The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review

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Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Developer: Falcom, XSEED
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.7 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download | Retail

EU Availability: Digital Download | Retail (Late January 2016)
PSTV Support: 
Yes

When you look at reviewers, you’ve got a few different types with how they tackle reviews when they have an embargo date.  Before going on, let’s define what an embargo is.  Embargo is the day you’re allowed to start posting your review.  In simple terms, you’re not allowed to post your review before that date.

Reviewers with embargo in mind fall into a few categories, especially when a game is too long to realistically complete before the embargo day.  Some will release a review on the embargo day, even if it means only playing through half, or even a third of a game and hoping that nothing happens later that would change their review.  Then you have the insane people that stop sleeping in order to beat the game by that time.  Finally, you’ve got the more relaxed people who spend a lot of time with the game, but aren’t stressed about getting their review out exactly on embargo day.

That third option is me.  I do want to get reviews out as soon as I can, but if it means only playing half the game beforehand, it’s not worth it.  I’ve played many games where problems that I’d deduct points for don’t show up until the finale of the game.  If I’d only played half of it, the review would be incomplete and misleading.  So, my position is that a reviewer should always complete the main story of a game before writing their review, even if it means not posting it on embargo day.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about today’s review.  I’m sure you all have been anxious to see my thoughts on the newest PS Vita RPG, and the newest localized Legend of Heroes game.  This game has quite the shoes to fill, after the stellar success and quality of the Trails in the Sky games on the PSP.  So, here we go.  This is my official review of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel!

Story

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Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the political country of Erebonia, where political tension is high and two military groups have very high political opposition of one another.  In the midst of this, our story is around the nine students of a special class at the Imperial Thors Military Academy, known as Class VII.  This new class is consisted of both noble-born and common-born students, a first and a clear taboo among the importance of Erebonian social class.

As Class VII goes through school as well as visiting major areas of Erebonia in what are called “Field Studies”, they learn of the history and future of Erebonia.  Not only do they familiarize themselves with different towns and cities, but they also uncover and become involved in much bigger political activities as a major crisis unveils itself in the country.

As a part of The Legend of Heroes, Cold Steel is a standalone title as it’s the beginning of a new subseries.  However, fans of the series will be happy to know that there are dozens of references to previous games, particularly the Trails in the Sky series.  Players of the first Trails in the Sky won’t recognize many of these, as most of the references come from Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter).  Not only are the events referenced, but a handful of major characters from that game appear in this one.

One last thing to say is that the game is very plot-heavy.  This is a given for fans of the series, but newcomers should know that the story has just as much focus as the gameplay.  It’s a long game, and the majority of that length is taken up by story scenes.  If you’re not one for getting into storyline (or don’t like cliffhanger endings, as this is the first chapter of a new sub-series), you should be careful about your purchase.  However, if you’re a fan of stories, you’re in for a treat.

Gameplay

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Trails of Cold Steel is a turn-based RPG with strategy elements as well as some light school sim and other elements thrown into the mix.  As you’ll find out from what I’m about to tell you, it’s an RPG like Trails in the Sky, but with many different elements, making it a bit more than just an RPG.

Each chapter of the game progresses between two sections.  The first section consists of school life at Thors Military Academy.  Then, after a few days, scenes, some side-quests, and a story-based boss and dungeon exploration, you’re sent on a Field Study to a city where you have your own set of objectives.

School Life isn’t all that different from that of Persona 3 and Persona 4.  You have scenes of classes that are taking place, along with the occasional trivia question and exam, where you’ll have a few choices and the choice you make will affect points you can get towards leveling up your rank.  I would directly compare that to the quizzes in Persona 4, but appearing far less often.

Once that’s over, you get a Free Day, where you run errands for the Student Council.  These tasks are like side-quests that involve a certain NPC and you do something for them.  It could be hunting down a student for the Photography Club that is taking candid pictures of the student body or testing out some new equipment or vehicles for the Engineering Department.  It’s pretty varied, but they all take you to many places around the school grounds.  Finally, there’s always a task that takes you through a new dungeon underneath the school grounds that modifies and changes each month.

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The other part of Free Day is bonding with your classmates.  Not unlike Social Links from Persona, you can spend time with other playable characters to learn more about them as well as increasing your Link Level with them.  This affects some story events as well as some abilities they can do with each other while in combat.  You have a limited number of Bonding Points each month, though, so you can’t spend time with everyone every month.

Once the Free Day is over, you have your Examination Test of fighting a customized boss monster under certain conditions and then you go on your Field Study for a weekend.  Field Studies have you paired in specific groupings of characters (clearly to help you familiarize yourself with each person’s abilities as well as learning their own story background), and sent to a town to learn about the town and run many quests through the town.

These Field Studies also have a schedule to them.  The first parts will have you going through story events and doing these quests and tasks given to you by an official from the town.  Then, towards the end of that weekend you will have some major story events happen and be sent to fend off a major boss associated with the political plots developing in the area.

Running tasks while on Field Studies is very similar to how side-quests worked in Trails in the Sky.  There are required tasks and optional tasks for you to complete each day.  These can be as simple as finding a mini-boss and defeating it, hunting down a specific material or sales item for an NPC or shop, or escorting and protecting an NPC out in the field.  Much like the quizzes during school life, doing more of these will earn you more AP, or Academic Points, pushed towards increasing your Rank.  Similar to how side-quests gave you experience towards upgrading ranks in Trails in the Sky.

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The Field Studies are also unique in that you have a bit of a hub world and free roam through fields and dungeons.  The school has a lot of area, but only has one area that spawns monsters.  There’s a much bigger sense of freedom when you’re out in the field.  This is also where all of the major shops are, where you can upgrade your weapons and equipment.

The equipment system is also something to go into.  You have weapons, armor, and accessories, which is standard RPG stuff.  Better equipment increases stats.  You know the drill there.  What is different is the Orb/Skill system.  You have a battle orbment, or accessory that you can equip orbment quartz into to enhance your stats as well as give you more skills to use both in the field and in battle.  I would compare this system to the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII..

This system is a bit simplified from its form from Trails in the Sky.  It is much easier to manage opening slots, equipping quartz, and managing skills.  It was quite the task in previous games, but it’s been simplified and not as daunting of a task this time around, which is a welcome change to the formula of the series.

When you’re in combat, you play like you do in Trails in the Sky.  Your party and an enemy party are on a relative-large map.  Your abilities have limited range, so you may have to take some time moving around for a turn or two before you can be at the point where you can even attack enemies.  This is where the strategy elements are thrown into play, just as they were in the last Trails games I reviewed.  The rest of it is about the same, like having normal attacks, artes that take time to cast, earning CP as you attack or are damaged to use CP Skills or ultimate attacks.

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The main addition here are Link Attacks.  Unlike how Trails in the Sky SC implemented team attacks, Linked Attacks are a story element as well as an attack that allows two party members to attack together under certain conditions.  All enemy types have weapon strengths and weaknesses.  Rean’s sword has more strength against certain enemies than, say, Elliot’s Orbal Staff.  This strength increases the chance of doing a super-powered critical attack, called a Smash Attack.

When a Smash Attack hits, you gain the ability to do a link attack.  Whoever your character is linked with can follow up with another attack.  Level up those characters with bonding events, interacting on train rides to Field Study locations, or having them in battle together opens more attacks during a Linked Attack, like being able to do finishing strikes, or even being able to attack a group of enemies instead of just the one that was attacked to begin the link.

When you win a battle, you gain experience points that goes towards leveling up as well as Link Levels.  You also gain Sepith of various variety, used for creating and buying new types of Quartz or being exchanged for money.  This is pretty much the same system as previous games, though there is now a special type of Sepith not used for Quartz that is solely used to be exchanged for cash.

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Difficulty is something that’s there in the game but isn’t something that’s going to be constantly getting your Vita thrown at the wall.  I won’t say the game is easy.  Even if you choose the Easy difficulty, there will be many bosses that will test your skills.  But I wouldn’t say that you’ll need to do a lot of excessive level grinding to get through the game.

As far as length is concerned, prepare for a long game.  With each game’s chapter being many hours in length, I would expect you to spend no less than 50 hours in the game.  If you’re a fan of longer RPGs, then this will be a nice treat for you.

Controls

Moving around in the game isn’t all that hard to do.  But first thing’s first.  As long as you download the Day 1 Patch, you can play this game on the PlayStation TV.  However, you don’t get any special controls on the micro-console.  XSEED did not throw in any L2/R2 or L3/R3 controls.  Not that this is bad, but just something to note.

Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and moving the camera is done with the Right Analog Stick.  X is used for interacting with menus and NPCs and Circle is used to go back in menus.  Triangle brings up the customization menu and Square will pull up your current objective.  Start will pull up your Map and Select will pull up your notepad of story progress.  Finally, R is used to run instead of walk.

I wouldn’t worry about how the controls work.  They all work well and the game explains it to you well.

Presentation

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Is there such a term as “Console Quality RPG” here?  As far as presentation goes with graphics, the game looks really nice.  The cel-shading looks very smooth and the environments look as detailed as can be.  The graphics engine is quite comparable to the PS3 version of the game.  Other than playable characters having orb shadows instead of accurate ones like enemies and environments, there’s little to no different in the graphical quality between the Vita and PS3 versions of the game, which is a pretty big feat.

The music, just as the series is known for, is varied and enjoyable.  If you’re a fan of game music, you’ll be humming the battle theme to yourself by the time you reach Chapter 3.  I haven’t found anything yet to quite rival “Fate of the Fairies” from Trails in the Sky SC, but it’s a pretty good soundtrack.

Performance is the only place this game has a fault.  Load times aren’t bad.  I never saw loading sequences that went over around 7-8 seconds, which is about the same as you have on the PS3 version.  The only problem are some slight frame dips.  The vast majority of these take place in scenes and have no impact on gameplay.  Some environments get a tad shaky, though.  I can’t say numbers, but I would say maybe around the same kind of drops as Sword Art Online: Lost Song saw.  Nothing major at all.  Just a minor annoyance to anyone who is picky about the frames constantly being the same.

One thing I may note, though, is that a lot of these I didn’t notice until after I downloaded the Day 1 Patch.  Whether that is the issue or not, I don’t know.  But, just stating an observation.

 

Summary

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel feels like an RPG made for the PS3 or PS4, yet it’s on a handheld.  Sparing some minor frame issues during cutscenes, this is a very deep, political, fun, and thrilling RPG that should be in any JRPG or Legend of Heroes’ fan’s library.

9/10

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  • Joel. monserrate

    I’m having a blast playing this game now

  • alterku

    Glad it’s being well-received. Got my special edition waiting for the second game to release at home. I’m not a fan of unfinished stories so I have to wait until the next one’s release before starting this one.

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