** NOTE: The good folks at XSeed graciously supplied Dashing Nerds with a pre-release review copy of the Playstation 3 version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The review will be updated with impressions of the Vita version, including the performance and Cross-Save feature once the game has been released. **
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a traditional turnbased role playing game developed by Falcom for the Playstation 3 and Vita. Part of the long running Legend of Heroes series that began in Japan in 1989, Cold Steel was originally released on September 26th, 2013 in Japan. Now, Cold Steel is finally making its big Western debut on the Playstation 3 and PS Vita just in time for Christmas!
A Trail of Friendship
Taking place in the same world as Nihon Falcom’s popular Trails in the Sky, you play as Rean Shwarzer and the other members of the newly formed Class VII at the prestigious Thors Military Academy in Erebonia. Class VII is unlike any of the others at the academy, combining individuals from different social classes and countries in jackets of red. All students are specially hand picked to become an elite combat unit. The world is currently in a period of upheaval and turmoil with the ruling families and the working class. As a student and member of Class VII, you will be tasked with completing missions and quests given to you by faculty, other students, and government officials, all while constantly working to improve the bonds between the members of Class VII. Alas, in a world where society deals with class systems and different beliefs, you will have your work cut out for you.
Cold Steel comes with a similar social interaction system as Atlus’ Persona 3 and 4 games, though not as complex, strict, or with the strategic time management aspect. This however, does not mean that benefits of growing and strengthening the bonds between the members of Class VII have little impact. Using the Tactical Link system, you can pair off two characters to support each other. Starting out, you will only be able to do follow up attacks, but eventually the characters can defend one-another and use more powerful attacks. You can improve these bonds by spending free time interacting with a character or perhaps by playing the card game BLADE while on the train to your next mission.
A Trail of Customization
The Tactical Linking is a very small part of the vast amount of options you are able to tweak and change when it comes to creating your ideal team. Adopting and improving on previous Legend of Heroes titles, Cold Steel retains the Orbment system, which lets you choose and develop each character’s abilities as you see fit. Using crystals called Sepith, you are able to craft and unlock new spells and abilities for your party, as well as enhance their stats. This joins the traditional RPG fair of managing weapons, equipment, accessories, and leveling up both characters and their Orbments. You have a lot of control in crafting each character to fill a specific role, all with very little repercussions due to flexible swapping of the Quartz and Master Quartz (the games magic system).
Once your team is all set, you are ready to take on some monsters. The combat in Cold Steel is turn-based, where you assign commands to each character in your party. Should your character be linked to another party member, after striking an enemy there is a chance of triggering a follow up attack by their partner. The likelihood of this is based on the weapon weaknesses of each enemy you fight. Magic, or”Arts”, will take a certain amount of charge time to cast, while Crafts are character specific skills that can be used without a charge time. Arts require EP to cast, while Crafts exhaust CP.
There are also special skills that each character learn throughout the game that allow for S-Breaks, extremely powerful skills that can be used at anytime during combat. S-Breaks can prove pivotal in especially difficult encounters, turning the tide in your favor. Occasionally, on the player or the enemy turn, various effects may occur, ranging from restoring a percentage of health to increasing the odds of a critical attack. While all these features are great, it is a strange choice that the game throws you directly into the game with little-to-no information on the more intricate battle systems in the prologue. You are immediately thrust into combat for a short mini-dungeon, where you have to fend for yourself before the game really starts and you get explanations of what to do and how to do it.
A Long Trail
There is A LOT to do and see in Trails of Cold Steel. Do you like fishing? What about reading books? Collecting recipes and cooking? Do you enjoy exploring areas for hidden side quests and missions? Diving into backstories and finding information on side characters? What about playing card games? Well, if that all sounds good to you, you better free up your calendar before jumping into Cold Steel. The story itself is 6 chapters long (plus a prologue and epilogue) and it dives into political unrest and civil war. Get to know the unique cast of characters dealing with their own circumstances and prejudices while they grow into a strong team. Missions are split up into different field exercises where, in order to advance the story, you have to complete required quests. There are not only optional quests alongside the main story, but hidden quests, too. Completing these will increase you class ranking, rewarding you with items and special gear.
That isn’t to say that it is always work work work. Class VII is also given free days in which they are able to take part in clubs and different activities, speak with party members, and increase links. Unlike in the Persona games, each action doesn’t consume a certain amount of time, so you are able to spend the day as you see fit. However, you won’t be able to join all the clubs and speak with everyone in your team for the special events, so there are still some restrictions.
An Aged Trail
Originally released back in 2013 in Japan, Cold Steel is already aged at the tail-end of 2015. While that isn’t to say it doesn’t look good, it isn’t a very strong showing for the Playstation 3. Even back in 2013, this wouldn’t have been a contender for best looking JRPG with the likes of Tales of Xillia and its gorgeous anime art style, released a whole two years prior in 2011. With this game also being on Vita, I get a very strong feeling that this was originally created for Vita and then ported over to the Playstation 3. For a Vita game, it is certainly a very good looking RPG, but it just can’t compete on the PS3 level. Overall, Cold Steel is simple and a bit dated. It still does a good job capturing the anime look with it’s 3d characters and backgrounds, but you will come across some bland and blurry textures, and the shadows have a strange way of being jagged and dancing during in game cutscenes. Even if the characters are standing still.
While the visuals may be a bit lacking, the sound is pretty on point. The town soundtracks are nice and peaceful, while the battle music is very fast paced and will do a good job pumping you up. I find the boss theme to be a particular favorite. The voice work for the characters does a decent job as well. And before you ask, no there isn’t a Japanese voice option. One thing that did stand out though, was the lack of Rean having spoken parts. Rean, being the main character, remains silent, while all the other members of Class VII voice their lines. In a scene where the entire cast is speaking, Rean’s voiceless lines are really strange and stand out.
A Trail Worth Taking
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a wonderful, albeit aged game, to end the year on. With its complex characters, social and political dilemmas, and tons of content to enjoy, this game is a great choice for any JRPG fan—especially when you take into account that it’s only $39.99! While the graphics may be dated and have the occasional hiccup, the music and voice work is well done (besides the curious lack on main character voice work in parts) and it is still worth your time. Trails of Cold Steel continues to show that the Legend of Heroes series is one that should be on our gamer radar, and that people should take notice when new entries are announced for localization. Speaking of which, Trails of Cold Steel 2 has already been confirmed for release. The team at XSeed did a fantastic job in localizing this game, with its tons of text and content. Do them a favor and pick this up—you won’t be disappointed!
- Interesting characters that deal with real issues
- A lot of content to dive into and explore
- Customization options
- Graphics feel dated with the occasional blurry texture or hiccup
- Strange lack of main character voice acting in scenes
- Being thrown into the game with little explanation at the start of the game