The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Review
Platform: Playstation 3/Vita
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: December 22, 2015
A Review Copy Was Not Provided By XSEED
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a fantastic JRPG brought to us by Falcom and localized by XSEED Games. While, yes, there are previous entries in this series (Trails in the Sky: First Chapter/Second Chapter/Third Chapter, Trails to Zero/Azure) none of them are necessarily required to be played to enjoy this game. The Trails in the Sky trilogy isn’t referenced a lot as it was a passed event. Meanwhile, Trails to Zero/Azure are connected to Trails of Cold Steel in that both games are happening at the same time as this one.
Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the fictional country of the highly militarized Erobonian Empire. So militarized, in fact, that it has five armies. One for each of the Four Great Nobles in the empire and the Chancellors own army, meant to keep those four armies in check. Now, this game does not take place in any of these armies. Instead, it takes place in the city of Trista – home of Thors Military Academy to be precise. Thors Military Academy is actually a segregated academy in that Class I and Class II are reserved for nobles and nobility only and Class III, IV, and V are only for the commoners. Of course, nothing stops these two social classes from being friends, going to the same bathrooms and things like that. However, the fact that they’re separated by class and dorms does create is a lot of social tension among students as some think that they’re better than just because they’re of noble birth. This is where your newly formed class comes in – Class VII (where’s VI? Don’t ask) a class of nine students that holds both nobility and commoners as well as its own dormitory.
From left to right: Elliot, Giaus, Laura, Machias, Alisa, Rean, Emma, Fie, Jusis
In this class, you play as Rean Schwarzer, a swordsmen who’s looking for what path he should take in life as he doesn’t want to burden his family. Your classmates include:
- Alisa R., a competent bow user who is very quick to temper.
- Machias Regnitz, a gunman that absolutely hates nobles with every fiber of his being and is incredibly studious.
- Luara Arseid, daughter of one the greatest sword masters in world. She is always calm, cool, and collected and is always ready to test her blade to those who ask.
- Gaius Worzel, a foreigner from the Nord Highlands, he’s very in tune with nature and is the most easy going of the bunch, his weapon of choice is a spear.
- Elliot Craig is more of a lover than a fighter and is very passionate about music and such. He’s more of a supporter as his weapon is a staff built with the latest and greatest technology.
- Jusis Albarea, son of Helmut Albarea – one of the four great nobles of the empire. He’s the embodiment of everything Machias hates in nobles: their extremely haughty attitude. Just everything about him screams “I’m better than you”, but ironically he doesn’t mean it, it’s just how he was raised.
- Fie Claussell: The youngest of your classmates who wields dual gun swords. What she lacks in studying she makes up for tremendously in combat.
- Emma Millstein: Like Elliot, she wields a newly built staff, she is also one of the brightest students in all of the academy, placing first in the entry exam.
So, what makes these students so special that necessitates them to have a class all to their own? Well, during the entry tests, they all proved to be very compatible with the new ARCSUS technology (and Emma and Elliot the staves) – that’s it. Although, because of their compatibility with this new technology their curriculum is very different than the rest of their peers. That said, the game’s story is split up into 2 sections each chapter; one section always takes place in the academy and the other takes place in where ever your field study is placed.
During the school sections, there are a couple things that have to be done. On your free days, you have to go around helping the student council which means you go around helping students and people in town (so in a way they aren’t exactly “free” for Rean). Of course, most of these things end up totally optional, the only real request needed to be done is usually asked by the principal himself. Those tasks aside, you also have bonding points to spend which, well, bond with some of your classmates in a one on one session. These sessions actually vary quite differently from one another every time you bond with them. Some small character development aside, each one grants you Link Points and the closer they get, the more they help each other out in battle. Sadly, seeing all of them in the initial play through is impossible as you don’t have enough points to do them. On the flip side, in regards to field studies, they’re sort of the same thing as the tasks on your free days. Although, now you’re not in the city of Trista. You’re out in a town or city somewhere in Erebonia. These sections are where the story picks up as you can only learn so much about the world you live in at school.
This said, world building is why I thoroughly enjoyed this game a lot. Every NPC has a name and personality to them. Talking to them on different days; even at different times of day they end up saying something completely different as Falcom gives every character a life as much as they can. For instance, at one point there is a concert being held in the game, and if you didn’t talk to the people in town a day beforehand you wouldn’t have known what was going on. Or that if you didn’t talk to everyone in town when it was over you would’ve missed a hidden side-quest about a couple of parents who are worried about where their child was since it was very late in the day as well as pouring rain outside. Little did they know he was sleeping in the chapel where the concert was being held because he wore himself out from the excitement. Of course, this isn’t about the little things either. You see this in the main story as well. Something a NPC might say at that moment might clue you in on an upcoming required quest.
The battle system in this games takes aspects from the previous Trails games, and makes them faster and more involved. In battle you have 3 meters per character to look out for: HP, EP, and CP. Your HP meter is for your health, so if it reaches 0, your character is KO’d. EP are your Effort Points for using arts (think magic) and such. The CP meter are Craft Points, these are sort of like arts but are character-specific and are unique to said character and they’re done with no wait time. You gain CP by either hitting an enemy or by being hit yourself. Having 100 CP allows you do use an S-Craft skill. These are very powerful attacks that consume 100 CP and if you have 200 CP, that attack is much more potent. On your enemies side, outside of being weak to elemental attacks, some are weak against certain kinds of physical strikes. That’s something to seriously consider due to the fact that when you hit them with the strike they’re weak against, you can get a partner to do an additional attack to them. One last major part of battles to watch out for, however, is the turn order. You see, it doesn’t just go from top to bottom and call it a day. Throughout a battle the game may provide several types of bonuses ranging from guaranteed critical hit landings, to allowing you to use an Art immediately with the low cost of 0 EP, and gaining extra CP. It would be in your best interest to thoroughly take advantage of this. For instance, you can use an S-Break (this is what it’s called when you use an S-Craft when it’s not your turn) and land a critical hit on a boss causing an insane amount of damage as well as making sure they don’t land a critical hit on you.
Sadly, no game is without its faults. In this case, the game’s pacing is incredibly faulty due to the aforementioned school life to field study transitions. The school life parts of the game aren’t necessarily bad. Seeing how some of your classmates evolve and get along with each other is great as you see things change on a day to day basis. The problem is that, after a while, it feels like it’s slowing down the game and is just dragging it on. In a way, you just want to check up on everyone and then immediately move on because the field studies become that more involved and serious and interesting. Which then brings it all back to the fact that once the field study is over, back to school you go for a couple of hours while the tensions throughout the nation only continue to escalate. In the end, it can’t really be helped as you’re just a bunch of students, saving the world isn’t your job; getting an education is.
All in all, the game is great. The term “saving the best for last” definitely applies here as XSEED brought over one of the best JRPGs at the very last minute. That said, other than the pacing issue, the game runs sluggishly and the character animations aren’t great, but this can be overlooked as everything else holds the game up quite well and I couldn’t get enough of it.
+Great character development
-Pacing structure becomes less welcome over time
-The game is poorly optimized