Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS3/PSV/PSTV)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download / Game Card
  • PS3 / PS Vita
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
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Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (PS3 4.5 GB) (PSV 3.2 GB)
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: XSEED Games / Marvelous USA, Inc.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
A copy of the PlayStation 3 game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. A copy of the PlayStation Vita game was purchased by the reviewer.
PS Nation Review Policy

As the title might suggest, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is the latest in the Legend of Heroes series and a direct sequel to Trails of Cold Steel. Picking up almost directly after the first game, Cold Steel II follows Rean as he searches for his friends from Thors Academy Class VII and gets involved in an erupting civil war.

I should preface this review by noting that I did not play the first Cold Steel game. My hope was to sit down and try to play it before starting but that didn’t happen. Ironically, the reason I didn’t play Cold Steel when it came out is because at that time I was working on the review for Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky 2, for which I also didn’t play the first game.

Fortunately, the game has a lengthy, voiced summary available for players who want to know what happened, or want to freshen up. But it’s clearly not a complete stand-in for a sixty hour RPG. The two games are very continuity heavy, with frequent references to the first game. There were many times where a new character would show up and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know them already or not. And many townsfolk with “Hey, thanks for last time!” type dialogue lines.

Having not played the first game, the story was a little hard for me to get into. Falcom has created an expansive world and the cast of characters that are important is large, even for a JRPG. Once I’d been playing for five or so hours, I started to get into the story more. Still for those who aren’t trying to review the game alongside a ton of other games, just go play the first game first…

Gameplay:
Cold Steel II falls pretty much in line with what I remember from Trails in the Sky, but with some enhancements and upgrades that come with being a much newer game. The overall package is built on a sturdy and intriguing combat system. On top of that are a lot of typical, but not unwelcome JRPG systems and tropes.

The battles use a turn-based system for a base, with plenty of bells and whistles added on top. The basic addition is a bit of a positional element to the combat. This is ultimately a small part of the system, based mostly on the limitations built in, but can be important at times when using certain abilities.

The main limitation that hampers the positional elements is that attacking and moving are separate actions. Using an attack or spell will have the character automatically move into a place to use that attack or spell, which is fine. However, in the cases where I wanted to move a character to a specific spot to attack from, for example to spread out my team to avoid an enemy’s area of effect attack, I’d have to give up that turn just to move the character. It’s a small complaint, but I would like to see the ability to influence where the character moves when they attack.

The combat system is also built on artes and crafts. But this isn’t your summer camp variety stuff, artes and crafts are the game’s skills systems and represent magic and abilities. Artes are interesting because they’re powerful but come with the trade off that they don’t cast immediately. Instead the character has to charge up and will cast the arte on their next action. Crafts are instantaneous and draw from a pool of points that slowly regenerate during battle.

Those are just the basic abilities though, as there are a ton of additional systems in combat. From staggering foes and linked attacks, to overdrive attacks, to super crafts that can be activated out of turn order, there are a lot of options. Fortunately these are introduced slowly enough and are easy enough to grasp that I didn’t find them overwhelming.

… occasional fights using giant robots …
They can trivialize combat though. One strategy I used on a few occasions when I knew about an upcoming boss fight was to fully charge up all of these abilities, since almost all carry over between battles, and simply unleash everything at the start of the fight. Conversely, going in without these skills charged made a few fights very, very tough.

In some ways it’s a good thing that this a viable strategy. It’s unlikely that a player will get stuck needing to grind out a ton of levels to pass a tough boss fight. But on the other hand, I appreciate some nail-biting bosses and almost regretted blowing through a few battles like this.

I don’t want to delve too much into it for spoilers but there are also occasional fights using giant robots. This is a much simpler battle style though and it’s used very sparingly. They’re alright but not all that deep so I’m not bothered that these are less frequent, but also not all that satisfied with the plot contrivances that make it so that they are so.

There is a decent degree of character customization available as well. The normal stuff of weapons and armor are there of course but each character also has a set of equipment called quartz. These quartz give characters their artes as well as different stat boosts and are governed by a master quartz. The master goes a long way in customizing a character with a few passive and active skills.

… a cool melding of technology and magic fantasy …
The main quest line can be pretty linear at times, mostly a go-here-do-this series of quest markers. It opens up later in the game but even for the linear parts, there are at least some side quests to partake in. Some of these show up with icons on the map but as I found out several hours into the game, some of those side quests are hidden and missable.

A few minigames help round out the offerings. Fishing is available in several locations and there’s a snowboarding minigame in the snow area. One story mission even has a motorbike race. The fishing is alright but the other minigames are pretty subpar and ultimately just filler anyway.

Visuals:
Even by PS3 and Vita standards, this won’t knock anyone’s socks off for graphics. The aesthetic of the game is good though, with a cool melding of technology and magic fantasy. The world is colorful and varied with inhabitants to match, from the military to the nomadic people.

The tons of artes and crafts all have fun and interesting animations which are enjoyable to watch a few times and skippable after that. I always made it a point to watch each new character’s S-Break skills whenever someone joined the party as these are some the flashiest moves in the game.

… voices will go in and out, even in a single scene …
Audio:
The soundtrack is very good as the music suits the tone of the game well, with the differing themes for the game’s areas. The battle music is especially cool while the themes for towns and areas tend to be a little less obtrusive.

Voices are only available in English. Overall, it’s a fine dub and the worst part about it isn’t what’s there but what isn’t there. Typically the important story scenes have voices but there are a lot of unvoiced scenes too. Sometimes voices will go in and out, even in a single scene for just one or two lines which can be odd. It doesn’t completely hamper things but it’s noticeable.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Despite having trouble getting into the start of the game, I eventually found a groove and ended up enjoying Trails of Cold Steel II. The depth of the combat systems ended up being a pretty big draw alongside some good customization. There’s some hidden and optional content in the game too for completionists who scoff at a merely ‘long’ game and want it even longer.

Of course, I once again highly recommend against playing this game before playing its predecessor. The inclusion of a summary of the first game helps but doesn’t completely alleviate losing new players as the cast balloons in size. I think a lot of my issues with getting into the start of the game were due to coming in fresh, whereas a returning player would probably find it much easier.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature and the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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