Trails of Cold Steel delivers polished JRPG action, complete with a fun cast of characters and a nuanced story. This PS3 title has aged with grace.
Every JRPG released in America fights for its right to belong, to make a name for itself among the AAA crowd. Though the style of Japanese role-playing games is endlessly popular in well... Japan, only a few of the most renowned ever see NA release. There will always be the Final Fantasys, but once in a while another title (like Persona 5) can capture the hearts and controllers of the RPG-loving masses.
Though the game originally came out for the PlayStation 3 in 2015, it's hard to argue that this year, that game isn't The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Part of the storied Legend of Heroes franchise, dating way back to 1992, Trails of Cold Steel has all the elements of an JRPG classic. From rich and challenging combat to a compelling political story, the PS4 port is worthy of attention.
The core game (upgrades aside) already made a pretty big splash on its initial release, and nothing there has changed. Trails of Cold Steel utilizes an impressive single-player turn-based combat style that, while similar to the average JRPG, flows smoothly and shouldn't be overlooked. The battle animations are gorgeous and fun, each character's unique abilities combining for an epic showdown any time the player enters a fight.
Ever present are the typical RPG trappings: Hit Points and Energy Points, upgrading weapons, buying accessories to boost stats, and leveling up. It's a complex system for first time players, but old hat to any experienced gamer. But what Trails of Cold Steel does differently, it also does well. There is the Tactical Link System, where any two of the characters on the battle field can "link" their attacks, allowing for a quick combo when an opponent is staggered. Additionally, as the characters use Orbments to unleash magical abilities, these can be upgraded with Quartz (gained from defeated enemies) to change the set powers or unlock new ones. It may seem like a lot to keep track of, but getting a handle on these systems is key to progressing through tougher battles.
Trails of Cold Steel's 3D battles and overworld movement have gotten a great visual overhaul for the re-release and have never looked better. Now, the beautiful 2D cutscenes also have been re-dubbed for English audiences. Previous fans might notice there's a lot less awkward silence this time around! The game now features 4K/60 FPS support and comes with Turbo mode (allowing players to move through battles at 4x and the maps at 2x speed). This is a solid addition for those replaying or those who may have had a bit too much coffee.
But where would a JRPG be without the story? Luckily, Trails of Cold Steel weaves an epic one, complete with warring factions and a class system that seeps into the core of the characters. The player enters the Thors Military Academy, a prestigious school for those students ready for battle. Though normally divided in groups by their class (the rich are in Class I, the less wealthy follow until Class V), this year a new class of recruits combines students of all backgrounds. This Class VII (as it is jokingly named) is your main cast of characters, featuring Rean (the de facto leader) and a bunch of colorful cohorts. They're all enjoyable to talk to, though some are more trope-y than others.
The general flow of the game is similar to Persona 5, and sort of like an ideal Harry Potter RPG. Each chapter allows for a few days around the school, hanging with friends and doing various chores in the town of Trista. There's time to walk around, go fishing, or build on friendships. After the day is done, the students are split into groups to go on field studies to other towns across the country of Erebonia. They learn about the many different classes of people, fight monsters, and become closer as a team. It's a great mixture of heart-warming and lighthearted, but the action rarely slows.
Trails of Cold Steel's perfected combat system and challenging battles combined with a nuanced story that is addictive and charming make for a JRPG worth picking up, even if you've already played it prior.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is available now on PS4. The Decisive Edition (complete with a collectible Mira coin and soundtrack CD) is $49.99. ScreenRant was provided with a digital copy for purposes of this review.