The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a new release on PS3 and PS Vita in the long running The Legend of Heroes series. Only a couple have been released in Europe and this version has taken over two years to arrive here, with a sequel already out in Japan and a third game announced. So assuming those get translated eventually is it worth jumping on board now?
Trails of Cold Steel is one of the most PS2 feeling JRPGs I’ve played since, well, the PS2 era. There are JRPGs on the PS2 that feel more modern than this, but don’t take that as a negative. I can’t quite put my finger on why it feels this way, whether it’s the so-so graphics, weak animation or the fact that despite feeling so familiar it doesn’t follow the character formula so many games of this type do these days. Characters do fit in certain pigeon holes but they aren’t as one dimensional as in the more modern games I’ve played. Similarly, cutscenes can go on a little long but at no point was I tearing my hair out as characters talk in circles like in other series.
You control Rean, a young man who’s enrolled at Thor’s Military Academy in Class VII, a new class that unlike all the others integrates both upper and lower class citizens. The class divide is quite evident throughout and it does cause some early conflicts within Class VII itself. As Class VII travels the land, getting stronger, learning how to solve problems and help others they become closer which also comes into the gameplay.
Much like the more recent Persona games Trails of Cold Steel takes place over a calender year. The game skips ahead to the important parts far more than Persona does but you will want to finish everything you can before ending a day otherwise the opportunity will be lost. Amongst things to keep you busy are character interactions which increase your link, making the pairing stronger in battle. You are limited to how many you can do a day so you must choose from those available who you want to hang out with and although the characters aren’t quite as endearing as their Persona counterparts it’s still a welcome feature.
Other than socialising you will be given quests to complete in your free time, some required, some optional. Completing the required quests ends the day so again you want to do everything you can prior to this. Quests can include delivering items to certain characters (most are named and have their own personalities which is nice), eliminating powerful monsters or even tutoring a younger pupil, complete with multiple choice answers. Although most involve talking to someone or fighting something the different quests do add a little variety to things so you’re not just dungeon crawling all the time.
There are dungeons of course and there are plenty of battles to be had in them. Monsters roam around the map and you can strike them from behind for an initial advantage as you get warped to a turn based battle arena. Positioning in the arena matters as area of effect attacks can hit multiple characters if grouped too close together. A queue on the side of the screen denotes turn order and random bonuses can be had if your turn takes place at the right moment. ‘Arts’ (spells) take time to charge and use EP whilst ‘Crafts’ (character specific moves) happen instantly and cost CP. On top of this what type of weapon each character uses has a damage type that can be more effective when attacking monsters, possibly knocking them off balance and allowing a follow up attack with a linked character. You can choose which characters are linked and the higher their link level the more advantages you gain.
The battles are actually relatively straightforward, there are just a lot of different mechanics which made the opening (an ‘abilitease’ set later in the game) quite confusing as there was so much to take on board. After this opening the game takes a while to get started, with the slow pace of the game really showing in the early stages. Things do get better but I wouldn’t say the game moves any faster, you just have a better understanding of the mechanics and are more involved with the characters.
You can customise characters with ‘quartz’, which grant extra arts or passive boosts to stats and the ‘Master Quartz’ which you character starts with gains experience as you use it but can also be swapped out for another if you see fit. You can make some powerful physical characters whilst casters stand back if you choose or you can try and create a more balanced team, it’s quite a versatile system that rewards those who look into it.
Playing this on the Vita has shown up a couple of technical issues, namely frame rate and load times. The frame rate can drop whilst in crowded areas or during cutscenes but as this isn’t an action game it’s not game breaking in anyway and the loading times in general aren’t too bad but when loading a new area or even entering a battle it can take a few seconds too long where they are easily noticed. I believe the PS3 version is better for these things but I can’t confirm that personally.
As I mentioned earlier The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel feels like a JRPG from a time gone by. If you have fond memories of playing JRPGs over a decade ago then this might just take you back. It doesn’t do much new but by being old school it is different enough these days to make it an enjoyable experience.
+ Characters are likeable
+ Nice character customisation
- Poor animation
- Technical issues