The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Reviewed on PS Vita
Kris Godwin / Sat 17th Dec 2016
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The sequel to the JRPG sleeper hit, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Trails of Cold Steel II is a fantasy/steampunk adventure that contains a deep political espionage plot, and an equally involving gameplay system. Initially starting the game with a complete lack of knowledge, I was incredibly surprised to discover one of the best games of 2016!
Coming into this as a newbie, I was initially very confused by what was going on. Fortunately, developers Nihon Falcom were kind enough to include a comprehensive backstory archive, which allowed me to get nicely caught up with everything.
Basically, Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the Erebonian Empire, as it follows the exploits of 'Class VII'. Part of the Thors Military Academy, it comprises of both nobles and regular folk, and the previous game followed main protagonist Rean Schwarzer and his classmates over the course of a year, as they are sent all over the land to quell terroristic strife.
Trails of Cold Steel II starts immediately after its predecessor's cliffhanger (SPOILERS), as Rean is whisked away by the 'Ashen Knight' Valimar after the climactic showdown against the traitorous Crow (END SPOILERS). He finds himself stranded on top of a mountain, with the damaged mech, and a black talking cat named Celine (who is a witch's 'familiar'). Together, the duo make their way to Rean's hometown of Ymir, where he learns that he spent a month in hibernation, whilst his home country has slowly been invaded.
It's here he decides to find his comrades of Class VII, and where he learns of his destiny as the pilot of the Ashen Knight Valimar, who is the only hope of defeating Crow and his azure mech.
This is a game that is unafraid to unload details at a rapid rate, with a huge supporting cast and a tonne of lore that is thrown at the player. Despite this, I applaud Nihon Falcom for creating such an ambitious experience, considering the relatively niche place it finds itself in in such a packed, blockbuster-dominated industry. I really enjoyed my time with the story, and though it does suffer from typical anime tropes (one early hot spring scene was very weird and disturbing), I nevertheless found myself gripped by the numerous twists and turns.
Though the narrative is complex and intricate, it's the gameplay of Trails of Cold Steel II that arguably steals the show.
As you'd probably expect, combat is a turn-based affair, but with a sprinkling of real-time movement. With a party of three, you encounter enemies on the field, and enter fights by slashing them, which allows for preemptive strikes. Things then move to a small arena, allowing you to use physical attacks, magic, items, etc. Mixing things up is the need to move into the right positions in order to perform moves, as well as the 'Tactical Link System', which allows characters to pull off special finishing moves and combinations that can be leveled-up. Also integral to combat is the 'Quartz' system, which are gems that can be collected and equipped, enabling you to customise your crew.
I was incredibly impressed by the exploration and world-building aspect of the game. Reminding me of Xenoblade Chronicles (high praise indeed!), environments are large (albeit not quite as open) and chock full of things to see and do. NPC quests are plentiful, and there are innumerable side activities, like fishing (of course), cooking and an extensive friendship-building system. Everything is executed incredibly smoothly, with virtually no complaints being raised during my playthrough - an amazing achievement for a small development studio!
Also nice is cross-save compatibility between both PS3 and Vita versions, extensive extras for those with a save file from the previous game, and continued support in the form of free DLC. This is definitely an extensive package well worth your money!
Playing on the Vita, I was incredibly impressed by the visuals. The anime stylings work well for the handheld format, and the avoidance of overly detailed 'realism' enables the whole thing to run very smoothly.
That's not to say things aren't detailed. Indeed, the world crafted by Nihon Falcom is fantastic, with a mixture of Valkyrie Chronicles-esque European industry and magical fantasy tropes that result in a truly complex and impressive landscape.
English voiceover work is serviceable, but not the best out there. In fact, I found many of the voices to be grating - but thankfully these instances were few and far between.
Music was very well done, though nothing too memorable. Some tunes are catchy, but nothing to the extent of Yoko Shimimuara's or Nobuo Uematstu's work.
One thing that bothered me quite a bit, however, was the inconsistency of Rean's dialogue. Cutscenes would randomly decide to switch between having him fully-voiced, and him being a mute represented only with text (whilst others around him still spoke). This was incredibly weird.
Overall, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II was one of my biggest surprises of 2016. I walked in expecting a mediocre, low-budget barely-there anime - and walked out incredibly surprised by how good the whole thing was.
Despite its undoubtedly modest budget and presentation quirks, it provided some of the best experiences I had in a videogame this year. This is a franchise that definitely deserves more attention, and I highly advise RPG fans to take a dip in both Trails of Cold Steel games!