I’ve always been a sucker for RPGs, especially JRPGs. Though by always I mean ever since Tales of Symphonia (future post) many years ago, from then on many great games came along, like Persona and Final Fantasy, though one of the many series that eluded me (mostly thanks to it being largely unnoticed and unreleased in western parts of the world) was The Legend of Heroes, a title so generic it probably had more eyes rolling than the fact that there have been more than 15 fantasies and not one of them is close to being the final one.
Anyway, despite being under the flag of The Legend of Heroes the games from what I have heard are anything but generic, there are many subseries (such as the present Trails of Cold Steel and Trails in the Sky) that act as ‘seasons’ of an anime, covering different story arcs.
Today I bring my thoughts on the first game in the Trails of Cold Steel as-of-now trilogy (the third game is currently on the horizon for a PS4 release), my experience is with the PSVita version of the game (it was also released on the PS3 but the differences pretty much amount to the Vita choking up at places where there’s too much stuff going on) and I’m happy to say that I’m posting about something that I loved and that didn’t disappoint me, unlike some previous entries (I’m looking at you with relative disdain, Sankarea and you the other one).
I almost didn’t get this game, why? I had already been burned by another JRPG on the Vita with very high-school-y anime aesthetic (Conception 2, again, future post), and was suffering from PTSD because of it, after all feeling I had wasted 40 bucks in such a way I might as well have had more fun wiping my butt with the bills I wasn’t too confident in throwing 50 for a preorder of the “Lion hearted” edition or whatever.
Back in those days though I was watching an anime by the name of Angel Beats (yeah, yeah, another future post.) and it left me with a strong desire to play a new game with anime school aesthetic, lo and behold, high school military drama coming soon, to rave previews.
And damn, the art book is such a beauty.
The story begins with our main guy, Rean Schwarzer, arriving at the city of Trista in the Erebonia empire to attend classes at Thors Military Academy, after a long, and I do mean looooooong introduction we get thrown into the first dungeon of the game as we begin getting acquainted with the rest of the cast. All of whom by the end of the game will turn out to be lovable, even the ones that appeared to be annoying as hell.
The battle system in the beginning is fairly limited, due to many of the options that add to the depth of it not being available yet, and if there was any weakness to be pointed out in the game it’s the slow buildup.
At times it feels like the game throws an exaggerated amount of exposition your way but it all pays off in the end, as it works towards building up a magnificent world and getting you to fall in love with the many characters that inhabit it.
In my usual style of trying to spoil as little as possible when talking about things that didn’t let me down I won’t go into much detail about the characters and events, but let me reiterate, even the ones that in the beginning seemed dull or cookie cutter end up having their own time to shine and be developed, however lightly (in comparison to others that steal the show at least).
As far as the flow of the game goes there’s a sort of cycle to things, very similar to Persona 3 and onwards there’s a calendar and the events of the game pass as the days go by, except here you don’t have as much control on the passage of time, which also means you can spend hours upon hours on a single date, also Cold Steel is much more prone to skip more than a few days at a time.
The other similarity to the Persona games is that on free days you get bonding points to spend some quality time with the other characters and get closer to them, which serves to both get to know more about their backstory and get a few perks during battle, such as them dealing a coup de grace or casting an emergency healing spell, etc.
You spend most of the game going between field trips to different parts of the empire, shit hits the fan and then you go and do your best to clean up the mess, then it’s back to school, free day and another dungeon, etc.
During battle you can do the usual attacking and spell casting and skill using. Some of those skills can unbalance enemies which in turn can make an ally do an extra attack and eventually more options open up, there’s also the fact that some skills delay the next action of an opponent, this means you can get a few more helpful turns before being on the receiving end of a barrage, etc.
All of this adds a ton of strategic value to every action in battle, which doesn’t mean they turn into a headache causing wreck, since for grinding with the mobs simply attacking over and over is more than enough.
I haven’t talked about all the things that can be talked about Trails of Cold Steel since I like to keep things from getting too long, but The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold steel is a very good game, the combat can get highly strategic and rewarding.
Despite the few flaws it has, such as a dropping frame rate and graphics that are not the best that can be done in this day and age it really is a solid game. The slow start builds up to a great payoff, the last scene before the credits roll leaves you wanting more despite having just spend such a large amount of time on a JRPG than can easily net over 80+ hours.
Fully recommended for lovers of the genre.