Finding out how a story continues after a cliffhanger is often after going through an agonizing wait, and in the gaming industry, that wait tends to be longer than most other forms of entertainment media.
So you can bet we were shocked to hear about how soon The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II would come out, especially since the original game was released less than nine months ago.
What Is It?
The latest game in the Trails (or Kiseki) series, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is the sequel to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The story takes place about a month after the events of the previous game, which ended in a cliffhanger.
You still play as the “stand up, put the team on my back” Rean Schwarzer, who wakes up on a mountainside conveniently located near his hometown of Ymir, a cozy and snowy village known for its hot springs and snowboarding.
After waking up from his month of unconsciousness, Rean finds out that the Imperial Army and Noble Alliance are in the middle of an all-out war, jeopardizing the comfortable balance of Erebonia. With his school, Thors, under the Noble Alliance’s control, Rean’s friends and classmates have fled to different parts of Erebonia and as expected, Rean wants to find them all and put an end to the war.
But his friends are all from different backgrounds and social classes, so how can he actually pick a side in this war between the nobles and commoners?
Why Should I Care?
The previous game drew a lot of comparisons to Persona 3 and 4, primarily because of the game’s calendar and the fact that the school was the focal point in the game. Now that the school is out of the equation, Trails of Cold Steel II opens up considerably, and in doing so, it feels a whole lot more like its predecessors Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC, which take place in the same world of Zemuria.
Though the removal of school activities makes the game more like the rest of the series, it still retains the feel of the previous game because it maintains its formulaic approach.
In Trails of Cold Steel, chapters usually opened up with a school lesson, followed by a free day to spend with your classmates, and a day of training capped things off before going on a field study that usually ended up with the students in over their heads after some seemingly random struggle.
Trails of Cold Steel II has a similar approach. You have a day to yourself to hang out in Ymir before it’s off to whatever region you have to head to in order to advance the story, which of course goes off the rails and ends in a mech boss fight.
Yes, I said mech boss fight, and I’ll divulge on it later. The mech fights are just one of a handful of new features that keep the Cold Steel experience fresh.
As expected, the game maintains the same turn-based battle system the series has been known for with the AT Bar on the left side indicating which characters will move, along with status bonuses for that move (if there are any).
The original Cold Steel introduced the Combat Link system, which allowed two characters to follow up each other’s attacks when unbalancing enemies. Cold Steel II further develops Combat Links with the Overdrive system, which allows linked characters to attack up to three times consecutively, with each attack guaranteed to unbalance the enemy.
The addition of the Overdrive system is welcome, but it’s also worth noting that in my playthrough of the game, I hardly ever had to use any Crafts. During your turn, you have the option of moving your character, attacking, using Arts (magic), defending, or using a Craft. Because there are so many ways to deal all sorts of damage, Crafts all of a sudden became an afterthought, and it’s a bit disappointing because they’ve always been among the most strategic aspects of battle throughout the series.
Though Crafts have become less useful, S-Crafts (each character’s signature ability) have become increasingly important. Like every other Trails game, every time any of your characters receives or deals damage, their CP gauge increases. Once the CP gauge reaches 100, an S-Craft may be used at any time in battle. S-Crafts are more powerful if the CP gauge reaches the maximum amount at 200, and that’s something players often took into account with the previous games, grinding it out with enemies before fighting a boss.
Now when you sleep at inns, not only do you regain your health and magic, your CP gauge also automatically increases by 100, eliminating the need to grind a battle just to build up CP. It’s nice that the game in a sense reduces the need to grind by giving players that option, but a lot of the more difficult battles have also now become ridiculously easy because of how much more accessible S-Crafts are. I’ve beaten some bosses with literally two attacks thanks to this exploit, and it’s hard to figure out if Falcom did this intentionally, or if I should’ve played at a harder difficulty.
A handful of the boss battles are now fought using your mech–which makes sense, because how many other RPG’s out there have normal-sized people fighting Godzilla-sized enemies? Too many. We’re not going to go over why you’re using a mech as that’ll spoil the first game, but I’ll say that all the thoughtful strategic elements were definitely put here.
The mech battles aren’t all that different. They’re still turn-based, but you also have to think of defensive maneuvers that are normally operated by your Crafts. Most battles have you decide whether to attack the enemy’s head, arms, or body with the weak point depending on how the opposing mech is standing, and it’s always a joy hitting an enemy’s weak point at the first try when you don’t even know what it was. After building up enough points you can even use follow-up and finisher attacks that have the same look and feel of the combat links in regular battle.
Also, as you start to recruit your friends, they can aid you in battle with special abilities exclusive to each character, so it’s a nice touch when taking part in these mech battles.
Of course, a Trails game wouldn’t be a Trails game without sidequests and character development, and Trails of Cold Steel II has no shortage of them as they come from all sorts of places. Whether you’re doing assigned favors from the mayor in town, requests from the head of the royal family while in an airship, or simply finding hidden quests to take part in, those who invest their time into Cold Steel II will definitely understand my paranoia. The end of every chapter tallies both required and optional quests, and as someone who completed the first game getting an S grade on every section, you can bet I was upset when I received an A in Cold Steel II. It turns out one of the A’s I got wasn’t because I forgot a hidden sidequest, but because I didn’t kill a boss fast enough. That was devastating. I wanted to start over.
That being said, for the most hardcore, Trails games have always been about the struggle of getting a perfect playthrough, and Trails of Cold Steel II makes it a tough struggle indeed.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Like Trails in the Sky SC was to Trails in the Sky, compared to its successor, Trails of Cold Steel was simply a prologue. The game set the foundation for what was to come in Trails of Cold Steel II, and while it starts out linear and formulaic, the madness when it opens up about 30 hours in can make your head spin.
In short, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is every bit as awesome as the first.
Not only is the sequel bigger, it hits closer to home on political issues such as social inequality, negligent leadership, and the hardships of an ongoing war.
As apparent as the serious themes are, the game also does a fantastic job telling a well-written story of love and friendship, and while the game graces both the PS3 and Vita towards the end of their lifespans, it’s definitely worth the playthrough with Cross-Save making it even easier to streamline the 80-hour experience.
The ending even has a little something that should make fans of the series go a little more insane than the predecessor’s cliffhanger did.
Like I said in my review of the previous game — if you’re an old-school JRPG fan, this should be the series for you.