Developer Nihon Falcom may be most well known for its Ys series, but dating back even further is their Dragon Slayer series, which spun off in 1989 into what is known as the The Legend of Heroes franchise that has now spawned 12 total entries to date. While many of the games feature standalone stories, the latest is a direct continuation of the last with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II.
The first entry in this eventual trilogy focused on a group of students at the Thors Military Academy, specifically the ones that were part of the special Class VII. The lead protagonist Rean Schwarzer is one of these very students, who go through a series of field training exercises across the Erebonian Empire, before being thrust into real action. Trails of Cold Steel II starts off only a month after the events of its very well received predecessor, which has the story pick up very quickly as a result after the major cliffhanger at the end of the last game.
Family plays a very important role in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, which works very much to the game’s advantage. Familial bonds are paramount between certain characters, as they serve as excellent motivations for many areas of the plot, which start to unfold even further the deeper you get into the game, including plenty of swerves in the story that may catch you off guard. Due to how closely tied the story is to the first game though, it can be really hard for someone to start fresh with this game, rather than truly playing this as a sequel. One little neat aspect of the game that proves this is the character’s levels actually start around 40, rather than be super low to start like in most RPGs, which is something you do not see very often.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is linear in some aspects, as you’re traveling between one area to the next, but what really makes the game shine is how nothing in the game really feels superfluous. In many RPGs, or games in general, NPCs found around the world in the game are typically pretty useless and put there just to fill out the world more. However, pretty much every NPC in this game is actually worth talking to, whether it helps to push the story along in some aspect or perhaps just delivering a funny anecdote that you’ll remember later.
A captivating combat system is something that is vital in any RPG, with many of them moving towards more of a real time system. Thankfully, Trails of Cold Steel II utilizes the same style of battle system as its predecessor, which uses a turn-based approach. On the left side of the screen, there will be little icons representing every member of your team, as well as the enemies in the order of attack. Certain moves may adjust the order here, but they are typically in close to the right order. Having this at your disposal allows you to always be planning three steps ahead, which is going to become very important in a game such as this.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its basic attack for each character of course, which will depend on the type of weapon equipped. However, what are even more important are the other two options that are more spell focused, Crafts and Arts. Crafts utilize CP and are essentially enhanced attack moves that often deal elemental damage or status effects. These are used instantaneously, but there are also the Arts that take a little bit of waiting. Arts are typically going to be your strongest attack, which use up your EP, but you must set the move first and then use it on your next turn.
As you fight a group of enemies, you will also notice special bonuses, such as HP-Up, Critical Attack, and even 0-Arts, which means you can cast an art without using any EP. The timing of these is key to defeating some of the tougher enemies, as the bosses are very prone to healing themselves throughout, so you will be in for some very long and grueling battles. However, while these battles can be really dragged out, they are incredibly rewarding upon defeating them rather than feeling like it took too long.
Each battle can be fought with up to four team members, which you can place in anywhere you wish within the game’s tactical grid. This allows you to place your strongest in the front and then move those with lower HP but more focused on elemental crafts to the back, especially if they are a healer. You also have the ability to link two characters together, which makes them a very powerful duo in battle. By unbalancing an enemy, which depends on the type of enemy they are, the stance they are in, and the type of attack you’re using, you can get the opportunity to use link attacks in battle. The basic form of these are just assists where you can get an extra attack in, but the stronger Rush moves will allow teamed up combo moves to be used as well.
Familial bonds are paramount between certain characters
One thing that is really neat about the combat system in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of the Cold Sky is while you have the aforementioned styles of play, there are also trump cards you can pull off that can really change the landscape of the battle. S-Breaks are a great example of this, as they are each character’s ultimate attack that can be pulled off at any time, even during an enemies turn. The timing of these almost feels like using in Instant spell in something like Magic the Gathering, which completely catches your opponent off guard. There is also the Overdrive ability that lets you turn a battle around as well.
One fault that often befalls JRPGs is that the combat system can begin to feel too convoluted with so many different pieces, but that does not really happen here. The game’s Materia-like Quartz system can get a little confusing at times with the different special moves and types of collectible items known as Sepiths needed to obtain them.
The ending to the first Trails of Cold Steel featured an epic battle between Divine Knights and these are once again present in Trails of Cold Steel II. While the basics of these fights are the same as the regular battles, it has a much larger focus on unbalancing and targeting certain areas of the mech. These do not require as much planning as the other battles, so they are definitely nice to have pop up a few times in the game, even though your mech Valimar can be used in other ways later.
Considering the game is on PlayStation 3, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II performs rather well. The anime style cutscenes look fantastic and the game’s load times are not that bad at all, but the game itself definitely suffers from looking rather jaggy, especially on the character models. This isn’t a big concern though, as the main focus is the stellar gameplay and captivating story, the latter of which is helped by solid voice acting that fits most every character.
Following up directly on its predecessor, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II continues the excellent story that was begun in the first Trails of Cold Steel by raising the stakes exponentially. The combat system is not all that different this time around, but it feels as refined and polished as well, which is what any good sequel should be focused on doing. While not coming to PS4 may scare some gamers away, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold II is most certainly one game worth pulling out the PS3 or PS Vita again to play through.