The following is a translation of an interview with Kondo Toshihiro, president of Nihon Falcom, as published in the Hajimari no Kiseki Official Visual Collection, released in Japan on 28 November 2020. The following is the first part of the interview (pp 214–219), focusing on Trails into Reverie (Japanese: Hajimari no Kiseki). It features spoilers for every aspect of Trails into Reverie throughout, including the identity of C, and expects the reader to be familiar with preceding games as well. It also features a spoiler for Ys IX: Monstrum Nox’s ending.
Please continue reading at your own discretion.
Response to Reverie and its three protagonists
Trails into Reverie was released over three months ago. How has the response been?
It was praised by many players, fortunately. Many were satisfied with the volume of the game’s contents. Before the game’s release, people actually referred to it as an extra Cold Steel game or as a side-story while it’s actually a properly developed mainline title that complements the stories of Rean and Lloyd and introduces brand-new characters in C’s route, which changed its reception a lot. It’s probably the largest in the series in terms of things you can do. The post-launch update Beyond the Reverie added tie-ins to the next game in the series [henceforth referred to as Kuro no Kiseki]. With those parts included, I feel Trails into Reverie can be enjoyed until the very end.
The routes for each of the three protagonists were fascinating and enjoyable. Please tell us about each route again.
The initial working title for Trails into Reverie actually stemmed from Lloyd’s route, ‘Trails from Zero: The Conclusion’. Since the Cold Steel arc in Erebonia had already ended, we started development on the title wondering whether we should throw in some aspects we couldn’t finish in there. But if we would start with Lloyd and the SSS’s story from Trails to Azure’s ending, it would end with just “there were some skirmishes but they managed to suppress it”. (laughs) And so we needed to reconstruct those parts, all while keeping the density of the story in mind.
How came C’s route about?
C’s route features people operating in the shadows, contrasting with Lloyd and Rean whose stories deal with people in public. It was challenging to depict this in just one game, but since there were multiple routes and we had C’s offering that variation, it would definitely stand out. Also, we also wondered which major character could fill in the role for C and what eccentric party members would travel with C.
Speaking of Rean, I was surprised when Ishmelga-Rean appeared in his form from Trails of Cold Steel IV’s normal ending.
Rean’s story revolves partially about what we already thought about during the production of Reverie’s predecessor. That doesn’t mean that during the development of Trails of Cold Steel IV’s finale we’d already decided that we would have Ishmelga-Rean appear in Trails into Reverie. However, it wouldn’t be the first time in the series that we would show a what-if possibility like Ishmelga-Rean or the world of Zemuria from another narrative branch.
Take Trails from Zero’s prologue, for example, which Trails to Azure reveals would have shockingly ended with the death of all SSS members. In Cold Steel as well, with the prologues of Trails of Cold Steel and III at Garrelia Fortress and Juno Naval Fortress, respectively, leading to the same fights with different party compositions later in the story. Showing these what-if worlds is intentional and may hold some significance in the future of the series.
Ouroboros, the Society, is an important key-player in the Kiseki series as a whole, but they didn’t really show up in Trails into Reverie.
Reverie’s key visual prominently shows the Grandmaster, Ouroboros’s leader, because initially were planning to give her proper screen time. However, as we started to flesh out the story, we had to step back from our initial plans regarding for the Grandmaster and ended up limiting her screen time to the Episode “後ろの正面だあれ”. This is something we also regretted, so in response our resolve strengthened to include tie-ins to the next game and we turned to the development of Beyond the Reverie [a big update released one month after the game’s release].
The big turnabout of one man’s appreciation via his treatment in C’s route
The game contains an army of playable characters. How did you decide which characters to include?
We basically started with the characters that were ready to go. Then we started to look at the opinions of fans. Through our user support we received a fair share of requests for specific playable characters. With so many characters there’s an almost festive side to Trails into Reverie, even though there are still characters that didn’t make the cut. The ones we decided on meet a wide range of those requests.
The next time so many playable characters can gather will be in a Kiseki title from quite a distant future.
The Cold Steel series alone counts four games, which is pretty large among RPGs. That was also the concept for Erebonia’s presentation: We had to portray each individual carefully for the ensemble cast of such a large-scale game to work. For the next arcs, including the final chapter of the series, we’re planning to decide on yet another concept. Like last time, it will depend on the development circumstances whether we simply expand the cast of characters or portray each member individually.
In a previous interview, you expected that C and his party would become popular. Remember?
We often hear that players find C’s route the most interesting one. Not that the quality of Rean and Lloyd’s routes is lagging behind, but a story revolving around new characters offers a fresh perspective. Also, I think that the fun the development team had with the interactions between Lapis and Nadia reached the players as well.
Do you think C is forgiven?
For the most part, I think. (laughs) We wondered whether revealing that Rufus as one of the protagonists before the release would drag down sales because he was the one character attracting hate from all players. As of Trails of Cold Steel III, Rufus was the most hated character alongside Cedric. After players were shocked by his brutal treatment of Arianrhod, he overtook Cedric as the most disliked character by a large margin. (sweats)
So Rufus is hated so much that he ends up well above Weissmann in Trails in the Sky or Shirley in Trails to Azure? (sweats)
That very Rufus was also proposed as main character of the game’s C route by our younger script writers. ‘I see’ is what went through my mind as I heard of that plan. Rufus was definitely cut out for the role in Trails into Reverie and this would definitely make it unexpected and interesting. Moreover, we were confident we could finally reach a convincing conclusion. To be honest, we landed ourselves a good catch with the young staff members, who’ve proven themselves capable of properly working the tale to its conclusion.
The game really managed to convey what burdened Rufus.
The reaction among staff members to the proposal of making Rufus a protagonist was mixed. Even so, after reading the script I was convinced that these scenes would be a very appropriate addition to the Cold Steel arc. Rufus isn’t a villain nor is he completely on the dark side, he’s internally burdened by a number of things. The Cold Steel arc, however, didn’t have the opportunity to dig that deep into his personality and Rufus himself is not the type to openly discuss these feelings, so I thought making him a protagonist was a stellar idea. By the way, we initially planned to make C Lloyd’s simulacrum.
That would’ve been a possibility?
We wondered whether it would be possible, but around that time we had just finished Ys IX’s script and that would make them too similar. (sweats) I asked the team to tweak the contents a little and we ended up with Rufus as a protagonist. So Rufus became a protagonist, really, because of a number of circumstances. Sometimes products come into existence through these unexpected developments, which reminded me once again how interesting it is to create games.
What characters besides Rufus saw a surge in popularity?
The characters of C’s route, like Lapis and Nadia, are popular and many hope they will appear in a future instalment. That isn’t something we have decided as of now, but based on the ending it wouldn’t be surprising if C’s group will show up again. We felt really good about the way C’s route ended and also want them to reappear somewhere. We also heard people wondering what happened to the Thors Branch Campus staff and students. That’s why we added the Episodes “第II分校修学祭” and “究極の野生飯”, which explains why these were so popular among players.
Even Marquis Ballad showed up regularly.
Marquis Ballad has become a character who’s impossible to hate. I feel that’s because he balances out Musse. He is annoyed his niece talked him into a corner, but it’s cute to see he can’t really hate her. (laughs) He used to be doing whatever he wanted and it was painful to see how he messed up, but now he changed for the better.
The many collectables condensed in the Infinity Corridor
How was the response to the Infinity Corridor [or True Reverie Corridor], which featured a lot of optional content, like a diverse range of episodes and mini-games?
The decision to allow exploration while being able to switch between the three routes posed a number of challenges. The first being that by including so many characters, their screen time in the main story would be limited and not all of them would be able to participate in battles. Another issue were cases where the story is set within the city perimeters, making it hard to provide a place where the characters of each route could be levelled up. The Infinity Corridor was born as a solution to these challenges, from the need to have a place where characters can be trained without taking them out of the events of the main story, which all three routes have in common.
The ideas for it originate from Phantasma in Trails in the Sky The 3rd and Reverie Corridor in Trails of Cold Steel II. Using that as our starting point and adding ample optional content, I feel we managed to implement it properly. Allowing entrance to the Infinity Corridor from each route, however, led to concerns that bugs could occur. That worried me because the core development staff was so young, but thankfully they overcame the obstacles they ran into.
There’s plenty of foreshadowing for its successor [Kuro no Kiseki] in the numerous episodes, isn’t there?
Of course there is, even though [Kuro no Kiseki] will take place in a different place with a brand-new protagonist. Rean and Lloyd, and Estelle as well, may think about [Calvard] but they’re aware they have their own place to fight in and I think that the chance of them showing up in the near future is low. As for foreshadowing, chances are likely that new terms in Trails into Reverie you haven’t heard before will lead into the next game, so remember those well.
Tell us about your goals for the various mini games, which included shooting, action and a quiz.
Trails into Reverie was built on the systems of the Cold Steel arc, which keeps the programming costs during the early stages of development lower than by working on something brand-new. The mini games were so fulfilling that I thought to myself that maybe we should just spend all surplus resources on them. (laughs) I also wondered whether we overdid it, but since chances to make something different happen once in a blue moon, I thought we should take the opportunity to develop such mini games with the team.
The new game engine and the big update
I think the new game engine was used in the ending movie. Is it realistic to expect that [Kuro no Kiseki] will have that quality throughout the entire game?
That’s the plan. We also intend to unify all the engines of our IPs, the Kiseki series included, with this new one. However, we’ve tried to unify engines numerous times in the past, each time with failure as a result. For example, when we tried to use an engine from another company and adjusted the compatibility of the data so that it could be used for any title from our library, it didn’t work out… Reason is that we want to express something different for each of our IPs, something different for action games than for role-playing games. And so we used different engines for each title. Then we’re reminded of the horrors of rebuilding all data again, and we once again long for the unification of our engines, rinse and repeat. That’s why I honestly don’t know what will happen to this attempt to unify the engines. (sweats) We’ll do our best and if we happen to decide on a different engine, we intend to keep its quality on par with our own new engine.
What do each of the photographs from the ending depict?
That’s what we want to leave up to the player’s imagination. Each depict something from the main story or from one of the episodes, such as Swin and Nadia attending Rixia’s performance and Randy and Mireille taking their relationship to the next level.
Are you considering sizeable post-game updates like Beyond the Reverie for future games?
I feel that will depend on the players’ response to it. The update was well received and we ended up doing more than we originally planned for. Trails into Reverie and [Kuro no Kiseki] were in parallel development and when I checked Kuro’s status after Reverie was finished, I had the opportunity to suggest putting certain elements from Kuro in Reverie, which resulted in the extra Episode “創まりの先へ”.
We’ll gladly make another sizeable post-game update if that opportunity presents itself a next time. We ourselves always want to improve the completeness of Kiseki stories. The question remains whether we can continue to release updates of this size for free. (laughs) Nevertheless, we were able to properly wrap up the Infinity Corridor’s story and players were plenty satisfied. I hope that eases the wait for the next game.
What can you tell us about your favourite artwork in this art book?
I have a lot of favourites. (laughs) But if I have to pick one, I’d go for the Beyond the Reverie one with all the key players. The first thing that crosses my mind is that it must’ve been hard to depict all of this. It also profoundly moves me, realising that we’ve been able to continue a series in which all these characters got a chance to shine. A lot crosses my mind as I look at each of the characters individually, and I suppose that’s the same for the players. The expressions on all the characters’ faces really sticks out in my memory.
Reverie’s many revelations
Let’s discuss the main story, starting with the final battle against a being that temporarily redefines the Divine Knights. Weren’t Valimar and the other Divine Knights completely gone from the world of Zemuria?
At the end of Trails of Cold Steel IV, the Grandmaster states it’s nearly impossible for the Sept-Terrion of Fire and Earth to fall into human hands once more, so what happened to overrule this statement is nothing short of a miracle. The scene in the cockpits during the ending suggests that something from the Divine Knights remain, which we leave up to the player’s imagination. Unlike the other Knights, the Zeroth Knight Zoa-Gilstein is an enhanced reproduction of the Divine Knights’ function per Elysium’s calculation.
The other Rean said that by using Zoa-Gilstein’s powers you can release the “shackles” of the Goddess which allows one to go wherever they want. So it was no problem for Ishmelga to appear outside the continent, like the breaking through the atmosphere or going to the Beyond?
No comment. (laughs) Do keep in mind that this other Rean’s lines are very important. No doubt concepts like the cosmos and what lies beyond the continent will play a role in the future. The truth about these will probably be revealed at the end of the Kiseki series. Actually, only a few development members know about these details and it remains top secret for the majority of the staff.
How long has it been for Ishmelga-Rean since the normal ending from Trails of Cold Steel IV? He knows very well what happens in the future three years from now.
How much time passed exactly for Ishmelga-Rean wasn’t specified by the development team. Rean’s scruffiness and the air that he’s been places, however, suggest quite some years have passed. It’s hard to guess how far into Rean’s future Elysium has been able to calculate. It’s also possible the simulation was specifically for Rean alone. We also don’t know how much information of the Beyond Ishmelga-Rean picked up on.
In Trails into Reverie appear a lot of irregular productions from a (technical) singularity, like the simulacra. Can we expect similar creations in future Kiseki instalments?
The singularity’s products are basically created as a result of Elysium’s simulations of the future. So when Elysium disappears at the end of the story, the singularity’s products vanish with it. This also applies to the future and there won’t be a development in which those very simulacra and Reverse Babel will appear again. However, at the rate the technology of the people on Zemuria develops, I think it’s possible they manage to create something similar themselves.
Was the Demonic Sword Angbar used by McBurn’s simulacrum the real weapon?
That was a fake. The real weapon is forged through the Divergent Laws and handed to McBurn by the Grandmaster. What you saw was fabricated through Elysium’s simulations. Perhaps Angbar’s paired weapon, the Kernviter, could also have been recreated.
Why did Elysium and Ishmelga create simulacra of Rufus and Arios?
Each simulacrum was created as a competent pawn to realise Ishmelga-Rean’s ambitions. The fake Rufus formed the core of the plan and was reproduced all the way up to his personality to benefit from his political might, whereas the fake Arios[es?] didn’t gain his personality. It’s reasonable to assume the purpose was to use Arios’s fighting capabilities only. Their appearance in the game was uncanny, though, like a mindless machine.
What happened to Lapis, Elysium’s former administrator, when Elysium got erased?
Lapis was merely its administrator and didn’t possess Elysium’s power to simulate and create reproductions, but she does have the capability to process and operate an enormous amount of causality. In that regard she may be similar to KeA, once the Zero Child. KeA also lost her power, but some of her talent to take in and process something remains and used this to support Lloyd and the others.
Now the Emperor and his simulacrum are gone, can we expect the “Garden” he was affiliated with to appear in Calvard?
That’s not something I can answer right now, but the Episode “後ろの正面だあれ” briefly touches upon the subject and suggests the Garden is a separate entity from the organisation Calvard’s new president is affiliated with. Trails into Reverie brought up several organisations, including these two, and these will be discussed in detail [in the future]. For now, just remember organisations like this exist.
During the final battle we spotted the Merkabah of Dominion we’ve never seen before. Can we expect these Dominion to make their debut in the next arc?
As the story related to the Sept-Terrion and artifacts continues, so will the appearance of the Dominion tasked with their retrieval. By the way, due to a slight mistake the numbers of these two unseen Merkabah ended up a little different than we originally planned. These should have been numbers 04 and 11 [instead of 03 and 11] to represent the Fourth and Eleventh Dominion, of which neither have been mentioned in the games so far.
Speaking of the Dominion, Thomas’s Hollow appeared as a boss in the Infinity Corridor.
Thomas’s position among the Gralsritter is the second-in-command and the big enigma behind the Sept-Terrion hasn’t been revealed yet, so there’s no reason to think the Dominion won’t appear again. We hope you look forward to see Thomas in action again.
Infinity Corridor’s creations and Ouroboros’s future
Please tell more about the Infinity Corridor, the Causality Recording Engine “AZOTH”, and the reappearance of Genesis Demiourgos and the first OzXX.
As explained in the games, AZOTH is an artifact. It has been observing and recording events since the end of the Dark Ages and the start of the Arnors’ reign over Erebonia. After avoiding the Erebonia-centred world crisis from Trails of Cold Steel IV, AZOTH saw Elysium as an irregularity and tried to intervene. Elysium gathered all kinds of information through the spirit or septium veins which AZOTH regarded as dangerous, especially now it also obtained information on technology from both the surface and the underworld.
Genesis Demiourgos was created as a result of Elysium’s attempt to reproduce a Sept-Terrion. The first OzXX was a simulation of what happened when the Gnomes and Crois family were stealing technologies. It’s not clear what Elysium’s goal was, but these reproductions can’t have been made for good. OzXX, however, managed to keep Genesis Demiourgos out.
Memories of the Infinity Corridor haven’t been completely forgotten but were stored as some kind of dream. Does that mean this memory will be kept alive in some form in the future of the series?
It’s not like they don’t remember at all what happened, but it’s this feeling of part dream, part reality. I think the characters who fought alongside one another consider it a conscious encounter they’ve had. Other than that it’s very vague and ambiguous. We don’t know yet whether this’ll live on in the rest of the story.
Is the reason Novartis intervened in the events of the game out of his personal interest — and the Grandmaster or Ouroboros as a whole didn’t — because Elysium’s miracles were human-made?
That’s right. Since there was no Sept-Terrion involved, the Grandmaster also remained in the background. I can’t say much more than the Eternal Recurrence Plan for Ouroboros’s Final Plan is about to go in motion, but [Kuro no Kiseki] will definitely pick up the foreshadowing from Trails into Reverie.
In the extra Episode “後ろの正面だあれ”, the upper echelons of Ouroboros were discussing finding a replacement member. Is it important for Ouroboros’s plan to have the positions of all the Anguis filled?
After the death of Weissmann, the Third Anguis, Mariabell came to fill in that spot. Now the seventh Anguis, Arianrhod, has passed, there’s talk of a successor for her position. The remark that [the position] is a “weight to bear” is meaningful, but who her successor will be remains a secret. (laughs) In any case, the positions of the Anguis need to be filled, from the first until the seventh. The positions of the Enforcers, however, remain as is. Joshua and Renne stay away and also Loewe’s position remains vacant after his death. The fact that the Enforcers’ slots are not filled in may hold some meaning.
I remember Enforcers are selected based on the darkness in their hearts, but what’s that like for the Anguis?
The Anguis either embrace darkness or are the darkness themselves. (laughs) Well, apart from Arianrhod. That said, the criteria for Enforcers and Anguis may be different.
In the exchange between the Grandmaster and McBurn during that same “後ろの正面だあれ” episode, they discuss the Grandmaster’s “true identity”, how McBurn “not maintains this form”, is a “guiding bonfire” and the connection of the world McBurn once belonged to. Should we recognise these remarks as the fundamentals of the Kiseki world from here on out?
Now we’re getting into the dangerous territory I really can’t talk about. (laughs) All I can say is what’s been said before, “that’s what the Zemurian world conceptually is”.
Foreshadowing for the Calvard arc
Roy Gramheart, Calvard’s new president, appears to be rather knowledgeable about Ouroboros’s plans and the world in three years, doesn’t he?
He sure seems to be in the know. I think this part, too, will lead into the next game and beyond. We haven’t really talked about Gramheart as a person and his personality yet, but he sure comes across as a suspicious fellow. His position may be similar like Osborne’s in Erebonia, but he’s a completely different kind of person. For now, remember he’s a republican powerhouse.
Please tell us about the relation between the Rocksmith Agency of the previous president and the CID (Central Intelligence Division) also operational in Calvard.
The Rocksmith Agency was the CID’s predecessor. The Agency was originally established to gather information for former president Rocksmith, which was later officially institutionalised as the CID. The talented Kilika, the republican who appeared in the Trails in the Sky trilogy and was scouted by the Rocksmith Agency, has of course transferred to the CID and assumed an important position there. Second Lieutenant Kaera from Trails of Cold Steel IV belongs to the same organisation. Along with Erebonia’s Intelligence Division, the organisation is expected to play an important role from here on out, so keep an eye on them.
The three stories told in the extra Episode “創まりの先へ” are each important ones that tie in to [Kuro no Kiseki], right?
The events set a foot into Kuro no Kiseki’s contents chronologically. At any rate, it looks like the stories Elysium picked up from the future are actually happening. But, like I said before, of course there’s always the possibility that it could be another what-if scenario. (laughs)
Will the Ikaruga and Hime that showed up in the sub story “もう一つの温泉郷” make their appearance in Kuro no Kiseki?
They will appear in one way or another, but I can’t say whether that will be in Kuro no Kiseki. Do pay attention to the hint about what Rean will do next.
Sub story “ある少女の学校生活” shows Renne’s days in Calvard. Will she also be a key person in Kuro no Kiseki?
This episode featured some concrete information. It revealed the names of people and places, like Renne attending Aramis High School and the exchange with Dingo. It’s refreshing to see Renne act as a student rather than the Angel of Slaughter. Since some time has passed since Trails into Reverie, the grown-up Renne may play some role in Kuro no Kiseki?
This sub story also reveals a rupture between the Epstein Foundation and the Verne Company, and that the latter goes on to develop their own orbment. Is this orbment Kuro no Kiseki’s Xipha?
That definitely is Xipha.
In the last sub story, “そして、こ女は剣を手に進み続ける”, we’re introduced to the female bracer Elaine and her childhood friends, one with black hair who’s always been a pain and the other who’s working as an analyst for the CID. Will any of these become Kuro no Kiseki’s protagonist?
I wonder. (laughs) Not only Elaine, but the Calvard bracer Zin from Trails in the Sky also appeared in this episode. Since Kuro no Kiseki will be about Calvard, the Bracer Guild will be addressed sooner or later, meaning that regardless of Elaine’s or Zin’s appearance, it’ll be worthwhile to pay attention to them from now on.
The characters Shunran, Sayu and Dau appear in Trails into Reverie’s in-game novel, Shunran, Archer of Darkness before Dawn. Should we remember them as well?
That story isn’t set in Calvard but in the eastern part of the continent, where the earth is decaying. That’s why I honestly don’t know whether Shunran and the others will appear in Calvard. However, we tend to make stories as we work on our games. There’s also the precedent of Swin and Nadia showing up in Trails into Reverie, who previously appeared in Trails of Cold Steel IV’s in-game novel Three & Nine, so I can’t say Shunran and the others will never make their appearance.
Other interesting tidbits we’d love to know
Who sent Ilya the mask?
Ishmelga-Rean, who was planning to use her as a pawn. It’s funny to imagine him wrapping that mask and having it shipped to her place. (laughs) I guess Ishmelga just has to manipulate people. By the way, Ilya turns to the enemy’s side in Trails into Reverie, but showing what happened after she was injured fell a bit short for a character that had been portrayed so beautifully, didn’t it? The staff thought the same, that they had to show what was going on in Ilya’s mind, and I think they took the opportunity to do so.
Will the Mecha Mishy episode, that actually ran rather deep, see new developments in the future?
I wonder why so much was shown in the first place? (laughs) I think there’s a lot of love for Mishy within the staff.
I wonder about the future, though. If you think about the many fans Mishy garnered in Erebonia, there should be people in Calvard who know him as well. To be frank, I don’t know what will happen, but please watch over the future of Mishy.
Claire’s cousin Isara became an instructor at the Thors Branch Campus. What job did she have so far and what course will she teach?
Isara had been working as a management consultant. With her experience she’ll assume the position of Military Finance instructor, taking over that position from Towa. By the way, the Combat Tactics seat became available after Randy returned to Crossbell and will be filled in by someone from the Imperial Army.
Did Cedric manage to become an Enforcer in one piece?
Please look closely at the device he’s holding at the end of the episode. You’ll notice there’s a number engraved in it.
Beryl became even more mysterious with the Episodes “幸運の石と不幸の船” and “軌跡でポン”. Will the day we learn more about her ever come?
About Beryl? I wonder. I do think there’s room for her to show up in Kuro no Kiseki. She’s a character I want to see drop by every now and then, like the popular characters Anton and Ricky from Trails in the Sky, but I do think she’ll remain a mystery for the time being.
By the time Kuro no Kiseki starts, students from the Thors Branch Campus will also have graduated. Please tell us what future course they will follow.
That’s a bit difficult to answer and it’s possible this will be addressed in the future. I’m sure that each and every one of them pursue the path they’ve chosen. Some of them may be involved in the main story in the future, others may be mentioned along the way in conversations. Those kind of developments are the real thrill of the Kiseki series.
Lapis’s appetite is unlimited. Just what is Rosenberg technology?
It’s almost a shtick at this point, but it’s definitely converting food to energy. Joerg, her creator, hasn’t showed up at all. I wonder what he’s up to. (laughs) Now we know that Lapis is a glutton, I hope she meets with Ries, the glutton of the Septian Church, so they can engage in an eating contest.