This review was migrated over from our sister site, The Drastik Measure. As such, some information from the time it was written may be out of date.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc.
Release Date: Aug 3, 2017
Edited by KnightAvenger
After coming off the Trails in the Sky series, fans wanted to see more of the universe and its inner workings. Two more games were released as follow-ups to it, but, as these have not seen release outside of Japan, the next contender is the series that followed up behind it: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is an anime JRPG developed by Nihon Falcom, later released by XSEED Games and Marvelous USA, Inc., that, while it did not change most of the formula of the previous games, went full animation style and changed how a few of the mechanics worked, with a few new twists and some bumps along the way.
Drawing your sword, the story of Trails of Cold Steel starts with a bang and tries to add the emotional edge the previous games could not with animated CG scenes to add depth, producing some high success. The game starts us out during an event where a city is under attack, following a group of about eleven to twelve people, whom we do not know the names of, as they attempt to stop some group from using a set of cannons to do more damage. As we approach these cannons, two monsters come out of nowhere and engage us in our first boss fight, which does require a good bit of effort since, regardless of how strong your team is, this is the first time using such mechanics. After the defeat of the bosses and the screams of one character, we are cut back to five months before this incident started on a train with one Rean Schwarzer. As he is traveling to attend Thors Military Academy, he cannot help but notice that, as his uniform is crimson, it is different from the usual uniform colors used by the academy. Some character greetings later and an open ceremony, Rean and eight students dressed in crimson uniforms are taken to an old school house, being told that they are part of a class called Class VI, a new class only added by the Academy this year, where your social standing is frail but your skill standing is king. With some disagreements in tow, the students are dropped into the bowels of the old build and after receiving their weapons, alongside a gem to grant access to the ARCUS, your magic system, the students have to survive to the entrance of the building, where they will make the ultimate decision for that school year. I will end to synopsis here; while it does not enter heavy spoiler territory, it does cross the line. However, as the story told by the writing and cinematics is well done, you can feel the emotions of the characters being expressed in two ways.
Like all good JRPG stories, Trails of Cold Steel is not without its flaws, and this story lets its flaws shine through clearly but not in a negative sense. The first real story issue is that some of the characters come off as posh and even hold grudges for what could be considered far too long. I enjoyed the character variety Trails of Cold Steel gave us because it is the first class in the story to have a mix of royals and commoners. This leads to some situations where it is, sometimes, humorous but other times not, such as the constant grudge between Machias and Jusis, where they squabble over things like how one should rule and how to treat the common folk. It seems comical at first, but it quickly loses its comedic value and becomes annoying when it is on screen. My second story issue is more of a minor grievance: the dis-jarring effect of the silence between characters after they speak. It is not heavily noticeable, which I was happy about, but, when it does happen, you feel like the setting just changed even though it is the same area and characters.
Swinging a sword and casting a fire spell, Trails of Cold Steel takes heavy roots from Trails in the Sky with its continuation of the various game mechanics and systems although some improvements have been made, which is what I will be talking about. The first thing I want to discuss is the excellent improvements of the orbment system, known as the ARCUS system. These improvements range from improved access to abilities and easier customization, based on your play style, to the new linking system, which allows you, as you progress through the story, to gain shared abilities with classmates like guarding. These small but effective changes to the ARCUS system add depth to the game and really allow each player to customize how they play through the game. Next is the combat system, which also received some streamlining in terms of attack animations, due to the new graphics, with little downtime between moves, as well as overall speed increases, so skipping an animation is less required to progress as you go. Finally, I want to talk about the skill system, which received some general but much-needed care from the Trails in the Sky variation. Magic or the quartz used in the ARCUS system is now easier to identify and even slot based on your needs. The biggest example of this is the tears ability, which is the healing spell in the series that, previously, you had to socket the tears quartz to get access to and, if you wanted the ability to cure status ailments, you had to add that separately. Now the two are attached to one quartz, so, when you socket that particular one, you get access to both, which saves both time and materials.
As a presentation, Trails of Cold Steel is much more modern in both its visuals and music, a plus and negative from the traditional styling used in Trails in the Sky, while adding an anime-like style to the game. Visually, Trails of Cold Steel is a complete 360 from the graphics of Trails in the Sky series which were more based on the bit style visual, now gone animated to fit in with the style at the time, and it does it well, in this case, giving the game more detail than ever. The background is as alive and bustling as ever with people you can talk to, shops to visit and even one of my personal favorite touches in the game, the ability to turn the camera and see around you like a 3-D model. The character models are well done here, being expressive but animated so well that I could see an anime being made of this game, if one does not already exist, and translated well.
Coming in with the more modern day music scheme, Trails of Cold Steel tries to keep some of the familiarity of the previous scores but loses some of the heart they had. Musically, I still think the soundtrack from Trails of Cold Steel is really well done, with a nice mix of piano and wind type instruments that get welcome additions from the horn and some rock style influences. My only complaint is that, while the soundtrack from Trails in the Sky was simple but effective and it did amazing with that, much of the heart the music had is lost with the more renditions of the songs when used. The sound effects, though, are greatly improved with more use and actual effect in the story than in prior games.
Overall, I found The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel to be a great JRPG experience, as it did not exclude previous fans and allowed new players to jump into the world without feeling lost, even with the few minor issues I had with the story and soundtrack. The excellently written and told story, new depths of emotions, improvements to many of the games’ combat mechanics, new modern day anime-style visuals, impressive backgrounds, and character models, and well done and fitting soundtrack make this one of the best JRPG experiences currently on the market.
- The story is excellently written and told well
- The emotional impact factor is more noticeable
- Many of the combat mechanics are greatly improved, regarding speed and flow
- The use of more modern day graphics suits the game’s play style
- The background and character designs are some of the best the series has to offer
- A well-fitting soundtrack for the new art style
- Long play time of 20 hours plus
- The constant fights and grudges between characters can be off-putting
- An awkward silence when it switches from cut scenes to gameplay when characters are talking
- Much of the heart of the music just seems to be missing from other titles
DarkLunarDude gives The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel a score of 9.0 out of 10.0 (90) Moé Blobs.
For the price of $39.99 (USD) on Steam, I can happily give my recommendation of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel to any RPG player, as the number of hours you can put into this game are high with customization of abilities being wide open to the player.