Game review: Trails of Cold Steel II – a treat for fans of first game

The epic RPG continues with previous characters, some big plot surprises and 150 to 200 hours of potential gameplay. Just make sure you’ve played Part 1 first

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 8:39pm

Trails of Cold Steel II

XSEED Games

4/5 stars

The epic tale of Trails of Cold Steel continues in this second instalment of the sprawling trilogy, which finds protagonist Rean waking up at a crash site with his protector Valimar, a giant robot, and Celine, a cat familiar. Action immediately follows as he confronts the game’s first boss – and almost gets toasted – if not for the timely arrival of Tovar, a fighter for the Bracer Guild, and Rean’s sister, Elise, who defeat the giant magic knight.

It should be said at the onset that Trails of Cold Steel II, which is the latest title in Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series, is not a game that you can jump into without playing part one first. Since the whole franchise is heavy on storytelling – here is a role playing game that encourages you to interact with everyone including non-playable characters – not having the backstory will leave you completely clueless as to who does what, when, where, why and how.

Game review: Legend of Heroes – Trails of Cold Steel an eclectic RPG that adds to series’ mythology

So, a quick recap. Rean joins the Thors Military Academy in the Erebonian Empire (where this trilogy takes place) as part of the elite Class VII. Amongst his classmates are descendants from old, privileged families, such as Jusis and Laura, as well as Machias who belongs to a fraction that wants to do away with the aristocrats. Then there is Fie who was brought up by a notorious gangster; Millium, a secret agent of sorts; Alisa the poor rich girl; and the mysterious Emma who together with Eliot are the two powerful mages in the game. Gaius is from a highland tribe and, initially, the most normal (and, therefore, boring) member of Class VII. However, I’ve come to love this character not least because he is one of the strongest fighters in the game.

Beyond the academy walls lies a world in chaos. The Erebonian Empire, on the verge of a civil war between two dominating class fractions, is secretly plotting to invade neighbouring Crossbell State, an important financial centre. The Republic of Calvard also harbours the same ambition.

Beneath the political tensions there are various forces at work – the powerful and mysterious Ouroboros, the Septian Church and the Red Constellation Jaeger rebels to name just the few – each with their own secret agenda.

The academy eventually gets caught up with all the politicking and Rean is separated from the rest of Class VII after a cliffhanging battle.

With such a big story to tell, it’s no wonder Trails of Cold Steel, originally a duology, has evolved into a trilogy. Trails of Cold Steel II is long. Very long. For most of the game Rean goes about looking for his school mates (of which there are many) and if you are hardcore and do all the side missions (including the hidden ones, some of them quite mundane) and dungeons, it can take between 150 and 200 hours to complete.

But those familiar with this title know the build-up is part of its charm and players are handsomely rewarded for their patience. There are some big surprises in store that will shift players’ perception of the story: who is Rean after all?

Other than the big narrative, the turn-based combat system remains interesting, with new features such as “overdrive” that can drastically change the tide of a battle. The master quartzes, which enhance special skills, are fun to play around with. Give Machias and Sharon (Alisa’s ubiquitous bodyguard) the “juggler” master quartz and watch them inflict the random status ailment onto big mobs – it’s perfect for dungeon crawling.

Some of these master quartzes have been nerfed (lessened in importance/power) for this game, but that has little effect on its difficulty. I played on hard mode (nightmare being the most difficult) and with Gaius on full evasion and maximum speed and Millium dealing out heavy damage, I was steamrolling through the final chapters.

The graphics are reasonable good for a title that’s been out a couple of years, and the music is fantastic.

My only complaint about the combat system is the simplification of the way playable characters’ skills are assigned and powered up, which makes Trails of Cold Steel 2 less of a strategy game than its preceding Trails of Azure.

This title – the English version to be released on Hong Kong PlayStation Store on September 21 – is a must for fans of this franchise and a great lead-in to the much-anticipated finale of the Erebonian arc.

HK$310 PlayStation Vita