The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II gets the PS4 remaster treatment, maintaining its well-crafted JRPG fare with an interesting story.
Some video game genres can be particularly divisive, and nowhere is this more true than with the JRPG. A true love-it-or-hate-it style of game, the traditional JRPG finds love from those who become enamored with the genre's sprawling narratives and tactical combat. Others find the lack of direct control and the need to grind something of a chore, particularly when combined with the penchant for a linear story structure.
Perhaps because of this, there have been some attempts to turn JRPGs into something more action-heavy. Final Fantasy is a very different beast now than in its earlier years, as shown by the differences in the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake. However, many developers have stuck to their guns and found that - in spite of claims to the contrary - there are plenty of people excited to play through traditional JRPGs.
This is where The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II comes in. From its cast of characters and mecha action through to its art style and gameplay, Trails of Cold Steel II is a pure JRPG, albeit with a few bells and whistles here and there. A re-release of the 2016 PS3 title, developer Falcom is robust in its approach, giving no quarter to modern trends towards a heavier action focus.
This is certainly a positive for those who have been waiting for an old-school JRPG. It's not quite a throwback, but instead Trails of Cold Steel II has a certainty about what it wants to be, and doesn't do much to stray from the path. There are plenty of check marks to cross off, from its turn-based combat and familiar special attack usage system through to the way in which the story blends interpersonal relationship drama with world-changing events that are permanently connected to its plucky teen cast.
Trails of Cold Steel II is set during the events of of the vicious Erebonian civil war, with the Noble Alliance vying to take control. The heroes - the remnants of Class VII from the Thors Military Academy - are then thrown into the middle of this fight after the dramatic events of the previous game. That innocence of the last game isn't gone per se, but the stakes here certainly feel on the high side.
Falcom knows what works, though, and doesn't stray far from the path. JRPGs akin to Trails of Cold Steel II can be doomed to fail if they don't get the level of camaraderie between characters correct, even if it doesn't always feel realistic (or, indeed, at all). One of the great joys of a traditional JRPG is the sense that the characters can do anything if they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and work together for a common cause, and most of the time Trails of Cold Steel II has this in spades.
Most players will have seen the different character tropes before, from the stoic main character of Rean through to an assortment of co-stars that range from fiesty to aloof. Nonetheless there's something enthralling about them, thrown into a world of political intrigue that more often than not keeps the player guessing as to what will happen next. Along the way, it's a very fun ride.
Trails of Cold Steel II is straightforward JRPG gameplay for the most part. The player will travel around with their party, sorting out quests here and there and killing off a variety of enemies in turn-based combat – with both physical attacks, magic and more powerful specials. There are a few extra features within the turn-based combat, the most fun of which are a link system that combines character attacks and the overdrive queueing system.
In general the game is linear in nature, moving from one winding area to another beating opponents and taking on the odd thrilling boss battle - where the aforementioned linking and overdrive tactics prove vital. Later in the game there is something of a deviation that allows the player to have a little bit more freedom, which is appreciated, but overall Trails of Cold Steel II has been crafted with a road that users are expected to follow. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either, although those who are used to having more freedom even within games of a similar style may find it a little archaic.
Aside from the combat and questing, there are a handful of diversions too. There is - of course - a fun little fishing minigame, but there are also the likes of snowboarding that break up the tension. These elements don't really do much to progress the plot but at the very least do offer up something different.
When it comes to the story, Trails of Cold Steel II is also impressive. The narrative has some solid twists that players might not anticipate, although at times it does feel as though the pacing is a little off; the game revels in its scope, but it does feel as though it could have been more concise and punchier, as at times it does drag, even with the game's much-needed turbo mode initiated.
Something potential players should bear in mind is that Trails of Cold Steel II is a direct sequel to the previous game, and does not mess about with throwing the user in at the deep end. As such, those who are not familiar with the previous title might find it a bit daunting. Thankfully there is a synopsis of the previous game via a menu option to run through past events, so if for some reason someone picks this up without prior knowledge they won't be too lost.
In spite of this option, players probably should avoid going in cold. Part of the allure of The Legend of Heroes is how uncompromising it is with regards to its story, and Trails of Cold Steel II is no exception. This isn't an ordinary sequel, instead diving right into the plot, and although there are references to help players get up to speed it would be wiser to play the original game first.
For those who played the first, Trails of Cold Steel II is unlikely to disappoint. It takes no prisoners with its game systems or its story, but those who like a thoughtful, classic JRPG will find something to enjoy here. At times it may feel a little slow, but with a world this compelling it's easy to forgive.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is out now for PS4, and is also available for PC, PS3, and PS Vita. Screen Rant was provided with PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.