Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 11/07/2016 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I don’t remember who mentioned the sequel of this right before it came out, but I decided I’d pick up the collector’s edition of the second game (since it was the same price as a regular Vita game) and the first game at the same time. It looked neat, so why not? Jesus Christ, I did not realize what a time commitment I was making when I started playing this game, though. Don’t get me wrong – the game is amazing – but it’s not a “done in a week” game unless you’re a masochist like me and have no life outside of work and video games.
So I didn’t know this when I first started playing, but apparently, Legend of Heroes is apparently a fairly long-lived series (and one that I’m now going to start looking into), so I can say with confidence that you need absolutely zero prior experience with the Legend of Heroes series to enjoy Trails of Cold Steel. The game revolves around a group of students at Thors Military Academy, an academy broken into six classes. Classes I and II are for children of the nobility; Classes III, IV, and V are for commoners; and the newly-formed Class VII is an experimental class of sorts that puts nobles and commoners together in the same class
A lot of the game, it feels like a rather pointless slice of life sort of story; you play as Rean as he and his fellow members of Class VII go through their school lives and embark on field studies across the Erebonian Empire, solving problems for the townspeople and learning about the situations developing in the country. One common theme through every chapter that stays an enigmatic-but-probably-significant part of the story, however, is the monthly investigation of the mysterious old schoolhouse, a building that predates the 250-year-old academy by at least several hundred years. You also begin to discover through your field studies that the empire is sitting on a veritable powder keg of civil unrest due to the growing political conflict between the Noble Faction and the Reformist Faction. Those two plot points serve as the core of the game’s storyline.
The roughly 60-hour game familiarizes you with a whole cast of pretty memorable characters and places, and the optional “bonding events” you can do let you grow closer to and learn more about your favorite characters, culminating in a cute but underwhelming romance option at the end of the game. The end of the game, however, is legit rage-inducing. It’s not that it’s bad. On the contrary, the ending is fantastic. It is, however, a cliffhanger for the ages. Fortunately, I have the second game, so I can start it whenever I want (though I’m taking a break from the Vita to play Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse right now), but the wait for the third game (assuming it gets localized; my cursory Google search shows the Legend of Heroes series not to have a good track record in that regard) is going to kill me. X_x
In terms of gameplay, it’s a pretty standard JRPG. The only big drawback, in my opinion, is the performance. The game chugs along at certain places – especially in cut scenes – and drops to 15 or 20 frames per second. I don’t know how the PlayStation 3 or Switch versions compare, but the Vita version had some serious drops. It’s worth noting, though that the PlayStation 4 version is as smooth as butter. It doesn’t make it unplayable by any means, and it’s not horribly bothersome, but it’s definitely noticeable and casts a shadow on an otherwise incredible game. I also think the game drags out just a *little* too long. All in all, though, it’s a fantastic JRPG experience that Vita, PS3, PS4, and Switch owners definitely shouldn’t miss out on.