This unjust world needs a change!
Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is part of the long running JRPG series, Legend of Heroes. Cold Steel takes place in the same world as the other games but take a different look at the world shared by the series. You take control of a group of students in Thors Military Academy looking to not only learn and gain experience in a tense, war time period but also make a positive change around them. The special class of combatants, named Class VII, is special for many reasons, some of which I can’t discuss for reason I will explain later. One of which is that the world exists with a strict class system. There are noble aristocrats and the common citizens in this country of Erebonia and it is rare for the two to share anything except tension. Class VII has students of both worlds present and is the only class which does not discriminate by class. This plays into one of many central themes of the game. Is Trails of Cold Steel set to be the pinnacle of RPGs or will it simply be a common game that is destined to stay at the bottom of the bargain bin?
One of the reasons I was so evasive early about several plot points is that Legend of Heroes makes an exciting world filled with hours upon hours of lore spread out through the game that enhances a stellar story. Whether it is learning these details at school, something that is tested, or picking them up while on field assignment. Each detail gives you a little piece of the world and that culminates into an amazing experience. The story is one of the best I have experienced in a game in years, with characters that might be criticised as cliché (and these criticisms would be proven shallow given a few hours of play.) but everyone grow greatly from their starting point. The game starts out like a slice of life school drama with a bit of combat but the amount that you care about the world and delicate balance of this troubled country as well as the characters you play as increases dramatically. Each conversation with villagers, nobles and fellow students advances this feeling, immersing you in the world and then you are hit with the plot that could easily be winning awards as a television show. Many twists and surprises fill the narrative to the point that I can’t go any further than a basic explanation of the beginning and the premise. It is extremely rewarding to play through and the finish leaves you salivating at the idea that there are two more games in the series to come. Normally I save a point to comment on criticism that I have of the story but in this game, I didn’t have any. It pleasantly surprises you with a great depth at more than one instance. If story is what you look for in games, Cold Steel is an essential game for your collection.
Cold Steel divides itself between two styles; you have the learning and studying time during your class time and interacting with the real world on field trips. Both areas have combat, with the field trips being more combat heavy but still relying on your information and ability to understand the events around you. There are several secret missions and tasks that effect the eventual cumulative grade you get for each section, leading to more rewards later on. In the class time sections, this is where you collect information for future tests, complete side quests to increase rewards and the aforementioned grade as well as increasing the affinity you have with your classmates. While you control all the students, you are firmly in control of Rean Schwarzer. From his point of view this game (and later games) is told as he tries to keep his team a united force. You are given a few bonding points that can be used to build relationships with party members and other characters in the game, these increase your affinity which plays apart in the link system where the closer you are to your team mates, the more you can do. From extra attacks to support and even additional plot arcs that you would not see otherwise. It is an important part of the game as the combat style is heavily influenced by how you play the game. The game is extremely customisable with its Auartz system allowing you to switch and change what attacks and magic you use. There doesn’t seem to be an optimised combat setup so it is purely down to how you like to set up your party that leads you to the win. It is not for the faint of heart though, as much of the combat has steep climbs in difficulty adding a great challenge to an already full game. Explanations don’t do the system justice it is best experienced and tweaked until it suits your needs.
Music and voice acting is superb, while I do like the option of Japanese voice-acting, I feel that the English voices work in this case, adding to the feeling. I was completely captivated by the sounds and songs of the games, not once did it feel old or repetitive, even areas which you have previously visited have unexpected changes to them that are not to be underestimated. A part of this is that it all feels natural, the sounds are very subtle, a town sounds like a town, the city has a good beat to it that gets you feeling the game even more, enhancing the experience. All I could ask for from the game in this aspect was wanting for it not to end. With graphics that are ps3 level, in a time where ps4 graphics dominate the market are perhaps the only negative that we don’t have crisp seamless graphics. It isn’t much of a negative because for a Ps3/vita game, it is still well made and with cross save you can enjoy it on the go, reading as much as you want on the small screen of the vita or exploring the great fights and exploration on the big screen.
Legend of Heroes Cold Steel was my game of the year for 2015, it had everything that I want in a game. Story progression, addictive gameplay, a challenge and the ability to play how I want to while immersing me with a wonderful score. I was uncharacteristically disappointed that the game ended, and not because the finish was bad, it was brilliant, but because the experience was over. Another feather in the cap is the new game plus that gives you access to more bonding scenes and requires you to beat the game 3 times to have the playthrough with all the wonderful carry overs but to see everything the story has to offer you have to beat the game. Did I mention that how well you play the game will affect what you carry over to the next game in the series? The only question is can Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel 2 live up to the high expectations given by the first game in the series. November can’t come soon enough.