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

Fans of the sprawling narrative conjured by Japanese studio Nihon Falcon will be pleased to jump into the world of the Erebonian Empire again

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 7:00am

Released in Japanese and Chinese in 2013 and 2014 respectively, Sen no Kiseki of Nihon Falcon’s long-running The Legend of Heroes series finally came out in English over Christmas in the US (January 29 in Europe), under the title Trails of Cold Steel. It was one of the most anticipated turn-based Japanese role-playing games of 2015 and is at the top of GameFAQ’s PS Vita chart, trailing just behind the phenomenally popular Persona 4: The Golden.

Known for its sprawling narrative that mixes politics with mythology, The Legend of Heroes is as much about the storytelling as the gameplay.

The saga began in 1989 with Dragon Slayer, but it wasn’t until the release of Sora no Kiseki, or Trails in the Sky, in 2004 that it caught the attention of video gamers outside Japan. This trilogy – First Chapter, Second Chapter (2006) and The 3rd (2007) – marks the beginning of a saga set in a fictitious continent called Zemuria.

While the Trails of the Sky trilogy takes place in the Liberl Kingdom, the following Trails of Zero (2010) and Trails of Azure (2011) move the action to the small state of Crossbell.

Like Trails of the Sky, Trails of Cold Steel is a trilogy and is the latest instalment in this saga, revolving around the happenings in the Erebonian Empire, Crossbell’s formidable neighbour.

Here, Rean Schwarzer is the protagonist and one of the latest recruits at the prestigious Thors Military Academy. At the beginning he seems like another average student fuelled with teenage angst, but it soon becomes apparent that he – and indeed most of his classmates in Class VII – are anything but ordinary.

Any more on the plot will edge into spoilers territory but suffice to say Class VII is soon embroiled in the politics of its country and the game ends on a massive cliffhanger.

Gameplay-wise it’s a mishmash of traditional turn-based strategy with a bit of dating sim thrown in. This game introduces a “link” system so the more friendly Rean becomes with his classmates the more additional skills you can unlock for him during battles (and these skills can be tide turning).

The game really isn’t that difficult even in its “hard” setting (“nightmare being the toughest mode) – just learn to buff and debuff, a lot – so there is no need to level grind. That is not to say it’s not challenging, though, as some of the bosses are tricky. My only major gripe with these Trails games is there’s quite a bit of padding; doing side quests like changing light bulbs and helping to find a missing cat is truly as tedious as it sounds. You can save the game at any point to take breaks.

Despite the sluggish pace (a playthrough takes between 70 and 100 hours depending on how big a completist you are) the story is where the game really shines.

Can you get into Trails of Cold Steel without playing the previous games? Sure – but having played Trails of Cold Steel II (which came out in Japanese and Chinese in 2014 and is scheduled for an English release at a date to be confirmed) you might want to at least play the preceding Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure as the two arcs share the same timeline.

Fans of The Legend of Heroes series believe the next arc will be set in the Republic of Calvard, which harbours the same ambition as Erebonia in invading Crossbell. But for now, I hope the final instalment of Trails of Cold Steel will provide some answers to the many mysteries that have us players totally gripped.

HK$310, on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3