Nihon Falcom is a Japanese developer that has earned a name for itself in the West with the Ys and The Legend of Heroes series. After the success of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II on both the PlayStation 3 and Vita, the first instalment has finally made its way to Steam this summer. Originally released in Japan in 2013, Trails of Cold Steel is also available on GOG and the Humble Store with a launch week discount for the PC gaming community.
The story takes place on the Zemurian continent with the Erebonian Empire facing political conflicts between the Noble and Reformist factions. In the Thors Military Academy, the newly formed “Class VII” breaks tradition with hand-picked citizens from various backgrounds based on combat skill criterion. You are Rean Schwarzer, one of the elite “Class VII” members bearing a crimson uniform who has witnessed the intensifying clash between the two factions for many years. As each of the Class VII members undergoes special training, they are forced to set aside their differences to prevent a looming civil war between the nobles and the working class. Along your adventure, the elite Class VII members include Alisa, a skilled archer, Elliot Craig, an orbal staff user, Laura Arseid, a skilled swordswoman, Jusis Albarea, the son of a powerful noble, Machias Regnitz, shotgun specialist, Fie Claussell, an agile gunsword fighter, Emma Millstein, the class president and Gaius Worzel, an adept spear warrior. Each elite member has their own unique personality with Nihon Falcom weaving together their stories to tell a grand and captivating story. It is clear the developer put a lot of time and dedication as the narrative and the deep character development in this game is nothing short of phenomenal.
The game utilizes an active time-based system with the conventional order of battle between your allies and enemies mixed with real-time combat. Moving your allies strategically can easily disrupt the turn order to your advantage as you boost your stats, aggressively attack or use abilities to delay your enemies’ turn. Different weapons allow you to slash, thrust, pierce or strike your enemies down with varying degrees of damage. You can switch between your allies in battle without sacrificing a turn at all as your allies wield magical spells or “Arts” against your foes. Character specific attacks or “Crafts” can be leveled up and unleashed as an ultimate “S-Craft” attack at any time in battle. The opportunity to link up to four special attacks simultaneously is both strategic and satisfying as you turn the tide of battle. The Orbment system from the previous Legend of Heroes games makes a return with a bit of a twist as you utilize mobile ARCUS devices to equip “Quartz” or magical orbs. This grants you special abilities that boost your stats with numerous orbs to be found in the game with specific benefits for each one. The bond between your characters is vital in battle when deploying the Tactical Combat Link system for stat bonuses and team attacks on powerful enemies. Bravery points are granted for successful combat links that unlock “Link Rush” attacks with a specific ally or the entire team. Emphasis on the relationships or camaraderie you share with others is very similar to that of the Persona series.
The AP or Academic Points System allows you to earn special bonuses when you perform on a high level on the written and combative exams. In addition to boosting your AP, you also earn the respect and adoration of your fellow classmates as a noteworthy leader. Minigames such as cooking to test your culinary skills and Blade, a popular card game are great ways to deviate from the main plot in search of fun activities to earn extra AP or increase your Combat Links.
There was initial concern awhile back that this game may not translate well from the classic 2D world to a 3D environment. My worries proved to be needless as Nihon Falcom has done an exceptional job with the character development, storytelling and finely tuned battle system that keeps you on the edge on your seat. The ability to bond and build relationships with your team members leads to a deeper and more emotionally invested experience that is immersive and truly rewarding. The new Combat Link system is a welcome addition to the traditional combat system the series is known for as it keeps players fully engaged throughout the game.
Where other developers have valiantly tried and failed, Nihon Falcom has managed to strike the perfect balance of storytelling and combat in Trails of Cold Steel. Though the game has its shortcomings, the addition of more English voiceover lines and the combined character development, plot and intuitive game mechanics make Trails of Cold Steel one of the best Nihon Falcom games. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is an innovative and beautifully polished title that belongs in every JRPG fan’s library of games.
PROS (+): Intricate Plot, Endearing Characters, Engaging Battle System
CONS (-): Pacing Issues
SCORE – 8.0/10
This review is based on a digital copy of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on Steam provided by XSEED Games.