The Legend of Heroes:
Trails of Cold Steel
It's one of those days again, by which I mean 'one of those days where I review a game I've recently Let's Played.' In this case, it's The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, my longest Let's Play at a staggering seventy-five parts. Do go check that out if you have, like, two entire days to spare.
While I was vaguely familiar with the Trails series, virtue of the great many ads for Trails in the Sky on Steam, I only deigned to actually play Trails of Cold Steel after seeing Mother's Basement praising the Trails in the Sky series -- with a video that included several brief gameplay segments from Trails of Cold Steel. Those brief segments plus the praise heaped upon Trails in the Sky led to me -- well, getting a used PS3, to start with, and buying Trails of Cold Steel for it.
I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was decently excited for it, and what I got was this strange hybrid of Final Fantasy, Persona, and Tales of Zestiria -- and actually, it works pretty well. Really well, actually, I enjoyed this game a lot once it got past its initial teething difficulties.
(I also acquired someone who stalks and downvotes all of my videos. Shout-out to that guy for sticking with it for about thirty weeks!)
Set in the empire of Erebonia, one of two major superpowers and, it is revealed, in an increasingly tense cold war with its neighbour Calvard, Trails of Cold Steel follows a class of nine students at the prestigious Thors Military Academy. As the first class comprised of both nobles and commoners in the heavily stratified society of Erebonia, the world's eyes are on Class VII. Before long, however, they find themselves encountering trouble, as their field trips bring them into conflict with two factions in the Empire -- the Reformists, led by Chancellor Giliath Osborne, and the Noble Faction -- a set of mysterious giant robots, and a band of terrorists led by mysterious masked man C.
In terms of gameplay, the game is a solid, if not necessarily innovative, JRPG -- you've got your standard turn-based battle system (with a bit of extra depth added with a positioning mechanic, and with magic divided into 'Arts' which use one, un-refilling bar, and 'Crafts' which use a bar which refills slightly every time you hit or get hit, and which also include each character's limit break esque S-Craft), and added to it you've got Persona-esque bonding sections, where you can spend a limited number of bonding points interacting with your classmates to increase your social rank with them, gaining benefits in battle.
The game's divided into chapters, with each chapter having one after school sessions (where you can usually bond with someone), one free day (where you bond with people, do sidequests, and explore the recurring Old Schoolhouse dungeon), and then a field trip (which takes the characters to a different location and is where the meat of the story happens, usually with several sidequests as well). It's a structure that can get a little tiresome and repetitive, but overall it works out pretty well.
The story, meanwhile, takes a little more time to get going. Once it gets into the swing of things, the sprawling plot about multiple factions fighting for supremacy, and one class stuck in the middle of it all, is actually pretty compelling, helped along by the fact that you have a cast of fun, likable character with a variety of perspectives on the situation.
But you're unlikely to really start seeing the fruits of that story until chapter three or so, and the early part of the story attempts to cover for its pacing in the worst possible way: By substituting 'story' with 'cheap anime cliches that make the characters look bad,' which is how we ended up with a first chapter where Alisa acts like Rean is a sex offender, and which frankly plays out like the worst, most creepy light novel.
The story ends on a pretty massive cliffhanger that I don't want to spoil, but which is certainly striking and sets up the plot well for the second game -- which I'll definitely be Let's Playing before long, as it's been out for quite a while now. As it is, Trails of Cold Steel is an underrated gem of a JRPG, a game which doesn't really innovate but which takes the JRPG model and absolutely nails it (and as I've said before on this blog, I'll take a game which does what it wants to do well over a game that tries to reinvent the wheel and fails any day of the week).
Could do with more voice-acting, though.