The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel flew under my radar for some time. Hell, the entire Legend of Heroes series evaded me until recently. Starting way, way back on the PlayStation Portable in 2011, the series went some time without rolling into mainstream news, serving a niche community excellent stories in an exciting world.
Since then, the series transitioned to both the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3, followed by PC. The biggest additions include more spoken dialogue, a welcome Turbo Mode, and a resolution bump. Other than that, this is the same game. Developer Falcom gets most of their recognition for the excellent and long-running series, Ys, but the studio also works on The Legend of Heroes series.
The Legend of Heroes
What put me off for so long was the fact that each series within the franchise, like Trails in the Sky, was each game represented one piece to a larger story. Each arc lasts roughly three games and each game features plentiful dialogue, with scripts for each game well into the thousands. What warms me up to these games is just how much they remind me of RPGs from a decade ago. Also, Trails of Cold Steel is the first in a new trilogy of games, so playing any of the Trails in the Sky titles isn’t necessary to understand what’s going on (but sure does help!).
Set within the Erebonian Empire, which is currently facing an internal conflict between the classes, the cast features elite students from Thors Military Academy. From here, Class VII takes on several tasks, as the story follows the students throughout their school year. Throughout the year, Class VII explores the Erebonian continent visiting towns and cities, and learning more about the class-based segregation the Empire faces.
Not All Ports Are Equal
Being a PlayStation Vita game originally, you can see the blemishes and flaws much clearer on a big screen. Not only that, the stiff animations and resolution leave something to be desired. Trails of Cold Steel is clearly a product of its time but isn’t a deterrent in playing the game. Coming back to a game like this after the advancements in the genre is a humble experience.
If you’ve ever played a JRPG before, you know what happens. With traditional field exploration, traditional battles, and lots and lots of dialogue peppering the experience start to finish. A big selling point of the Legend of Heroes series is the story. Granted, the story is a slow burn but the more you lay the more intriguing the story turns into. Conversations usually include the entire party, so things take much longer.
Writing On The Walls
The writing is good, and XSEED usually assembles some of the best translations in the business. You see that in the writing here. Speaking to party members, the numerous NPCs around the world – everyone in this game offers something interesting. The longer you play, the more invested I became into the lives of the party members. It’s okay that you might be overwhelmed by the massive script, but it’s one of the better scripts in recent memory.
For the most part, things play out like a novel. Each chapter within the narrative expands on the previous and it is clear the writers thought out the story, the world, the characters, and their connecting tissues. Some of the issues that rear their heads within the story resonate with issues occurring today in our world and it is an incredible journey albeit a long one.
What A World We Live In
Traversing the field is alright, a lot of the time you’re busy looking at the minimap and looking for the next location. Levels are straight forward but most of them use corridors for traversal. Being a video game set within a school, things play out like they do in say, a Persona game. Protagonist Rean Schwarzer attends classes, writes exams, and uses his allotted free time for bonding with his teammates.
While the story and characters in Trails of Cold Steel is a great selling point, the combat is nothing to scoff over. Enemies appear on the screen and random battles are nowhere to be found here. The biggest draw is the Orbment system here, which is like Materia from Final Fantasy VII. Found around the world, character equips orbments, often colour-coded to the element and use. Characters in battle can link abilities together which allows for powerful attacks on enemies in battle. However, this occurs at random intervals and it is hard to initiate these attacks on a whim.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel might be an older title but is worth checking out. The classical JRPG tropes are here in spades but the excellent translation, characters and world are top-notch. While starting off slow don’t let this deter you from experiencing one of the better JRPGs available today. Stellar writing, with entertaining combat and lots to do in-between, this is a solid video game from start to finish.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]