The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
PlayStation 4 – 2019
The second entry in the Erebonia arc starts off right where the first game ended. After escaping battle, Rean Schwarzer finds himself alone, stranded in the mountains. Finding his way back to civilization and learning more about the Divine Knights, Rean sets off to reunite with the other members of Class VII to help liberate Thors Academy. Where the first game spent a lot of time building the nation of Erebonia, the second entry lets us loose on the Eastern half of the county. Erebonia has been thrown into civil war after the events of the first game and the Thors students are caught in the middle of it. The story further expands upon the foundations laid out in the first game, almost feeling like they were one game split in two. While the first Trails of Cold Steel was a linear adventure, moving you from one area to another quickly, this game opens up a lot sooner, allowing you to explore at your leisure. The world feels more connected as you can travel from town to town along the roads rather than being ushered by train but you do gain access to an airship rather quickly. This allows you to visit towns, complete missions and battle secret bosses as you wish. Combat remains fairly unchanged, with Arts and Crafts still at your disposal, but now you can “Overcharge” allowing you to use skills without a wait time. These are built up through combat. Each character must complete a trail chest before you can unlock these but they’re well worth searching out for. You can engage in more ”Divine Knight” battles than before (the first game had one). These are a fun addition to the game. The graphics also look very similar to the first game, with little improvements here and there. The music is much more memorable this time around, with plenty of blood-pumping tracks to keep you engaged. The voice cast from the first returns, so you’ll know what to expect from them. Despite little tweaks here and there, the openness of the world is what really makes it stand out and it is such a welcome addition. However, you’ll be returning to a lot of places you visited in the first game. You’ll also have a larger cast of characters to use in battle, some temporary and others permanent. Again, each character has their own unique skill set but with plenty of options, you should be able to find a team that suits your playstyle. The game does have a difficulty spike towards the end, with the last few bosses requiring a lot of strategy and luck but you can always retry or even weaken the enemies if you’re having difficulties. Less world building, more exploration and an epic finale make this a worthwhile adventure.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
PlayStation 4 – 2018
My first foray into The Legend of Heroes series takes me to the Erebonian Empire, a nation facing threats from both outside and within. Nihon Falcom’s JRPG is an interesting spin on the JRPG genre. Set in a military academy, you step into the boots of several new recruits. Each of these characters have their own attacks and special abilities. They can also acquire magical spells through orbs called Quartz. These can range from defensive spells such as healing or speeding up your characters, to devastating offensive spells. The game features a large cast, with eleven permanent members, alongside some guest party members too. The game manages to balance the large team out by having only certain characters accompany you on field trips. Despite the large range of characters, they’re all interesting. They include the noble Laura, mysterious Fie, explosive Machias and the humble Gaius, all led by the charismatic Rean. The combat is where this game really shines, with character positioning playing a large role in the attacks you can undertake or what enemy manoeuvres you can avoid. You can also link up with characters to build bonds and unleash devastating attacks. There are also S-Crafts, special attacks you’ll learn as the story progresses. The music ranges from epic to forgettable but the voice acting is decent. One issue I had was that in certain scenes, some characters would be voiced but others wouldn’t. It’s odd has the characters that don’t have voice acting in these scenes do have some in later ones. The graphics look good but they’re not exactly pushing the PlayStation 4 to its limit, which is understandable as it was originally a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita title. There are moments of clipping though, which shouldn’t really be happening. The story is arguably its strongest and weakest point. The game does a fantastic job of unveiling Erebonia to you and details the conflicts between the several factions within the Empire. It also balances it well with a student perspective, keeping you in the dark a lot. However, there is a lot of story, especially for a JRPG. There are times when you will be watching cutscene after cutscene, just wanting the game to move on. The game is also very linear, never allowing you much opportunity to explore. When you think it’s opening up, it just turns into a false dawn. Field studies (missions in the game) take a similar form, go to a new area, complete some mission (both required and optional) and then uncover a bit more of the overarching plot. It’s a good JRPG that sets up its sequel well but it just needed a little less cutscenes and a little more gameplay.