The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel turned out to be one of the PlayStation 3’s late-great games and certainly one of the best JRPGs to have seen release in recent memory. Its cliff-hanger ending left players clamouring for more however, and with the long translation times for games in this series the wait has been sheer torture.
There’s a healthy love of ‘the Legend of Heroes’ for both ‘Trails in the Sky’ and of ‘Cold Steel’ in the west these days, which is good news for RPG fans because it means more games being translated and released here. Whilst ‘Trails in the Sky’ is almost concluded now and was starting to look a little long in the tooth, Cold Steel has just kicked off properly, and it makes excellent use of the PlayStation 3’s cross compatibility with the Vita to create a tempting package both at home and on the move.
Graphically the game uses the same engine and character models as its first instalment in addition to the plot revisiting a number of locations and this does lead to there being very little new shine on the title. The engine still works wonderfully however and the addition of a number of pre-existing characters to the playable cast as well as a colourful cast of antagonists does keep things interesting. Every character has had a redesign and overhaul for the sequel to show the passing of time, with more personal garb in place of the Class VII uniforms they all wore before. Special attacks are still visually impressive and characters emote surprisingly well over the dialogue boxes. Added touches, such as motorbike riding and giant mech battles give the game further polish and help to hide the amount of re-used assets on show.
Audio sees a mixture of new and returning material as well and is generally of a high quality. Sound effects carry weight and each character’s attacks have a personal tone to them to help set them apart. Musically however there’s less interesting work at play, with everything having a slightly underwhelming quality that the use of real instruments on occasion would have helped to pep-up. An early track for an icy area skews worryingly close to a song from Frozen too, which is obviously a total coincidence but makes visiting the area something of a joke. Vocal performances are used throughout, though not for NPC interaction, with Rean (the lead) receiving a little more attention this time around and spending less time mute. The performances are solid across the board and there’s very little to find fault with.
Picking up directly from the finale of the previous game, Trails of Cold Steel 2 is very much a sequel in every sense of the word. Though the game has a ‘backstory’ option that recaps the original’s plot, players are expected to come into this title having played the original and even giving them the option to import their saved data for a handful of early-game bonuses. Opening a month after the cliff-hanging conclusion and effectively serving as a ‘getting the band back together’ period, the game pulls few punches in its early stages and escalates things substantially from there. Without giving too much away, Rean and the rest of Class VII are posed to be a pivotal factor in the civil war that has overrun their country, whilst elements of prophecy and an ancient feud begin to make themselves known. It’s extremely well written stuff and tent poles itself around the likable cast that the player has gotten to know in detail through the initial game and don’t break character for a second, expanding on what you’ve learned about them in interesting and notable ways.
Gameplay is as good as if not better than the story, and that’s saying something for a game this well written. Initially simply building on the original games pre-existing combat system by offering a secondary battle type based around giant knight combat, which was seen only briefly at the original games climax, Trails of Cold Steel 2 quickly adds a new ‘slot expansion’ system as a means of continuing to build the potential of characters without starting over fresh. In the original slots in your ‘orbment’ were unlocked by spending in-game currency and this added more potential spells to be equipped to each character. Now by levelling those slots up you can equip more powerful spells and static boosts into them to further turn characters into god-level warriors. The max level for characters is now 200 (starting the game at 50 to prevent that weak ‘back to basics’ feeling) and weapons can still be purchased and crafted into new models. Other additional elements include an overdrive option that works in battle like a limit break, but which can later be stored twice and unleashed for twice the effect or two times independently, as well as an on-going snowboarding mini-game that pays out dividends for meeting a steadily increasing series of courses. The games second act is where the influence of the title can be most clearly seen however, with a ‘Suikoden’ style system in place for recruiting characters from around the world to your cause, each of which makes returning to your base of operations that bit more interesting. There’s a plethora of sub-quests and special challenge chests to take on in addition to the lengthy campaign, and fishing makes a welcome return as well. Altogether it’s an extremely pimped out package that builds successfully on the time spent learning the basic systems and world building that has come before.
Overall, Trails of Cold Steel 2 might be the stand-out RPG of 2016. It’s cross compatible for PS3 and Vita players, has a genuinely brilliantly written story and memorable characters as well as managing to cram a ton of gameplay into a small package. The only downside is that it really does require that you’ve played the original in order to pick up on the story beats already laid down there. If you’ve played the original game there’s a good chance you’ve already purchased this title, if you haven’t then we strongly recommend that you do so immediately then grab this amazing game too.