A Civil War Rages On.
And you, Rean Schwarzer of Class VII, are alone, separated from your comrades after their courageous defense of you and your Ashen Knight – the very same act that allowed you of your escape. Stranded with all but your energy-less mecha and talking cat companion, you’re lost with no sense of direction. What should you do? Your mind races on whether you should give up – but you know you can’t, especially not after your class may have sacrificed themselves for you. But this is the scenario that you’ve awoken to, which quickly turns into a fight for your life and freedoms.
The highly anticipated sequel to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Trails of Cold Steel II picks up hot off the heels of its predecessor’s riveting finale. Where Cold Steel left me thirsting for its sequel, II opens at blisteringly slow pace. Indeed, for the entirety of the first 15 hours, I felt like I was trudging through thickets of narrative. I’m the first one to applaud a game for taking the time to establish a narrative (the original game developed an excellent story through a lengthy opening, too), but Trails of Cold Steel II feels like it buried itself within its own prologue.
This isn’t to say that the narrative of II isn’t worth your time; it certainly is. It’s just not always an easy time reading through 15 hours of dialogue with such little to do in between – especially since this is a full fledged RPG and not a visual novel (there’s nothing wrong with visual novels, by the way, unless, of course, the game isn’t one). Still, the lengthy exposition is necessary and important to the full spectrum of the story. Throughout the opening sequences, Rean slowly attempts to locate his missing classmates in hopes that they’re all still alive, and in the process learns much about the rampaging civil war. From there, the story picks up, but to avoid spoilers, I won’t discuss why or how. Just know that the overall narrative in Cold Steel II is almost as excellent as the story from the original.
Gameplay in Cold Steel II is nearly identical to Cold Steel. Cashing in on the “if it ain’t broke” logic, II offers gamers the same battle system with minor upgrades and more battles with the Ashen Knight. In this iteration, however, players can call upon their giant mecha during battle to help annihilate bosses or large groups of enemies. If there’s one thing fans of the series know, it’s that these RPGs continue to add new gameplay mechanics throughout the game (even up to its penultimate chapter), so while the systems aren’t exactly new, they continue to progress throughout the course of the experience. What this does is keep the overall game feeling fresh, especially since you’ll most likely dedicate over 60 hours to completing it.
The biggest addition to II, for me anyway, was the ability to travel via airship. Both a boon and a bane, flying throughout the world on the Courageous made traveling much more convenient and efficient. Unfortunately, I missed a number of sidequests because I didn’t travel or re-travel to certain areas during certain segments of the game. Wholly my fault for being a bit lazy, the game – just like the first – really requires players to invest a lot of time to complete. The greatest part of the game and its numerous quests, however, is that it really adds an extra layer to the exposition that helps fully flesh out an already excellent story. It’s also something that many games ignore or skimp on.
Sounds in Trails of Cold Steel II are as wonderful as ever. The soundtrack continues to impress with soothing melodies and intense compositions. Music is crafted to create a breathing atmosphere for Read & Co., and it’s something that really stuck with me. Voice acting also remains strong, with each actor reprising their roles from the original. New characters are also excellent additions that complement the overall sound direction. It’s perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the game (outside of the solid battle system and excellent narrative).
The biggest disappointment in Trails of Cold Steel II is its lack of visual improvements. The game looks identical to its predecessor, and it looks like II was built at the same time. The game and characters still look fine, boasting an anime-esque aesthetic that works for The Legend of Heroes franchise. Outside of a few different character poses, nothing seems to have changed (unless you count character outfits). With that said, there seems to be a positive change in visuals in that there doesn’t seem to be any of the frame rate issues that plagued Trails of Cold Steel. Playing on the Vita (for the first, I saw a huge difference between the PS3 and PS Vita versions) solely for this review, I have to say the experience was very smooth.
On the whole, Trails of Cold Steel II took what made the first game so special and built upon it. For me, however, the narrative felt pretty straight forward (until maybe the epilogue) and missed out on a lot of what made the original so intriguing. Guessing who was C in the first game was fun, and when it was revealed, I was pretty surprised. There wasn’t much to gasp at in II, and so I wasn’t as attached to the story. The other piece that made the original game so special was its focus on characters and presenting a pretty real story. You weren’t saving the whole world or changing a war; you were simply students training to become a potentially elite group of military soldiers/intel/etc. And while the story here didn’t tread too terribly into cliche territory, Rean and his friends became the center of the war.
Few major differences litter the game, but the ones that are included enhance the experience. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is another fantastic RPG and Legend of Heroes game that RPG fans can embrace. You won’t be disappointed in the story or gameplay, and if you enjoy a good narrative driven RPG – even though it takes a while to get going – then there really aren’t many other games in the genre that compare (the Persona series offers quite a few narrative gems). And with the ending of Trails of Cold Steel II setting up the already announced Trails of Cold Steel III, you’ll most likely be left wanting more.