The Vita may seem like a JRPG machine of late, but when the JRPG is as enjoyable as this latest offering from Nihon Falcom, you can’t really complain.
It has been a fair few years since I dipped my toes into one of Falcom’s Legend of Heroes JRPGs. That was Trails In The Sky back in 2011, and I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of it. Fortunately, the latest game, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, doesn’t require any previous knowledge and is the first of a trilogy that is getting the localization treatment, ensuring that players who invest their time in this solid JRPG will be able to continue their story, and hopefully not have to wait too long.
Trails of Cold Steel is a narrative driven JRPG that both suffers and succeeds as a result. Players take on the role of Rean Schwarzer on his enrollment at Thors Military Academy. As a student, the player will find themselves interacting and building relationships with other students as they go about their military academy life. Rean is among the fist to be part of a class that actually combines students from different social backgrounds, giving rise to tensions between the noble born and the more common students. These issues add a certain depth to the primary characters which may, at first, seem quite generic.
But they also carry with them their own back stories and problems that, over time, flesh the characters out and make them enjoyable to learn about. But the depth doesn’t stop there, as almost every NPC that the player will encounter throughout the game seems to have their own little personality and are going about their own life. The result is a game world in which the player will feel compelled to talk to each and every person they meet along the way. It feels very much alive and absorbing.
The unfortunate downside to this narrative heavy world is that the game moves along at a very slow pace. Conversations are abundant, and if the player has little interest in the story, or the surrounding world, this may prove a stumbling block. Mind you, for those who want a deep, living world, Cold Steel is an attractive proposition.
Of course, all of this narrative would mean nothing if the game wasn’t backed up by a solid combat system. Cold Steel utilises a more traditional turn-based combat system, allowing the player time to think tactically and get the most out of the systems in place. The player will have four characters in the field at any one time, and can swap in support characters whenever they choose. The characters can move around the field of battle to avoid attacks or close ranks for group effect items or spells.
Each of the characters has a different combat style, and these styles are bolstered by quite a wide range of abilities. This leads to plenty of options for the player when it comes to how to approach a given encounter. The fact that the encounters are not random and can be avoided a lot of the time if the player chooses, ensures that even though the player will still be encountering tutorials hours into the game, it never becomes overwhelming or overly difficult. In fact, should an encounter prove too difficult for the player, the game will even offer an easier encounter for the player. Cold Steel really is very accessible for new players.
There is a lot going on with the combat, but it still manages to feel fluid and natural. Special orbs can be assigned to characters to give them further abilities, link and counter attacks can be triggered, and building relationships between characters can give access to special buffs. It is a great system that keeps expanding without leaving the player behind.
Visually, Cold Steel looks really good on the Vita. The character models are great and the backdrops look nice, if lacking in a little variety. The voicework is also very well done, fitting with the characters, and even the soundtrack is enjoyable. In all, the presentation makes the game stand out in the sea of JRPGs on Vita.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel manages to pack enjoyable mechanics with an interesting, if slow moving, story and above average presentation. The end result is a JRPG that is certainly worthy of your time, and a good reason to pick up the Vita again. The great news is that Trails of Cold Steel is the first game of a trilogy, so there is more to come. If you like the JRPG genre, and you still have a Vita, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a game you shouldn’t miss.