Kuro no Kiseki Review
A new adventure begins
The Trails series is my favourite JRPG franchise. I can tell you that they even surpass my love for Final Fantasy. I’ve played the main titles The Legend of Heroes since I was a teenager—before the subseries, Trails in the Sky, was released. After the story of Trails of Cold Steel 閃の軌跡 concluded, I couldn’t wait for the series to have a brand new chapter. This is the review of Kuro no Kiseki 黎の軌跡.
Screenshots in this post were captured from Kuro no Kiseki 黎の軌跡 on PlayStation 4.
First of all, Kuro no Kiseki is a rock-solid JPRG. From background settings, story, and character arcs to the combat system, art style, and gameplay, everything is very well done. Falcom outdid themselves and managed to deliver an exceptional refresh to the long-running franchise. It’s not perfect, but the overall quality and attention to detail make it even better than their previous titles.
If you’re into the JRPG genre, you might not be aware of, or have played the series before because they didn’t have English localization back then. The Trails games could also deserve more recognition outside Asia. Falcom understands their fan base and has begun to port their titles into the western market. In short, don’t skip this game.
The way Falcom tell a story, and the fun and engaging battle mechanics, are uniquely done to get their audience hooked. Everytime they release a new sequel, I never hesitate to buy it. Except for the Trails into Reverie, but that’s another story. Anyway, let’s dive into the game.
Minor spoilers ahead.
This post only covers the prologue of the story. But some screenshots or text may contain late game content.
Story & Characters
The story revolves around a young man called Van Arkride who works as a “Spriggan” in underground business. Walking the line between light and dark—sometimes siding with the Bracer Guild or the police, sometimes partnering with evil organizations—is Van, who positioned himself as some sort of fixer. One day, a schoolgirl named Agnes Claudel pays a visit to the Arkride Solution Office at Bistro Montmart. Not long after, Van learnt that the girl inherited an Artifact “Genesis”, which holds some secrets that may rock the entire Republic. It turns out to be related to some bigger secrets in which some dangerous individuals were involved. Later, they’re joined by a few main characters with similar beliefs.
The developers create the story from scratch and introduce us to a lot of new characters. It works like an introduction as they slowly build the story around them. Each member of the team has their own backstory, which is quite lengthy, and they join the party one after another. I enjoy the character arcs, such as Aaron Wei’s; players can see how he matures. The character development was all there. It’s great to see the interactions between them; it felt like I was watching an anime series.
Van is a more mature lead character than Estelle or Rean—in fact, amongst the entire Trails series. He’s a bit older than most of the cast, which makes the team trust and rely on him—kind of a leader to them. The way he handles situations shows that he’s a seasoned young adult. Sometimes, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty as long as it can archive “justice”. If I had to describe Van, he’d be a person who doesn’t like following rules, but wants to walk his own path.
Another thing I want to mention is that this time we have a smaller cast than it was in Trails of Cold Steel 閃の軌跡. The story is more focused on each one of them. People who play the series will definitely know how Falcom presents a story. I dare say not so many games can archive their level of attention of detail.
As an JRPG, romance is one important aspect in terms of character building. But this time they implemented a much more subtle treatment than before. Elaine Auclair, also known as Sword Maiden 剣の乙女, is a childhood friend of Van. What makes the duo interesting is that Elaine is from the Bracer Guild while Van works as a Spriggan. Their backgrounds somewhat at odds with each other. The game’s intend to make Agnes who paired with our protagonist, and she has some kind of crush developed for Van. She’s aware that Elaine and Van has a deep bonding that she doesn’t yet have. I personally want to ship Elaine and Van as a pair. Hopefully, their relationship can be more transparent in the sequel.
I think my favourite character would be Judith Ranster, who is a professional actress. Despite her celebrity, she is a very down-to-earth person with a strong sense of justice. She has a very likeable charisma that affects the entire group. Aside from her, some sub characters, such as Jack and Hal, are quite memorable as well.
Overall, I like the cast. They have different personalities but complement each other well. It really felt like I was being in a team. The Trails series has a tradition of bringing back old characters who have some connection to the main plot. This also reminds me of the new Class VII from Sen no Kiseki III.
The game is set in the region of the Calvard Republic. Most of the events take place in the capital city, Edith. There are different places for players to explore, and they’re larger than in previous games. Basically, they’re like hub areas with some points of interest. Players can get into a building with a few stories without a loading screen. Different shops available for players to buy equipment, accessories, orbments; vendor booths for food or drinks, theaters, parks, and, of course, many NPCs that players can interact with.
The city is divided into different districts, which players can fast travel to as the story progresses. They’re connected by the metro. Despite it not being an open world, but a multi-region map, it’s delightful that they filled it with lots of things to do. Away from the city, players can also visit suburban areas, such as the desert, underground, dungeons, etc. The city has some nice views, especially at Old Town, also known as Vieux Quartier. Walking through the streets, its neighborhood, and back alley was a very nice experience.
The game’s world is set up for the first chapter of the new title as a stage for the story to take place. It’s refreshing for old players who have been along for the ride. Also, the developers plant all sorts of side stories about NPCs throughout their worlds. Most gamers lose the patience to experience a game nowadays. Visiting different places and spending half an hour just talking to them is one of the reasons why I love the series. It’s completely optional, and they can be skipped entirely.
The Calvard region is influenced by cultures from the East. I can tell the game draw some inspiration from Final Fantasy XII. The people seem to be more diverse than before. Our protagonist and Aaron both practice martial arts that inspired by East Asian cultures. It was a nice mix of Eastern and Western settings.
Falcom switched to a new engine for developing their new title, Kuro no Kiseki. Even just by looking at those screenshots, you can tell the graphics are a great leap forward. The visual presentation is very nice, and the character models are all highly detailed. They were successful in pushing the 3D real-life scale anime-styled character to its pinnacle. As compared to some big titles with similar styles, such as, Fire Emblem: Engage or Xenoblade 3, the new game on PS4 looks even better.
The Trails series received quite a lot of criticism regarding the games’ graphics not being able to keep up with the modern gaming systems. It appears that they suffered from their engine, the outdated graphics make them look like they’re from the PS3 era. It sounds a bit similar with Tales franchise. But when the development team of Tales of Arise switched to a new engine, they can now compete with triple-A titles. This open a new chapter of modern JPRG.
The performance and graphics for the Trails will be benefited from the technology Falcom adopted. I hope they can bring more modern JRPGs to their fans in the near future. In terms of graphics, Kuro no Kiseki looks so much better than its predecessors and brings it to a new height.
The core part of the gameplay remains similar to its prior titles. Such as featuring a turn-based combat system, side quest, mini games, the way of progressing the story. The developers modified and enhanced those elements. It still feels like how a Trails game would be, but with a new and refreshing take.
The battle system evolved as a combination of both action and turn-based. It has two modes: action and command battle. For action battle, players can approach enemies on the field and perform various attacks to weaken or defeat them. You can perform combo attacks, power attacks, and dodges. While in this mode, Crafts and Arts are not available.
For the command mode, it can be deployed by releasing Orbment “Xipha”. The battle will turn into a more strategic turn-based mode where positioning is quite an important factor in battles. In general, players should attack their opponents in action battle to fill up the stun gauge before switching to command mode for turn-based combat. And with all the buffs/debuffs that come from Orbments, it allows players to have different play styles that they see fit.
The transition is very seamless, and players can switch to real-time action for defeating weaklings, and change modes anytime as they please. It combines action and traditional turn-based strategy. This is a very nice addition to have for a much more satisfying experience. What I like best about the new battle system is how smooth the combat feels while remaining true to the original concept.
The updated battle system is much more fast-paced and fluid. Overall, it’s a fun and engaging system to play with. I’ve enjoyed it very much.
The Tactical Orbment 戦術導力器 is the central concept of the battle system in all Trails games. In Kuro no Kiseki, it was simplified with some new additions, but the core mechanic remained the same. The layout has been reworked, the Quartz 結晶迴路 is now divided into rows with different slots. There’re four of them: Weapon, Shield, Drive, and Extra.
The Orbment has a Hollow Core comes with various enhancements and buffs. That can be switched to other Cores when players obtain them. The Core is used in command battle as S-Boost as mentioned before, the Boost Gauge has three levels, and the S-Break can be triggered when boosted twice. After releasing an S-Break, the maximum level of the Gauge will be increased by two levels. That allows other party members to perform S-Boosts and S-Breaks. It’s a new combat mechanic designed for various play styles as well as prevent S-Break spam.
The Orbal Arts can be customized by switching Arts Drivers. There are multiple slots that come with Arts Drivers, some of which are locked and some of which are customizable. Players can utilize them to favor physical or magical attacks for different party members. It’s possible to have a versatile type who favors both on your team.
Quests and L.G.C. Alignment
Players can participate in all sorts of side activities, such as, exploring the city, accepting sidequests, gathering intel about a certain quest, spending time with party members in Bonding Events, playing card games, talking to NPC, hot spring, and fishing.
In Kuro no Kiseki, sidequests are called “4SPG”—for Spriggan. They can be acquired from Notice Boards or from NPCs. It works the same way as Bracer Guild, but this time they introduce us to a new system known as L.G.C. Alignment. L.G.C. stands for Law, Gray, and Chaos whereas their values can be affected by choosing different options when a quest is completed. Depending on which sides you want to align with—the Bracer Guild, the police, or walking in the gray zone—the outcome will be different. To be honest, that will not have any significant effect on the main story; only some bosses will be changed in late game.
Kuro no Kiseki, starts a brand new adventure. In short, I like the game. For most of the gameplay and story, I can see lots of improvements. Not only the visuals, battle system, but the overall quality of the game as a whole. It’s obvious that there’re some issues that I don’t like. And to be specific, I dislike the story and pacing in Chapter 5. For instance, our main cast just fought against a group of terrorists, and they later decided to have afternoon tea with them. They changed their agendas a bit too often. I don’t want to spoil anything, so, I’ll just end it here. In spite of that, it’s a very pleasant experience to be able to enjoy this game. I started playing the game in February 2022, and finished it in around June last year.
I played the game on the PS4 launch model, and the loading time was long, but acceptable. The graphics look absolutely gorgeous. However, the majority of the dialogue was too lengthy, and the camera angles were slow and boring. Sometimes, I felt annoyed, even for a fan. They released an update where a fast-forward option is available to improve the Quality of Life.
The development team did an amazing job creating this new title. It becomes a Next-Gen JRPG which can somehow compete with some AAA titles. When Falcom started the Trails of Cold Steel 閃の軌跡 series, they leaned towards adopting 3D anime-style for their characters. It appears that they are attempting to attract (and please) anime fans with their DLCs: outfits/costumes/accessories, such as swimming suits. 😏 I totally get that it is not for everyone.
But what makes a good JRPG? It is inevitable to develop a modern JRPG with 3D and lots of vaisual effects. Aside from the art styles, it is the concept and story that matters most. As its core, the spirit of the Trails games is still there. Again, Kuro no Kiseki is a very decent JRPG. I highly recommend it to people who like anime and RPGs. Check it out if you haven’t already.
All in all, I had a great time with the game. Meanwhile, I’ve already finished playing the sequel Kuro no Kiseki II: Crimson Sins on the PS4. I’ve just gotten the time to write this review. Until next time.
Kuro no Kiseki
- Time Played
- 100+ hour
- Nihon Falcom
- Release Date
- Feb 2022 (TC)
- The series was begun in 2013 with some school settings that shared similarities to games like Final Fantasy Type-0 零式 and Persona 4 Golden. The Saga drew to an end with Trails of Cold Steel IV in 2018. The games were released across multiple platforms, from the PS3 to the PS4 system, and Switch. ↩︎
- It looks like the game doesn’t have a official English name yet. The word “黎” in Japanese comes from “黎明”—literally “Dawn”. The meaning can be interpreted as “the darkness before dawn”. Hence, Trails in the Dark. ↩︎