Trails of Cold Steel finally makes its way to the west after initially being released in Japan in 2013, where it has already received a sequel, and another in development. Developer Nihon Falcom are certainly not your most commonly talked about game developer in the west, but they have created some amazing games in the past, some we have even been lucky enough to receive in the west such as the Ys series. I have been looking to get into the Legend of Heroes series for some time given the high praise that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky gets everywhere you look, and, so, Trails of Cold Steel marks my first foray into the franchise.
Trails of Cold Steel follow members of the newly created Class VII at Thors Military Academy. A tradition has always been in place at the Academy that nobles and commoners of Erebonia be placed in separate classes. Class VII, however, bucks this tradition, as a sort of experiment, much to the dismay of some of its students. A great animosity has grown in some of the students for whatever reasons they may be, but in this class, your status has no meaning. It’s clear that Class VII was created for the best and most talented of students regardless of their status and they must learn to get along with each other. I will admit that the game takes some time to get going, expect to sit around clicking through dialogue after dialogue for a good number of hours. You get a little taste of the game here and there but the constant restrictions are a pain; push through though and you will get the freedom to explore. Initial impressions of the game bring about comparisons to the Persona series for its use of time and date progression, and Final Fantasy Type-0 for the same reason as well as the obvious huge class of playable characters. While Trails of Cold Steel is neither of these two great series, it does a good job in its own right, feeling only a little flat in some parts.
As you begin the game you are thrust into battle, the only one you’ll see for some hours, and the turn-based battle system is a nice touch. Rather like the Neptunia series, where you move characters around and can attack monsters based on what is in that character’s range, this allows for some great strategies with magic and ranged weapon users. Only four characters can take part in battle at a time and have access to different abilities in magic and unique crafts. Given the rather large cast of playable characters you have available to you, you won’t find yourself punished for only using certain characters so you can stick with your favourites. Battle also features a link system that allows characters to pair up or link and perform extra attacks.
During the opening hours of the game, each character will be given Quartz; this determines what abilities they will learn as they level up. The Quartz is placed in the character’s ARCUS equipment which can hold more as you progress. Each character has a predefined role when it comes to Quartz and the abilities they learn but you can choose to build the character however you wish as you gain access to new Quartz. So, if you like character customization then the option is there, or, if like me, you prefer to keep your characters as intended, then you’re free to do so.
As I mentioned earlier, Trails of Cold Steel does feature a calendar system similar to that of Persona and Final Fantasy Type-0. There is also a focus on building bonds with characters by spending time with them and, like Persona, you can only do so many per day. If you’re looking to achieve a platinum trophy with this game then you’d probably best use a guide as maxing out all those bonds within one play-through may be tricky. Thankfully, the game features a fast-travel mechanic which is really useful considering how big areas can be. There’s also an abundance of side missions that will keep you occupied outside of the main story which is always a plus.
The game isn’t going to win any awards in the visual department, especially when compared to the PlayStation 3’s vast library but it’s definitely not a bad looking game and has a lot of charm to it. Towns are grand and inviting; you’ll spend a great deal of time exploring and taking in the sights. Dungeons are also impressive; they never feel too samey and for a game that doesn’t feature the best graphics a lot of attention has been put into these areas. Character designs and outfits are equally as impressive, clearly, a lot of time and effort has been spent here.
Only an English dub is available for Trails of Cold Steel and, while it’s a shame, the English dub cast does give a solid performance. It would have been nice to have the choice though, as not everyone enjoys English dubs; regardless of that, a choice is always a good option. Nonetheless, as I said, the English cast does a solid job. The soundtrack, personally, is a little forgettable; there are a couple of tracks that were nice but nothing that I would purposely hunt down.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a good JRPG that will kill some time and provide some enjoyable turn-based battles. I’d recommend picking it up on PlayStation Vita if you can as I think it would work well in quick pick up and play sessions. If you’re finding the opening hours a little tedious, stick with it; you will be rewarded, and with Trails of Cold Steel II confirmed for western release you’re not going to want to hang around as you’ll easily sink many hours into this game.