- Developer:Nihon Falom
- Publisher: Xceed Games/Marvelous
- Genre: JRPG
- Release Date: 4/6/19
- Platforms: PS4/Vita
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
‘Peace is but a memory.
In the wake of the Noble Faction’s occupation of Heimdallr, civil war has broken out across Erebonia. The provincial armies, loyal to the aristocracy and the Four Great Houses, have claimed many of the nation’s great cities in the name of the Noble Alliance. The Imperial Army, called back from the four corners of the Empire, has only just begun sweeping its counterattack.
After Rean managed to escape Trista with Celine and Valimar, he awakens in the mountains near his hometown uncertain what fate befell his friends, who bravely threw themselves in harm’s way to buy him time to flee.
Though the road will not be an easy one, Rean decides to take up his sword again, journeying across Erebonia with his Divine Knight, Valimar, in search of his friends from Class VII and a way to end the conflict before its price becomes far too dear…’
I have to be honest, up until this year I’d never heard of this series despite it having been around for a while now. It has certainly flown under the radar of a lot of gamers and JRPG fans alike but, for those that have played and experienced this game, it won’t be surprising to see comments proclaiming this to be a JRPG masterpiece.
Although Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a sequel, it is a direct continuation of the events of Cold Steel I. You pick up the story where the first game ends, with all its tantalizing questions and answers to cliff-hangers desperately needed. What is the fate of class VII? Who and what are Valimar and Celine? It’s highly recommended to play the first game to fully enjoy the depth and emotion of the story for the second game. (Indeed, if you have completed and cleared the first game you get a nice little bonus from that game save for the beginning of this one.)
Cold Steel II does have a comprehensive albeit long-winded backstory, detailing chapter by chapter what happened in the first game, and you can indeed jump right into the series here with game two but for the full emotional and recommended effect, it’s best to have played the first game. Having spent nearly 100 hours playing Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, the first thing you want to know is are all your old classmates and friends still alive? If you haven’t played and don’t know the characters from beforehand this emotional attachment to the series would be lost from the get-go.
The game is split into 3 distinct acts. Act 1 is a pretty linear affair, whereas Act 2, the search for his friends (which is unlocked about 20 hours into the game) is an open world and allows you to explore at your own pace. Act 3 brings you back to the straight and narrow for another thrilling ending, after around 60 hours of play. The game is shorter than the last but is more focused, with slightly deeper, more frequent encounters.
The combat really does manage to find that perfect balance of deeply tactical gameplay with very simple to understand and use mechanics. If I went into detail of the combat mechanics here, the review would take too long, however the basics are; this is a turn based system, you and your party of choice each have a standard weapon i.e. Sword, Staff, Spear, etc and an ARCUS unit (a Star Trek communicator like device) – you can assign quartz of different types to this unit, which then effect different spell-like attacks, heals, or battle buffs. In addition to this each character unlocks super S craft moves. These are very powerful attacks that use up all, or most of their S craft gauges, to devastating effect. There are also linked attacks, where linked players under the right circumstances can unbalance enemies and put in more hits.
The above is as per the first game, however there are new features, as (minor spoiler coming) there are now mech battles, with their own simplistic fighting that works along the same lines as main battles.
New to this game is the overdrive move, but this isn’t given to every player. To get this overdrive move, each character has to pass a test, which are very challenging to complete. If they do this then overdrive moves are available, although it’s not always the right move trying to get the chest for overdrive moves right away. The prudent thing is to take up those challenges later, when the characters are a little stronger than when they first find these challenges.
When you are not in battles, there is again the hub world where you can increase the bonds with your team to buff in-game battle stats, mini games (like playing a slightly different version of Blade), training, a small amount of customization, and snowboarding!
The graphics for Cold Steel II are no better than they were for Cold Steel I. On the PS4 it does run very smoothly but the worlds textures and rendering are a little bland, with very stiff character animations. This is a direct HD remaster of a PS3 game though so it’s to be expected, as they haven’t added any extra bells and whistles here to make it look better.
The world in which you play is almost exactly the same as the previous game, especially as you have to revisit these areas to find your team. The only really new area is Yamir – the very first area at the beginning of the game – which is in the snowy mountains of the Eisenguard Mountain range (yes, a nod to the Lord of the Rings there).
What is fun though, despite the dated and bland graphics, is the excitement of on-screen action during combat. Casting spells with completely over the top animations for them are, at times, almost as extreme as Mortal Kombat finishing moves, and are bright, colourful and exhilarating. Not once did I skip the animations for these as they never got old to watch.
The audio is again fantastic, with English voice acting that I found highly authentic, especially as there weren’t too many stereotypical character tropes. She won’t win any awards (JRPG’s like this always go under the radar) but the voice actress who plays Sara Valenstein (Carrie Keranen) should be praised. She is funny, believable and always a highlight of any scene she is in. For comparison, think Chloe from Uncharted, but funnier, and a little sexier.
The beauty of this game is the many highly enjoyable aspects that make up a complete, intelligent and stunning package. The combat is thrilling, tactical, deep, yet simple to use and understand – something a lot of other JRPG’s fail to deliver. Cold Steel 2 hits that fine line of challenging, fun and tactical, yet simple to pick-up gameplay, perfectly.
The story is engrossing, with a wide cast of superb and engaging characters. The only negative here is there is little depth or reasoning for the main bad guy’s motivation, which seems at odds with how deep and involved you get with each other character and their backstory along the way.
The only other limitation, not drawback, is the less than detailed graphics, however the artwork and style is there in abundance to make up for this.
Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II blends classic JRPG elements with a new contemporary twist, mixing swordplay and turn based combat with mech battles. It centres this around impressive story telling, with a huge cast of wonderful characters that makes the large amount of time required to play these games utterly rewarding and worthwhile.