The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Towards the twilight years of the PlayStation Portable’s lifespan, XSEED Games began the long process of translating the text of the first installment of the The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky trilogy, releasing the initial entry in 2011, with the translated PC version coming a few years later on Steam. The release of the second entry of the trilogy came the following year, and XSEED is as of the time of writing hammering away on the concluding entry. Likely to tide North American gamers until the completion of the Trails in the Sky trio, they announced the localization of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, which provides a gameplay experience largely on par with other installments of the long-running Nihon Falcom series.

Cold Steel features visible monsters wandering fields in between towns and dungeons, in the latter, as well, with these foes noticing the player’s active character once they draw near. Depending upon how the visible character contacts the enemy, the battle could begin either in the player’s advantage or the enemy’s. The active ally can also attack the enemy to make it wince, although many times, when the enemy’s back is to the character and they strike, doing so will most of the time stun the enemy, making them vulnerable to back contact, in which case the player will gain a significant advantage. One strategy this player used was to draw near the enemy, run away while the foe pursues, and then walk back to the antagonist with its back turned to strike and get the advantage in the succeeding turn-based battle.

Combat in Cold Steel shares many characteristics with that in the Trails in the Sky trilogy, except that movement is free-roaming instead of grid based, although characters and the enemies still alternate turns depending upon agility. The party of four active characters can attack with equipped weapons, use EP-consuming arts, CP-consuming crafts that max out at two hundred points, guaranteeing maximum power for a character’s special craft, move around the battlefield, or attempt to escape. While the escape option doesn’t always work (with its percent of success shown when the player highlights the option), subsequent use of the feature will raise the percentage of succeeding.

Odds are players will wish to engage the enemy, with victory netting all participating characters not to mention those in the convoy with whom the player can change anytime outside battle experience, gems of various elements, and material that the player can convert into money necessary to upgrade weapons and armor. Should the player die in a fight, they receive an option to restart the battle with all antagonists’ HP reduced by a certain amount, a feature that applies even to boss battles. Combat tends to move at a brisk pace, heightened further through the ability to skip nearly all battle animations. A feature to make this increased speed automatic would have certainly been welcome, but otherwise, battles are a boon to the game.

One cannot say the same of the game’s control scheme, with long loading interventions that don’t seem to contribute to overall playing time, with the in-game clock consequentially being somewhat inaccurate, and while Cold Steel does most of the time clue players into how to advance the main storyline, direction isn’t always crystal-clear, driving some players to look online for help. Further notable is the extremely drawn-out endgame that will make certain gamers beg for the game to be over. All in all, interaction could have been much better.

The narrative could have been, as well, and isn’t terribly innovative, with the scholastic milieu being nothing new to roleplaying games, with the cast in Cold Steel attending a military academy similar to the characters of Final Fantasy VIII, with a Persona-esque calendar system as well. The massive cast of playable characters is largely unmemorable, with allies often interchangeable, too, and the aforementioned endgame events might make players cringe. The translation is largely above average, although XSEED could have come up with a name not yet used for an historical conflict known in Cold Steel as “the War of the Lions,”, and there are occasional terrible names such as “Miner Dick,” and the writing in battle often sounds unnatural. Overall, the story isn’t great, but the localization largely redeems it, given the maturity of the script at times.

Much better, mercifully, is the music, with plenty of tracks spanning several genres that never sound out of place. The voice acting is solid as well, although there are occasional points where some characters in a cutscene are voiced, but others not.

The graphics show plentiful polish, as well, with believable character models and gorgeous environs, and only a slight bit of pixilation when scenery is seen close.

Finally, the game is fairly long for one that’s relatively linear, forty to sixty hours, with plenty replayability with the New Game+ feature.

Ultimately, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a successful start to another subseries within the greater Legend of Heroes pantheon, given its solid and swift tactical battle system, polished localization, nice soundtrack and voice acting, beautiful graphics, and plentiful lasting appeal. It does, however, leave room for improvement in areas such as the lengthy loading times, the drawn-out endgame, the trite narrative, and the inconsistency as to which characters have audible voices in cutscenes at times. Those that enjoyed prior games in the franchise, however, will most likely enjoy Cold Steel, and those new to it too will find it a nice diving board into the series.

The Good:
+Solid tactical battle system with skippable animations.
+Nice localization.
+Great soundtrack and voicework.
+Polished visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-A lot of button-mashing to skip battle animations.
-Loads and loads of loading.
-Drawn-out endgame.
-Trite storyline.
-Some scenes with voicework aren’t fully voiced.

The Bottom Line:
A solid Nihon Falcom game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 40-60 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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