Time to get the band back together.
-This review contains spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel 1 and if you have not played/beaten it, do not read this review and go play that game, it’s excellent.-
My love for JRPGs as a genre is well documented at this point, and my most recent obsession has been with the Legend of Heroes series, which has been making its way stateside thanks to the good folks at XSEED.
The most recent release, Trails of Cold Steel, was no exception with a fun combat engine, fantastic lineup of likeable characters and a cliffhanger ending that had me and many others absolutely dying to find out what would happen next.
After more than half a dozen months of tortuous anticipation later, Trails of Cold Steel 2 has finally landed, and I’m more than happy to report that it was well worth the wait and then some.
The curtain opens to Cold Steel 2 only a month after the dramatic events of the original that shook the country of Erebonia and turned Rean along with the rest of Class VII’s worlds upside down.
Wallowing in despair of his own powerlessness, Rean must now find the courage to pick himself back up and take back what is most important to him.
So begins his journey to reconnect with all the members of Class VII who have been scattered across the land. In doing so, he is forced face to face with the grim consequences of war and its effect on people as he travels Erebonia once more to find that everything has changed.
While I won’t go into any more specific details about the story, I will say that it’s one filled with joyous reunions and solemn goodbyes. It’s a veritable rollercoaster ride of emotions and it wouldn’t have been possible without the meticulous pacing which provided for some exceptional character developments in the original.
All the build-up from learning about everyone’s background and personality traits pays off in dividends here, and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the exploits of Class VII even more than the before.
The pacing and structure of the narrative has changed significantly as well due to the nature of the story, and even though there are small favors and side activities to fulfill, the main objectives felt much more important this time around, which added a layer to the overall tension.
There is also an element of recruiting the remnants of Thors academy to their cause, which reminded me of something out of Suikoden as the various NPCs I interacted with in the original title now became a part of my crew, offering their unique speciality to aid Class VII in their quest.
Even though this remains mostly a linear experience, there was much more freedom as I was able to travel to all the different parts of Erebonia, which encouraged more exploration after a certain point in the game.
The combat engine returns stronger than ever with the inclusion of the brand new “Overdrive” system that builds up during the course of a fight, and when executed allows the player three uninterruptable turns to do whatever they feel like between the two linked characters.
Every attack lands as a critical hit in Overdrive, and arts can be casted instantly which allows for some devastating sequences of moves that can turn the tide of any battle, and it’s a nice addition considering the difficulty has been ramped up significantly.
The links can be leveled up even further as well, which unlocks some incredible perks like the ability to gain a significant chunk of CP when their partner is attacked or automatically reviving their fallen ally without using up a turn.
The quartz system remains largely unchanged with the exception of “Lost Arts”, which can be earned by defeating optional bosses all across the world.
These Lost Arts take up all of a character’s mana to cast and have a long delay time, but they have dramatic effects like an almighty attack that completely disregards all resistances to deal maximum damage to everything on the screen.
Also, there are several new additions to the playable roster, and being able to have the likes of the Icy Maiden, Severing Chains and Purple Lightning in the party made the combat feel even more enjoyable. This is not to say that the returning cast doesn’t get some love as well, as their crafts improve over time and they all get access to another, more powerful S-Craft.
Lastly, I can’t forget the inclusion of Valimar, the Ashen Knight.
Just as the final moments of Cold Steel 1 teased how it feels to pilot the Legendary Divine Knight, Valimar becomes integral to Rean’s main source of power.
The larger scale knight battles function very differently to the main combat in that it’s much more simplistic.
Every enemy Valimar faces has different body parts that can be attacked, and based on the stance, each part is more or less prone to being unbalanced which leads to a critical hit that allows for a powerful follow up.
However, when Rean reconnects with Class VII, he is able to gain assistance of his allies during these skirmishes which give Valimar access to new powerful abilities which can prove vital to success.
The divine knight battles take a slower, more strategic approach to combat and while not too frequent, these encounters help to shake up the pacing of the game in a good way.
As much as I enjoyed my time touring the land of Erebonia, I must point out that there are some minor performance issues during certain areas of the game with the framerates dipping noticeably.
More important than that is the issue that my biggest issue with the original still has not been addressed here, and that’s in the voice acting.
No, the voice acting isn’t bad, as I enjoyed most of the performances once more, but there are again many scenes where some characters are voiced and others aren’t leading to a rather jarring presentation.
It’s something I got used to after a while but given it’s an issue they had with the original and they simply chose not to address it, it’s becoming more difficult to forgive.
Trails of Cold Steel II delivers in every front that truly matters. The deep, enjoyable combat engine of the original is further improved with the inclusion of new mechanics and a larger roster of playable characters. The overarching storyline and characters grabbed my attention from the very beginning and hasn’t let go even now, long after the credits have rolled. It’s a game that deserves to be on the radar of everyone who has ever in their lifetime enjoyed a single JRPG – just be sure to play the original first.
Fun Tidbit – There’s a section in the game that actually spoils some elements of Zero/Ao no Kiseki games which is the series that came after Trails in the Sky but before Trails of Cold Steel. MAKE IT RIGHT XSEED!
P.S. Carry over your saves from the original for bonus items and changes in how some characters interact with you!
Obligatory song selection because Falcom makes some of the best music in the business!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.