The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review

By Shawn Collier on November 13, 2017

The Legend of Heroes series in Japan has been quite a long running one, with numerous entries on the PSP, Vita, PS3 and most recently the PS4, with XSEED Games porting over some of the earlier games in the series to the PC as of late. Trails of Cold Steel originally released on the PS3 and Vita, but now the publisher is bringing the game over to the PC. With this being a 3D-based title instead of the prior 2D-base titles released on the PC, how does the port fair?

Trails of Cold Steel is the first in a series of what's currently announced as three games taking place in the Erebonian Empire, a location in the world of Trails that should sound quite familiar to those who've played the first two games in the series. And while this game does take place around the time as two other currently Japan-only titles, the game itself is setup so the essential backstory information is clearly explained in-game to the player. As this is the first game in what's currently announced as a three-chapter series of titles, Trails of Cold Steel is setup somewhat similarly to the first Trails in the Sky game in the sense that there's quite a bit of introduction and world building taking place initially at the game's outset. So the stereotypical Japanese RPG tropes of cutscenes and tutorials are in place initially, although after a few hours the game generally lightens up on this.

Unlike the previous duology, this game centers around the actions of "Class VII", a special group setup in the Thors Military Academy that's the only one to mix together both students from the aristocracy and the "common" folk. Initially, they think they're just put together to learn how to work together and complete missions, but since this is a Falcom game there's a deeper reason involved and they're also involved in a larger civil war between the social classes. Generally, the pacing was good, but I did encounter some instances where the game felt like it was drip-feeing me new nuggets of information before dumping a plethora of new information all at once.

Something that should be noted is the localization work that went into the Western version by XSEED Games, as it helps smooth over some of the technical issues the game has. With the game primarily taking place in a school location, there's the obvious "Japanese school life" tropes one would expect, but like Falcom's previous works this is meant more as a front for each character's deeper convictions. The game also features a full English dub, and while there's no Japanese sub option available, the English voice-overs are of exceptionally high quality. While playing through the game, I didn't feel like any of the voices were mismatched to the characters and the voice direction matched the actions taking place during the scenes. One addition to the PC version of the game is that XSEED was able to add much more additional voiceovers compared to the original PS3/Vita release.

The general gameplay flow is a bit like Persona, but with that “Trails” flair fans have come to know from the series. You explore dungeons, get some story exposition, and then get to enhance your classmates' social links and do side quests, with this process generally repeats throughout the game. While this sounds a bit bare-bones, it's actually quite a bit deeper than one would imagine. Like the world created in the Trails in the Sky duology, there's an insane amount of side quests available to undertake. One thing that I loved about this entry is that the map indicates what students are available to talk to and what side quests are available at any given time, with the latter being color-coded to let you know which are optional and what ones advance the narrative.

If you've played the previous games in the series, you'll have a pretty good idea of how the battle mechanics work in Trails of Cold Steel. Enemies appear on-screen, where touching them transitions to a battle screen where you fight them. Like with most recent Japanese RPGs, you can either evade them and avoid fights entirely or attack them from the sides or the back and gain a pre-emptive strike. Another feature I've only seen rarely used in other games such as Earthbound is the ability to instantly win a fight if the game detects you're way more powerful than the enemy, saving time that would have been wasted otherwise and is a great inclusion.

You have your basic attacks, supplemented with Arts (magic) and Crafts (unique abilities inherent to a specific character). Stats and Arts revolve around the Quartz system, which works similar to Final Fantasy VII's Materia system where you can equip different orbs to gain new magic, abilities and stat boosts. Multi-range attacks have a helpful indicator to let you know where the attack will end up firing, generally taking the place of a circle or a line. Playing into the classmate aspect mentioned earlier, this game features a linking aspect in battle which has paired characters gain enhanced powers and join up in attacks when linked. The game incentivizes doing this, as there's special Link EXP gained through doing this and the game allows you to switch your four characters on the field at any time, so you can always try out new party combinations with ease.

Being a PC release, the expected varying graphics settings and launcher are all here as one would expect. One nice touch with this game’s launcher is that while you can navigate it as you’d expect with a keyboard/mouse, you can move through it entirely with a gamepad if you really wanted to. There’s four presets available that range from low-power portable devices (i.e. GPD Win) to high-specification gaming desktops. The original 30fps lock in the original game is there, but you can set it to 60fps or even an completely unlocked (though not fully QA’d) frame rate if your setup can handle it. Additionally, even extras such as Field of View, anti-aliasing and shading are tweak-able. All put together, especially with the use of now uncompressed textures at all times, it really breathes new life into the title if you’re replaying it on the PC.

And speaking of the music, it's the typical high standard music you'd expect from Falcom, so there's no change in that department thankfully.

Final Thoughts

One of my major issues in the original game was the murky textures at times and the somewhat inconsistent frame rate due to being on the PS3/Vita, but this new PC release changes things wildly for the better. If you haven’t played the game before, this is easily the recommended version. And if you are itching to replay it, I’d recommend playing through this version if possible due to the improvements alone.

A plethora of configuration options available in the launcher to pick from, including frame rate choices.
Can scale from weaker devices like the GPD Win all the way up to expensive gaming desktops.
Additional voice overs compared to the original PS3/Vita releases.
If you wanted additional content or anything of that sort, you won't find that in this port.
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