The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PS Vita) Review

By Az Elias 02.04.2016 1

Review for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS Vita

The Legend of Heroes has spawned numerous sub-series since its original 1989 release, which itself was a spin-off of the real-time RPG franchise Dragon Slayer. The past decade has seen somewhat of a localisation frenzy, with the Gagharv and Trails in the Sky sub-series making their way to the West. Although some other entries are still in limbo, current priority has been put on Trails of Cold Steel, the beginning of the Trails - Erebonia Arc, which has come a good two years after its Japanese release, but is still the quickest localisation of any of the text-heavy titles in the franchise. Following one view of the game on PlayStation 3, here is another angle of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, played on PS Vita.

It is Rean Schwarzer's first day at Thors Military Academy, where he and eight other students are enrolled into Class VII, the newly-formed group that mixes nobles and commoners together for the first time in the school's history. It is a test to see if it can develop into the strongest and most capable of battle classes, regardless of each individual's background, and hopefully setting aside and overcoming their differences. With the backstories, personalities and tropes expected of characters in a JRPG story, there are few surprises in the grand scheme of things, and the strong presence of a citizen class system can evoke reminders of how outdated and displeasing this is all around. Trails of Cold Steel uses the theme to display the predictable character development expected, though, and serves its intended purpose.

To ease up on the unfortunate tones, there is plenty of witty dialogue, as well as light-hearted and comically farcical characters that provide a few good laughs when least expected. After all, who cannot love Sara, the booze-obsessed teacher of Class VII, who seems to drop into a deep slumber at the drop of a hat? How she made it to the position she's at is anybody's guess, but she's a prime example of the daftness encountered throughout the cheery moments.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS Vita

Getting to the good parts takes a long time, though. It's no exaggeration that this is a very slow starter. Nobody knows each other to begin with, so throwing players into the same situation as the students is a novel idea that helps to move everyone along at the same pace, learning how the academy works, what the goals of the tutors are, and the history of each character. To build the relationships of the classmates means sending them out on field missions, which allows them to explore the world and gain a better understanding of the world and game mechanics as a whole.

The fetch questing, training, running around and a general feeling of not really getting anywhere is prevalent throughout the opening chapter or two, though, which goes well over the ten-hour mark. It is probably with intention that Trails of Cold Steel opens in medias res, as an indicator that things do pick up later on. The problem is that this early piece of action-packed gameplay may be forgotten about with how much the prologue and first chapter drags out, so there is the risk of setting the game aside completely before things gain speed. Taking a break from proceedings fairly often may be what's required in order to stick with it, but it is worth the struggle.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS Vita

Trails bears resemblance to many an RPG, and if Final Fantasy VIII isn't what immediately pops out thanks to the military academy aspect, many will find relation to Persona and its social linking system. Character bonding is a feature that plays a strong role when there is free time to kill around the school studies calendar, allowing Rean to strike up conversations with his fellow party members, getting to know them and their personalities, and gaining rewards that enhance their partnership in battle. With only limited opportunities to interact with his friends throughout the course of the adventure, it can be an issue if trying to max compatibility between certain characters, so it is wise to prioritise preferred companions over others.

This ties into one of the best parts of Trails of Cold Steel - the battle system. Developing bonds with characters allows for the unique Link System to come into play during encounters with foes, whereby party members synced up with one another can act immediately with a follow-up attack that doesn't use up a turn. It is also here that another couple of Final Fantasy titles will be recalled to mind, as the battle system itself uses a very Final Fantasy X-like turn-based scenario, where all targets' moves affect who gets to act next, with stronger attacks pushing them further down the order list.

Although characters cannot be moved directly around the arena, they will move towards targets depending on which one they attack and on which moves are used, staying put once the animation plays out, affecting future decisions. By tactically spacing party members around the arena, the tide of battle can be influenced, whether it's grouping allies close to one another to heal up together or utilise the linking system, or separating those that work at range whilst the more direct characters keep enemies occupied up close. It is a well-developed system that brings freshness to the turn-based formula, without veering fully onto the real-time action path.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS Vita

To continue with the trend of what else Trails may borrow its concepts from, character customisation bears more than a passing similarity to Final Fantasy VII's Materia system, where orbs of magic, commands and stat boosters can be placed into unlockable slots of an ally's gear. Since FFVII's idea is, arguably, one of the unrivalled customisation systems in the JRPG world, it isn't a shock to see it replicated here to such a large degree.

The massive roster of nine playable characters also adds more depth to the affairs, since each has predetermined stats that place them in a more specific and recommended role for battle (although they can be customised more to individual liking), but the choice also helps to provide a bit of variety in the amount of likeable party members players are willing to take into battle for their preferred team of four. Much like FFX again, though, every ally can be swapped in and out of fights at will. There is definitely no shortage of options in and out of battle.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

It is a really slow one to get going, but no argument can be made against how much care Falcom has put into building and developing the world and characters throughout the opening stages of Trails of Cold Steel. It very much hits the typical JRPG checkboxes, but with solid and safe customisation, and a great tactical turn-based battle system that adds a little something extra to the standard formula, this is a title that JRPG fans cannot afford to pass on - especially PS Vita owners - and will most definitely last right up until the sequel hits Western shores.

Developer

Nihon Falcom

Publisher

NIS America

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I agree with the FF7 comparisons. Still an enjoyable game to play.

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