The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review (PS3)

Trails of Cold Steel is finally coming West after being in Japan since 2013 and where a sequel has already been released, so is it worth it or does it leave me a little cold?



I’ve really enjoyed my time with Trails of Cold Steel and feel that it’s definitely one of the strongest titles on Vita and another great title in the PS3’s expansive library because, sadly, it hasn’t made it’s way to PS4 and seemingly neither will the sequel, although the third game is likely to do so! I’m reviewing the PS3 version here and whilst it clearly will not be one of the best looking games in 2016, it certainly will be able to hold its own in other aspects. Nihon Falcom are far from a big name outside of Japan but this title shows that they definitely deserve to become a more noteworthy name.


Trails of Cold Steel follows Class VII at Thors Military Academy which is the only class that mixes both nobles and commoners of Erebonia. The story follows the class as they learn to get along and accept each other and themselves, and has a strong focus on the class system and how it’s crumbling away – nobles and commoners are still largely at odds with each other, and many don’t think that they should be mingling but it’s become clear that this way of thinking is outdated. There’re also threats of civil wars and Class VII has been formed as an experiment to create the best unit possible for battle. It’s certainly a slow burner with the opening hours explaining how the game works, and the game has an abundance of dialogue, which can take a good 6 or so hours to sift through but it’s worth sticking with.


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I’m glad to see that this game is turn-based and has a large cast of characters to play around with, and there are clear influences from Persona where character bonding and free time is concerned which, again, is something that I was happy to see as I love learning more about characters. You can take 4 people into battle who each will have specific abilities in the form of magic and unique crafts (which take two turns usually to charge), and ranges that make them perfect for specific and mobs of enemies. Admittedly, I tend to ignore this and just take into battle my favourite characters and boy, I’ll make them work! There’s a link system where you can pair two characters together to back one another up with follow up attacks and such, which makes racking up damage far easier than working alone as it’s essentially a free attack without using up a turn.


There’s an in-depth customisation system where you can set abilities to each character so that you can build them as you’d like them to be by using Quartz, which work with the characters ARCUS equipment which aids them in battle to bring out their full potential, to enhance their stats, recovery and new skills. The game does prompt you to building a certain character one way as, of course, the characters do have obvious pre-determined roles, but you can tweak this a little although that likely won’t appeal to those outside of the hardcore crowd – I personally liked keeping the characters as they initially are introduced.


You have free time to do side-missions or to bond with other characters to strength your bond and learn more about them, something I love doing, although you can only do this so many times per day so it’s wise to focus on your favourites first as it’s not guaranteed that you’ll max all bonds in your first playthrough – there is a lenient calender system that keeps you on a loose leash, but keep an eye on it if there are any quests of bonds you specifically wish to do. You can fast-travel to places which is an excellent mechanic to have, especially with how big the areas appear and when you take on several side-missions, and the map itself is easy to read and useful too – you’re unlikely to get lost whicih I was very grateful for considering that the game can sometimes be somewhat overwhelming. There are a handful of mini-games including fishing and Blade and, as other games have proven time and time again, the card game Blade can easily devour your time!


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Visually the game isn’t breaking any grounds but that’s to be expected from a game that originally released in 2013 and, of course, Nihon Falcom may make great games but they’re unlikely to have the biggest of budgets – they’re far from a well-known company in the West, although big steps are being taken to rectify this. Character design, outfits, vast open areas and dungeons have clearly had a lot of effort and thought put into them and this shines through despite the dated graphics. Like the story itself, there’s plenty of love and care taken here, and a lot more detail and depth involved than I’d originally expected. I have zero complaints about the 2D portraits.


I’m left impressed with the audio too with a praiseworthy English Dub, as is the norm with NIS America, and a memorable OST that could more than easily find its way onto your choice of audio player. Some notable voice talent includes Kaiji Tang, Carrie Keranen, Marisha Ray and Ben Diskin and whilst I have no complaints here, I certainly wouldn’t have minded hearing Yui Horie in the Japanese voiceover but, sadly, only the English Dub is involved. Please don’t let this put you off as the English Dub really is great, and I would’ve ended up with that choice regardless. It costs a whole lot of money to license the original Japanese voices and with games as niche as this, with titles in a long-running series which haven’t been known to perform very well in the West, it could be considered a necessity to see the Japanese voices removed to both save money and reach a larger audience.


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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a mostly traditional JRPG that will scratch the itch you may have for turn-based games and its in-depth and lengthy story, fleshed out gameplay and excellent art design and audio, it’s an easy recommendation and another great release from NIS America. If you’re looking for a game that easily sink your time into then Trails of Cold Steel should do that for you, even if it does take several hours to really get going. Trails of Cold Steel II is already confirmed for a Western release with the third game in development, so there’s no better time to play the first game in the trilogy.

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