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Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

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It's time to hit the books!

It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and Trails of Cold Steel went West during the same year. This outcome has made me believe that Hell has frozen over, as this series happens to be one of Nihon Falcom’s, the company behind the Ys franchise, largest titles. Due to its size, the series has been notorious for being a challenging ordeal to localize, as the character count for each installment’s script is larger than your average JRPG. By huge, I’m talking about content like lengthy reading materials that expand on series’ different settings and NPCs that go through their own stories while the main cast is on their adventure.

While Trails of Cold Steel was released after the series’ Crossbell duology, Trails to Zero and Trails to Azure, XSEED confirmed that Falcom designed this installment to be accessible to those who’re new to The Legend of Heroes Trails titles. As a person who only played the Prologue chapter of the first Trails in the Sky game, I never felt lost in the game’s latest storyline. That, and it mostly focuses on the region of the Erebonian Empire, which is north of the Kingdom of Liberl, the main setting in the Trails in the Sky trilogy.

Just like my brief time with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, my journey through Trails of Cold Steel was almost like love at first sight. Let’s just say that it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PlayStation 3 [Reviewed], PlayStation Vita)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games (NA), NIS America (EU)
Release Date: December 22, 2015 (NA), January 29, 2016 (EU)
MSRP: $39.99 (Regular Edition), $49.99 (Lionheart Edition)

Before the game’s main story begins, players are thrown into the middle of a mission you’re storming a military base that’s filled with robots, along with a few tidbits that hint at a major crisis in Erebonia. Then Trails of Cold Steel focuses on Rean Schwarzer's enrollment at the Thors Military Academy, which places him in the newly created class called Class VII. During his new academic life, he’ll have to bond with his classmates as they learn about the reasoning behind their group’s creation, along with encountering a few suspicious scenarios that are happening from behind the scenes.

Throughout a good chunk of the adventure, Trails of Cold Steel’s story moves at a very slow place, as it takes a long time for the major events to kick in. Mind you, this isn’t a bad thing, as players are showered with many elements that expand a few great treats, such as the Erebonia region’s historical background, the culture of each location in the territory, and a ton of other stuff that gets people acquainted with the land. This is accomplished through the books that players read throughout the adventure, the characters that they interact with, and the quests (both main and optional) that they undertake. All in all, I was entertained by the title’s presentation since it throws each piece at the player in a steady manner.

When it comes to Trails of Cold Steel progression, the whole formula felt similar to titles like Persona 4 and Mana Khemia: Alchemist of Al-Revis since the meat of the game focuses on Rean’s school life and his ordeals with his classmates. You spend most of your time attending classes, spending time with your Class VII buddies, and undertaking different tasks for the Student Council. Then the story takes the group on a field trip where they test their skills in different towns and large environments all over Erebonia. With the group consisting of nobles and commoners with their own problems, the developing chemistry between the party ended up being entertaining.

For the most part, the formula doesn’t deviate from this path too much, but that doesn’t stop it from getting dull and/or repetitive as the events and narrative that lead up to each activity holds the entire package together nicely. As players start to see other segments that hint at the real conflicts in the story, the whole segment manages to feel rewarding during each of the game’s chapters. Whether it’s seeing the events unfold through mysterious characters that are up to something huge, political struggles between the top noble classes, or the main cast’s dilemmas, the game's story blends different styles of world-building elements into one tasty treat; thus pleasing those who were pulled in from the beginning.

For players who got to play the Trails in the Sky saga, Trails of Cold Steel’s combat system brings back the turn-based benefits and the S-Break mechanic/the ability to use any character's ultimate move during any moment in battle. As an added feature, the game throws in a few mechanics that give off a nice Persona 4 vibe. With the introduction to Link Attacks, this lets players find new ways to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. All in all, this new addition to the game acts as another feature for players to make sure that enemies don’t take advantage of the random battle bonuses (such as dealing critical damage or gaining life). Throw in the ability to switch party members like in Final Fantasy X, and we have ourselves some good ways to turn each encounter into a fun time.

Perhaps the best part out of the team attacks is that their power can be improved through methods outside of spending time with your classmates. Through minigames and using each character in your adventure, players can increase their link levels of their allies very easily— even if some of the social events can only be done on certain days. Best of all, this allows for other party members to support each other in combat. Thanks to these new features, I found myself coming up with various ways to mop the floor with my enemies. The game’s Arts feature, the Trails series’ term for magic-like abilities, feels like an improved version of Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system, which grants players endless possibilities on how they want to tailor their party; therefore resulting in a rewarding experience when a setup works well in battle.

Trails of Cold Steel may not have the greatest looking graphics on the PS3 and Vita, but the simplicity and style behind its designs work well in giving the game a nice presentation that's good enough to pull people into Erebonia. At the same time, the Falcom’s 3D models manage to do great justice to Nakae’s lovely character designs, which is one of the benefits of its simple look.

As a person who’s been digging the Ys series’ upbeat and fast-paced music, Trails of Cold Steel’s soundtrack lives up to Falcom’s great record of having some amazing tunes in their titles. For example, the boss theme track known as “Tie a Link of Arcus” is a harmonious fusion between electric guitar and violin music that always gets my blood pumping when I’m about to fight a tough adversary. The same can be said about the main battle song “A Glint of Cold Steel,” a tune that somehow creates a wonderful melody that mixes techno, rock, and piano music together. In terms of the area tunes, they all manage to suit the locations theme, such as the Nord Highland’s piece, "Land of Blue Skies," having some soothing panflute segments that feel you’re exploring the mountain regions of Peru.

While we’re still on the topic of sound, the game’s English voice cast knocked it out of the ballpark. Sean Chiplock’s (Magi’s Cassim, Danganronpa’s Ishimaru) performance as Rean worked well in conveying the guy's various reaction in his quest to find his place in life, along with his fumbles during the beginning of the story and his serious moments. Also, Carrie Keranen (KILL la KILL’s Satsuki, Madoka Magica’s Mami) was able to convey the Class VII Instructor Sara’s laid-back personality and drunk side wonderfully; thus making her one of my favorite teachers in an RPG. Overall, XSEED Games did a great job in ensuring that each person gave it their all with their roles in Trails of Cold Steel. At the same time, it helped show how well their localization work on the game blended with each performance.

In terms of downsides, there were a couple minor issues present in the game. One has to do with two Quartz items called Dragon Vein and Septium Vein. The former’s description says that it’s supposed to regenerate the user’s HP outside of battle; however, it only restores their EP, the points used to cast Arts. As for the latter, it says that it’s supposed to grant players the healing skill Teara, but the ability isn’t available when someone equips in on one of their party members. Nonetheless, this error is very small, as both items are still useful. Most importantly, it doesn’t change the fact that Trails of Cold Steel’s English script flowed nicely throughout the story, which shows how dedicated the team was at making sure that the lines hit us in a positive way. Also, it was neat to see that one of the academy’s students speaks in a Scottish accent.

Another problem includes a few instances where Trails of Cold Steel would lag during panning scenes or when the player is navigating through the Orbment section of the menu in Trista, the game's main town. In the end, these problems don’t happen frequently to the point where the whole adventure goes through tons of slowdowns. When they happen, they are very brief, since a majority of the game’s segments ran smoothly.

In the end, my time with Trails of Cold Steel was like a great relationship where the problems didn’t get in the way of the strong bond. The title’s slow narrative and world-building aspects benefit the adventure more than hurting it, as it prepares players for the major events in its sequel. While there were a few references to the previous Trails titles, newcomers to the series aren’t exposed to the who, what, and why behind these events, since they’re more of an extra tasty topping to the yummy Teriyaki Chicken Pizza that’s right in front of us. Just like any tasty delight, the reward for savoring every moment makes this game a nice course that'll satisfy anyone who loves to consume RPGs.

[This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]


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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel reviewed by Salvador G Rodiles

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Salvador G Rodiles
Salvador G RodilesSenior Editor   gamer profile

Salvador's an average bystander who took his first steps towards a life-changing goal. During his journey, he's devising a way to balance his time with anime, manga, video games, and tokusatsu in... more + disclosures


 



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