Game Review: The Legend of Heroes – Trails of Cold Steel (PS Vita)
30/01/2016 1 Comment
Stepping away from games that are based upon anime (or manga) we take a look at NIS America’s European release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel to see what type role-playing-experience is on offer for PS Vita users, and truth be told; it’s complicated but exceedingly good at the same.
|Title:||The Legend of Heroes – Trails of Cold Steel|
|Resolution:||960 x 544
As far as tactical Japanese-Role-Playing-Games go it doesn’t get any deeper than The Legend of Heroes – Trails of Cold Steel; what starts off as an explosive turn-based experience that all RPG fans will be familiar with suddenly turns into a slow-paced narrative that gets more intriguing the further you progress. This isn’t exactly a negative comment; but it is a warning to say that you are here for the long-haul, so get yourself comfy and become aware of your surroundings.
Confused? Well upon starting the game, and choosing a difficulty setting (which actually matters), you will find yourself thrown into the midst of combat with you controlling a group of students. Who are these students? Where am i? and what’s happening? You will be asking these questions and more, and yet the answers are irrelevant; as instead you get to fight some monsters in traditional turn-based combat. Standard attacks, Magic Arts and even Linked attacks are available at your disposable but ironically enough there’s no tutorial or explanation into using any of these….
It’s such a bizarre way of starting a brand new JPRG experience; and yet it’s perfect for those – like me – who want to dive straight in to the action to see what the combat is like before sitting through hours of dialogue. Amusingly though this section of combat is brief; as after defeating, what i could only describe as a boss, you will find yourself whisked away in to the past to see how these events came to be. It’s an interesting way to start off a game as by now it has gotten your undivided attention; which is what exactly it needs due to its long-driven-narrative and complex back-story.
I won’t be explaining any of it here, and I am not sure I could even if I tried; but Trails of Cold Steel is set within a world ruled by power and wealth with nations competing for power over one another. The story of this game however follows the events of Rean Schwarzer, a new student at the established Thor’s Academy, and his classmates as they help others in need and uncover a conspiracy between nations as Class VII. There is some importance to be had here; such as the fact that students at the academy are usually separated into different classes of teaching (Nobles and such) but Class VII features a mixture of race and wealth, however instead we will glance over this spoiler and get to the real topic at hand. It’s gameplay.
As mentioned Trails of Cold Steel is an unusual JPRG experience and as such the game itself is also unusual. Why exactly? Well it’s not entirely a story driven experience and as such you won’t instantly see yourself progressing forward with the games storyline. Instead the objective here is to help the student council president, and the head principal, in doing selective tasks (such as delivering items or exploring the old school house) to which once these have been completed the day ends and you will move on to another event. Ironically however when not doing these tasks you will find yourself in class being asked questions about topics from within the game – most of which are not discussed with you and you have to find out about them in school’s library – or taking part in combat training with challenges that have yet to be explained to you.
These gameplay elements however only make-up part of the overall game; as you will also find yourself (along with the rest of the class) being sent away on field studies in locations away from Thor’s Academy; however the tasks at hand are extremely similar to those being done at school – except this time you are helping the townspeople as opposed to the student council. To potentially cut a long story short this ‘questing’ aspect becomes very repetitive and quite boring relatively quickly; but it does have purpose and meaning for the characters involved.
It gets repetitive because of how the game is played out to the player; namely via the use of Chapters. Each chapter is generally the same and features the same type of content; for instance it starts within a classroom before moving on to Student Council tasks around campus afterwhich time will proceed forward to a practical exam, which is just a single fight against a monster, and then ends with a Field Study, which offers similar task to those received by the Student council. Upon completion of these events the chapter will come to a close and the next chapter will commence; however as opposed to a different set of events it will remain the same. At first it’s not noticeable but after spending several hours playing it does feel like that you aren’t getting anywhere with the overall story. Of course this is only part of what the game has to offer; as the future you progress the more burden Class VII will have put on them, and as such the routine will change and you will get to explore a more wider area with a different array of characters.
This aside the real talking point of Trails of Cold Steel- other than the impending and ever evolving story – is the combat mechanics. This is a traditional turn-based-game and as such up to four characters can be used during combat at once and just like other JPRG the party can be changed with available characters at any given notice. Furthermore during combat players can move their character to a different part of the map; a useful feature when trying to gain a better tactical advantage of your opponent. Another unique difference with this game is that each character wields a different type of Orbment weapon which can be customised with Quartz. The Quartz can not only be changed but slots can be opened for more Quartz to be equipped. Additionally Quartz, when combined with the Orbment Weapon, can unlock newer magical abilities with some being more useful than others.
Some Quartz abilities will unlock more destructive attacks, such as Fireballs and Water Bubble attacks, while other abilities will inflict additional damage on the opponent. Some Quartz can even be useful outside of battle; such as those that allow the detection of enemies and un-found treasure chests to be displayed on the mini-map. There is more to be explored in the combat as well; for starters players can ‘link’ characters together so that when a Critical or Guard Breaker occurs it can instantly be followed up with another attack by their linked character. Call it a free-hit if you like as it doesn’t use up the second characters turn. Additionally S-Break Attacks can be performed when the SP guage has been filled; but unlike traditional attacks they can be done on any of your characters turn – thus adding further tactical ability to the game.
As with all JPRG’s players can equip new weapons and level-up; that is the point of an RPG after all; however in this particular game it is a lot more difficult than you may expect. Levelling-up is done by defeating monsters but as you can only fight on selective days within the earlier hours of the game it can be difficult to level-up and as such the only way to level-up is through field-study days by mindless wandering the monster infested lands and even then it takes longer than the average game. Leveling-up can also be done in the old school building; but once again this can only be done on selective days and, if entered, will make the days tasks come to an end.
New equipment, which can sometimes be found in the open, is also difficult to obtain as while you can purchase them from shops within the town the amount of money needed to actually buy them is considerably more that what you currently own; and as such you will occasionally find yourself being unable to fund your quest. Being unable to purchase new weapons or clothing is not exactly something to get disappointed over; but being unable to purchase restorations items does lead to problems during boss battles which are a lot more difficult than you would expect them to be.
To some these will present a challenge worth exploring; to me they are an inconvenience that slows-down the progression of an already ‘questionable-but-entertaining’ game and in some areas it only gets worse. The lack of chances to level-up means that later fights become increasingly difficult, even on the easier difficulty level and this difficulty is heightened when money used to purchase recovery items is also in short supply. An odd design choice i will say.
Speaking of design choices when running around the camera blurs and makes it difficult to see which, on the PS Vita’s small screen, makes it more difficult than it should; furthermore before starting a battle with a monster you can actually attack them but yet it doesn’t yield any damage on their HP Guage when the battle starts. In regards to these battles with monsters the transition between connecting with the monster (which causes a flash on the screen) to actually starting the battle is relatively long; so much so that i could send a short tweet before its dropped me in to the battle itself. Another potential issue is that while it’s nice to have the game on the PS Vita it was clearly designed as a PS3 game; as some elements of text can be small and relatively difficult to read clearly.
These small inconveniences, as well as the repetitive nature, of the game spoil what is most likely one of the best – and most engaging – JPRG experiences I have played on my PS Vita. The story may be complex and potentially confusing; but it is engaging and features a lovable cast of characters that you wish to continue exploring. Sure enough there are some bad points; but on the whole it’s definitively a game you should own – just make sure you have got the time.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is now available for the PS Vita and PS3 within the UK and Europe