Following up Falcom’s popular story-heavy RPG trilogy Sora no Kiseki is Legend of Heroes VII, which comprises Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki. After the events in Liberl, the focus is shifted in Zero and Ao to Crossbell, located between the Erebonian Empire and the Calvard Republic. Its central city, Crossbell City, is a wealthy, technologically-advance place where crime runs rampant and the idea of justice is warped. Citizens have a rather low opinion of the city’s police force, and prefer to rely on the Bracer Guild for their problems. The game stars Lloyd Bannings, a graduate of the city’s police academy, as he joins the Crossbell State Police Department into a sector established to accept requests and problems from citizens similar to the Bracer Guild (I have no idea how to translate or romanize 特務支援課, its one of those phrases that I can understand and not know how to read, thanks to Chinese understanding). Together with Lloyd are the honour student-like ojou-sama Elie MacDowell, kuudere technology wiz Tio Plato sent by the Epstein company, and the flirtatious and chill (and the ultimate bro) Randy Orlando.
Despite the new setting and new characters, experience of playing the Sora no Kiseki trilogy is highly recommended as there are returning characters and plot points that may not be as impactful to newcomers. Of course that’s not to say Zero and Ao cannot work as a standalone duology. They can, just like how each game in the Gagharv trilogy can work as a standalone, but the small connections are ultimately important in the big picture.
The plot starts off slowly in Zero no Kiseki, much like Sora no Kiseki FC, where the villain and his plan isn’t even apparent until near the end. However, when the plot does get going, it is really good. It then leads off into Ao no Kiseki, where the exciting events and mind-blowing twists are fed to you at a constant pace, enough that 90 hours didn’t feel very long to me. The plot twists are interesting, and there was no way I could have guessed them from the beginning of Zero. Ao is basically like the SC to Zero.
The great thing about the Legend of Heroes games is, and has always been, the writing. That’s why a shoddy localization easily ruined the Gagharv trilogy for too many. The dialogue, the characters, those are what made the Kiseki games stand out. Zero and Ao are no different. My love of the games are due to the great, memorable characters that you interact with during the game. I still prefer Sora no Kiseki’s overall cast a bit more though, likely due to the third game which fleshed out the backstories of many characters. Part of me wants to see a game akin to Sora no Kiseki The Third for the Crossbell duology, but another part of me wants to see what happens next after Ao.
The setting of Zero/Ao no Kiseki is rather unique compared to previous Legend of Heroes games. Crossbell is a technologically advanced, giant city that spans 11 maps (12 in Ao!). Trains, cars, and buses run throughout the city, computers are used by several groups, and their internet is in its early stages. Surrounding the city of Crossbell are some smaller towns, much like your typical 90’s RPG towns with several houses and people. Crossbell is smaller than Liberal, so while traversing the latter with Estelle and Joshua felt like an adventure, Lloyd and co’s travels in Crossbell feel much more like having a job. Like Sora no Kiseki, the NPCs often change their dialogue and feel like they have their own lives. All the towns and cities seem very alive, and that is one of the charm points of the series. You will probably end up saving your town/country/world in an RPG, and nothing is more worth protecting than a world that seems to be brimming with life.
The battle system is similar to that of the Sora no Kiseki trilogy, with movement space, turn bonuses, arts that take a turn to cast, and your current actions determining how far back your next turn is delayed to. It is also more polished and has more options, giving you things such as combination crafts, counters, and team attacks. I remember thinking that the combat was a drag when I first started Sora no Kiseki. By Ao, I was enjoying the battle system a whole lot and liked getting into fights. Falcom is really good in terms of polishing existing systems. The battles in Ao are much quicker too, and you even get a sped-up autobattle mode in subsequent playthoughs. In terms of difficulty, Zero no Kiseki is probably the easiest Kiseki game so far, and I learned my lesson by the time I got Ao and started on Hard instead of Normal. That gave me several challenging fights, but was okay otherwise. The hardest game in the series is still Sora no Kiseki The Third, followed by SC.
Like previous Kiseki games, Zero and Ao have loads of sidequests that make up a good portion of the game. The great thing about these sidequests is that they are usually relevant, and reveal more about the world or certain characters. Unlike many games that like to give out countless fetch quests, the sidequests here contribute to your story experience.
The graphics still utilize the same engine, but put in a lot of detail into certain environments. It’s not very mind-blowing technologically, but having cutsecene events happening within the game engine is something that gamers from the 2D sprite period would appreciate. Same goes for the character sprites: more complex than 90’s sprites, but still SD and not striving for realism. The game graphics feel like up-scaled 3D versions of our beloved 2D sprites that let us use our imagination. Certain environments are very pretty (final dungeon of Ao, I’m looking at you), and animated cutscenes are used to show important, large-scale events such as train movement or things concerning large buildings.
The music…well, it’s Falcom. Their games wouldn’t be as great without the awesome music. The soundtrack has a slightly different feel to the Sora no Kiseki games due to the difference in setting, but we’ve got battle themes on equal or greater epicness and several heart-warming and emotional tunes.
Here, I’ll leave you Get Over the Barrier (Roaring Version) and Inevitable Struggle: