The Legend of Heroes series has been around since 1992. Starting as a spinoff of the Dragon Slayer franchise, it has grown into a series of interconnected trilogies and stand alone games. The next game to make it’s way to North America is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, available on PS3 and Vita. The first in a trilogy, Trails of Cold Steel sets the bar high for other JRPGs that will follow on the Vita.
Trails of Cold Steel follows protagonist Rean Schwarzer and the other members of the newly formed Class VII, of Thors Military Academy. Class VII is designed to mix nobles with commoners as well as be an experiment of sorts for the Academy. Once a month, there is a Free Day where Rean can do tasks for the student council as well as explore an old school building and use Bonding Points to spend time with the other members of the class. These bonds, similar to the social links in Persona 4, let Rean learn more about his classmates while also granting combat boosts as the link level rises. After exploring the school building, the day advances and then the class has a Field Study where they visit different places in the Empire. During these Field Studies, the class is divided into two groups, limiting which party members you’ll have available.
At first, I was slightly annoyed by it but as I played, I realized that it worked out for the best. It let me learn each character’s nuances and figure out how they were best utilized for when things got more difficult. Each Field Study presents the new groups with challenges to overcome, a lot of them unexpected. They are a chance to learn of the Empire and its people, as well as teach Class VII that the Empire is a complicated place. The views they have when they enter the Academy are challenged by their Field Studies, Instructor, and classmates. Issues between classmates are handled in a relatively adult manner and by the end of the game, Class VII is like a family. It’s that growth and maturation that makes Trails of Cold Steel so compelling.
From the beginning, each character feels well written. While some of the characters follow certain anime tropes, they use those tropes as an introduction and then flesh out the characters during bonding events and field studies. An example would be Elliot. He is the shy, kind healer boy and he just seems like your average anime shy kid for the first few chapters. Then, when you go to his hometown and meet his family and see the surroundings he grew up in, you understand him and see that there’s more to him than that.
And main characters aren’t the only ones who grow and change. Even minor NPC’s will change as the story progresses. There’s one NPC, a member of the Lacrosse Club, who would never admit to it but becomes friends with one of the members of Class VII. The exchanges between them are an example of how great the dialogue is in this game. It always felt natural and the voice acting was perfect for each and every character. One character, Millium, felt a bit over the top on the first few meetings. She’s this tiny ball of energy who’s only thirteen and her voice reflects that. However, her enthusiasm is infectious and she quickly became a personal favorite of mine.
Trails of Cold Steel has some of the most enjoyable turn based combat I’ve ever experienced. It allows so many options but doesn’t force any particular style. There are a multitude of ways to build each character using quartz and master quartz. Using S-Breaks, which are similar to limit breaks from Final Fantasy VII, turn orders can be rearranged to take advantage of random buffs and debuffs that pop up on the turn order section of the HUD. There is a feature that allows the swapping of characters in and out of the current battle team, leading to greater flexibility in handling situations, as well as taking advantage of different weakness to weapon types and Arts. Certain Crafts or equipped quartz will cancel enemy Arts that are being cast while others will delay the enemy, allowing for more aggressive tactics.
There was always something being added to the combat, whether it was a new mechanic or just new Arts and Crafts. It feels like there is an Art or Craft for just about any situation by the time the game ends. All of these mechanics come together to form a wonderfully complex yet intuitive combat system. There are few gaming moments as satisfying as canceling enemy arts during difficult fights or wiping an entire group of enemies with a well timed S-Craft. There’s one fight in particular against a bone dragon where I was able to out maneuver it. Every action it took I had a response for. I made what I thought was a mistake and moved a character, who was the target of an enemy art, into the rest of my team. But I was unintentionally ready because I had used an Art a few turns before that gave my entire team an Art reflecting buff. When the dragon’s Art went off, he had it reflected back to him four times, killing him. I jumped out of my chair when that happened. I felt like a master tactician after that fight and it made me ready for more.
There are a couple of problems with this game though, minor they may be. The first is that there are noticeable frame rate drops in larger areas. They aren’t bad enough that they prevented me from playing but they are annoying during pivotal moments. The second is the fact that areas can only be visited once. If you miss a treasure chest or a hidden side quest, you’re out of luck. Ultimately not a large issue but it was frustrating not being able to go back and find the one or two chests or side quests that I missed. In all, these two issues are acceptable given the rest of the game and how good it is. I’d like to see the frame rate issue fixed but it’s unlikely.
Few games in 2015 were able to get 80+ hours of my time. Trails of Cold Steel will get more than that with a New Game Plus option and my desire to get all the trophies. But it isn’t even about trophies. I already want to see these characters again. I enjoyed their interactions and their journey. The combat had me grinding for money and loving it. I suggest every RPG fan out there to check this game out because it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.
A Must-Own For RPG Fans
Gameplay - 10/10
Plot - 9/10
Design - 8/10
+ Great combat
+ Fun, engaging dialogue and story
+ Tons of customization options
- Noticeable frame rate drops in larger areas