Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
  • 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
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (4.96 GB)
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Original PS3/Vita Release Date: December 22, 2015
Publisher: Marvelous USA, Inc. / XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Original MSRP: $39.99 (US), £34.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 12
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is my first game in The Legend of Heroes series. In fact, it’s only one of a handful of JRPGs that I have ever spent any significant time with so please keep that in mind when reading this review.

The story kicks off with a small bang. Your location is under attack, people are dead, and Rean Schwarzer and his fellow high school students must act fast before all hope is lost. After a few tutorial battles, the player is taken back to earlier in the year when Rean first arrives at Thor’s Military Academy.

Overall the first six hours or so are slow. Rean is slowly introduced to the academy and surrounding town. Rean meets his new classmates as they learn they are the first ever Class VII with an experimental curriculum.

Meeting your fellow students sets up the complex cultural and political world of the Erebonian Empire. Right away there are tensions as Class VII is the first class to mix Nobles and commoners.

Trails of Cold Steel is a unique world that is an interesting mix of fantasy and modernization. The cities and towns are built out of stone. However thanks to a breakthrough in harnessing orbital energy, the world has evolved technologically hundreds of years in only a few decades. There is a nationwide railway system, the nobles arrive at Thor’s Academy in their own private limos, and the capital city has a public rail system. While most students are training with swords, bows, and staves, the military fights with guns, tanks, and aircraft.

The story starts off slowly and has some pacing issues throughout the game. Yet, I am waking up an hour and a half early at least four days a week to play more before work. It’s certainly not on the scale and caliber of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I can’t think of a better comparison at the moment. There are major political players whose true motivations are a mystery. Not only is there a major threat from a neighboring kingdom, there are a few secret groups working in the background towards unknown goals, and the biggest threat of all could be from within Erebonian.

There is a constant drip feed of new revelations and story. Even the side stories about a character and their family are interesting and help build the world. Major plot points are teased throughout the game. As soon as you forgot a seemingly minor character exists, they tease them again, adding another piece to the puzzle. The way all of these different stories are interwoven really surprised me. The story is much bigger than it first appears and slowly fills in over time. Even when I knew a surprise was about to happen, a friend’s revelation swept me of my feet. While answering questions I had been dying to know the answer to, it also raised more questions.

Like the story, the gameplay mechanics are drip fed over time. For as complex and as many mechanics as there are, I never once felt overwhelmed like I have with other JRPGs.

As soon as I had mastered one aspect of the combat, another system was introduced. This helps keep the game feeling fresh during some of the poorer story pacing. Even your available party members are constantly fluctuating, keeping the player tweaking their strategies based on strengths and weaknesses of available members.

One of the big features of the remaster is the introduction of turbo mode. This speeds up animations so running around the world is faster. In turbo mode combat is sped up four times faster. It’s perfect for dealing with trash mobs when traveling down a highway towards a quest objective.

Trails of Cold Steel has traditional JRPG turn-based menu combat. There is a turn bar on the side that shows how various skills will push characters up and down the bar.

Positioning matters in combat. If an enemy is too far away, you will not be able to reach them with a physical melee attack. When my party was bunched together, multiple members were more likely to take damage from a single enemy attack. Of course movement could be used as an advantage too. Seeing an enemy boss was about to throw down a massive attack, I could move a party member out of the way.

Arts is their version of a magic system based on orbital science. Using an art delays the attack or skill until its next turn. The turn bar shows where the member will be moved too so you know when the effect will take place. This requires some planning ahead. Will a party member survive two enemy turns before my healing skill is activated? Three enemies may be in my target area when selecting an attack art, but if two of them move to attack different party members, only one enemy will be hit by my attack.

The orbits and quarts that are part of the Arts system offer a lot of customization. Each member can be configured, allow players to build their party from the ground up. However, this level of control is not necessary for the lower difficulty levels. I largely relied on the game to auto equip all my orbit slots. There were a few boss fights though were I had to rely on items more than I should have. When I auto equipped for my party a few import attacks/skills were replaced with something less effective. Towards the end of the game I was still using the auto equip function but reviewing my parts, attacks, and skills, and making minor tweaks if necessary before just jumping into battle.

There is also a Craft system. Although the game calls these Craft abilities, you are not actually crafting anything out of raw materials. These attacks and skills are similar to the Arts but happen immediately. The downside is there are no potions to refill a party member’s Craft meter, only attacking enemies will refill it. Each character’s ultimate ability is also based on the Craft meter.

Going into a dungeon, it seems like a smart choice to have a support character who can heal through the Art or Craft system. This way I can heal with an Art ability allowing me to build up my Craft meter for my ultimate attack. Yet, I still can heal immediately if necessary with the Craft system. However, I had to give up a good AOE buff to make room for my healing Art. I wrestled and experimented with this and similar situations throughout the game. There are multiple ways to approach each situation but there was never a single “right way”.

Visuals:
Most remasters are preceded by press releases talking up the new visuals, quality of life improvements, and other added features. The review kit that came with the review code only had logos and pictures. It was a Google puzzle trying to figure out what improvements were made with the remaster.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel supports 4k and 60 FPS on PS4 but it still isn’t an amazing looking game. The characters look great but many building and background textures didn’t have any remaster love one might expect. More than a few times I found myself thinking that these textures look bad even for a PS3 game.

There is also significant pop in. The original game didn’t have turbo mode and it’s understandable that there would be pop in when Rean is walking twice as fast down a path. However, even at normal speed the pop in can be distracting at times.

Audio:
One of the best improvements over the original PS3 version is the additional 5,000 lines of English VO. The extra lines are greatly appreciated but still comes up short.

I don’t understand the logic behind why some scenes have VO and others don’t. It feels like an audio engineer simply forgot to add some audio to the game.

There are main mission dialogue scenes that can’t be skipped that aren’t voiced. Some conversations start with no VO, a new character joins the conversation and everyone is voiced, and then the new character leaves taking all the VO with them. I even had a few conversations where the people I was talking to were voiced but Rean was not.

This is a shame because the voice acting was well done. There is a lot of character growth and the voice actors voiced the whole range of emotions. The story would stand on its own without any VO, but it does help bring the characters to life.

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

Conclusion:
Unfortunately this review has ended on a slightly sour note. If The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, slated to come out later this year, has the same issues it will have more of an impact on my review score. But for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, the graphics and spotty VO did not have much impact on my enjoyment of the game.

The combat provides plenty of options and allows for different strategies, but is approachable. At the same time, it provides the customization, ground up party building, and challenge hardcore JRPG fans are looking for.

I love The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The characters and world have grabbed in me a way few games do. I am eagerly waiting for the remaster of the second game and launch of the third, all this year. This is an epic journey you do not want to miss out on.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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