The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a remaster of the 2013 PlayStation 3 and Vita game of the same name. Set in the fictional Erobian Empire and following a gaggle of students from the Thors Military Academy, Trails of Cold Steel is a more traditional RPG that caters to a handheld crowd; in fact, the lengthy game feels like it still belongs on a PlayStation Vita and less on home consoles.
While its 4k remaster is quite stunning and vibrant, the issue with Trails of Cold Steel on PlayStation 4 lie less in how it looks and more in how it is designed. Linear levels that are often empty and nothing more than a series of rooms vacant of all but a monster or two connected by a short hallway from beginning to end. The charm to Trails of Cold Steel lies in its bonding moments, but even those, after 6+ years, feel forced and quite often cliché. In a world that has seen the likes of Persona 5 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it is hard to feel truly immersed in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, which is a shame because it was an excellent title in 2013, but its tired storytelling, lackluster environments, and semi-engaging combat are a sign that the beloved franchise has, unfortunately, not held up to the test of time.
Trails of Cold Steel sounds amazing on paper, especially to those that are anime fans, as it is the story of a misfit group of military academy kids, each with their own unique issues, that rise up and push back the turbulence of the time. Adding to the general premise that nobility and commoners alike mix about as well as vinegar and baking soda, this special group of kids transcend the boundaries (not without hiccups) of the social norms of the time (those norms being that nobility are better than commons and treat them like garbage), forming an eventually tight-knit special forces unit for the Thors Military Academy. Still sounds pretty cool, right? Well .. it is, but when it plays out in-game it is eye-rollingly bland, easy to predict, and genuinely plagued with immature and frustrating moments.
Though the overall concept of Trails of Cold Steel sounds great, it plays out poorly, but despite that, there ARE some tender moments throughout the game and some excellent bonding moments. Those moments though, are spread so sporadically throughout the game it is even difficult to really invest in it. Perhaps titles like Dragon Quest XI, Persona 5, and Ni Nu Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom have simply spoiled me with their maturity, depth, and intricate storylines, but when revisiting The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel it is hard to see past the entirety of its cliché concept.
If there are any saving graces beyond the random bonding moment, it would be in the flexibility of The Trails of Cold Steel’s combat system. Turn-based (a favorite of mine) and tied to something of a combo system (combat-linking), combat in Trails is engaging, tactical, and generally rewarding. The downside is that it runs into the issue that many older JRPGs do … wooden animations, bland and highly recycled fighting environments, and the eventual required grind. From a pure gameplay perspective, combat is actually super fun … but ACTUALLY having to play it, watch the piss-poor animations execute in flat, lifeless, and oft-repeated battlegrounds, and good Lord it can be a chore.
The fact that more often than not I was pushing to simply return back to the hub town just so I could talk to people and be done with combat is a pretty frustrating way to play a JRPG … or any RPG really. When you think on it, the idea that you have to suffer through fights to get back to the REAL content (i.e. the character development) sounds like a good thing, right? Sure … just look at the Persona games or the real Bioware games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins, and Mass Effect 2.
All of them are games that, when boiled down, are more about the characters in-game and their relationships with both you and the other characters in-game. Trails of Cold Steel, in a way, tries to follow a similar concept and if we were looking at it from a 6-year old perspective, it would be great. Unfortunately, we are not, and instead, we are looking at it via today’s standards and if there is one thing that I can unilaterally decide on with regard to Trails of Cold Steel it is that it feels so old, and not in a good way.
I was looking forward to revisiting Trails of Cold Steel on PlayStation 4 as I enjoyed it thoroughly on the PlayStation 3 years back. Being able to share again in a story where I get to see Alisa Reinford, Rean Schwarzer, and a dozen other characters interact with the war-torn world around them, I thought, would be a warm trip down memory lane … Instead, it turned out to be a trip fractured by a lack of patience, eye-rolling, and a sense of disbelief that pushed even my anime-loving sensitivities to a grey space full of bland engagements.
Article by Robert