About a year ago, I made the awesome mistake of reviewing a game called Legends of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC. However, it was not a mistake because the game was terrible (though I did not quite get it myself), but a mistake because, as it turned out, SC meant second chapter. For those who don’t know, the Trails series takes its sequels very seriously to the point where you more or less have to play the entire series if you want to have any idea of what’s going on or get some semblance of enjoyment out of the game. As far as I was concerned at the time not knowing this, I had just played some disjointed overly complicated RPG that could be broken in a matter of minutes making the whole game trivially easy.
Now, I bring this all up because I have made the exact same mistake, albeit with a different mindset- I just played Trails of Cold Steel II without having played the first game. However, more to the point of why I brought it up, Trails of Cold Steel II presents itself in such a way that it is that much more accessible of an entry point than Sky SC ever was. I was actually in the loop, and understood most of what was going on. More so, the game is not afraid to tell you what you might have missed. But, with this newfound understanding of the series, is Trails of Cold Steel II a solid and enjoyable RPG?
The game opens up on protagonist Rean, who has just woken up in the middle of nowhere after a one month long coma. Drama and hijinks ensue resulting in Rean searching for his lost friends and trying to save his sister and the princess of the land. With little else to go on, I actually found the story and mystery intriguing. Players who have played the first game will likely have less of a mystery to solve, but it is a nice extra incentive for those of us still relatively new to the series.
At this point, I also think it is important to mention the character profile system. On the main menu, you can pop open a recap of the previous game. Ultimately, these are massive text dumps. But, they do give you a good idea of who all the characters are through a profile system. Something I have heard since my first foray into the series is that the Trails games are all about its characters, main or otherwise. And to an extent, this is absolutely true. These profiles are intricately written and very interesting. What’s more, they even update as you progress through the game with any new events that have occurred. It is a very neat system that I think even veterans of the series would enjoy reading.
Unfortunately, as great as the story is presented, it does not really go anywhere. There is an admittedly surprising twist towards the end of the game, but it is only surprising in that it came from a character I knew nothing about and didn’t expect anything from in the first place. By the end of the game, though, it just kind of felt like nothing really happened- which is understandable when you consider these games usually come in trilogies, meaning it is most likely not over yet. But, for what it was, I enjoyed it.
The gameplay in Cold Steel II is generally similar to most JRPGs out there. You run around on a field map and bump into enemies. You choose an attack and watch the carnage. However, Cold Steel II does manage to set itself apart in a few satisfying ways. For one, players are able to surprise enemies in a variety of ways that result in one of three types of advantages. Simply walking into an enemy’s back gets you first advantage which gives you the first turn, and hitting an enemy with a specific character attack (which does take a lot of experimenting) will result in either a second advantage, where your characters heal at the beginning of the match, or a third advantage, where the enemy takes damage at the beginning.
In battle, things are switched up too. for one, just attacking is not really a good idea. Without accuracy boosting accessories, your characters are likely to miss and get countered. Rather, you should be switching between Arts and Crafts (I know, I couldn’t avoid this joke if I tried). Arts are magic spells that can be equipped onto your character using the series’ staple Orbment system and require EP and time to cast, while Crafts are character specific abilities that are learned by leveling up and require Craft Points, a pool that automatically refills as you take or deal damage. Often times, you will find yourself experimenting with combinations of the two to be more effective in battle. While you can still pretty easily trivialize the game with area of effect attacks, some battles will still definitely require more degree of thought which make for a more enjoyable time.
There are a few other systems in place in combat, such as character linking and an overdrive system that allows for uninterrupted barrages of attacks. Unfortunately, the game takes forever to dole out these abilities. You will find yourself ten hours into the game still getting long and unskippable tutorial messages popping up in battle. While I appreciate the game being up front with its mechanics, something I struggled with in Sky SC, it would be nice if it didn’t take so long for the game to allow me to utilize everything.
Finally, there are mech battles. They are basically the same as regular battles except you have to aim your attacks at certain body parts in order to build up a finisher gauge that usually ends the battle. It’s a fairly simple system, and it is kind of welcome that they are mostly few and far between. As a side note, as a mecha fan myself, I know the design of robots is an important issue and Cold Steel II kind of fails on this front. Most of the mechs look like Gundam knock offs with enormous cod pieces. To repeat and emphasize my earlier point, it’s kind of nice that you don’t hang out in a mech for the majority of the game.
Outside of battle is a similar situation. It’s your standard RPG affairs mixed with a few twists that help push Cold Steel apart from other games. For one, you are usually running from point A to point B for most of the game- it is a very linear journey. However, there are a ton of hidden side quests and items to find that really help you out, so it pays to be an explorer. If you enjoy scoring systems, it especially helps seeing as each chapter ranks you on what you did and didn’t do, and transfers that rank onto your character, which unlocks various upgrades and equipment. fortunately, it’s more or less just a matter of talking to everyone two or three times every time you go through a city.
I’d like to take a moment to discuss sound design as well. It is not usually something I like to talk about unless a game’s music or voice acting is outstanding, warranting a mention. Cold Steel II has just that. It’s music is catchy as hell. In fact, the battle theme has a permanent spot in my video game music playlist now. Voice acting, on the other hand, is a little inconsistent. Not inconsistent as in it has good and bad- it’s all good. Very good, even. But voice acting is where the game really shows off its budget colors. In some scenes, every character is voiced, while in others, only a handful are. In a few cases, there are scenes where only one character has a speaking role. These can be scenes with several different characters on screen and it can get really disjointed and even uncomfortable. It’s a shame that they went this route, instead of maybe focusing on getting all the actors in the room for just important scenes or otherwise.
Finally, I played the Vita version of the game. Many scenes and transitions had massive frame drops, and battles could take several seconds to load. The touch screen is not really utilized in anything other than the save screen, making it somewhat of a bother to save when you can’t just use the buttons instead. Otherwise, with the ability to save anywhere, Cold Steel II could still pass as a commuter’s game if you really wanted it to. But, you’ll likely want to play the PlayStation 3 version instead.
Honestly, I enjoyed Cold Steel II a lot more than Sky SC. Granted, I wish I had played more of the series to get into the lore and characters a little more. I might have appreciated the late game events more if I had. But, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is still a very enjoyable JRPG romp through an interesting and often exciting setting. Compared to other RPGs that are launching right now, I might recommend you play one of those games instead, but Cold Steel II definitely stands as a good game that you might want to keep in mind if you have nothing else to play at the moment.
REVIEW CODE: Here at Brash Games we have a strict Review Code policy, Paul Ryan owner / editor is the only member of staff at Brash Games permitted to obtain review code and distribute it within the Brash Games review team. No other person is permitted to request review code and or send review links or contact the publishers in any way whatsoever. Should you wish to send us review code please email paulryan-at-brashgames.co.uk.
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