There are many Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) franchises that I have come to love over the years. Series like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Shin Megami Tensei, and Tales Of have become mine and others’ favorite series over the years. There are other JRPGs that have a following, but are not as big that gets the majority excited. That was me one winter night when I happened to stumble upon the collector’s edition of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (it had a cool looking box). I had heard of The Legend of Heroes series before when I bought Trails in the Sky on Steam (I have yet to touch it), but I knew nothing of the series. So one day I decided to give Trails of Cold Steel a try and I instantly got hooked.
Prologue – Getting off the Train
Trails of Cold Steel is part of a trilogy of games in the Kiseki series. Each title in the series is divided into different parts that tell the complete story in that arc. Trails in the Sky had three games, the Crossbell series had two games, and Cold Steel has four. Taking place in the Erebonia Empire on the Zemuria Continent, we follow the story of our silent but sometimes not silent protagonist, Rean Schwarzer. The story opens up with a flash forward to an attack at a fortress which serves as the games tutorial. From here the basics of combat are shown off, which is a good thing since your next encounter does not happen for a while after this. After the flash forward, we see Rean arriving in a town called Trista; home of the military school he will be attending, Thors Military Academy.
We are then introduced to his classmates who make up their class known as Class VII. Each classmate specializes in a different weapon and skills. We have Alisa who specializes with the bow and love interests. Elliot who is good boy musician and uses an orbal staff. Laura with her mighty greatsword and mightier damage output. Jusis who I could not figure out how to make work well but has a sword. Machias who deals damage with his shotgun and heal people with as well. Fie who wields dagger pistols and is the grandmother of your high school coach who said could outrun everyone. Emma who is seriously a **** come on, and Gauis, the one everyone sadly forgets. You get other characters later in the story, but I will not reveal because spoilers.
Polish until it shines!
Where this game shines is in its combat. While each character has their own stats that fit their needs, you can mix and match some of the spells and abilities they can perform. This is due to the Master Quartz system that can change up a character’s spells, stats, and abilities. Each master quartz has its own attributes and can change its buff and benefits as it levels up. Even better, these quartz can be switched between characters to make anyone fit a certain need. There are obviously stats and abilities you want to give certain characters, but I like the aspect of changing characters to meet your playstyle. Along with the Master Quartz, you have standard quartz that give individual spells, abilities, and stat boost that can be attached to anyone. The standard quartz are what makes the customization more interesting as you can play off the Master Quartz to give characters devastating abilities. For once in a game, it felt like if you kept up what quartz are equipped to each character, challenges become easier to tackle.
Other great things about the combat are combat links. Combat links are extremely helpful in all fights and can make them go by super quick. Each character has a support level with each other, and it determines how the bonds between them are. Bonds can go as high as level 5 and each level opens passive abilities that can be performed with those two linked together. Most characters will have the ability to perform a follow-up or finishing blow attack, while some will automatically heal the person they are linked with if they get hurt. Some abilities cannot be triggered unless you exploit enemy weaknesses. There are four main weapon types: slash, bash, pierce, and thrust. Each enemy has a greater weakness to one or more of each weapon type. If you manage to unbalance them, your link partner will be able to perform a follow-up attack. Each follow-up attack will earn you one bravery point that can be stored to perform a rush attack (3 bravery points) or a burst attack (5 bravery points). This gives players a reward for exploiting enemy weaknesses.
Outside of combat, the characters and world are well written and rewards players for talking to everyone and exploring everything. This can make the run of the game feel longer than most, but everyone is interesting and you get to see how people change from the beginning of the school year up to halfway through the year. It is also important to talk to everyone so that you don’t miss out on events that affect your overall performance rating at the end of each chapter. Within the main cast of characters and important side characters, you get a journal to fill out information about each that open up their lives a bit more so that you can understand them a bit more. This part of the game feels like a Persona game where you are trying to grow strong bonds between all of your social link confidants. Interacting with your classmates this way nets more experience for their social link versus enemy encounters.
All things that shine cast a shadow
While I enjoyed everything that Trails of Cold Steel offered, there were some things that bothered me a little bit. Each area that you visit for the monthly field study can only be accessed at that time. If you fail to find anything that you may need or buy anything from the shops, you will be unable to get those items again. While combat is enjoyable and can go by pretty fast, the exposition can go on forever and will confuse you if you are not paying attention. It wasn’t until the endgame when I was finally able to put the pieces together and remember why everyone hated each other to begin with. I also had a problem with Rean deciding when he wanted to have a voice or not. I am unsure if the developers wanted Rean to have a voice or not, but he does during important cutscenes. It is also very weird when everyone is talking and then you just get text box sounds from him.
I mentioned earlier that the game rewards you for talking to people and exploring. If you are trying to go for the highest school rating, A0, then you need to explore and talk to every single person to make sure that you are not overlooking something. What makes it kinda frustrating is that there are no indications that you need to go to this area and talk to this person unless you are paying attention to what people are saying. I felt like I missed out on a lot of side stories on my first playthrough, but as the name suggest you can completely ignore them it you are not going for the high rank.
All in all, I encourage JRPG fans to give this series a try. I tried to avoid any character development or story plots because they are best if you experience them for yourself. If you enjoy a good story with amazing gameplay, I can not highly recommend this game enough. As for which version to play that is up to your preference. The PS3 version has a cross save feature with the Vita version, so you are able to play on handheld or console. The PS4 and PC version have turbo mode where getting through the game goes by much faster; handy if you are on New Game+. Depending on which version you finish will give you a bonus when you play the second game. Trust me, you will want to play the second game after this. If you are not a fan of long conversations, or if you are looking for more exploration and action, then this may not be a title that you will enjoy as much.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Varies (Easy to Nightmare)
What I Liked:
+ Battle System
+ Customization Options
+ Interesting Characters
+ Developed World
+ Great Story (so many twists!)
What I Disliked:
– Dialogue can get too long
– Hidden Objectives
– Inconsistent voice acting
– Having to immediately play the second game to get all my answers!