The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PC) Review – Trail of Potential
Platform: PC (reviewed), PS Vita, PS3
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release: 2nd August 2017 (PC) / 22nd December 2015 (NA) 29th January 2016 (EU) [PS Vita]
Nihon Falcom games never were something for the broad public, bursting with mediocre presentation, giant world, plots and much more, besides their famous Ys series, Falcom never gained much popularity in the west. However, with XSEED taking over the localization of Falcom´s other giant series The Legend of Heroes, as well as porting them to the PC, not only I but many more discovered Falcom´s great JRPGs. After successfully launching the whole Trails in the Sky trilogy, XSEED now begins to release the follow-up trilogy Trails of Cold Steel on PC too, can it surpass the masterpieces that was Trails in the Sky?
In contrast to the Trails in the Sky series, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel doesn´t take place in the Liberl Kingdom but in the opposing Erebonian Empire. Where we experienced Erebonia as a brutal enemy in the previous entries, Falcom shifts the focus on these seemingly heartless villains. By following the story of Rean Schwarzer, one of the newcomer high schoolers, that will form ClassVII, where rich and poor alike are mixed together, Trails of Cold Steel wants to show how human Erebonia is, giving them the characterization it needed in the first place. Combined with the general problem of social classes we often face throughout the game and the series typical giant world, drowned in lore and many more details, the base plot itself has everything to evolve into something fantastic.
Unfortunately, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel can´t live up to my expectations of its story, even though tackling very interesting themes in the unique Falcom way. Despite the fact, Trails in the Sky featured one of the most charming casts and a simply great story, Trails of Cold Steel is lacking in every single aspect. Starting out with the characters, we´re presented a very cliché-y cast of generic high schoolers, at first glance. Surely, every single one of them has a second side, secret or deeper personality, yet, none of this is revealed to us until progressing quite some hours in the game. At the point I learned enough of the cast to revert my impression of it being awfully generic, I simply stopped caring about most of them.
This is caused by The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel biggest problem, the slow progression of the plot itself. The whole game is clustered with long conversations mainly stretched by way too long exposition passages, in which every character has to contribute at least some sentences to every question. Often, dialogues are way too long for their actual message, losing themselves in a sea of comments of generic characters. If an interesting concept is buried beneath a wall of slime, I need to dig through before reaching truly great parts, I quickly lose interest in it, that happened to Trails of Cold Steel.
Luckily, not everything about the story is as disappointing as these long, gummy parts, the XSEED typical superb writing is probably the main reason, why it never seems that bad. Every line of dialogue or text is simply fantastic, as expected from the translators of the Trails in the Sky series and many more great written games. Mixed with the pretty great PC port, equipped with things like HBAO, 4k 60fps support, a launcher that not only describes every setting but also gives visual feedback of the impact and much more, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel doesn´t leave any demands open. I could maybe criticise, that it seems to be a bit too demanding in some areas but I´m not an expert there.
For the better or worse, the gameplay didn´t change much either, still being a pretty generic turn based JRPG system with only little additions. While anyone who played a turn based JRPG or the Trails in the Sky series in the last years will feel right at home, having everything we know, from special attacks in 2 variants, each with their own bonuses and downsides, normal attacks etc. Falcom also implemented some slight changes. On the one hand, we´re able to move in the battlefield, in exchange for a turn, and the The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel unique Link feature, allowing us to pair two characters for some neat little bonuses, is also pretty cool. The whole system is just as unsurprising as ever.
When we´re not fighting against fearsome enemies or explore the dozens of territories, a lot of our time will be spent either in school or in town. Before every action sequence we´re able to strengthen our bond with team mates, train, do side quests or all kinds of other stuff, pretty typical to JRPGs. Due to the great writing I often found these passages way more interesting than the actual fights, talking to classmates, even though they may be generic in the first hours, is still a lot of fun, if they´re that flawlessly written. During the several dozens hour-long campaign, I actually enjoyed my relaxed time in town, despite the generic surroundings, the fine side quests and functional bonding system, made it a blast to run around it.
Considering what a masterpiece the Trails in the Sky trilogy was, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel fails at living up to those expectations, no matter how much potential to surpass it was there. Focusing completely on the opposite faction of the previous series, a society completely split up into two social standings and a whole state, that doesn´t work. Paired with XSEED´s translation and porting skills, it could´ve been a very solid base. Sadly, most of it, is buried beneath a jelly layer of boring, repeating dialogues, too generic characters for a too long time and a price of 39.99.
Honestly, I could get Trails in the Sky 1+2 on Steam for that price and have a way better and longer time. For a game, that needs so long to develop into something hooking, yet never lives up to previously set standards, this price tag is just bad. In my opinion The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is worth 29.99, if you completed the Trails in the Sky trilogy, making a recommendation of this let-down a pretty hard one.
[A Review Code was provided by XSEED Games]