The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is set to be one of niche developer Nihon Falcom’s most popular titles in the West, after struggling to gain my traction here, and it’s certainly not without merit.
Trails of Cold Steel is a game I’ve had my eye on for a long time and as the Vita has proven time and time again, it fits onto the little handheld perfectly. The JRPG follows Class VII, a class consisting of commoners and nobles in a way that’s never been attempted before due to Erebonia’s strict class policy, which sees that students and much of society is split between the two classes. This way of thinking is becoming more outdated by the day but that doesn’t mean that everybody likes it, and it’s up to Class VII to get along to become the best combat unit around, but to do that they’ll first need to get along and accept each other regardless of social standing. This is all in the face of school work and civil wars so Class VII aren’t exactly leading the easy life!
There’s a large cast of characters to get accustomed too, something which is aided by a Persona-like free time bonding system where you can become closer and better get to know characters, and interactions with them are always enjoyable or interesting. You’ll be spending a few dozen hours with them, so it’s in your best interest to learn more about them and get the most that you can out of Trails of Cold Steel. Nihon Falcom have added in an incredible amount of detail to each character and the world, meaning it’s your loss if you rush through it and although the opening hours are pretty slow, it picks up in due time and really gets raring to prove why Nihon Falcom deserve to be a better known name in the West.
Trails of Cold Steel is mostly a traditional JRPG with its turn-based combat, emphasis on grinding to level up and plenty of customisation options. There’s also a card game called Blade because, as is common with many RPG’s of both new and old, it provides for a good time sink that compliments the already fantastic game – you can also fish! You can take four people into battle, each with their own class, abilities and differing stats such as range, area of effect, strength and magic, meaning you’ll want to carefully plan who you take into battle in certain dungeons as some characters can be near useless against specific enemies. It’s easy to become outnumbered by enemies, which will become a frequent thing for your team, so having the ideal team is not only ideal but necessary. You can enhance and learn abilities with the use of Quartz and each character’s ARCUS unit, which allows them to link together in battle to chain attacks and to utilise stronger attacks, healing abilities and more.
As briefly mentioned earlier, there is a free time system where you can do side-missions or use bonding points to spend more time with characters. You’ll likely pick who you want to spend time with based on character design alone and whilst it’s hard to max out all bonds in your first playthrough, you’ll want to make time for every character somewhat as it’s well worth learning about each one. It’s clear to see where the Persona series influenced Trails of Cold Steel, and it certainly isn’t a bad thing. There’s a calendar system too although it’s very lenient, meaning you won’t have to worry about it too much although it’s worth keeping an eye on. There are loads of side-missions varying from finding items and defeating enemies, and the experience and items gained from these make them worth doing as some battles can be more than you bargained for.
Being a game that was originally developed in 2013, it would be a stretch to say that Trails of Cold Steel is pushing the Vita to its limits although it’s far from a bad looking game. What it lacks in visuals it makes up for in character and environment design, proving that the art team were on point when designing the world and making it worth exploring. I love the idea of different coloured outfits in Thors Military Academy with white representing Nobles, green for Commoners and red for Class VII, making the issue regarding class easier to understand as it stands out much more, especially when walking around the school and seeing people with differing colour uniforms arguing or being friendly to one another – it can be quite heartwarming and funny at times. I didn’t experience any notable performance issues on Vita, and I was very impressed with how it plays on the platform.
I’ve always praised NIS America’s dubs and this is no different, even if it doesn’t have a lot of big names like many of the publisher’s titles usually do. There’s only the choice of English Dub in Trails of Cold Steel so those looking for the Japanese voiceover may be disappointed, but the English Dub is so good that it shouldn’t deter you from buying the game in anyway. Not to be left behind, the OST proves to be an excellent listen and considering that this is hardly the shortest of games, it’s much appreciated that the OST never becomes stale and kept me entertained with a large variety of tracks.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel does a lot to prove Nihon Falcom’s name as a developer and although they’re unlikely to hit the lofty heights of Square Enix and Atlus anytime soon, it’s nice to see their titles coming West even though it’s been years since they released originally in Japan like this title has done. If you own a Vita and are looking for a JRPG then you won’t want to miss this, and even if you aren’t looking for a JRPG specifically, it’s still worth a look in. There’s a sequel already being translated for Western release so catch up before that makes a likely release later this year!