Don't Miss Your Second Chance To Play The Criminally Overlooked Trails Of Cold Steel
Back in 2015, a delightful RPG launched just three days before Christmas and flew under most people’s radar. That game was Trails of Cold Steel, a new arc in the long-running Legend of Heroes franchise, which recently gained much fanfare in the RPG community with its Trails in the Sky trilogy. As a Nihon Falcom fan, I couldn’t resist picking it up, and it became the unexpected RPG that took over my life. In my review I called it, “one of the most absorbing JRPGs I've encountered since Persona 4.” Its second entry launched about a year later, retaining its fun turn-based combat, social system, and interesting characters.
The two entries previously came to PS3 and Vita; two systems most people were moving on from at the time of their release. While the later PC release was welcome, this week it was announced that both games will come to PS4, giving the series another chance to shine. If you missed out on the games the first time around, here’s why you should absolutely take advantage of this second chance to play these stellar games.
Cold Steel’s narrative explores the betrayal and sacrifice that comes with politics, reminiscent of a Suikoden game. You play as Rean Schwarzer, a young man who’s about to embark on his first day at Thors Military Academy. Rean gets placed in the first class to ever not segregate noble and lowborn students, creating tension from the get-go. Whether the students are of aristocratic blood or not, they all have interesting backgrounds (some were adopted into royalty, others have parents who worked their way out of commoner status) that add to the already heated social divisions of Erebonian Empire. What’s also fun about Cold Steel is how it immerses you in student life and uses it to bolster the gameplay. You take written and combat exams, socialize with classmates, and go on field trips to learn more about the dangers of the world.
Similar to the fun of Persona’s social links, you have free time where you choose which classmates you want to get know best. This allows you to see a different, often more intimate, side to your classmate allies. They all have secrets and personal issues to confront, and the fact that building relationships provides you battle perks is a nice bonus. The narrative makes you care about the world and characters so well and everyone is bound to have their favorites, whether it’s the determined Laura, who has some of the best sword abilities around, or the timid musician Eliot, who’s trying to forge his own path away from his famed general father.
Nihon Falcom may be known for its prowess with its action, twitch-based combat via the Ys franchise, but Trails of Cold Steel uses a traditional battle system, showing Falcom isn’t a one-trick pony. Combat is challenging and exciting, thanks to its focus on unit placement, linking characters together you’ve built relationships with who will help you out of sticky situations, and random bonuses and penalties that keep you on your toes. Not to mention, there’s a bevy of customization options when it comes to building each character’s skills.
The second entry only ups the ante, with mech combat and the tide-changing overdrive system, which can do everything from restoring your health to allowing you to act in three consecutive turns. Falcom has a knack for creating memorable boss battles, and that’s apparent here. There’s a sense of accomplishment in every victory against them, as they’re all about making the most out of your turns and using the most beneficial skills and buffs at the right times.
From intense battles to interesting characters and political dilemmas, everything the Cold Steel games do, they do well. Two other entries came to Japan that finish up the Cold Steel arc. So far, we haven’t heard anything about them making it to our shores. The fact that these games are coming to PS4 makes me hopeful that this is a sign that they will if there’s enough interest. As I said back in 2016 at the end of my review for Cold Steel II, “The wait already seems unbearable because I need to know what happens next; I haven’t had this much fun with plot twists and crazy villains in a while.” Do yourself a favor and see what I’m talking about for yourself.