Considering how amazing The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is, releasing the game on December 22 was an odd choice. Being so close to holidays, risk of being ignored seems high, which would be a travesty given that this is a game all RPG fans shouldn’t miss out on.
If you’re not familiar with The Legend of Heroes franchise, it started in the late 80’s, yet despite having more than a dozen entries to its name, it has never achieved mainstream status on western shores. Once you play Trails of Cold Steel though, I think you’ll agree this series deserves to be up there with the likes of popular JRPG franchises like Final Fantasy, or Persona.
Enter Thors Military Academy
The first thing you should know about Trails of Cold Steel is that you don’t need to have played games in The Legend of Heroes franchise in order to enjoy this game. It’s a stand-alone adventure that follows the events of a team of students in Erebonian Empire, a land that abides by a strict class system consisting of nobles and commoners.
You assume the role of Rean Schwarzer, a blank-slate type character who is has enrolled at the prestigious Thors Military Academy situated on the outskirts of the town of Trista. When Rean arrives, he notices his crimson uniform is different from his most of his peers, who are wearing green (for commoners), and white (for nobles). There are a few others wearing the same reddened uniforms, nine in total including himself, and these students become known as the very first Class VII.
Release Date: December 22, 2015
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Genre: Role-playing game
ESRB Rating: T (Teen, 13+)
Rife with political conflict
You’ll notice right away that political atmosphere in Trista, and the larger Erebonian Empire, is far from harmonious. There exists two factions deeply in opposition, the Reformists, comprised of progressive common folk who want to see the class system abolished, and aristocrats who do everything in their power to maintain the status quo. Traditionally, the Thors Military Academy has divided classes by social status, but this year the school is changing the rules with Class VII—for the first time ever, a class will be comprised of both commoners and the elites.
As such, the nine students of Class VII come from all walks of life, from the most powerful nobles, to those who lead humble lives. If you like your RPGs to have plenty of political drama, and interpersonal conflict, you’ll have a field day with Trails of Cold Steel. Right off the bat, two of your fellow student—one the son of a noble Duke, and the other the son of an Imperial commoner—are extremely hostile and antagonistic towards each other, leaving Rean and the rest of the class wondering how to diffuse the tense situation. This rivalry is of course just a small manifestation of the larger conflict between these two factions, and as you progress in the story, you’ll gain a better understanding of the dire political environment the country now faces.
There’s plenty of combat too
Trails of Cold Steel is very evenly split between living your life as a student in the Thors Academy, and venturing out into combat. Each of your classmates specialize in one type of weapon, be it a sword, bow, magic staff, or other weapon types, with each character possessing their own strengths in battles. Not long into the game you’ll unlock the Combat Link system, which enables you to pair up characters, netting them a variety of combat benefits including healing, guarding, and more. If one member of a linked pair manages to “unbalance” an enemy with a powerful attack, the linked partner can also launch an attack for double damage. After battles, the bond between the two characters will become even stronger, opening up the potential for even stronger attacks. It’s a great system, and adds a lot of strategic depth to gameplay.
Another interesting element of combat actually happens pre-battle. Enemies will appear on the field, and will chase you if spotted, but if you can sneak up behind and hit them with your weapon, you’ll gain an immediate advantage when battle begins. Depending on how hard you struck the enemy, you can daze them for full turn, and even inflict a small amount of initial damage before the first strike. However, when on the field if the enemy touches you from behind, they’ll gain the advantage and be able to pummel you several times before you get your first turn. It’s an interesting system that encourages you to execute effective strategies even before the turn-base combat begins.
Despite being part of a much larger franchise, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a wonderful entry point to this long-running and popular RPG series. Its history is rich, and will keep you captivated over its beefy 50+ hour story. The excellent turn-based combat requires a lot of planning and strategy to master, elements RPG fans are sure to enjoy. Although the game just arrived in North America recently, the game was actually first released in Japan in 2013, and the sequel is already being translated into English (and should be arriving later this year). Trails of Cold Steel is one of the best RPGs I’ve played in years, and I can’t wait to play more in this series soon.
+ Engaging narrative and endearing characters that are fully fleshed out
+ Entertaining dialogue with good tonal shifts between humour and serious topics
+ Good balance between history and fighting
+ Lots of main missions and side quests to complete
+ Well-balanced battles requiring deep strategy
+ A beautiful musical score
– A lot of early dialogue before reaching the major battles
– Long load times between areas
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5
Overall Rating 4.4/5 (88%)
By Paul Hunter, Editor Gaming
I work out of Toronto, Ontario as the Editor of Gaming here on the Plug-in Blog and as Editor-in-Chief of NextGen Player. I am thankful for having a loving and patient wife who doesn’t mind my 40 hour a week obsession with gaming. You can follow me on Twitter @NextGenPlayer and on my exclusive Vine gaming channel. Come join the conversation!