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

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required
  • Move None
Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (7.06 GB)
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: Xseed Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Spoiler Warning: I did my best to keep all spoilers of Trails of Cold Steel out of this review but a couple of things are mentioned.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a direct sequel to a story heavy game and starts off a month after the end of the first game. There is a voiced summary of the first game but it simply does not do justice to the Class VII’s individual character growth or the relationships they form. If you are at all interested in this series, stop reading now and go play Trails of Cold Steel. It is an amazing game.

Gameplay:
Trails of Cold Steel ended with a bang. Rean is uncertain of his fate and of his fellow students at Thors Military Academy, but Erebonia is now entangled in a civil war.

Although Rean is no longer safe at Thors Academy, the early game keeps the repetitive school structure. Instead of going on monthly field studies to the surrounding towns, Rean visits each town looking for information to the whereabouts of his classmates. His world may be falling apart but he will still stop to help with a pesky beast or collect a few herbs for people. Also similar to the monthly assignments from the last game, whenever Rean goes on a big mission to gather intelligence, something always goes horribly wrong.

I don’t know if the developers were trying to play on people’s nostalgia from Cold Steel, but, besides Rean’s hometown of Ymir, the player revisits the same towns and villages. It even feels a little forced at times when, revisiting each town for the first time, comments are made about their experiences from their last visit or remembering the nice people they meet there.

Despite the civil war, Rean and his classmates have the means to travel anywhere in Erebonia they want. Later in the game, the game even tells you to only worry about the Eastern half of Erebonia. There is still so much I want to learn about Erebonia and so much that I haven’t seen. It was a little frustrating in the beginning, being dragged back through all the same places I had visited previously.

The combat is mostly the same turned based combat with arts and crafts powers. Cold SteeI II introduces a handful of minor battle system/mechanics additions and tweaks. Players can upgrade the quartz slots in their orbment to slot more power quartzes. Linked members can activate overdrive attacks when the meter fills up, allowing for three attacks in a row that unbalance an enemy. This doesn’t appear to be a big addition at first, but once I started using it I realized all the strategic opportunities it afforded me. Not only do the three attacks and free follow up attacks do a good job of chipping away at a strong enemy’s health, it’s a quick way to rack up the five bravery points needed for a group attack. Lastly, it fills up a large chuck of the craft meter so party members are able to use their S-craft abilities more often.

With the final battle at the end of the first game, players will not be surprised that there are more mech battles in the sequel. The problem is they are horribly unbalanced. Rean can summon Valimar in the middle of a standard battle for three turns. However, he might as well be using a foam sword for all the damage he does. Valimar is ancient and magical mech. How is he not a blast to use?

Valimar is used too often as a story crutch. He is often called in to save the day, against some mixture of soldats, tanks, and airships, nothing close to a challenge though. Of the handful of difficult battles, a few of them are set up story-wise that you can’t win. This results in too many missions ending anticlimactically because you know Valimar will make an appearance at the final battle and it will be either way too easy or impossible.

Cold Steel introduced a new cast of characters, relationships, and political issues. There was a constant drip feed of surprises and revelations. Erebonia in the middle of a civil war in Cold SteeI II. So obviously there is some political intrigue and surprises, but not as many. The lack of constant revelations and some poor pacing causes the story to drag in places.

Near the middle of the game, there is an incredible opportunity to talk to a bunch of people I never thought I would be able to talk to besides some small talk before the start of a battle. It provides context and motivation for many main characters. However, taking the time to talk to everyone takes too long and all momentum grinds to a halt. It would have been better to go deeper with fewer characters or break this up and sprinkle these talks throughout the game for better pacing.

Cold SteeI II is a big JRPG. I completed the game in about 65 hours and avoided most of the side quests. Still, it feels like the game is padded in a few areas for no reason. There are a few dungeons that go on and on far too long, just more of the same dungeon, with nothing new thrown at the player, and it contributes to the poor pacing in spots.

The biggest innovation in Cold SteeI II is the airship given to the Class VII and friends to act as a home base. Now they can easily reach any part of Erebonia, and the game introduces an overworld map. It doesn’t turn the game into a wide open RPG but offers players some choice in the mission order, and being able to change cities allows for a little more variety in side quests. The overworld map could have been used better though. It would have been nice if the side missions had been marked on the map, instead of having to go back to the quest menu to remember what town the side quest was in.

The ship also gives Class VII the chance to look for other classmates from Thors Military Academy. Once found, they can be persuaded to join Class VII, and they take on roles on the ship’s bridge, open up stores on the ship, and generally bring the ship to life. Many of the students aren’t prepared to join right away but will once a task has been completed. However, the students, once found, aren’t marked on the map, and a couple of times I had to go looking for them again later because I couldn’t remember where I found them.

Visuals:
Cold Steel II suffers from the same graphical issues as the original game. The original Japanese releases were in 2013 and 2014. Given how fast Nihon Falcom shipped the sequel, I doubt much, if any, attention was given to improving the graphics or engine.

The game has major pop in problems even at the standard movement speed. Running around the world at twice the normal speed using turbo mode only exacerbates the problem.

While the pop in was fairly consistent, it ultimately had little impact on my enjoyment of the game, and was not bad enough that the enemies caught me off guard because they popped in last second.

There were no frame rate issues while playing the game. However there were more than a few stutters during cut scenes.

Audio:
As with the first game, the VO was well acted. Still, much of the game’s dialogue is not voiced and a few times went out in the middle of a conversation.

I don’t know if the Cold Steel II soundtrack had any original music, but a lot of it was the music from the first game. Despite this, and the fact that I have completed two large JRPGs in less than five months, it still holds up. The music matches the mood of the game, whether in is the heat of battle or taking in a picturesque view.

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

Conclusion:

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is more Trails of Cold Steel, a game I really enjoyed. While the story was an interesting continuation of the previous game, it lagged in a few places and felt repetitive at times. As someone who was soaking in every new piece of information about Class VII and Erebonia with the last game, it was disappointing to not be exploring more of the country.

It wasn’t till I was near the end of the game that I learned how fast Nihon Falcom shipped out Cold Steel II. It’s the cherry on top of my feelings about the game. It’s a good game, just not as great as Cold Steel. It does feel rushed and explains why both games have the same pop in problem.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II has me excited for the next game. The after-credits chapter set up some interesting conflicts and scenarios that I am looking forward to. That said, I am expecting more the next time around.

Score:

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

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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