Mech It A Double
HIGH These characters are pretty great.
LOW Again with the missable, poorly signposted side quests!
WTF Black hair? I thought it was dark blue all this time…
Reviewing The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a bit of an oddity. For starters, it’s less a traditional sequel, and more of a continuation — the first game ended on a cliffhanger. As a result, anyone jumping into part two should play through the entirety of the previous entry before even thinking about getting on board with this one. Of course, the original Cold Steel was one of the better JRPGs to come out in recent years so it’s worthwhile from that perspective, but Cold Steel II is basically one big spoiler to that content, and some of the background and lore will be tough to penetrate for newcomers.
As such, fair warning — spoilers for the first Cold Steel will follow.
Trails of Cold Steel 2 again thrusts players into the impeccably polite shoes of Rean Schwarzer, distinguished student of Thors Military Academy, excellent swordsman, and currently someone who’s stuck on top of a mountain after getting his ass handed to him during the climactic battle at the end of part one. Alone, that is, except for a talking cat and an immobilized combat mech. So yeah, things have been better for Rean, especially since he’s been out cold for a month and civil war has broken out in the meantime.
Since Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a direct continuation of the first game, it’s similar in many respects. There’s no great reworking of the gameplay systems, and returning players will feel right at home with the spells and character techniques. The battles still work on an active time gauge principle where pinpointing threats and wrecking them before they can unleash hell is key, and it all flows together smoothly, and at a satisfying pace.
There are certain improvements and changes though, such as an Overdrive mode where two partnered characters are granted the chance to go nuts for several turns with bonuses to their stats, removal of negative status effects, and the guaranteed ability to unbalance enemies, to name just some of the benefits. Overdrive can be a game changer when used well, and improves upon already-solid combat.
There are also moments where Rean saddles up with the Divine Knight combat mech Valimar to take on enemies that are too large or powerful for the team to confront in standard battles. The difference here is that Rean and his massive mechanical chum now target individual body parts for critical hits depending on their stance and actions. It isn’t a crazy shakeup to the core combat system, but it does add some variety into the mix, and hell, giant robots are always cool.
As for issues with the game, they’re pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.
The Trails games have always been verbose, with tons of dialogue to read and loads of characterization and setup throughout. It may be a little bit much for some players, especially given that the initial task Rean faces is basically tracking down his buddies and stuffing them back into the party instead of immediately heading out on a grand adventure. The writing is generally excellent, but it takes a while before things get going and the pacing sags occasionally where the script hits some serious levels of exposition.
The performance on the Vita is also spotty in places where the hardware just can’t handle the action as well as might be hoped for. There also are a number of recycled assets and environments carried over from the first Cold Steel.
My biggest personal pet peeve? the developers still don’t do a great job of letting players know about missable side missions. I’d like to be able to 100% the game without a guide constantly by my side, especially since players are rated on their performance and completion ratio throughout. More transparency, please!
Minor issues and pacing aside, it’s incredibly easy to recommend The Legend of heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 to fans of the original. The storyline stakes are higher than ever, the additions to the battle system are intelligent and deftly handled, Laura’s back with her massive freaking sword, and the team of Class VII are as likeable a bunch as ever. For newcomers, my advice absolutely has to be repeated: start with the first game. It may a huge time investment given that both entries take approximately 70 hours each, but it’s worth it for anyone looking to experience one of the most well-crafted JRPGs in recent history.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Falcom and published by Xseed Games. It is currently available on Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Vita. Approximately 70 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, and Violence. Honestly though, it’s pretty tame as far as most of those things go. Not so sure about why anyone’d want to wash Rean’s back, mind. That bit was kinda weird.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I don’t recall any section of this game requiring audio to play as intended, and subtitles are available throughout.
Remappable Controls: Certain specific functions are remappable, such as how to zoom in or change character.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.