[SPOILERS] The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review; A Must-Have for J-RPG Fanatics
+ Surprisingly entertaining storyline
+ Combat system has a fine balance of being challenging without being too complicated
+ Colourful cast of characters
+ Turbo Mode helps the game progress faster, especially during excruciatingly long sequences
+ Plenty of optional side quests that will deepen your understanding of the game’s lore
- Hidden side quests may have people missing out on some plot points unintentionally
- Some parts of the game can get very draggy
- The game ends on a cliffhanger
- Dated visuals
Our review of the PC port of Nihon Falcom’s J-RPG, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Fair warning, there will be some spoilers in here.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review
When it comes to role-playing games (RPGs), you’ll often hear the Final Fantasies or Personas dominating the genre. Once in a blue moon however, a game will surface that will manage to put those 2 iconic game series to shame. Lucky enough, today’s review happens to be on one such game. It’s called The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and it was ported to the PC. It’s a game that no J-RPG fanatic should miss out on.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the Erebonian Empire, where protagonist Rean Schwarzer has enrolled in Thors Military Academy, an educational institute that divides the classes according to the students’ social classes. The nobles are in a white uniform whereas the regular folks wear the green uniform. Upon reaching the town of Trista, he makes an odd discovery; he and a very few selected students are clad in red instead.
During his class orientation, the ‘red’ group was thrown into a dungeon with 1 simple instruction; to get out of there alive. After somehow managing to subdue all the monsters and making their escape, Class Instructor Sara Valestein finally explained the purpose of the ‘red’ group. The students were specifically chosen as they have the most aptitude with the new battle technology known as the ARCUS Battle Orbments.
The students were expected to be beta testers for this new technology and they will be thrusted to dangerous missions, more so than the other classes, in order for them to learn what the real situation is with the empire, opposing governments, as well as to collect data for the machine. With not much choice left, they all agreed to participate in the program and thus began their adventure in the real world.
Generally speaking, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel can be divided into 3 parts; academics, practical exams, and field studies. During the academics session, you will be going around the town of Trista as well as Thors Military Academy to complete certain objectives, engage with other characters, and study. By study, I mean gather bits and pieces of the game’s lore via the library.
Generally, the academics will have you descend further and further down the ‘Old Schoolhouse’, where you’ll slowly uncover the mystery behind the building. Afterwards, you will then be taking a practical exam, which consists of a variety of combat-based challenges, such as fighting a robot or other students of the school.
Then, you will proceed with field studies, where the protagonist will be grouped up with specific classmate and sent to other areas in the region. This is where the bulk of the game’s storyline will take place. In all 3 parts, there will be some side quests or optional objectives to meet as well as the opportunity to bond with your classmates, and I can’t stress enough as to how important these things are.
For one thing, bonding with your classmates will earn you ‘Link Points’ with that specific character. The points can be used to power up your “Links” which will in turn help you work better with that specific classmate in battle. Furthermore, you’ll have additional narrative that will give you a better idea of that character. Side quests on the other will award you with items that will make the game easier to go through, along with additional narrative.
This may make the game a bit too predictable but at the same time, this is also what makes it surprising when it decides to throw you off tangent. Without spoiling the game too much, it is a surprisingly effective way to design a game without the need to overwhelm players with tasks. On the downside, it can also make the storyline move somewhat slow, which is one negative point for the game. The game does make up for it with ‘Turbo Mode’, which makes the game twice as fast with the press of a button.
Considering that the game starts off with a glimpse of the future and thrusts you into battle with high level characters, the combat system may seem like too much to swallow but it’s actually a lot simpler than you think. In combat, you can have up to 4 characters present in the battlefield with an additional 2 characters as the support team. The support team’s function is simply for you to switch with the active members whenever you like during battle.
The game utilizes a turn-based system, so the characters’ and enemies’ turns are fully dependent on their parameters, especially speed. When it’s your turn, you can choose between 6 commands; Attack, Arts, Crafts, Items, Run, and Move. Attack is where you directly cause damage to your opponent physically whereas for Arts and Crafts, they are special attacks that will cost you Energy Points and Craft Points respectively. Arts also take 1 turn to cast whereas Crafts can be executed instantaneously.
As with any other RPGs, every character and enemy has their elemental affinity and weakness. Taking advantage of this with your Arts and Crafts will make battles easier. While Run and Item is self-explanatory, the Move command serves to re-position a character in a battlefield to either avoid enemy attacks or get in range of an enemy. Certain offense-based commands will re-position your character anyway, but only the Move command will allow you to place them at a specific position.
Taking into account that all these commands will affect who gets to act next is what makes the game interesting. For example, certain Crafts will enable you to act again after executing it, effectively giving you a free move whereas directly attacking an opponent will not yield you such a benefit. This makes the combat system more akin to chess, where you need to properly strategize your moves, and it keeps the game feeling fresh and fun until your characters become too powerful and they can essentially mow down the enemies with little to no effort.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a solid entry that any fans of the genre should not miss out on regardless of whether they have played other games in the series or not. Sure, the game may have some quirks here and there, such as the story being a bit slow to progress from time to time, but it’s not enough to hinder you from getting immersed and seeing the hours fly right by you.
If anything, the addition of the Turbo Mode feature helped in making the portions of the game that seemed draggy more tolerable. What would make the game better is if they could allow more characters in the field of combat like Suikoden, given the sheer number of playable characters that will certainly have people stressing out as to who should be placed in combat. With that in mind, I give The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel with our Gold Pokdeward!
If you’re interested to purchase it yourself, click here to head straight to the game’s Steam page.