After the giant cliffhanger, The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 picks up immediately where the original left off. Our protagonist, Rean, finds himself on an icy mountain next to his imposing knight-god Valimar and the ever mysterious talking cat Celine.
A month has passed since he was separated from his group. The Nobel Alliance has taken over most of the empire and the remainder of Class VII are now fugitives. After Vita, a powerful witch from the Hexen clan, kidnaps his sister and the princess of Erebonia, Rean goes out searching the world in order to regroup his now scattered Class VII.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have played the original before diving into this one. The game expects you to know locations, events and characters. And while you can access the backstory and even the intermission chapters from the main menu (you can read up the first and second intermission chapter on the official website), these end up being more of a refresher for fans of the original than an actual way to get newcomers up to date.
Being a direct continuation of the original, The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 allows you to import your clear data from the previous game, which transfers all your stats, items and relationships to this installment. NPCs remember if you helped them and the conversations change throughout the game depending on your past actions. If for some reason you don’t have a save, the game will start you off at level 40, allowing you to enjoy the adventure without being too far behind.
At a glance combat may seem like your standard JRPG affair, but scratch the surface a bit and you will find a deep and rather engaging system that manages to keep your attention. Battles are fast and surprisingly challenging; finally, a JRPG that forces me to plan out my turns instead of mindlessly grinding before that important battle. While combat is turn-based, the active time bar system adds a twist to the standard turn-order where you can plan out your moves and delay opponents’ ones. A new addition to combat are overdrives. By activating them during battles you gain three extra turns, which grantee that your hits will stagger opponents and your arts are cast instantly.
Trekking through a giant world, exploring dilapidated dungeons, visiting towns and completing side quests; almost everything feels unbelievably refreshing, especially when put up against JRPGs from other companies, I’m looking at you Compile Heart. Falcom put extra effort to bring a level of detail that is rarely seen in other games of this genre. Just about every NPC in the game has a name, making the whole world that much more alive.
The pacing is rather good, always moving forward at an even rate. Exploring never goes on for too long before the story continues along, and the game always lets you know if entering a new area will proceed the story and prevent you from returning until later in the game.
At times Trails of Cold Steel 2 feels unbelievably like an old-school RPG with its sheer amount of content. You will be able to re-thread the massive levels on a horse, an orbal bike and later on even buzz around in a sweet airship. And let’s not forget the mini-games which serve as a nice change of pace. During your journey you will be able to take up cooking, fishing, and even snowboarding or play the new and improved version of everyone’s favorite card game, Blade II. The game even provides you with somewhat engrossing books you can collect and read whenever you want a breather from all the action.
Trails of Cold Steel 2 is available for both Vita and, surprisingly, the already old PlayStation 3. We played the Vita version, and while lacking some technical prowess, the game does extremely well to bring the massive open world JRPG experience to handhelds. Of course, you should expect a sub-native resolution, periodic frame drops and noticeable load times. But ultimately, all this does nothing to hamper the overall positive experience the great art direction, large sprawling world and classic JRPG towns provide.
Trails of Cold Steel was one of the first titles from the Legend of Heroes series to feature voice acting. The sequel follows in that tradition,
with its superb voice acting. Unfortunately, only parts of the game are voiced. This wasn’t the issue in the Japanese version, but since the game only features an English dub, players will have to make due.
Trails of Cold Steel 2 might not be a flawless title, with its few cheesy story moments aside, the game never lets down the strong momentum it built up from the predecesor. Falcom has proven time and time again that it can make an engaging JRPG, which while sticking to the norms of the genre, is polished enough to stand out from the crowd.