The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), PS Vita
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $39.99 US Available Here $59.95 AUS Available Here
Over the last few years we have seen countless JRPGs localized that very few would have ever thought would be possible due to what a massive undertaking the translation would be. A few of these just so happen to fall under The Legend of Heroes series and with XSEED handling both the first and second chapters of Trails in the Sky, they have opted to continue the series with the most recent trilogy, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. With the second title already being localized, does the first Trails of Cold Steel offer an experience worth sinking your teeth into?
The story in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel begins mid-siege as we join the yet unintroduced members of Class VII as they are fighting against enemies that have invaded a vital building and are preparing to use the country’s own weaponry against it. Just as things start to look bad, the story cuts back to the beginning. Set in the Erebonian Empire, a place fans of The Legend of Heroes series will recognize, we join Rean Schwarzer as he steps off the train into his first day as a student at Thors Military Academy.
As he makes his way through the city and eventually to the auditorium for initiation, he notices that only a few students wear the crimson colored uniform that he was given. While Thors Military Academy generally has split the classes between nobles and commoners, the members of Class VII, those in the crimson uniforms, have been assembled regardless of social status, a movie that causes some small amount of friction between a few members at the start.
That all changes over the course of the game however as, once players move past the initial slow start of the title, the members of Class VII and their instructor find themselves swept into a world of war, betrayal, love, honor and more. To give more details about certain events that take place, especially a number of twists that occur in the story would do the game a disservice but let’s just say that this is an RPG that focuses heavily on delivering a fleshed out and complex storyline, though be prepared for a cliffhanger into the second game.
On top of delivering a satisfying core narrative, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel manages to do something that even games with a small core cast often fail to do. It manages to develop these characters in such a manner that it actually makes players care about the many core characters that end up becoming party members throughout the game. While a few do end up getting sidelined a bit in regards to the main storyline, the fact that the Thors Academy serves as the main base of the game allows for the title to give players moments of free time where they can freely interact with their friends and learn more about their personalities and advance their subplots. That being said, usually players will only be able to interact with a few of their members at any given time which means that it is possible to lose out on some character development if you don’t juggle character interactions well enough.
In fact, beyond your immediate classmates players will be able to watch numerous little side stories develop as other students and teachers at Thors Academy have been given interesting personalities and dialogue that changes as players progress throughout the game, meaning that I often found myself exploring in order to catch up with everyone before trying to push through with the core storyline. Learning about the backstories of the core cast and interacting with them as they deal with the various events unfolding in the story, catching glimpses at the lives of other classmates, all while diving into the massive storyline here in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel means that this is a game that can be daunting from a story perspective (a recap journal is filled out as players progress for those who may get lost) but it is one that is extremely satisfying and will leave fans wanting more and thankfully that appears to be exactly what they’ll be getting in the future.
While players will be spending plenty of time at Thors Academy and finding their party members often being swapped out while they are sent on different field study missions, this brings us to the other hefty portion Trails of Cold Steel, the combat and customization systems. On the surface the combat in this game may seem fairly standard as it uses a four party member turn based system that allows players to strike their opponents in the field before entering into combat for an advantage. Then once entering battle they can move around the field to close or gain distance from an enemy or attack, use an item, or flee from combat.
This is all fairly standard until we get into the Craft Skills, Arts, Tactical Link system, weapon weaknesses, and elemental weaknesses. While the last two may seem fairly standard for RPGs, Trails of Cold Steel really takes advantages of these strengths and weaknesses, meaning that players will quickly find themselves learning about their foes in order to take them down in the best way possible, especially since field attacks with a weapon an opponent is weak against can lead to a battle that is practically over before it even begins.
As for the aforementioned systems, Craft Skills and Arts work fairly predictably with both allowing players to use skills of various types to either attack the opponent or buff the team though Arts draw upon EP while Craft Skills pull from CP. CP can be obtained from fighting in combat while EP works more like a mana system with both systems requiring some management and tweaking, with arts generally coming from quartz that can be equipped to each character and if the player can bring up a party member’s CP to over a hundred they can unleash powerful S-Craft attacks that can devastate an opponent in a flashy manner.
The Link system relies upon the various bonds that the party has made throughout the story so far by allowing characters to team up during battle to provide cover from attacks or help deal a finishing blow against an opponent. Using the aforementioned free time to bond with your party members allows these various link specials to be unlocked so not only does it help develop the characters in your party, it helps in combat as well. With players able to call in various types of Link attacks or assists depending on what is unlocked, there are generally plenty of options available in a fight, especially since if you have more than four party members at a time they can be swapped out with a party member on the sidelines to bring a fresh member into a battle.
This allows for a fluid and surprisingly easy to understand, despite the complicated sounding systems, combat system that never really feels unfair despite the fact that some opponents you come up against can be rather difficult. Figuring out the strategies to take down these foes and using the fast paced combat system to eliminate them as efficiently as possible delivers a satisfying experience, though ignoring these weaknesses can also lead to crushing defeat.
Of course with the meaty storyline offering plenty of content to explore and so many side-quests that I stopped counting after a while, there is more than enough content here to learn all of the intricacies of the system. Then if you feel like going through a second time, the title does offer bonuses such as link levels, items, and more that can be carried over or added into a New Game Plus mode.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel marks the first game in the series to be developed specifically for the PlayStation 3 rather than simply being an upgraded port. This means that those who are familiar with the series will be treated to the first 3D game in the series though don’t expect anything too amazing here as the character models, while designed nice enough to appear similar to their gorgeous character portraits, have a number of stiff animations and can appear rough looking at times.
The enemies players face off against are varied enough while the combat sequences are also handled fairly nicely and the numerous dungeons and environments that players will be exploring are designed with a unique feel to keep things feeling fresh for quite a while. It is worth noting that the PlayStation Vita version (with cross-save support) of the game doesn’t suffer much graphically outside of some artwork appearing less vivid and suffering from more slowdown than the console counterpart.
For a game that contains such a massive amount of dialogue that is found in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel one must give XSEED Games quite a lot of credit because not only is nearly all of the content (outside of the main character occasionally) voiced, the voice actors that have been chosen for these roles are great fits for these characters with only a handful sounding a bit off.
As for the game’s soundtrack, this one sports an amazing collection of music that really helps add emotion to the game. There are tunes that work well for a high-tension boss battle as well as those that drive home how dramatic certain sequences can be. With such a wide-range of variety here, as well as enjoyable exploration music, this is one that fans won’t be getting tired of anytime soon while working through over seventy hours of content that can be found in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel.
If you are a fan of RPGs then passing on The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel would be doing yourself a great disservice. By offering a well-crafted, albeit slow starting, storyline containing characters that you will actually begin to care about as the story progresses, and tons of content to enjoy supplemented with a combat system that may seem rather by the books but is incredibly satisfying at times, this title tells a story that can easily eat away at your time for hours on end. Trails of Cold Steel is a superb title for RPG fans, especially since it has a sequel in translation and a third title in the works.
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