of mostly safe shounen tropes and Falcom being afraid to commit to deaths (Reminder that this is coming from someone who loves Cold Steel and considers Trails their fave series in general btw). Kuro also has better pacing than most Trails games as well with one of the shorter prologues and the game wasting little time getting the player into the thick of the action while constantly amping up the stakes every new chapter until the climatic conclusion in the finale chapter.
The cast of characters in Kuro is one of the most diverse since the Sky series. Considering how in Zero almost all the characters were in their late teens and in Cold Steel they were all teens at a military school (minus the occasional teacher or two), the ages in Kuro range from 13 to almost 70 and this mixed with all the character's eccentric and unique personalities really keeps all the interactions between the cast fresh and entertaining. Whether it be Van and his overprotective dad-like personality to all his younger part-timers or Aaron and his blunt, crude, delinquent attitude or Agnes and her polite and naive girl next door outlook and how she slowly changes as she learns more about the world around her and of course Judith and her comically aggressive passion for all things film and justice, I could honestly talk about all these characters, their chemistry between each other and their development for hours. Without a doubt the strongest cast chemistry in a Trails game to date for me (Besides maybe the Imperial Picknicking Front in Reverie)
Another important factor to talk about whenever Trails is involved is the world-building because being such a deeply interconnected series, that's the best thing about Trails and Kuro is no different either. In the beginning chapters of the game I was initially worried that Kuro was going to be a soft reset like the first Cold Steel was because there was very little connection to the rest of the games (Aside from a few cameos) and the over-arching plot and going from Reverie which is the game that relies on the series interconnected lore the most to Kuro was slightly jarring at first, but by the end of the game that is definitely NOT the case and I strongly do NOT recommend playing this game if you've never played older Trails games especially if you haven't played the Crossbell games. All that aside though, Kuro also adds its own new concepts into the world of Zemuria, like private military companies, a thriving film scene, new parts of the criminal underground, a new tech institute, new factions of the Septian Church and even Van's solution office itself are just some of the ways Kuro helps expand upon the world and lore of Zemuria and that's not even mentioning all the countless side-quests that truly help flesh out the Calvard Republic and all the people who live in it as well.
So if you're familiar with my reviews or review format a lot of games I play are RPGs so I tend to focus on the narrative, characters, world and whatnot first since I believe those to be the strongest reasons to play a game like this, but now we've reached the point in the review when it's time to talk about gameplay and boy is there a lot to say with Kuro no Kiseki since it introduces a LOT of new mechanics to the series.
Since Kuro no Kiseki is the first game to be entirely on Falcom's latest in-house engine they basically did a complete overhaul on the combat system of the Trails series after the gameplay was mostly the same since the first Cold Steel, but just with small additions for each new game. Kuro introduces what's called "field battle" and "shard battle", now you can play both real-time action combat similar to Falcom's Ys series or in the old-school Trails style of tactical turn-base. Field battles definitely need some polish because currently they are very barebones including one simplistic combo, a power attack to stun enemies and a dodge roll button, but it's still a lot of fun and the biggest change in "Shard battle" is now you can have your character freely move around (Given they have enough MOV stat) and not use a turn to do so. Kuro encourages the player to use both modes, which can be freely switched outside of boss fights, which are exclusively fought in Shard battle turn-based combat.
On top of the combat system itself being overhauled, the Obrment system has had major changes as well. Gone are the ARCUS Obrments of Erebonia, no now we have the latest tech with the XIPHA 6th gen battle Obrment of Calvard. No more equipping Quartz to cast specific spells, now besides increasing stats Quartz are solely meant for special Shard bonuses like dealing extra types of element damage, recovering HP out of fights, dealing extra damage with preemptive strikes etc and you get these bonuses by combining the right amount of properly colored Sepith value from each Quartz on the right lines in a similar way to how the combat Obrments were back in Liberl and Crossbell, but you might be wondering how do we change our artes if Sepith isn't tied to it? Well there's an all new mechanic called "Artes Drivers" which are something you install into your Orbment and they come with a set of pre-installed artes and some empty slots to unlock and equip new artes alongside the ones built into the driver. You mostly buy these, find them in the wild and get them for doing side quests. I'd say Kuro was the most challenging and balanced Trails game since the Crossbell games because in the early chapters there were fights where I made it by the skin of my teeth. However as you get stronger and find better gear for your builds, the 2nd half of the game becomes just as unbalanced and breakable as the Cold Steel games and I was mostly one-shotting groups enemies with Van's S-craft alone. Honestly though, that's part of the fun of this series to me. Oh and slightly unrelated, but FINALLY after 10 games we can FINALLY sell unneeded Quartz. It's the little QoL improvements that really matter.
So as I mentioned earlier Kuro is the first game on Falcom's brand new in-house engine and boy does it show! If you played Reverie you'll remember a particular scene which tested said engine, but that's the quality you can expect from this whole game and it truly improves everything from the background lighting and shading, to the character models having more defined details and especially the in-engine cut-scenes and animations looking more polished. The new engine is fantastic and makes Kuro the best looking and feeling Falcom game to date and it's not even close, the more polished animations gives the impeccable action scenes and fight choreography more room to shine even brighter as well.
And finally as always what would a Trails game or any Falcom game in general be without an incredible OST from the master composers on the Falcom Sound Team JDK and performances by the JDK band? Well considering Falcom were one of the first game studios to have a dedicated sound team way back in the day, it's one aspect the company has always prided themselves on and you can always count on a consistently quality soundtrack alongside their games. Kuro is no different whether it be the classy and sophisticated jazzy atmosphere of a track like "What is Ahead of You" which perfectly captures the entire vibe of Kuro as a whole or the bombastic Tokusatsu sounding theme of the Phantom Thief Grimcatz, the J-Rock vibes of the opening theme for the game "Namonaki Akumu no Hate", the Middle Eastern exotic sitar style of "Girl Dancing in an Oasis" and of course no Falcom game would be complete without blazing neoclassical and progressive electric guitar metal battle and boss themes like "Unmitigated Evil" or "Diabolic Howl", nearly every track is just as masterfully composed as you've come to expect from Sound Team JDK and this is by far one of their most diverse and experimental OSTs yet.
I honestly don't have many complains about Kuro really all I can say is I wish there was more in the way of side content because this is probably the most barebones Trails game since Sky FC, not even featuring fishing and going from Reverie which had the most side content of any game in the series to Kuro was certainly a change in pace, but since the main narrative and side quests are some of the best the series has to offer the lack of side content isn't that big a deal and I still got over 100 hours out of a single playthrough of Kuro.
Featuring one of the best narratives the Trails series has to offer with a darker and more mature tone to the writing alongside an incredible cast of characters with equally incredible chemistry between them and a fascinating setting that expands upon the already insanely detailed world of Zemuria, a masterfully composed, diverse musical soundtrack, a beautiful new engine breathing the most life into a Falcom game to date and a fully revamped combat system for the Trails series which might lack the depth of Reverie or the later Cold Steel games, but still remained thoroughly fun and entertaining for my whole 100+ hours of gameplay, all of these reasons and more make Kuro no Kiseki a true triumph and masterwork for not only the Trails series, but Falcom as developers as a whole showing just how far they've come in the past 40 years in the business and that they still show no signs of declining in both quality and quantity, but also aren't afraid to evolve with the times and experiment and Kuro no Kiseki is one such experiment that was a massive success in my book and certainly one hell of a way to open up the Calvard arc with a bang!

life really feels so good when you are in the republic instead of that boring ass empire

NIS is unironically one of my favourite companies and I thought this game would be one of my favs based on what people said. But idk the world just didn’t pull me in, characters gave way too much exposition for the dialogue to pull me in

After beating Trails into Reverie in the official English localization, I had the urge to replay this game so I just went for it. I never played this game with injection so it was nice to play this game like an actual video game.
Spoiler Free Review:
Kuro no Kiseki hits a lot harder the second time around and I can confidently say this is my second favorite game in the series and was close to being my favorite. The character cast is absolutely top notch and I much appreciate how they handled the characters in this game compared to the previous Coldsteel arc.
Van Arkride is my all-time favorite protagonist. He has such a great and fun personality with amazing interactions with every character in the game, something I think many stories don't focus nearly enough on. These interactions make the stories so much better and elevate all the characters and their personal story arcs. Van strikes a great balance between being super comedic but also serious and dark. The former makes him such a fun and entertaining protagonist to follow while the latter is slowly building up to his mysterious background which culminates into, in my opinion, the best backstory of any of the protagonists in the series. He is only one of the many GOATed characters in this game. Big shoutouts to Aaron, Elaine, Risette, Shizuna, and Agnes, who I didn't appreciate much on my first playthrough but grew to love the second time around.
Story wise, they nailed the pacing of the game, managing to strike a good balance of steady worldbuilding with high stakes narrative moments. One of the issues many had with the CS arc was how it took a while for interesting things to happen but in Kuro, interesting story moments and mysteries are always presented at a good pace to keep you intrigued at what happens next. This all culminates into an incredible finale and ending, which on my first playthrough I thought was just good, but on my second replay was a LOT better and hit way harder seeing how the whole game was building up to this moment. Despite still having "JRPG moments" you come to expect from the genre, the story is more dark but more importantly, mature which is a welcome change.
Gameplay wise, this is hands down the best orbment system in the series and the best game mechanically. Everything flows so well and the gameplay was always consistently fun. RPG's with systems that are fun to tinker with to create broken builds is always a great time. I just wish the nightmare mode was just a little harder like Kuro 2.
The OST is another thing I came around on. I thought it was just good the first time but after listening to it more for a couple months and this second playthrough, I grew to love it and only really have complaints about the battle music. They really need to get that sorted out. It's not bad but it could be much better. Final boss track still kino tho.
Lastly, if you are planning to play this game early, get the NISA version. I played the CLE version and its a pretty bad port. Lots of pop-in and the loading times are horrendous. I tinkered with my settings but nothing seemed to improve performance. From what I've seen from the NISA PC version, it is wayyyyy better.
Side note: I hope NISA voices more English lines like they did with Reverie. The JP voice acting is phenomenal but they really ran out of budget in some instances and don't voice the whole scene. I think adding more voice acting could elevate this game even further. Looking forward to playing it in English and crossing my fingers they nail the casting.