One of the best Japanese role-players of the last gen makes its way to the PlayStation 4 and proves just as impressive as it did on PS Vita.
While the recent Persona Q2 will, probably, end up being our last ever 3DS review, the original version of Trails Of Cold Steel II was one of the last games we ever reviewed on the PS Vita. As you’d expect from Sony’s sadly neglected portable, that meant it must be either an indie game or a Japanese import, if not both. Venerable Japanese developer Falcom aren’t indie in the modern sense of the word, but for 38 years they’ve toiled away on their own, making role-playing games few in the West have ever heard of. Which is a shame as most of them are really good.
The first entry in the Trails Of Cold Steel tetralogy was released on PlayStation 4 earlier in the year, with the two other entries already out in Japan and slowly making their way to the West as PlayStation 4 exclusives. Apart from simply wanting to have all the games on one format the first two feature a save data transfer feature that will presumably be carried through to the others, so there’s a real incentive for playing them all on the PlayStation 4.
Although Falcom’s early ‘80s work was highly influential on the action role-playing genre in Japan (the seminal Dragon Slayer was a big influence on the original Zelda), their most recent titles have been more traditional turn-based games. Trials Of Cold Steel takes place in a particularly well-realised fantasy world that has been turned upside down by a sort of magic-infused industrial revolution – where technology has gone from medieval to airships in the space of just a few decades. Which allows the game to feature both giant robots and a working class revolt.
Trials Of Cold Steel II works similarly to the Mass Effect series, in that if you’ve played the original you can use its save data to give your characters stat bonuses and extra items. More interestingly, it means the relationships you formed in the original are also carried forward. Most of the first game took part at a military academy and allowed you to form Persona style social links with different characters. So the idea of seeing how they pan out once you’re sent out to war is very interesting.
The sequel starts just a month after the end of the first game, with the main characters scattered across the countryside after surviving a coup. Before long you’re given command of your own airship, as you try to reorganise and help the civilian population. This works something like the castle from Suikoden II, as the airship slowly turns from an empty conveyance to a home-from-home teeming with friends and allies.
Your academy allies are from a mix of backgrounds, and the outbreak of war has many of them questioning their loyalty to not just each other but their own families. The dialogue which portrays this can be clunky, with a long-windedness that suggests a too literal translation from the Japanese original, but the depth of the characterisation, and very human stories, are still interesting and relatable.
The turn-based combat is the same basic system as before, but the new overdrive feature expands it considerably by allowing combat-linked characters to attack up to three turns in a row, use magic instantly, and heal at the end of your attack. This isn’t just change for change’s sake either, as the new techniques are vital for beating the tougher bosses, which are not only extremely difficult but often appear in quick succession. The mechs from the first game also have a much bigger role to play in the sequel, which helps to shake things up further.
Unfortunately though the problems with the original game still linger, primarily the slow pacing of its story and general structure. There’s a horse and motorcycle you can use to get around on the ground, which help to speed up exploration, but they’re not introduced until hours into the game. Similarly, the early dungeon designs are very uninspired, and it’s only later on they become more interesting. And as engrossing as the plot can be it’s still constantly getting snagged on minor sub-plots that should either have been cut out or sped up considerably.
But Falcom are clearly very invested in the world they’ve created and it’s hard for that not to rub off on you as you play. There are very few changes from the PS Vita version, although this seems to be based on the PC edition released last year. There’s more voice-acting than there was originally, and the option of using the original Japanese dub, but other than that it’s exactly the same game, just at a higher resolution.
Although it really is advisable that you start with the first one, Trails Of Cold Steel II is still one of the best traditional Japanese role-players of the current generation. Admittedly that’s not up against much competition but it’s a godsend for existing fans and a useful example to others of what the genre still has to offer today.
The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel II
In Short: Another engrossing example of traditional Japanese role-playing, that’s still accessible enough for anyone to enjoy – as long as they’ve played the first one.
Pros: A great mix of new and old genre conventions, with useful improvements to the battle system. Interesting characters and the link from one game to another works well.
Cons: The pacing can still be frustratingly slow, and the opening few hours are easily the least interesting. Dungeon crawling elements can feel uninspired.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, and PS Vita
Release Date: 7th June 2019
Age Rating: 12
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