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Review

Review: The Legend of Heroes – Trails of Cold Steel

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The Legend of Heroes series has had a hard time when it comes to Eng­lish releases. The tri­lo­gy befo­re Trails in the Sky recei­ved incredi­b­ly poor loca­li­sa­ti­ons, the Trails in the Sky tri­lo­gy its­elf took 6 years to be finis­hed, and the­re are still two games befo­re Trails of Cold Steel that haven’t been released in Eng­lish. Thank­ful­ly, not only is Trails of Cold Steel an excel­lent star­ting point for new­co­mers to the series, it’s also one of the best JRPGs out the­re.

Trails of Cold Steel is the 6th ent­ry in the Trails series, taking place in the Ere­bo­ni­an Empi­re, which has until now not been shown in a Trails game. Rean Schwar­zer is a new stu­dent at Thors Mili­ta­ry Aca­de­my, a mili­ta­ry school that trains both nobles and com­moners. He quick­ly dis­co­vers that the class he was assi­gned to, Class VII, is dif­fe­rent from the other clas­ses at school. Not only does it con­tain stu­dents from dif­fe­rent soci­al clas­ses, the cur­ri­cu­lum they’ll be fol­lo­wing is far dif­fe­rent to what is nor­mal­ly taught at Thors. Trails of Cold Steel details the events that take place over Rean’s first year at school, though unsur­pri­sin­gly his school life will not go qui­te as easi­ly as he hopes.

When play­ing Trails of Cold Steel for the first time, we weren’t sure if the school set­ting would end up working in the game’s favour. Games like Val­ky­ria Chro­ni­cles II tried to use a school set­ting to make the game appeal to a lar­ger audi­ence in Japan, and ending up making a wor­se game becau­se of it. This is not the case in Trails of Cold Steel, though this may in part be due to how you’re actual­ly away from Thors for lar­ge parts of the sto­ry. Class VII par­ta­kes in a mon­th­ly field trip that takes them to various parts of Ere­bo­nia, each with their own back­sto­ries and trou­bles that the class has to deal with. As with the rest of the Trails series, non-play­er-cha­rac­ters (NPCs) will near­ly always have new dia­lo­gue after time pas­ses or a major event hap­pens, which does a gre­at job of making even the least important cha­rac­ters more inte­res­ting. Thanks to this, the­re are cer­tain side cha­rac­ters in Trails of Cold Steel that are far more memo­r­able than the main casts of some RPGs.

That’s not to say the main cha­rac­ters are unin­te­res­ting here, in fact it’s the oppo­si­te. By the end, the­re wasn’t a sin­gle cha­rac­ter that we didn’t like, even if some of them aren’t as inte­gral to the sto­ry until Cold Steel II. If the­re was one are that we wish was impro­ved in regards to the cha­rac­ters, it’s the free time sys­tem. Every now and then Rean will have free time which, asi­de from giving you extra side-quests while at Thors, allows you to view spe­cial events with cha­rac­ters from the main cast. Many of the­se events give you new infor­ma­ti­on on a cha­rac­ter and can some­ti­mes feel like they should be man­dato­ry to the sto­ry. Unli­ke some­thing like the soci­al links/confidants in the Per­so­na series howe­ver, the­re is no way to view every free time event on your first play­th­rough. Due to how inte­res­ting the­se can be, espe­ci­al­ly for cha­rac­ters that don’t see much deve­lop­ment in the main sto­ry, it seems like a bad move to not make all of them viewa­ble in one go.

When not making your way through Thors or explo­ring a new town, you’ll be spen­ding a lot of your time figh­t­ing mons­ters. Com­bat is simi­lar to pre­vious Trails games, but with a few adjust­ments here and the­re. Asi­de from a basic attack, each cha­rac­ter has a set of crafts that are uni­que to them. The­se use Craft Points (CP), gai­ned from attacking or being hit, and can ran­ge from area of effect (AOE) moves to hel­pful buffs. S. Crafts use at least a full bar of CP but have very power­ful effec­ts, and they can also be used regard­less of whe­ther it’s that cha­rac­ters turn. Mean­while arts func­tion simi­lar­ly to magic from other RPGs, giving you access to various ele­men­tal attacks and sta­tus effec­ts. The arts that each cha­rac­ter has access to are deter­mi­ned by the quartz they have equip­ped, with mas­ter quartz also giving the cha­rac­ter using them lar­ge boosts such as fas­ter art cas­ting times or CP regen when kil­ling an ene­my.

Most of this should be fami­li­ar to Trails fans, but the new com­bat link sys­tem adds an extra dyna­mic to batt­les. Cha­rac­ters can pair up, allo­wing them to help each other during batt­les. This ran­ges from com­bo attacks to auto­ma­ti­cal­ly healing their part­ner when they take dama­ge. Links can be level­led by finis­hing batt­les while lin­ked up, or during events in Rean’s free time. While this sys­tem does make char­ter bonds have an impact on game­play, it also means that you may some­ti­mes have to prio­ri­ti­se cer­tain cha­rac­ters’ events to try and level their bonds up ins­tead of going for the events you want to see.

As for the PS4 port of Trails of Cold Steel that was released last Fri­day, it’s… decent, but not much has chan­ged over­all. There’s a tur­bo fea­ture that works simi­lar­ly to the PC ver­si­on (released on August 2nd 2017), which is hel­pful for spee­ding up regu­lar batt­les or moving around fas­ter. This ver­si­on also inclu­des all pre­vious DLC for free, though most of it is just items that make the game easier rather than anything sub­stan­ti­al. Com­pa­red to the PS3 release which was released on Janu­a­ry 26th 2016 in Euro­pe, the frame rate has been bum­ped up to a con­stant 60 framers-per-second (fps) even in busi­er are­as and the­re were only a coup­le of minor instan­ces whe­re we noti­ced drop­ped frames. This ver­si­on also runs at a hig­her reso­lu­ti­on, some­thing that also works against the game in some pla­ces due to the lack of impro­ved tex­tures and 3D models. It’s unfor­tu­n­a­te that the­re wasn’t much chan­ged over­all when it comes to the visu­als, espe­ci­al­ly in regards to the low draw distan­ce which cau­ses cha­rac­ters to not be visi­ble even if you’re not stan­ding very far away. Trails of Cold Steel cer­tain­ly isn’t the worst loo­king game on the PS4, but this release would have been the per­fect time to at least make some impro­ve­ments out­si­de of  frame rates and reso­lu­ti­on.

Conclusion

This may not be the most impres­si­ve port out the­re, but it never nee­ded to be. Trails of Cold Steel is a fan­tastic start to a new arc in the Legend of Heroes series, and offers some of the best sto­ry­tel­ling you’ll ever see in a JRPG. With Cold Steel III final­ly get­ting a wes­tern release, this by far the best time to start enjoy­ing what this series has to offer.

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