Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PlayStation 3)
- Release Date (NA): December 22, 2015
- Release Date (EU): January 29, 2016
- Publisher: NIS (EU) XSEED (NA)
- Developer: Nihon Falcom
- Genres: JRPG
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation Vita
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
While the Legend of Heroes has had numerous previous entries, Trails of Cold Steel is part 1 of a separate trilogy, so it's a starting point for new players without prior knowledge of the series to jump right in.
EREBONIA’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Cold Steel starts off by throwing you right into the action. There’s some sort of an attack going down at an army base, and a group of teenage soldiers are talking about tanks and railway guns. The situation is dire, and it’s up to you to stop these railway guns before they fire. Cut to a battle sequence, with tons of options. The game makes no effort to explain, but the party of apparent heroes that you’re controlling are high enough level to take out anything that opposes you at the moment, with just simple attacks. After reaching the end of the area, a cutscene plays, where the deadly railway guns fire, and a person, known only to you as “Black Haired Boy” dramatically yells in horror, and the game fades to black.
Makes sense, right? Well, it will in time, as the game cuts to “5 months earlier”. This is where the adventure begins.
You play as Rean Schwarzer, one of nine specially picked first-year students of Thors Military Academy’s Class VII, a new subset of the school dedicated solely to taking the best applicants to Thors, and grouping them all together, regardless of social level. The country where the school is located, Erebonia, is a very classist place, where people value nobility over anything else. Class VII is designed in order to see if those from different social backgrounds can move past years of conflict and manage to work together.
The main characters of Class VII start off as horribly cliched archetypes; you’ve got your token tsundere, an arrogant noble, an unwilling, easily scared nerd, and so on and so forth. By the end of the story, they each come into their own and are more complex characters, but for the first 10 hours, they’re all quite basic and bland.
The backstory of Trails of Cold Steel is very detailed, and XSEED has done a wonderful job of translating the massive amounts of dialogue and lore. A good chunk of Cold Steel is spent focusing on the intricate story, politics, and people throughout your adventure, and the care that XSEED put into localization shows here.
Even though the introduction is a whirlwind of confusion, Cold Steel, like most long JRPGs, starts painfully slow due to the fact that the game focuses mostly on world building and characters for the first few chapters. It’s a bit of a slog, but it’s only preparing you for the rest of the journey.
Arts and Crafts
On the gameplay side of things, Cold Steel takes a page out of Persona’s handbook. You’ve got a dungeon that changes every time you enter, and once you delve as far as you can, the plot unfolds itself. Afterwards, the story takes a break, and you’re granted free time.
Pressing square while in a town will bring up a fast travel menu, letting you have quick access to all the locations in the area without stumbling around and getting lost looking for specific places. It also will show where all the members of Class VII are, and who is available for bonding events, which is a super useful feature.
There’s plenty of things to do during your free days, including all the typical RPG fare; side-quests, fetch-quests, world exploration, grinding, a fishing minigame, and a card game. During these free days, you’re given “Bonding Points”, which let Rean become closer to individual members of Class VII. There aren’t enough bonding points in a single playthrough to let you max out friendships with all the 8 other classmates, so players will have to specifically target the characters they want on their team the most. Each time you level up a bond with a character, you’ll get new link bonuses during battle. Link attacks consist of you “linking” two characters in combat in order to deal extra damage. By striking an opponent with a critical hit, or an attack that they are weak to, there’s a chance the enemy will be knocked down, letting your linked partner step in and dish out a follow-up attack.
Each of your party member’s weapons do specific types of damage such as pierce, slash, thrust and strike. By pressing L1 in the field, you can switch between characters in order to stun enemies. If you get a preemptive strike with a weapon that an enemy is weak against, you’ll enter battle with a combat advantage, which will give your party stat buffs and extra turns to attack.
Every foe has weaknesses and strengths to elements, and a specific chance of being knocked down or being afflicted by any of 23 status effects. There is also an Orbament System, where you can attach Quartz to your weapons, in order to give them special stat boosts or raise the chance to inflict a status effect. In addition to that, you can perform Regular Attacks, Arts, Crafts, and S-Breaks. Arts are typical elemental magic attacks, like Fire, Wind, Rock, and Water. Crafts consist of character specific attacks that usually have an extra effect, such as unbalancing an opponent. Using Crafts require “Craft Points”, which are gained by simply using regular attacks. Finally, there are S-Breaks, and these are basically ultimate attacks that you can perform, so long as it’s your turn, you can choose any character to use one, even if they’ve already attacked during that turn. With all these components, Trails of Cold Steel's battle system is very deep, and all the mechanics keep the gameplay fresh throughout the entirety of the main story. While the expansiveness of the battle system sounds daunting, it never gets overly complex, and the game elaborates greatly on these mechanics during the first few hours of the game to help ease players in.
Trails of Cold Steel has a great aesthetic, there's a great attention to detail within the towns and buildings. What holds it back though, it's that even though it was originally released in Japan in 2013, the graphics are very dated looking, as well as character animations looking stiff. Definitely not a deal breaker, especially since this was probably a compromise for the Vita version, but the state of such blurry textures is worth mentioning. On the Vita front, the graphics look great, but the framerate suffers whenever the camera pans out. The portable version also suffers from longer loading times than it's console counterpart, but otherwise, it's a fantastic port of the game.
While the graphics department of the game might be lacking, the sound design is the complete opposite. Cold Steel's soundtrack seems fairly standard up until a battle theme plays. Pieces such as The Glint of Cold Steel or Tie a Link of ARCUS! sound fantastic, and really set the mood during fights. Also, the game only offers an English dubbed voiceover for characters. Thankfully, the casting and voice work here is top notch. All of the characters' voices sound fitting to their personalities, which is great, because with just how much voiced dialogue there is in this game, you'll be hearing these characters a lot. The only complaint I have with the voiceover is during some scenes in the early part of the game, where all of Class VII had voiced dialogue to one another, except for Rean, who largely didn't end up having a majority of his text spoken until well into chapter 1. It was a bit odd, nothing that detracted from the game, but it definitely stood out as awkward.
Possibly one of the best features in the game is the ability to save anywhere. Gone are the days of hunting down an elusive save point, as just choosing save from the menu will let you record your progress anywhere you please. It's a very useful feature, especially if you utilize the cross save function of the PS Vita version.
Releasing at the tail end of a year chock full of great games, and in Europe's case, right after the Christmas gaming overload of sales, there’s a chance that this game has gotten overlooked in lieu of other titles. And that's a shame, because Trails of Cold Steel is a something that any JRPG lover should pick up.
+ Fun and engaging combat mechanics
+ Great world building
- Dungeons don't look or feel very different from each other.
- Sometimes, the game gets too text heavy in-between gameplay segments.
The game is very vibrant, and the towns are all very detailed, but other than that, it almost feels like this game would be right at home on the PS2 or Gamecube in terms of graphic fidelity. The sound design, however, is outstanding. The English-dubbed voices fit perfectly with the characters, and the soundtrack has a ton of great pieces.
Between the quartz and ARCUS system and all of your party members, you have a wealth of options during combat There's a lot of strategic customization and fun to be had here.
If you don't rush through the game, Cold Steel's main story will take about 50-70 hours to complete. NG+ offers a difficult challenge, and there's tons of miss-able quests and unobtainable bonding events the first time around to entice a 2nd playthrough.
out of 10
(not an average)
All in all, Trails of Cold Steel is a very solid experience. It takes the groundwork from other popular series in the genre, and although it doesn't do anything outstanding with that, it's still a great game.