Following up on the cliffhanger ending and events that concluded with the finale in the original The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Falcom and XSEED Games have come back to bring Western fans the sequel to that game in the form of the aptly-named The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II. Fans of previous games in the series, such as the original FC and SC entries back on the PSP/PC well know already, the wait for that sequel was well worth the wait. So does this hold true for Cold Steel?
If you haven't already guessed, it's expected by the game that you've played the original and remember its events, which was released in Western territories about a year ago. Some other RPG sequels might aim to expand their base with their new entry, Cold Steel II on the other hand acts as if you continued right where you left off. There is some summary data and other help material to help bring you back up to speed if you might have forgotten things over the year, but it isn't meant as a encyclopedia for newcomers to brush themselves up on. I'd strongly suggest playing the first game if you wandered into this review and haven't played the original, of which our review can be found here.
The interesting twist to Cold Steel II due to this continuation aspect is that because the characters and the world in the game are already well-defined by this point, the developers were allowed to venture out into a more wider expanse thematically. The first game was defined by its school events and dungeons, whereas the sequel due to the events of the first game is more open and has you exploring more areas and even some that you encountered in the original entry but with some differences.
A change from the original which some players may enjoy is that, due to the shift in narrative, there's far more action and suspense built into it than what players may be used to coming off of the original. And instead of each character being gradually rolled into the narrative, the developers used each of them to play their own part as necessary where they fit in best. It matches well against the warring political climate found in the game, but there's some characters who are used slightly more aptly than others inherently due to this kind of implementation.
The gameplay as a whole is pretty similar to what you remember from the original, with some minor changes and additions made here and there as necessary. There's a new combat mechanic that allows characters to chain multiple attacks together in a single turn, which is useful in certain battles. You also earn experience faster, which makes leveling up Master Orbments quicker. These new combat abilities do make the game slightly easier, but the developers did bump up the enemy HP in correspondence to make up for this.
In terms of non-combat additions in Cold Steel II, Falcom added a mode that allows you to delegate duties and quests to various people from your school, similar to a person management system you may have seen in other games such as Metal Gear Solid's Mother Base mechanic. It's a nice side-diversion for those who want to get into it and was nice to pop into now and again during the meaty length of the campaign.
Graphically, if you expect your JRPG sequels to have a huge advancement in this department you'll be disappointed as it's essentially the same. The character designs have a lot of care put into them, although at times they're still a bit too stiff for my liking --- an issue I also had with the original game. The rest of the graphics have good inspirations and bases, but the PS3/Vita-base for the graphics holds them back and makes things slightly muddied overall.
As far as the PS3 versus Vita comparisons go, the core gameplay is the same since they're the same game no matter which platform you're playing on, as both support Cross-Save. The Vita version's frame rate when a lot of effects are present on the screen causes more severe dips on that device than the PS3, as well as an overall more lower quality to the graphics due to the less powerful hardware on the device. Loading times were also more of a standout on the Vita, with some areas being a good three to four times longer than the PS3 version.
In terms of the localization, if you disliked the lack of a Japanese vocal track in the original game you'll be disappointed as it's English-only again in the sequel. Like my thoughts on the original entry, XSEED Games did a fine job with this entry's localization in both English text and voiceovers. So if you enjoyed the original you'll enjoy the sequel.
Trails of Cold Steel II isn’t your typical JRPG sequel in the sense that it follows very closely after its predecessor in both gameplay and narrative, but in practice that isn’t really a negative as it plays well to the game’s strengths as the core focus is excellent. There’s some aspects that are a bit dated, such as the graphics, but overall the package shines quite brightly. The PS4 may be the new star on the block, but if you haven’t touched your PS3 in a while you should give it another play again with this title.
|Since the world and characters were already introduced in the original game, the developers could build things up more thematically.|
|What worked in the original is retained here, with changes made here and there where necessary.|
|There's some nice new additions, both in combat and out of combat.|
|The Vita version, while not horrible by any stretch of the imagination, does have some issues when compared against the PS3 version.|
|For Japanese voice track fans, it's a dub-only release again like the first game.|
|For some, the fact that it follows so closely to its predecessor in gameplay might be a turn-off, from what they usually expect in a JRPG sequel.|