Trails of Cold Steel is the newest available game in the Legend of Heroes series available in English. It’s a sequel to Trails in the Sky FC and SC, taking place not too far after and is in a nation you hear and deal with a LOT in those games as somewhat of an antagonistic force. It’s no secret how I felt about Trails in the Sky FC and Trails in the Sky SC, so I was pretty curious how this would turn out.
Cold Steel regrettably falls on the side of SC and rolls down a mountain beside it by taking all the awful shit from it’s latter parts and making the entire game nothing but an even worse version of those elements.
This is the one review XSEED’s shitty PR kid’s won’t tweet out as none of the billion ones they do ever played the game past the first 10 hours and it’s embarrassingly obvious the moment you try and read any of them. It has nothing to do with my personal opinion being different, but a bunch of the stuff these people mention or focus on just factually doesn’t exist or is barely a thing yet they seem to genuinely believe it’s a main mechanic.
Probably the best example as it’s almost everywhere; if you see anyone comparing this more than very lightly to something like Persona 3/4 then I can assure you they did NOT play the game, as the “social link” aspect is something that comes up about seven fucking times in the ENTIRE GAME and only once PER CHAPTER, that is out of every 10-20 hours you will get one chance to actually do about 2-4 social links depending on the part of the game you’re at. Not to mention none of those were very focused on by the writing staff as they’re all meaningless with the bare minimum of content, lasting sometimes 2 minutes of talking about nothing with a character to being stuck “riding a motorcycle” they didn’t bother programming to let you control at all and picking quiz answers during it. It is not Persona, yet even I myself felt that connection in the first ~10 hours of the game because it pretends it is – it shoves a bunch of social links and even class questions at you, the latter of which happens I believe only about three times in the entire game. After that first bit it basically disappears so ignore those people because not only are they wrong and so if that got you interested it’s something to be very wary of, but they also probably didn’t even play the game past the intro and so shouldn’t be seen as reliable if they’re reviewing something based on assumptions rather than personal experience.
But fuck all that, let’s get to my review beyond just saying it’s not Persona and instead focusing on telling you how absolutely every aspect of this game is nothing but a fucking disappointing waste of potential;
It’s actually really good, the problem is it ends up ruined when you consider the lack of depth due to the ruined Orbment system and the incredibly ease of difficulty in the game which ends up with you not wasting time doing anything but pushing X a lot. I can’t really say much else aside that; fun system, very well put together, but thoroughly wasted on a game that requires absolutely zero input but spamming basic attack in any fight in the entire game with the occasional S-craft or healing. You get to enjoy it for the first 5-10 hours or so, but after that it’s mind-numbing. It’s only worse when you compare it to the very fun and strategic combat system of it’s predecessors.
The idea of having a sequel series that takes place in Erebonia is fantastic and I have to admit it was pretty cool to finally see the place we’ve only heard about as an antagonistic force in the history of Liberl. Seeing the inner workings of their culture and politics while also just traveling through various cities and towns gave a really great depiction of how different and sometimes similar the two nations are. Sadly, that goes to waste when this game just repeats the story of Trails in the Sky FC almost exactly just far more sluggishly and stupidly, demolishing any concept of a different political climate and such because it’s the same shit all over again.
Cold Steel believed it needed to completely fuck up your entire Orbment set-up every time you went on another field study, leaving you just not caring and tossing on whatever after about 3 times of dealing with it as going on those field studies is the main thing you do. This wasn’t some glitch, it even tells you it’s going to remove the quartz and accessories from people no longer in your party which SOUNDS useful and it SHOULD HAVE BEEN but this just forcibly tosses all that shit off without any warning or any way of controlling it. Final Fantasy 7 is a game from 1997 and Cold Steel came out in 2013 in Japan – FF7 has a similar system to orbments and quartz; materia. When you need to transfer materia, guess what, you can go right into the menu and pick an option that allows you to transfer the exact setup of one character to another, or worst case, it’ll stay on them and you can just access it even if they aren’t in the party (with two exceptions due to understandable reasons). Why not have a similar system here? Hell, why not just let the player access all the quartz and orbments of all the characters BEFORE SPLITTING THE PARTY UP instead of just REMOVING EVERYTHING from anyone not in your team this time? Just replace the text box that pops up saying it did that with “would you like to change quartz before the party splits?”.
Making it worse, Orbment and Quartz set-up are incredibly simplified to the point of ruining what made them so unique, fun, and enjoyable in prior titles. In Trails FC and SC you not only have quartz to deal with but figuring out the combination to get the right amount of each Sepith type in order to unlock various arts that you want. Here? Just slap shit on and it does what it says it does, it’s incredibly shallow. I have to assume they wanted to make it more “accessible”, but instead it was just made into a brain dead “put something here because you can” thing without any strategy or point to it at all – which also made every character identical in terms of their role in the party.
This ranges from pretty great to mediocre, most falling into being serviceable. It wouldn’t be as bad if you ever really had the opportunity to get used to it, but there’s absolutely no consistency in usage of actual voice acting. Half a scene will have no voice acting, then random lines from everyone but Rean will be voiced, then everyone will be silent again, then Rean will say a few lines. It’s no bug, it’s how it really is meant to be. Rean is especially a problem as even during otherwise fully voiced scenes he’s prone to speaking through text only the vast majority of the game. Not only is this really lazy and cheap, but the fact that conversations will just randomly have voices then not then again will all within the same talk? It’s really awkward and ends up annoying.
Graphics and Animation
The graphics are fine for when this game came out originally which is fine as Trails was never the best looking or up-to-date series, but there’s a lot of laziness in it that has no excuse even for when it was made and it’s budget. For example the combat skimps greatly on animations for various arts, the opposite of games years older than it in the same series, Trails in the Sky FC and SC which both feature really well made attack animations for every single art, craft, and normal attack. Here there’s no reason not to spam start to skip all animations in absolutely every fight constantly. I ran into slowdown in a lot of fights as well as situations where, when skipping said shitty animations, the game would lock up for upwards of 15 seconds.
Social Links (Whatever this called them)
As already mentioned, they barely exist at all to begin with and when they do they’re the bare minimum content imaginable and carry no actual value anyway. They typically amount to 10 seconds to 3 minutes of inane bullshit that gives you the illusion of getting closer to a character but lacks anything actually making that happen. I’ll admit it’s kind of nice watching their (very) small side stories progress, but that’s primarily because there’s fucking nothing else going on in this game – so seeing Laura’s swim partner finally able to do a lap or helping Fie hand out flowers gives a more rewarding feeling than anything else in the game.
I liked most of them but they’re also really typical and cookie-cutter (Rean being that to an extreme that makes him feel like a parody of a generic anime, and the main antagonist being a ripoff of Zero from Code Geass even in the ‘twist’). Also, in a game that continually reminds you your class is made up of a very “diverse” mix of economic and social groups it’s really odd when you learn nearly all of them are just rich nobles in families that rule large swathes of land or massive companies. Why bother with the whole “we mixed commoners and nobles from all social classes together” when you eventually end up finding out every single person aside Fie, Gaius, and that dumb witch bitch comes from the strongest and most high-up families in the nobility? Aside that, they’re just all so basic, though I have to admit I love the fact that Jusis is the tsundere rather than Alisa who continually tries and fails to be one, almost as if it was on purpose for a joke even though it clearly wasn’t. Speaking of Alisa, she brings in another issue, which is her really lame, undeveloped, completely forced and empty “romantic pairing” with Rean based on jack shit between them. I do like most of the cast though, they’re just nothing really memorable – not even ones I really liked, like Fie (who is ruined in 2 by being turned into a MASSIVE slut) or Laura. Honestly, only Becky is memorable and she’s just an NPC that goes to your school.
This somewhat ties into story as well, but Joshu-sorry – Rean, is yet another child adopted by someone important after ending up in a violent slaughter where they let a power they never knew they had come out to protect a girl that was important to them who actually ends up being partially controlled by the enemies (the same enemies!) without realizing it and who was betrayed by a friend. You get the point. They just made Rean be Joshua all over again because apparently Ouroboros just gave away a bunch of sleeper agent orphans to nobles and famous people around the continent. They even re-did the incestuous sister aspect.
This game has LITERAL witches, LITERAL talking cats, LITERAL ghosts, and Rean is basically a fucking vampire who even has hair and eye color changes with a red fiery aura anytime he switches into that ‘form’. The fuck happened? Nothing like this existed in Liberl, does all the supernatural shit just magically (get it?) only exist in Erebonia and is unheard of anywhere else? It felt fucking stupid and also clashed with what we know of this world. Even the Liber-Ark and all the inter-dimensional shit in SC wasn’t based around magic or alien shit, just crazy technology.
There practically isn’t one aside small hints the entire game, the story doesn’t even “get started” until almost 60 hours in and at that point it’s just thrown in to try and make you buy the sequel, unlike Trails in the Sky where both FC and SC while having a continuous full story also had their own big main stories that were concluded within them.
Even the main huge built-up scene that you start the game playing in a flash-forward actually ends up being fucking nothing when you get there 50 hours later. I mean there really is not much to say about how bad this story is because the issue is mostly that there isn’t one, when there is it’s short lived and very simple and INCREDIBLY UNINTERESTING.
And gee, I wonder if the only character in the entire game with a name starting with the letter C who also makes sure to disappear any time Comrade C (the main antagonist) shows up and who pretends to be a stupid goofball all the time yet appears incredibly skilled could be Comrade C the leader of the enemies and expert strategist…HMMM. HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. The only actual twist comes in the form of a certain radio host.
Dialogue, Localization, and NPCs
*Chuckles* XSeed dropped the ball big time here, haha. Heh, the dialogue is fucking godawful and I make this as both “dialogue and localization” because I can’t tell you how much of this was just the original writing being piss poor and how much of it is the responsibility of the translation and localization team. 90% of the lines begin with “oh”, “ah”, “heh”, “hehe”, “hah”, “haha”, “wait”, or the ever obnoxious “*chuckles*” and “*sighs*”. *Sighs* Oh, if only I were joking. Heh, if anything it’s a lot worse than you’re imagining. Hah, it’s fucking mind blowing how bad it is about this, and I can tell you completely sincerely, no lie or exaggeration or anything like that, there are points in the game such as in the final chapter where you will talk to 5 different people in town randomly right away and EVERY FUCKING ONE OF THEM WILL START THEIR DIALOGUE WITH *CHUCKLE*. LITERALLY. REALLY. SERIOUSLY. 5 IN A ROW I JUST HAPPENED TO TALK TO BECAUSE THEY WERE THE CLOSEST AT THE TIME AND EVERY FUCKING SINGLE ONE OF THEM DID IT. That’s not even including the others who didn’t happen IN A ROW because believe me there’s a lot more than 5 instances of *chuckle* at the beginning of a person’s talking in this part, let alone the whole game.
No, worse, let me tell you another real genuine serious example with *chuckle* yet again being the focus; after turning in one of the main quests you get a scene talking to the nurse at school. Within this discussion she says *chuckle* at the start of no less than 4 sentences within 7 total pushes of X including Rean talking, meaning she says it almost every single time she speaks in the entire scene. I almost broke my controller at this point. It’s beyond fucking ridiculous and it’s just unbelievable – it’s something you have to see for yourself to truly understand.
To make matters worse, the dialogue is almost always meaningless. In Trails in The Sky FC every NPC had something interesting, something “real” to say that made you genuinely interesting in the NPCs, their lives, and learning more about the stories each and every one of them had progressing alongside your own. Sure, none of it typically had an impact on the story or your characters, but it was always something the player would get something out of reading and being updated on. You’d consistently check in on the VERY numerous people in every town every step you took in the story to see them having new dialogue that was worthwhile – to see these people and how they are doing, often times weaving intricate personal stories that even continued through not only the full game but from the beginning of FC to the very end of SC for many of the NPCs. Here? Almost all of it is the most generic JRPG stuff – this town is really nice, the festival should be fun, I hope it doesn’t rain. This feels a lot like it really is the fault of XSeed though because it really mimics the changes they made in SC as well which also lowered the quality of NPC dialogue drastically.
The few exceptions to that were also just as bland and boring for the most part, such as a couple that loves each other very much and uh…that’s it, you just keep seeing one or two lines about them obsessively loving the other from time to time when you’re back at the main town. There are a few fun and nice little NPC stories like Becky and Hugo’s stuff or the fat girl stalking the one guy and trying to drug him with dosed cookies and shit like that, but there was so little of this that it just didn’t stick unless you really liked the characters – honestly only Becky and Hugo kept my interest and that’s because Becky is unbelievably cute for all sorts of reasons, but I did try talking to everyone throughout the game in hopes it would change. It never did, in fact it only got worse as time progressed.
On top of that, they go on forever – every single time you talk to anyone they just do not fucking stop talking, that includes every single story cutscene but also any time you click an NPC. Half the goddamn quests end up with you having to sit through 10, LITERALLY TEN, minutes of dialogue unrelated to the quest that the NPC will talk to you about before every time going “well anyway lets talk about what I asked you here for” because this game even is aware that it just spent 10 minutes doing FUCKING NOTHING. This is true for almost every single quest in the entire game and what they say doesn’t develop anything, foreshadow anything, or have any meaning – it’s always just pure fucking filler bullshit – then hilariously enough the actual quest explanation takes about 30 seconds.
As an aside; even as much as I love Becky and her Scottish dialect I can guarantee this doesn’t remotely mirror the original and feels like something you’d find in a 4kids translation from the late 90s, it’s almost more retarded than making anyone from southern Japan sound like they’re from Louisiana. Really cute and endearing though, but not just because of her style of speech.
Setup and Impact it has on the game
I’m totally on board with the military school idea and see why they’d go that direction for Erebonia – but if we’re not going to be playing as Bracers why end up making every single mission in the game the same menial bullshit Bracers are always tasked to do? They changed the entire background of the cast, the entire motivation for them doing anything, and the entire reason for us doing anything – yet they chose to slap in the exact same shit for every single quest that you’d have had they not, it’s such a waste and also makes for a very repetitive and unengaging game, especially when all those quests are surrounded by the same 300 lines of lifeless meaningless dialogue you have to skip through. Plus, your reward for all of them is always a shitty fucking accessory that you won’t ever equip on anyone because they’ll unequip it an hour later or some shitty Quartz you have 15 of already with a slight +5 SPD or something with it. Can’t just give straight up money to students for finding your book or getting you an item from an NPC that sends you to another NPC that sends you to another NPC that sends you back to that other NPC before sending you to the first NPC who has the item and just remembered where he put it, better give them some awful Quartz or a fucking keychain.
On top of that, it even follows a fully identical pattern of progression as Trails in the Sky FC based around traveling from town to town one time each doing odd jobs. More laziness.
Lack of Cameos
Only Olivier and Mueller show up, both of which are fantastic and I loved seeing, but really? That’s it? They even mention Kloe, Joshua, Estelle, and Cassius just to fucking tease you. I can understand no Kloe (even though they say she’s in Erebonia for something which…why have her in Erebonia if you don’t have a fucking cameo?) but Josh and Estelle are bracers and could easily be part of the game without anything strange about it as bracers don’t belong to any nation. Cassius ended up taking over the Liberl military in SC so he could be questionable, him not showing up wasn’t that big of a surprise and it was nice hearing him come up at least. That’s it though, you only ever see Olivier and Mueller.
Overstays its welcome by 50+ hours
This is a game that without all of it’s filler bullshit, and hours upon hours of the dumbest shit possible being said to you, would only take about 15 hours. It’s a game that deserves to be about that, and at most maybe 20 or 30. This game has no reason to exist at the very long length it actually ends up being. Not because the length is too long – it’s about the amount I’d expect of any typical JRPG at around 80 hours – but the VAST majority of the length in this game is thanks to bullshit rather than anything of interest or that’s fun at all. It feels like you play through 300 hours by the end of it because of just how much of a godawful slog it is and how many issues continually pop up throughout your time with it. The length would be perfect if the content wasn’t so full of irrelevant filler and every single discussion, quest, cutscene, random NPC dialogue did not go on for 5 to 15 minutes of complete fucking nothing. Then factor in the next thing I’ll talk about and you’ve got yourself even less of a reason for this game to be more than 15 hours long.
All main, side, and hidden quests
Every quest in the entire game, even main story ones, are purely fetch quests that end up further becoming fetch quests within fetch quests. It’s just fucking astounding how little effort, thought, or care was put into anything. Who thought it’d be fun to run and talk to 3 people spread out in town then have one of those people make you talk to another person but they then send you to another, all of which give you no relevant dialogue or anything aside blabbering on about nothing before you finish that quest and move on to the next fetch quest.
For example a wonderful quest during the final chapter that involves having you take a box to one person who tells you this is their box but they got a box that wasn’t theirs then you find who that belongs to and they also have another box which isn’t theirs AND I SHIT YOU NOT, THE NEXT PERSON ALSO HAS A BOX THAT ISN’T THEIRS TOO and you have to take that one to another person who finally tells you where to take the last box. Another mission you have at the same time is to go around getting comments for the radio station which also involves going one place then being told “actually you have to go another place” at least 3 times. Those are just optional quests alongside the main story quest which happens to be “go talk to these side characters to get permission slips for food preparation” which ends up with you having to go from place to place because half the people aren’t where they say they are which means talking to people and being told the people you need are maybe here or there, looking here or there, finding one, being told where to look for the other, finding that place, being told they just left through 10 text boxes, then finally finding them.
Just like the people who now are vapid, the building design is lifeless, bland, and meaningless. Plus you have only one location in the entire game that actually feels large and it’s not even meant to be the biggest place you visit, while somehow visiting places that are meant to be huge and full of people sometimes ends up being a 1-screen map with 2 tiny homes and a handful of shops as the population. On a more zoomed in look, if you go into a house it’ll have sometimes not a single bed and just be a tiny room and a kitchen, or you’ll find a family home of 4 people with 1 bed, small details like this that they just slapped together lazily while in FC and SC everything was made as it SHOULD be which gave the world so much depth and made it feel more real. This game had no real thought or effort put into it, and that fact shines through in absolutely ever aspect.
Lack of Challenge
The majority of fights, main bosses included, can be won by spamming attack or your strongest move over and over. Almost every fight is just against a damage sponge that can’t hurt you very much, so you can – and I did a couple times – safely just spam X while mostly watching something on your computer and occasionally peeking over. This is all even more true if you’re lucky enough to have Laura in the party, as she is comparable to KOS-MOS or Sterkenburg in that she’s incredibly overpowered throughout the entire game and is a joy to have in the party. She can take take out almost every single main boss in the entire game on her own with just one S-Craft, which is not hard to get as you end up with this shit constantly without trying. It not only ruins the already-overly-easy difficulty of the game, but it makes every dramatic story boss into a genuine joke that kills the mood when they die from her doing a half-assed S-craft or really any characters using a fully charged one and a couple other attacks.
Trails of Cold Steel is another victim of the “people seem to like that open world shit, let’s try doing it too” mentality that has ruined many recent games. Luckily it’s only one location here. The Nord Highlands are just godawful – a completely barren wasteland (meant to be a very lush beautiful area) with the laziest topography and most boring feeling to it. It’s huge, it takes forever to traverse, and it serves zero fucking purpose – there’s no reason I should have to spend ages to go finish yet another fetch quest and ride this awful fucking horse for 10 minutes all the way back to turn it in before getting sent out to do the same shit for the nth time. Speaking of which, this place LASTS FUCKING FOREVER. You spend more time in the Nord Highlands than anywhere else in the game aside from your school and it’s town.
Various More Specific Issues
For some reason they also decided to have active voice talking go on almost anywhere near a chest – it’s fine when they just mention the chest because it doesn’t block you from accessing it, but 90% of the time they’ll have 2 lines talking about something unrelated like a nice view making it so you are forced to stand there waiting as when they speak their lines you cannot open a chest, go into doors, or talk to an NPC. It boggles the mind why they designed it so those situations happen 9 out of 10 times you find a chest, a door, or want to talk to someone.
I also ran into a lot of awkward situations in many of the quests because they typically will involve people you’ve already met, even his own school mates – yet 70 hours in Rean will still ask if they are x person from y club and if they were the ones who submitted this thing with their name on it and how nice it is to meet them, with them returning such greetings even after talking to you 30 times before. It just goes to show how little effort was put in to all of this stuff, while in Trails in the Sky people remember you, recognize you, and even in SC (if you load a save) will recall what you’ve done for them or that they’ve met you and you the player will get to know them all throughout and have that relationship mirrored in the game. Here though, Rean seemingly forgets absolutely every person he talks to once he sleeps and everyone else seems to do the same towards him.
*Sighs* The game suffers heavily from being a pile of shit.
This is a game that I wanted so badly to enjoy but it didn’t allow me to, which is made even more depressing when you consider that all the problems here stem from a lack of that passion, love, and effort you could see in absolutely every single line of text, every single minute of play, every battle, system, design, and detail in it’s predecessors. Cold Steel is an unbelievably generic and completely story-less JRPG that fumbles at every opportunity and actively avoids recovery even with the basics, turning what should be an enjoyable experience into a journey you’ll continually find yourself hoping will come to an end while it just refuses to.
Fuck this game, don’t play it. If I was giving it a score it’d probably be a 3, it’s pretty deep down in the barrel of shit games and wastes of time.