While not quite pulling the same mainstream love in the west that games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy often receive, The Legend of Heroes is a JRPG franchise that has been around almost 30 years. They often take their time making it over into English speaking territories, but after its original release in 2013 we are finally blessed with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, a game that shows that the franchise is more than capable of highlighting complex upgrade systems, a smart combat style and immensely engaging characters.
The story is odd but familiar for any JRPG lover; starting as a young male character on his first day at a new school called Thors Military Academy, things are instantly not as they seem. The colour of your jacket is different from everybody else’s apart from a handful of select students with seemingly nothing in common at first. Of course it turns out that you’re part of an elite class of students referred to ominously as Class VII, and before you know it you’ll be involved in a civil war.
The time in the game is spent doing things Persona fans will be familiar with such as going to classes, building relationships with your classmates to strengthen your bonds and social links and doing numerous side quests which range from fetch quests to exploration quests to dungeon crawling. There are plenty of options when it comes to things you can do on your free days, and it’s all presented very handily on a map that highlights where characters and events are at the time, and allows you to fast travel directly to them.
“…well-written, incredibly well translated and ultimately very entertaining…”
I actually loved how Trails of Cold Steel respects your time in this way. Where many other JRPGs would have you slowly trudging from location to location, here you can literally skip this and get straight to the good stuff. Of course if you want to explore, you can, with a range of characters to talk to, shops to visit, minigames to get hooked on and other enjoyable time-fillers.
But especially when played on the Vita, being able to move around the game world with such ease is really a blessing. That being said, if you aren’t someone who likes lots of dialogue and character building from your JRPGs, some of the longer conversation scenes here might grate on you a little. I personally loved the dialogue and characters, and found the story arcs well-written, incredibly well translated and ultimately very entertaining, but for some it may come off as slightly long-winded.
The combat system is also incredibly enjoyable. It’s turn based and involves a small playing field for your party and your enemies, and you must move around this field tactically to be able to trigger certain abilities. As an example, you can just simply attack the closest enemy, but what if you spend a turn repositioning yourself so that you can unleash a group attack on four enemies in one hit? You’ll genuinely feel rewarded for each tactical move you make on the battlefield and when you combine this with extra combat features like the Combat Link system with your peers, Orbments that can be used to equip ‘Quartz’ and unlock additional spells and more, there is lots to customize, and toying with the combinations between multiple party members is addictive in and of itself.
The Bottom Line
There is an incredible amount of depth in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, a lot more than I was anticipating. Not only are all of the systems well fleshed out with lots of little details and interesting attributes that are fun to try and master, but they are all expertly executed. You might not necessarily feel that this is a unique experience when compared to other games in the genre, but it does everything so exceptionally well that it can be forgiven for being slightly generic at times. This is a must have title for anyone who calls themselves a fan of JRPGs and is one of the more well thought-out gaming experiences available today.