The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PlayStation 4) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 10.08.2019

Review for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PlayStation 4

The Legend of Heroes is quite the dark horse in the world of JRPGs. Once a fairly niche series in the Western part of the world, its popularity has steadily grown with each entry thanks to a timeline that stretches as far back as 1989. Trails of Cold Steel is the fifth mainline narrative arc, and it's a big one, boasting four instalments that have been released in Japan. Trails of Cold Steel II is the latest entry to have been localised for the PlayStation 4, with the third game arriving as soon as September. It's safe to say that this series has begun to break through in the West, appealing to more than just the JRPG enthusiast, but it still has a way to go before it can be considered "mainstream." Can the series sustain its trademark panache for riveting storytelling this deep into its lifecycle?

For a game that has been ported from the PS Vita, Trails of Cold Steel II is tremendously ambitious in scope. The character building, world-building and storytelling is often breathtaking, and for those players who can weather some longwinded narrative exposition, a wealth of satisfaction can be gleaned from its excellent verve at weaving a tale. It's important to note that Trails of Cold Steel II picks up right where the first game left off, and so an understanding of the complexities of the plot, world and characters are important in order to fully enjoy this title. Thankfully, an in-depth story recap and some handy character profiles are available for those who need a refresher, but this recap actually serves as an excellent tool for bringing those who haven't played the original Cold Steel up to speed. This reviewer himself had never played it, but found the summary to be more than satisfactory. Developer Nihon Falcom deserves credit for showing a willingness to make this game as accessible as possible.

The story essentially follows a group of students at the famed Thors Academy - a military school for promising young cadets on the fictional continent of Erebonia. Unduly thrown into the midst of a civil war, they must navigate the hostilities in a bid to unite the people of Erebonia once more. This ragtag batch of students, collectively dubbed 'Class VII,' is incredibly well-rounded, with characters complementing each other well both in combat and in the quieter story moments where their personalities get to shine. Their synergy is a great example of textbook character establishment; their weaknesses are believably compensated for by each other's strengths, making the various trials they overcome all the more believable. After playing through the first act of the game this reviewer was already invested in their story despite not having the benefit of having spent the first quarter of their saga with them.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PlayStation 4

Rean Schwarzer, the chief protagonist, is your typical anime boy hero but he manages to shrug off many of the clichés with a few surprisingly nuanced aspects to his character. Some other noteworthy additions to Class VII are Gaius, an exchange student from a Northern tribal clan; Jusis, a complex noble who seems to struggle with his own highborn status; and Emma, a seemingly cookie-cutter nerd imbued with magical gifts and a penchant for keeping secrets. This group of friends helps to facilitate a heart-warming tale about camaraderie and the strength gained through unity.

A quick side note: There are, oddly enough, significantly more English-voiced lines than in the original Japanese. Rean in particular feels much more present in the English version, which itself is not terrible as far as dubs go. For the purists out there, though, a Japanese language option is readily available.

The heart and soul of Cold Steel is the excellent storytelling, and as such this area is going to be the main draw. It can be a bit of a slow burn at times, but the payoff for staying tuned in to the plot bears much fruit, managing to feel more than worth it in the end. The relationships that blossom between Rean and his compatriots over the course of the campaign are a joy to witness, and while these bonds aren't quite as layered as those in the Persona franchise, the payoff is just as spectacular.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PlayStation 4

Fans of the Persona series will find much to enjoy here; while the turn-based battles may not ooze the same crisp aesthetic as Persona 5, the necessary systems are all in place to ensure that fights are fun and rewarding. Each party member has strengths and weaknesses, and combat abilities called 'Quartz' can be installed in slots called 'Orbments' for each character. The challenge comes when trying to give individual characters skills that will match their stats, and combat can feel incredibly rewarding when the balance is just right. It can become quite complicated, and the tutorials only do a passably acceptable job at explaining some of the mechanics, but with some experimentation it will eventually make sense. For those needing an extra boost, there is an option to tone down the difficulty of individual fights so no player gets left behind.

Unfortunately, there are a few issues that can be detrimental to the all-important fun factor. While the environments are easily distinguished from one another, most of them fall into the familiar JRPG trap of feeling sparse and empty, boasting little more than a few landmarks, some chests and breakables, and a scattering of roaming enemies. It's not a deal-breaker as there are exceptions: the cities encountered over the course of the game feel very distinct, even if they could do with a few more NPCs.

Exploring these environments can not only feel disappointing, but also annoying on occasion. Frustratingly, the attack and interact actions are mapped to the same button, which causes some awkward slashing-at-a-treasure-chest-when-you-meant-to-open-it moments. Again, not a huge issue, but oversights like this quickly add up. There is a saving grace, though. The world is so well established that the knowledge of the history and people that make up any given city or landscape serves to colour it in a way that not even a superbly rendered environment could. The characters and story are so firmly rooted in place and time that it's impossible for each location to not feel unique. Plus, the varied soundtrack does wonders to further individualise each location.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PlayStation 4

Beyond that, however, this is still a videogame and as a videogame it has issues. The in-game economy quickly becomes almost obsolete as the player racks up scores of Mira, the in-game currency. This is easily obtained by trading large quantities of Sepith Mass, a common component accrued through exploration and combat. Weapons, gear and other items are subsequently ever-more affordable. Carefully thought-out purchases quickly become redundant when cash can be splashed on anything that gleams. None of this is to say that the game isn't enjoyable beyond its story, though: on the contrary, wading through battles can be very addictive and hunting for rare treasures in the form of gear and combat abilities can be fun. It's simply difficult not to judge everything else in Cold Steel II by the high bar established in its story.

Ultimately, this is something comprised of very simple systems that exist solely to hold up the experience as a videogame. The cornerstone is the gargantuan story, and for those who most enjoy a riveting plot with well-written twists and turns, Trails of Cold Steel II is bound to hold some lasting appeal. The finished story in its entirety will ultimately sprawl over four games, and each one takes at least 50 hours to beat - not counting side quests and the myriad distractions that ultimately spring up in a world of this size. This is storytelling on a massive scale, and this is only the second game to hit the West. A tale so well-crafted and so carefully planned is not something that can adequately be described without experiencing it first-hand. All it takes with Trails of Cold Steel is time and patience, but on the basis of the first two instalments, this is a price worth paying.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a fun JRPG that has a lot to offer the patient player. It doesn't take as long to get off the ground as its predecessor but its complexly woven narrative nevertheless makes it a slow burn. For those who weather that burn, however, satisfaction on an unprecedented scale awaits. Not even the mechanical issues can overshadow just how fantastic the story of Cold Steel II is, how rich the world is, and how compelling the characters are. This is a must-play for those who enjoy jumping into a game for the long haul. Cold Steel III can't come soon enough.

Developer

Nihon Falcom

Publisher

Marvelous

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

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   

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