2015 has been a great year for JRPG fans, with titles such as Xenoblade Chronicles X, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, Devil Survivor 2, and more coming out. As a result, Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has quite a bit of competition. How well does it stack up?
The game’s main character is one Rean Schwarzer, who has recently decided to attend Thors Military Academy in an attempt to find his path in life. On his way to the academy, he notices that he seems to be one of the few in a specific uniform.
He arrives at the academy and discovers that the uniform indicates that he has been assigned to a mysterious “Class VII”. This special class is the only one that blends students from aristocracy with commoners, and also features the distinction of being the one in charge of testing out new military equipment.
Coming from a variety of different backgrounds, the class needs to learn to put their differences aside as they work together to complete the various “Field training” assignments they are sent on by their teacher. As they journey throughout the Erebonian Empire, they slowly begin to realize why they have been brought together in one class, and will face an enormous challenge against the backdrop of a looming civil war between social classes.
The story and cast are quite interesting and, even with the scores of secondary characters met along the way, each of the nine main characters gets a chance to tell their story, fleshing out their personalities and settling differences with the contrasting cast members. A useful system included is a journal system that helps recap almost everything you do from a narrative perspective, which helps keep everything clear in your mind as the tale becomes quite political.
The gameplay itself is nothing too unique; If you’ve played the Trails in the Sky games, you know basically what to do. Combat itself is turn-based, with the usual options of move, attack, items, flee, and the ability to utilize Craft skills, Arts, and the Tactical Link system. For those who have not played a Legend of Heroes game, Crafts and Arts are similar as they both utilize a type of energy and are specially-learned abilities. They range from being single-target and area of effect attacks to granting various buffs and debuffs. When combined with reading your enemies’ elemental and weapon weaknesses, this, though nothing too groundbreaking, is quite an in-depth system.
The combat itself, even with the intricacies, is quite fluid, and never feels too challenging or easy. To be honest, the difficulty I jumped into, which was balanced for New Game Plus, required me to step back and consider my strategies several times throughout the game, thus granting a real sense of accomplishment when I finally managed to succeed in winning a particularly tough battle.
As you explore the world itself, you will see enemies on-screen, and, as with some other RPGs, can attack them before engaging. Depending on the enemy and your selected character, you could stun the enemy, thus gaining an advantage in combat if you decide to engage after all. Overall, the balance of enemies in each dungeon typically felt right, never feeling like there were too many or few enemies in each one.
Outside of dungeon exploration and combat, you still have quite a bit to do. With the cast of nine main characters, you have quite a bit of down time to utilize to cultivate relationships with each. Evolving these relationships during moments between big story angles becomes vital towards making sure you are entering each dungeon with a team that is well equipped both physically and relationally.
Your free time will be limited, however. For example, you may be able to talk to several characters, but only have time to talk with two. You’ll need to decide which relationships are the most important both on and off the battlefield, as well as which ones can be set on the back burner. These relationships also impact how the fighting plays out, making it even more integral to the experience.
There are also several different activities you can do outside of battle and building relationships, such as fishing and playing cards. These mini-games tend to be quite relaxing, and can, at times after an exhausting dungeon, be just what the gamer ordered to help wind down from the excitement.
When all is said and done, if you opt to try to accomplish all quests in the game, you’re easily looking at spending 90+ hours with Trails of Cold Steel.
Those who have, like myself, been playing the Legend of Heroes series in Western localized form only just now get to see what the franchise looks like when built from the ground up with PlayStation 3 technology in mind. The art style is quite good, and, though animations can become somewhat stiff at times, the large and diverse environments more than make up for this minor complaint.
In terms of sound, both soundtrack and voice work are quite good. The voice work is fully dubbed, with exception of encounters in town and the main character’s thoughts, typically, and though many would complain about English voice actors in any game, most of the fears that people who typically despise English dubs in JRPGs should be put to rest, as it feels the actors actually took time to understand the characters.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is good at evoking emotion from the player, no matter the situation.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a great game that should please most, if not all, JRPG fans. With a system that makes you actually think about your moves in battle (at least on the higher difficulties), good voice work, a good soundtrack,and an astonishing number of side quests, it is sure to keep the player occupied for hours on end. The icing on the cake is the cross-save feature, allowing gamers to swap between PlayStation 3 and Vita without losing their progress.
Being only the first in trilogy, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel definitely has me interested in how the other games are.
Final Score: 4.5/5