I have made no secret of my love for the first episode, as it were, of the Trails of Cold Steel saga. Having spent over 100 hours streaming the game, my only criticism pertaining to it was that the ending battle was poorly orchestrated and not given sufficient tutorials. The game ended up ranking very high in my Shadow’s Sixty list, but that was all before playing its second chapter…
The sequel picks up a month after the events at the end of the first game, and gives you the opportunity to revisit the lands of Erebonia to see the aftermath of the first game’s events, and to explore the real underlying story that led us to the crazy cliffhanger that we were stuck with. But did it live up to the first game’s amazing quality, or did it falter?
There will be some spoilers for the first game within. Read at your own risk if you have not played the first game.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. In nearly every way I could describe, Cold Steel 2 lives up to my expectations from the first… and in many ways, surpasses them. I’m going to touch on a few specific details, rather than regurgitating my first review again for you. Go read it, most of what is said there applies here too.
The first thing I want to mention is simply how good a job they did continuing the story. They really do a great job of making you care about every facet of this Empire’s life by immersing you in its culture. I could tell you all sorts of completely random details about various towns, cities, and people… the level of involvement this game gives you in the real doings of Erebonia is simply unprecedented. I’ve never played a game that gave me as intriguing a connection to the ordinary people of a world as Trails of Cold Steel 2 accomplishes. They managed to make me cry more often than I’d like to admit… there were even a few scenes where I cried for characters I didn’t expect to care about.
The other story element I wanted to focus on here was how good a job they did of making you really appreciate the impact of war on the people. The civil war that started at the end of the first game is the centerpiece of this title, and you’ll be constantly confronted by its effects throughout the game. Things are a bit optimistic for the most part, but you get to see some very believable impact as the war goes on, especially if you really take the time and talk to people. You get to see a really meaningful divide between people which really show a much more balanced view of the war than the core story events portray at first glance.
Another thing that surprised me was that, as the game went on, I actually found myself enjoying the mech battles. The same mech battles I found so frustrating at the end of the first game eventually became high moments. They did this in three key ways. First of all, they did a much better job of explaining the systems to you in the second game than the first. Secondly, they introduced the system much earlier, giving you more time to adapt to it. Finally, and most importantly, they added an extra layer of depth to the system by incorporating a system of support characters, giving you extra turns and more abilities which included a way to heal. These simple changes turned the mech battles from extreme lowpoints, into strategic changes of pace and extra opportunities to build the bonds between the cast.
If I had to point out a flaw, it would be with one of the game’s two epilogue scenes. The first of the two epilogue scenes switches characters and gives you control of two characters that you’ve never met before, unless you’ve played some of the other entries in the series. This wouldn’t be a problem if they acknowledged that you probably don’t know these characters and properly introduced them. In fact, it could’ve been a pretty cool little sidestory if they’d given us a bit more information. Sadly, they don’t… they simply drop you in as these characters and expect you to care about not only them, but also the plethora of seemingly random other people they constantly talk about. It’s a fairly short section in the grand scheme of things, and it’s just a bit of an interlude between the stuff you actually care about, but it was still rather dry and awkwardly handled.
Aside from that though, now that the core story arc is completed and we’ve said our (tearful) goodbyes to class 7, I can say without hesitation that The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel as a complete experience is the best RPG I’ve ever played. It gives NPCs more personality than a lot of games give main characters, and elevates the core cast so far beyond that that it’s hard not to respect even characters you don’t like. The world feels so alive, so vibrant that it becomes almost a final member of the cast. The game mechanics are enjoyable and solid throughout, with a variety of different minigames and combat styles present. And the music is simply amazing.
There are a few hiccups here and there, but they’re few and far between and they do nothing to make the hours you’ll spend with this game less amazing. And trust me, those hours will be many – between both chapters, I spent well over 200 hours exploring Erebonia and getting to know its myriad population.