The Legend of Heroes:
Trails of Cold Steel II
THERE WAS a time when the Sony PlayStation Vita wasn’t prematurely headed to the dustbins of video game history. Featuring a quad-core 32-bit processor, PowerVR graphics, a five-inch organic light-emitting diode — or, in the case of the slim version, liquid-crystal display — screen, and relatively strong built-in stereo speakers, it offered 8th-generation console technology in a portable format. More importantly, it boasted of an impressive library of titles that could be played on the go without significant sacrifices made on audio-visual fidelity.
Legend of Heroes: Trails is Cold Steel II was one such title. Released near the end of the third quarter of 2014, it found itself claiming two spots in the Top Five sales chart the first week it hit store shelves. Its Vita iteration placed second on the list, outpacing takeups for the PS3. No doubt, it benefited from the handheld’s capacity to meet its resource requirements sans any sacrifices in presentation and gameplay; Nihon Falcom promoted cross-save properties between the handheld and the previous-generation console, thus ensuring that it ran smoothly on both.
That said, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II’s biggest come-on was its representation as the quintessential example of a Japanese role-playing game done right. Above all else, it was unveiled as a direct sequel to the first release in the series. Events occur a month after the end of Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, with principal protagonist Rean Schwarzer finding himself on a quest to be reunited with his Class VII mates from Thors Military Academy while Erebonia is in the throes of a deadly civil war. In his efforts to bring them all back together and form a united front against forces of the Noble Alliance, Imperial Liberation Front, and the Ouroboros lies the future of the continent.
Parenthetically, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II retains the JRPG look and feel of its predecessor; though it enriches its milieu by abandoning the rigid structure of the academy in favor of open-world exploration, the interface it leans on is the same. Characters travel as a party to engage in missions on the side while en route to fulfilling their ultimate objective. Combat is turn-based and involves combinations of physical and magical attacks, not to mention special offensives, albeit with a decidedly welcome twist: a link system enables gamers to combine their champions’ attributes and thereby induce more significant damage.
If Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II appears to have not inconsiderable heft, that’s because it wisely leans on the myriad strengths of its source material. Its narrative and characters are already fleshed out, and its gameplay exhibits the maturity only experience can bring. And, in this regard, gamers would do well to navigate the first game before immersing themselves in it. Even as the extensive prologue gets them up to speed on developments in the series, they become all the richer for actually going through what the main characters did.
Still and all, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II excels as a standalone offering. Care is done to ensure that gamers know exactly what’s going on at any given time, and, in this regard, the outstanding work on the localization cannot be overstated. Moreover, it possesses timeless traits that make its move to the PS4 a good, and perhaps overdue, one. Critical enhancements for its release on the personal computer last year are carried over, thus ensuring that the experience even for those who have already played it stays fresh and representative of the console.
On the PS4 Pro, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II proves to be engaging in its exhibition of the added bells and whistles. It runs at 60 frames per second, and apart from occasional hiccups and stutters (particularly when the screen becomes busy with animated effects), it manages to trumpet its audio-visual improvements with aplomb. The 5,000-plus new lines of dialogue recorded for the PC release have been included, complementing the first-time-ever option to toggle between equally excellent English and Japanese voice tracks. And, for good measure, previous saves on the PS3 and Vita can be used to carry over progress and downloadable content, allowing gamers to literally pick up from where they left off.
In all, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II should be a no-brainer pickup on the PS4. It’s a superb port that shows both the painstaking work Nihon Falcom has done and the enduring appeal of true-blue JRPGs. And it’s a beneficiary of sound business strategy as well; the release of its enhanced version coincides with those of its prequel and sequel, thereby guaranteeing that gamers new to the lore don’t miss out on all the reasons the series has managed to gain an extremely loyal following. As the best console iteration of one of the finest in the genre, it’s a can’t-miss affair that competently meshes all the interest-generating trappings of the new with the soothing familiarity of the old.
• Quintessential example of a JRPG done right
• Direct sequel that carries over both storyline and gameplay
• Enhancements for current-generation gaming enrich the experience
• Previous saves on the Vita and PS3 can be used to carry over progress
• Occasional stutters
• Uneven pace
• Playing the prequel first leads to better appreciation of the game and the series as a whole
PostScript: Nihon Falcom president and Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series producer Toshihiro Kondo will be having an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Manila time. He will then be seen playing Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on a Twitch live stream hosted by NIS America at 8 a.m.