- Format: Vita (version reviewed), PS3
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: NIS America/Reef Entertainment
- Developer: Nihon Falcom
- Players: 1
- Site: http://trailsofcoldsteel.com/
- Game code provided by PR
People seem too busy trying to prove that the Wii U is dead and buried (despite the multi-million selling games, etc.) to notice that Sony’s Vita became a flaming wreck years ago. Sony may have given up on releasing games for their doomed handheld, but not everybody in the industry has. NIS America, for example, who brought us English language versions of the excellent Danganronpa one and two. This year (end of last, in America) they come bearing a JRPG gift in the shape of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Even on the Vita, though, JRPGs are as widespread as racists at a Trump rally. What does this one bring to the proverbial table?
This is also available for PS3, and there’s no support for Vita functions such as the touchscreen or motion controls (that’s right, the Vita has a gyroscope, but everybody’s forgotten about that). We’d say though that if you have an original Vita with the OLED screen, that’s the best way to play this game. The character models and game world in general could have been lifted straight out of a PS2 game; but the textures, polished until they positively sparkle, most certainly do not. They make everything pop, and really help bring it all to life.
The story is epic and engaging. You walk in the shoes of Rean Schwarzer, a young chap who enrols as a student in Thors Military Academy and is assigned to the newly-created, mysterious, ‘Class VII’. The empire of Erebonia in which this (and related games) is set draws a clear line between nobility and commoners, a recurring theme within the game, and Thors sees students from both sides of the social divide. The disused schoolhouse near the main campus starts acting oddly, and wouldn’t you know it? This results in some dungeons for you and your classmates to explore. The plot reaches much further than that though, seeing you travel to different parts of the empire and getting caught up in some serious political disputes.
Thors may be a military academy that teaches its charges to fight, but you’re ultimately a student – so you’ll have some studenty things to do. Most optional missions relate to student council tasks, which will generally mean running from place to place talking to people. Not the most thrilling of prospects perhaps, but completing these will reward you with consumables and support items that will come in handy for the main game. Sometimes you’ll even be asked to go clear an area of monsters because, er, isn’t that what all school kids do?
The game is refreshingly user-friendly for a JRPG, and combat is a very good example of this. For one thing, opting for the wimpiest difficulty genuinely turns the game into something that can easily be enjoyed even by those unfamiliar with the genre (you’d be surprised how often this isn’t the case). No matter the difficulty though there’s a resistance system in place for enemies, and you’ll need to pay attention to it. Combat is turn-based and while there’s (oddly) no option to block/guard, there are three types of attack: physical with the character’s weapon, or a special ‘Art’ or ‘Craft’ elemental attack. The further you progress, the more important it becomes to understand which elements are particularly effective or even nullified by which enemies. There are even extra elements introduced after a point. No memorisation is necessary though, nor are there any frustratingly vague assessments. On each and every one of your turns, you have the option of examining each enemy in front of you to find their strengths and weaknesses. The efficacy of each element is rated from 0-200 for each enemy; simple.
Of course, things go a little deeper than that. Your level makes a difference to the damage you can deal, physical weapons can be upgraded several times, there are ‘combat links’ between characters which can be increased via social events, you can wear accessories that provide passive buffs, and each character has a super-powerful ‘S-Craft’ that is available but rarely and instantly drains the Craft gauge. This is all introduced and explained extremely well, though, so that you never feel lost.
The desire to create a deep and vibrant world is clear, clear because it has – to a large extent – been achieved. Aside from the villains that don’t get much screen time, each character has a distinct personality. The history and politics of Erebonia are rich and treacle-thick, yet not overwhelming to the point of dullness. There are some genuinely amusing moments in amongst the political posturing, and the acting supports the script very well. We even found a favourite character in class VII’s instructor, Sara. It all starts to feel like a world that stretches from one end of the Earth to the other; until you realise just how restricted you are in what you can do and where you can go. Your studies may well take you across Erebonia, but only as the story dictates. You can’t leave campus just because you want something to distract yourself, and once the story’s done with an area you have no way of returning. Not that it would make much difference; wherever you are, there’s little to do past progressing the story, visiting stores, and completing side-quests.
Still, the user-friendliness that defines this game makes navigating each area a breeze. Objectives are marked on the pause screen map and, even better, you can warp straight to or near most non-combat objectives via the town map menu should you so wish. No aimless wandering around, for which it wins major brownie points.
Restrictions on your movement and activities are frustrating, and some things remain unexplained by the ending which is, incidentally, rather abrupt. Countering that though is a decent playtime (close to 50 hours including side-quests for us), a well-crafted world, and a willingness to help rather than hinder the player.