Since my review series on the The Legend of Heroes: Trails saga has gone ten games and seven articles strong, I felt it would be fun to supplement the usual review with a bonus article. But what do I discuss on such an occasion? At first I thought to simply give an official ordered ranking of all the games, but then I thought such an article would be derivative of the existing reviews. Plus most people could put together something close to the right order simply by reading through my conclusions. So instead, why not talk about the one thing every JRPG ultimately sells in the long term: the characters! All games in this genre place a lot of emphasis on endearing the player to their core casts, but Trails is unique in that every character additionally has the opportunity to come back when you least expect them a few games down the line. While far from every character ultimately lands with everybody, the ones that do often become driving reasons to stick with the future titles to see where they end up later.
So for today I’m going to introduce the ten who have had the greatest impact on me during my time with the Trails games. This will mostly consist of my opinions, but as everybody on the internet knows opinion lists are treated as fact by others regardless of how many disclaimers you predicate them with, so I’m just going to advertise it as “the best” and see how many people bother to read this opening. To keep things manageable I also decided to limit myself to characters playable over the course of the main story, because narrowing down every character period would be an absurdly difficult undertaking. This is the series which gives that old man on the park bench a full character arc if you check back with him over the course of the story after all! Let’s get right to it. Most photos taken from the official websites by NIS America and Xseed Games. This also contains major spoilers so step lightly if you’ve got interest in playing the games yourself.
#10: Tio Plato
Starting off with a heavy hitter we have Tio Plato, first appearing in Trails from Zero. Appearing as an oddly young recruit to the Special Support Section, she leaves an impression with her aptitude for technology and her reserved, matter-of-fact way of communicating with others (except for the occasional snarky retort to keep the foolish in line). One might be tempted to see her as an introverted repeat of the Liberal arc’s Tita Russel, but where Tita was quite squarely placed in the cutesy side character role, Tio’s development over Zero is the heart of that game. Watching the ghosts of her past emerge to open old wounds, the SSS coming together as her found family, and finally seeing her triumph over her demons is immensely cathartic.
Being essentially the central character of the objectively best Trails game all but assured her placement among the best characters in the series, although even I found it a bit surprising she was only number 10. This is because despite how fantastic her development is in Zero, from Azure onwards she really doesn’t get a whole lot to do other than handle tech problems for the team, which by Reverie becomes rather unimpressive given how many tech genius girls there are kicking around. You could argue that her lack of serious conflict and development is the story naturally letting her enjoy the liberation she found in Zero, but with how impactful her initial story was I wish they could have let her do more. Still, sometimes one great outing is all a character needs to leave a lasting mark, and Tio Plato is definitely not hard to love by the end of her debut game.
#9: Rean Schwarzer
The first of two main protagonists on this list we have Rean, first introduced in Trails of Cold Steel and the leading man in all four titles bearing that name. Now, I am well aware that Mr. Schwarzer is far from an uncontroversial pick, and honestly most of the criticism surrounding him has sound basis. You’d have to be pretty unfamiliar with modern anime writing to not notice that Rean inherently has a lot of elements of the self-insert protagonist trope, likely there to facilitate the many different characters the player can choose or not choose to deepen his relationship with. And yet I cannot help liking him on account of having spent four games in his shoes and really coming to appreciate what the writers were going for. Rean begins as an unsure schoolboy who struggles to make any real impact in the world around him on account of existing in a setting with legendarily mighty heroes and villains more than capable guiding his fate without even him realizing it. Watching him try his best to make something of himself despite everything was a surprisingly moving journey, and seeing the fruits of those experiences come out in the second half of the arc as he finds success in standing taller is a satisfying payoff.
He does get quite a few annoyingly free handouts along the way and I’d be lying if I didn’t say they could have improved his story with more lasting consequences for both himself and those in his immediate orbit. Ultimately though, I felt Rean was one of the strongest protagonists chiefly on account of how his story of self-worth and defiance in the face of a cruel destiny was more compelling than most of his peers. It may not be without some baggage, but I won’t hesitate to advocate for the character who introduced me to the world of Trails and took me on an ambitious journey.
#8: Swin Abel and Nadia Rayne
Given my review of Trails into Reverie was so critical of its story you might find it odd to see two newcomers from that game break the top ten for me. Despite their rather unfortunate introductory circumstances though, I found this pair to be the best part of that game. In many ways they executed the primary idea of the C route better than its actual main character. And I know it might be kind of cheating to make two characters share a spot on a top ten list, but anyone who has played Reverie can tell you that you really can’t have one without the other unless you want to rework one of them to be massively derivative of other existing characters. What makes these two work so well for me is the fact that everything about their dynamic is impeccably considered. On the surface Swin can come off as a bit of a straight shooter without much in the way of texture and Nadia is almost straight up plagiarizing Renne and Musse, but they’ve been smartly written to have gaps that only the other can fill. Swin is too honest of a person to escape the dark life he was thrust into on his own but Nadia’s sharp mind makes it possible, and Nadia could have become a true monster if Swin’s humanity didn’t bring peace to her interior struggles. Watching these two strive to grasp a true life during the events of Reverie was undoubtedly captivating, and I am more than ready to see these two return for more action in a hopefully better game. Who knows, with time these two could really shoot up the ranks.
#7: Jusis Albarea
Another character debuting in Trails of Cold Steel, Jusis Albarea popularly sticks out as one of old Class VII’s best members and it’s not hard to see why. Immediately grabbing your attention in the prologue with his surprisingly sharp tongue, Jusis undoubtedly drew many players in as their first look at the young nobles of Erebonia. This interest was greatly rewarded over the course of the five games featuring him, as he is developed as a character with relationships and connections both within and outside the nobility that should make his standing complicated, and yet he stands tall and lives every moment assured of his duties. His confidence is so much more than a show, both in his ability to back up his claims and the strength of his heart. The Albarea family in general plays a huge part in the Cold Steel games, and consequently gives Jusis a lot of room for his role in the story to expand and change organically. Yes his relationship with Millium could have felt more genuine and less like it was written in to give Millium someone to be really sad when she gets Transistor’d, but there really aren’t that many other things to complain about with him. Looking past the airs of pride surrounding Jusis lies a character that feels like a love letter to people like me who believe in the real power noblesse oblige has to foster righteousness in the world, and it’s why I hold him in such high regard.
#6: Randolph Orlando
On the surface, Randolph Orlando isn’t the sort of character I would have expected to rank as high as he has. Being introduced in Trails from Zero, he fulfilled the archetype of the crass big brother figure in the Special Support Section. His incessant objectification of the women around him and general playboy attitude definitely did not endear me to him all that much, and regular readers of mine know that I despise it whenever the Trails games lean into sexual humor too much. However where similar characters, even within the Crossbell duology itself, ultimately felt like their licentiousness wasn’t properly given a purpose that justified its prominence, Randolph actually had more to it.
Zero did a great job setting up that his behavior was something of a coping mechanism for a troubled past, and Trails to Azure delivered on this set up in spades. For all the misery of Azure’s first 20 hours, I managed to find a lot of motivation to keep going precisely because I wanted to watch Randolph grow and resolve his conflict with the Red Constellation, and chapter 3 of Azure remains as one of my favorite chapters in the whole series. What’s so great about him is that despite tragic backstories being a dime a dozen in Trails, Randy is one of few characters who actually feels like he had more of a chance to change his situation prior to the events with the game. It’s because he’s had to live with the guilt of waiting so long before saying enough is enough that makes his journey so incredibly human and satisfying. Finally I should give credit to his appearance as a major supporting character in Cold Steel III and IV, as aside from a few dumb playboy comments those games give Randolph room to become a positive mentor figure to the characters at Thors Branch Campus, and it’s one of the better uses of a returning character the series has done thus far.
#5: Kurt Vander
Introduced in Trails of Cold Steel III, Kurt Vander is a very interesting case as one of the series’ most overlooked characters. Everyone knows his name since he’s tied to arguably the most popular group of characters in the series, New Class VII, but it’s truly unfortunate how the main story didn’t do more with him. Having lost his life’s purpose shortly before his introduction into the narrative, Kurt has this polite and noble exterior which conceals a surprising amount of insecurity. The obvious hang up is his loss of the future he planned on as the crown prince’s guardian, but that one pain clearly tore a hole in his spirit big enough for a variety of other issues to come forward too. His inability to learn the Vander school of swordsmanship’s primary fighting style, his doubts about being strong enough to truly help during Class VII’s field studies, and even stuff like his slight build are all things brought up in both the main story and optional events. Pretty much any young man of our era can probably relate to some of Kurt’s inner struggles, and journeying with him to witness his growth is actually kind of therapeutic in that regard.
There are some issues here like how any game that does give Kurt some focus tends to front load his sections, subsequently leaving him feeling like a mere member of the entourage for the rest of the game. His relationship to Prince Cedric also undercuts some of his motivations in an odd way, as we’re really only told that the two were once close friends as lord and retainer. The interactions we are shown take place between Kurt and a Prince Cedric who has been thoroughly groomed by Chancellor Osbonre for the Rivalries. The lack of properly conveyed context for Kurt’s devotion to Cedric outside of his general desire to fulfill the Vander family tradition leaves his interactions with the prince falling a little flat. Still, I blame this on Prince Cedric having some pretty poor writing and motivations more than I do on Kurt as a character. Overall even despite some issues regarding Kurt’s central story, it’s the little details and subtler moments that really color him as one of Trails’ most likable and sympathetic characters.
#4: Juna Crawford
Another main newcomer from Cold Steel III, right alongside Kurt in fact (Zero and Azure also have reference to her, but these weren’t actually in the original Japanese release). Juna Crawford has always stuck out to me as a character who struck the perfect balance of being a vessel for worldbuilding while also being a bright and fun character on her own. Transferred to the Branch Campus after the annexation of Crossbell, she makes a first impression as a proud nationalist none too happy about her new situation, and yet doesn’t come off as annoying since despite everything she is highly motivated and tackles the trials of Class VII’s curriculum with gusto. Juna’s story comes to a head a little later into Cold Steel III as she gets an emotional chapter where she confronts the ways in which her inability to truly cope with Crossbell’s changed situation prevents her from coming into her own, and it is easily one of the highlights of that story.
There’s simply something very impressive about the way her character feels symbolic of the people of Crossbell as a whole and yet comes across as utterly personal and authentic. Beyond her big focus chapter it’s also great to watch Juna contribute to the story in other ways, like trying to make genuine connections with the Erebonians and using her resilient spirit to galvanize others into doing something about their problems instead of simply sitting around and worrying. Plus she’s just a very upbeat and pleasant character all around. At this point in the story I doubt we’ll be seeing much more of Juna since Crossbell’s tale is more or less finished, but her story is so complete and satisfying that I can’t really can’t complain.
#3: Gaius Worzel
#2.5: Okay I Will Now Elaborate
Upon seeing this entry I assume most Trails fans are probably losing their minds over how in the world a character like Gaius Worzel of all people could rate so high. I guess the short answer is that I’m biased and you need to deal with it, but that’s boring so let me get into specifics. Introduced in the first Trails of Cold Steel, Gaius is a foreign exchange student from the allied nomads in the Nord Highlands. His position gives him a unique outside perspective on the happenings and customs of Erebonian society, and it’s his execution of this perspective that I find so refreshing about him. Unlike Juna’s more typical (though still great) story of reconciling cultural friction, Gaius stands out as a foreigner character who takes to his new environment exceptionally well. This allows him to connect with and challenge his peers in a way that doesn’t feel tacky, and him coming to see both Nord and Erebonia as equally “home” is a heartwarming aspect of his character that really ties into the Cold Steel games’ theme of bonds. And as someone who chose to pursue a best friend status between Rean and Gaius, I had ample opportunity to appreciate the minutiae of his character like his role in the art club.
Where the confusion about my love of Gaius comes from is the fact that Falcom seems to do everything in its power to ensure that he does not matter to the story. The first Cold Steel does him the most justice and lets him introduce Class VII to his homeland in the most wholesome chapter of the game, and gives him some other nice scenes besides. But then in Cold Steel II they kind of just repeat the border tension conflict in the Highlands again before shuffling him into the background along with other underused characters of Class VII. In Cold Steel III they literally introduce him as late as possible into the story, let him add very little to the late game conflict, and then he exits stage right a quarter of the way through the Spiral of Erebos. He gets more to do as one of the party’s main modes of transportation in Cold Steel IV, but even that role is stolen from him halfway through and there’s no significant bonding events to make up for it either since all the males in IV got shafted hard. Finally in Reverie they… just put the Highlands in danger again. Joy.
Knowing all of that I recognize that I really shouldn’t put Gaius this high, but I can’t help it! He made a really strong first impression on me in Cold Steel which was much improved by pursuing all of his bonding events, and no matter how little Falcom wanted to cater to me I made a point of maintaining his place in my party as much as possible. My crackpot theory is that the Gralsritter will be the main party that challenges the true final boss in the final Trails game, and boy am I gonna huff that hopium because the Soaring Phoenix deserves another chance to take the spotlight and show us what he can do as a hero. Trails is a series famous for adding great details for those willing to look for it, and nobody embodies that more for me than Gaius.
#2: Duvalie the Swift
Appearing as a minor villain in Trails to Azure, then given more prominence in Cold Steel II before finally becoming playable in Cold Steel IV, Duvalie the Swift is a rock of sensibility in the madness of the Trails saga and I love her for it. As a prominent member of the Stahlritter, she enters the story as something of a pseudo-Enforcer for Oroboros and right away she stands out as the odd duck of the group. She’s incredibly self-aware of just how crazy her coworkers and generally the world around her is, and makes for easily the funniest character Trails has ever made. You’d think a girl-knight getting constantly exasperated wouldn’t make for much of a bit, but in practice it never failed to give me reason to laugh. This doesn’t comprise all of her character though, as she is blessed with one of the most unique and complex character arcs in the whole series.
Duvalie herself isn’t without a rock to cling to, as she owes everything to the leader of the Stahlritter and Seventh Anguis of Oroboros. Her loyalty towards her master is the closest thing she has to a real quirk, but instead of doubling down on it Duvalie actually comes to question the justice of her devotion. Ultimately the ending of Cold Steel III is enough for her to defect over to the heroes’ side in the next game, but it’s not some dramatic declaration of making sworn enemies with her old sisters-in-arms. Duvalie actually still feels deep loyalty to the Stahlritter, and fighting against them is her way of trying to stop them from walking a path she believes isn’t in their interest to follow. It’s the kind of true love that people rarely acknowledge these days, the aspect of loving someone by rejecting what is harmful for their sake and imploring them to grow. Funny cast chemistry, a complex arc, and a good moral lesson, Duvalie really does have it all
#1: Kevin Graham
The other protagonist on this list, it really couldn’t be anyone other than Father Kevin. He was introduced as a supporting character in Trails in the Sky Second Chapter playing the role of a traveling priest who helps to subtly aid the main protagonist Estelle on her quest to save Liberl. Kevin is another character who is affected by Falcom’s bad flirting humor at times, but the writing does actually make efforts to minimize the time spent on it, and otherwise he’s a rather cheeky inclusion who draws you in by clearly being more than he lets on. After the payoff at the end of Second Chapter when he takes out the main villain for good, we were blessed with Trails in the Sky the 3rd to nearly exclusively explore this intriguing character. And what a ride Sky the 3rd is.
It’s almost unfair that Kevin gets a whole game set in a labyrinth constructed out of his subconsciousness, but getting to explore everything about Kevin’s life up to the present was enthralling. The journey he takes in reconciling his past aches and sins so he can become a better person is profoundly relatable. It’s tragic and heart wrenching to watch this scarred man literally put himself through hell, yet his tale ends in catharsis and hope when he finally forgives himself. The only true complaint with Kevin is that he doesn’t show up enough in the rest of the series, to the point where asking “where’s Kevin?” is a community meme. Sometimes fans have literally had to petition Falcom to patch him into pictures where he should have been acknowledged, it’s that crazy. From his entertaining and engaging dialogue to his in-depth development, Kevin is easily one of the most complete characters Trails has given us. We can only hope that future games will finally give him the respect and spotlight he so dearly deserves.
Thank you for sticking through this article to the end! I just wanted to offer a little something extra as a gratuity for bearing with the delay on the Reverie review, so I hope it was worth it. If you’re a Patron in our official Discord who’s played some of these games too, I’d love to hear your thoughts on who stuck out from this series’ extensive roster, so ping me some of your comments if you’d like! It may be some time before our foray into Calvard (HAPPY LOCALIZATION ANNOUNCEMENT DAY!), but until then may God keep you down whatever trail you walk.