The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is an enjoyable JRPG that uses its setting and varied cast of characters well. Though it can be incredibly slow in both combat and story, the surprisingly active combat system keeps things interesting.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Developer: Nihon Falcom, Marvelous USA
Platforms: PS3, PS Vita, PC (reviewed)
MonsterVine was provided with a PC code for review.
At first glance, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel doesn’t look particularly different from most current JRPGs. Even the concept, a class of students in a military-esque academy that slowly grows as a team, isn’t the most original narrative, but these assumptions are largely deceptive. Underneath the game’s seemingly clichéd exterior is an exciting JRPG with enjoyable characters that typically work outside of their archetypes.
The story of Cold Steel isn’t an overly complex one, but it’s an enjoyable one nonetheless. You play as Rean, a student at the Thors Military Academy who has been chosen to join Class VII, a special team of students who, unlike the rest of the academy, are not divided by their social class. The rich nobles and the lowly peasants are forced to interact with one another as they train together against the threat of a possible impending war.
Rather than focusing primarily on character relationships, Cold Steel delves more into the relationship between social classes, a topic that is rarely the driving force behind the main characters of RPGs. This makes the main cast far more likeable, as many of their interactions come from the differences between them both in ideas and in social standing. Jusis, the noble, and Machias, who serves as the middle ground between a commoner and a noble, are the best example of this, as they are constantly at one another’s throats over their positioning.
As each character’s backstories are explored further, they grow beyond their archetypes as “the rich jerk”, or “the weird quiet girl”, for the most part. While some characters are less interesting than others, I found Class VII to be an overall enjoyable and rewarding party. The main issue with the story lies in its pacing. A number of scenes have plenty of filler dialogue and last far longer than they need to, making the story feel slower than it is. The narrative becomes less interesting when it’s dragged on, so it can be a real downer when the plot begins to crawl by.
Cold Steel’s gameplay is where it really shines thanks to its stellar combat system. As you wander the game’s overworlds, enemies will approach you to initiate battles. Revolving around a set turn-based order that can be altered through buffs and specific attacks, battles let players move around the battlefield to alter which enemies or allies will get hit by their abilities. Since each skill, known as Crafts or Arts, has a different type of range. Some moves cover a circular area, while others cover a straight line from one end of the battlefield to another. It’s a fun system that nicely melds action with turn-based combat.
Battles suffer from the same issue that the narrative suffers from, which is poor pacing. Fights with even minor enemies last longer than they should, further slowing the game down. Bosses take even longer, naturally, but the fluid and enjoyable combat system helps make this problem more bearable. It’s still an unfortunate issue for an RPG to have, as their length rarely meshes well with slow battles.
Visually, Cold Steel is impressive for a game that originated last gen. Models and settings are pleasant enough to look at, and work well with the more anime-based military theme. Each character stands out from the others, especially thanks to their well-designed weapons. Bosses look especially creative, with designs that are typically complex but gorgeous to look at.
Cold Steel boasts strong music and exceptional voice acting, which livens up the story a decent bit. The soundtrack, particularly the battle themes, are catchy and add some real excitement to each battle. The voice work is a highlight of the game, as the English voices are fitting and full of energy. Each character’s voice lays the groundwork for their character’s emotions or characteristics, making them feel more robust and full of life.
The Final Word
Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a fun RPG with well-made characters that is bogged down by frequent pacing issues. Though the story and battles can drag on, the themes behind the plot keep it afloat, making the overall experience is an enjoyable one.
MonsterVine Rating: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair