The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is back with a remastered version on PC and more recently, on the PlayStation 4. This is a re-release with enhanced visuals and some other improvements. This review is based on my playthrough of the PlayStation 4 version.
For those who have not heard of the game, this is a JRPG which originally released on the PlayStation 3 and Vita. This was back in 2015 or 2013 if you caught the Japanese release. If you have played the wildly popular Trials in the Sky games, they are part of the same series. This is the eleventh of the fourteen ‘The Legend of Heroes’ games and the first in the fifth subseries. While not all the games are available in English, it’s certainly a series with a long history.
Luckily, you do not need to have played the other games to understand the story. This is the start of a new arc.
You play as Rean Schwarzer, a student who joins an elite military academy in the Erebonian Empire. You are assigned to an experimental new class, which consists of a mixture of Erebonian nobility and commoners. This is a unique situation at this academy, which otherwise segregates based on social class.
As the story develops, the player will find issues occurring within the class. The characters from different social classes will come into conflict. This is shown to be a wider social issue as you explore the Erebonian Empire.
Beyond the military academy, you will spend your time exploring dungeons and visiting sites around the Empire for missions. Through this, you will learn what is going on in the world and in particular, the political situation. You will also get to know the backstory of the characters in your class through the missions you go on.
The characters themselves are quite interesting but do sometimes rely on common anime stereotypes. For example, one acts somewhat like a tsundere at times. This doesn’t really cause any issues.
It is worth noting that the story of this game is really all about getting to know the characters and building your knowledge of the world. As the first game in a subseries of four games, it’s setting up for the later games. I felt like the world building was done particularly well and there is a lot of interesting content there, especially if you explore and talk to the NPCs rather than powering through.
Personally, I found that it took me a while to get into the story. I did find that I really enjoyed it after getting past the slow start. I’m glad that I pushed past it as it did get much better. The story is really the strong point of the game.
The gameplay is fairly standard for a JRPG, with a few minor differences. Most of the time, you are controlling Rean as he runs around the academy, dungeons, equipment shops and elsewhere. You will be spending quite a lot of your time wandering about and talking to NPCs for dialogue. This will involve some of the standard quests, such as fetching things and delivering items as a way to further the story.
One unique addition to this is the ‘Free Days’ system with ‘Link Points’. You are given free days where you can go around the campus and nearby and spend your link points to become closer with your classmates. If you spend a point, you can go through an additional scene with them. One early example is a scene where you help a classmate who has been abandoned by a noble to do the cleaning alone.
The link point system allows you to increase your relationship with your classmates. If you increase your relationship, it gives you combat benefits in relation to the character.
Speaking of the combat, it’s a turn-based system with regular and two types of special attack. Positioning is important as attacks can cover certain areas which may present, for example, as a circle surrounding a point or a linear area coming from a character. With careful planning, you can often catch several enemies in an attack instead of just one at a time. Enemies can be seen on the field rather than appearing randomly, so they can often be avoided or fought as you wish.
As is often the case with JRPG battle systems, weaknesses, resistances and status effects are all in existence. It could be that a robot enemy is particularly weak to an earth attack and being blinded, while poisoning has no effect, for obvious reasons and slashing damage does reduced damage due to the metallic body being resistant.
One additional gameplay feature which is new to the PlayStation 4 and PC versions of the game is Turbo mode. This allows you to vastly speed up your playthrough of the game by increasing how fast you walk and how quickly combat goes. This is really useful if you want to speed through certain sections or cut down the playtime. This game normally takes at least sixty hours, even without exploring too much.
Other features include four difficulty options and the chance to play again with the New Game + mode after completing the game. You can choose from several options about what carries over.
Graphically, the game definitely looks like an improvement over the PlayStation 3 or Vita versions. It still won’t wow most people for graphics, but generally, it all looks good. The character models particularly stand out. I did feel that some of the background textures could be a bit more detailed.
The soundtrack is fairly varied. I didn’t feel like it stood out, but it was well done with fitting background music for each situation. It felt quite typical of the genre and that’s not a bad thing.
The game is partially voiced with options for English and Japanese, which is always appreciated. One of the additions for the re-release was additional lines voiced in English. I personally felt like most of the English voicing was done well enough, but the Japanese voicing was significantly preferred.
In the end, this feels very much like a classic JRPG, with some extra features to bring it into the new age of gaming. I am personally happy with that, as I grew up with them. This style of JRPG does require a lot of patience however, which is why I expect the turbo mode feature will be very appreciated by new and old fans alike.
I particularly recommend this to fans of classic JRPGs, but I believe most who enjoy story-driven anime RPGs will enjoy it. In the end, the main reason I enjoyed this game was because of the story.
Many thanks go to Marvelous Games for providing a review code for this title.