Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

On the surface, LOH:TOCS may seem like a traditional JRPG, but it’s really a sweet love story of an unworthy noble and his love affair with a delusional, undignified, working class poor boy. On a serious note, the game is easily summed up as one part Persona 3/4, one part Suikoden, and three parts Trails in the Sky. You play as Rean Schwarzer in his first year at Thors Military Academy. He and his 8 classmates belong to a special trial program called Class VII. In Thors, The other five classes (that’s right, there’s no class VI) are split into nobles and peasants. As you’d expect, the nobles are real jerks to those they view as lower than them. Your class is unique in that it’s an eclectic mix of nobles, rich non-nobles, and lower class children. Early on, there is a conflict between a noble and someone who wishes he were a noble. As the game’s story plays out, you learn more about each of your classmates and quickly become the level-headed leader of the group who manages various conflicts between it.

Most RPGs will have an amazing battle system and an OK setting, but very weak character development or some combination of the three, but rarely do they have a solid battle system, amazing character development, and an amazingly detailed setting. The Legend of Heroes games all share a wonderful setting to draw from and very well developed characters, but by taking on the school year premise from the Persona games, TOCS manages to make the characters feel almost real. Even the lesser NPCs like Mint and the twins are treated as though they have real drive or even lack thereof in their motivation, making them feel more like real classmates. The fact that you build relationships with some of the supporting class as well goes a long way to assist in this. As the story progresses, your relationships with your classmates will evolve. You have some control over this, but unlike Persona games, building your relationships with your classmates only gives you a little non-important information about them with the real advantage for increasing your relationships coming in the form of combat links. Each level of your relationship will give you special bonuses depending on the style of their play. Some will interrupt attacks for you and even take less damage from those attacks, some will heal you when you take damage. For the most part, you don’t really see any differences in them until the third level which really doesn’t come about until half-way through the game. Nevertheless, having even a 5% chance to have someone block an attack is a good thing.

The game really drives home the idea that these combat links are your saving grace in this difficult world. Outside of a few story elements, the main use for them is in assists. Whenever you land a critical strike, the person you have a combat link with will be able to assist you. Later in the game, after you’ve performed a few of these assists, you can do a sort of super assist. This is the real way you plow through large amounts of foes with ease as these super assists actually hit numerous enemies at times. It’s such a good way to make turn-based battle systems feel more dynamic. Speaking of the battle system, if you’re used to the battle system from the Trails in the Sky games, it’s almost the same, but it’s been made much more streamlined. My only gripe about it is that on the PS Vita, the battles take a few moments to load (upwards of a second or two). I really didn’t like this when I first started playing the game, but I was able to adjust to it as the rest of the game is a very slow burn. By that, I mean it is extremely dialog heavy, with most of the dialog not spoken.

The English voice acting that is in the game is top notch as far as I’m concerned. There’s only one character who really grates on my nerves, and I think she’s supposed to be annoying. You don’t meet her until later, so for spoilers sake, I won’t say anything more about her. Considering that XSEED is mainly known for leaving the Japanese dialog in their games and simply delivering great translations, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the characters actually speak English. Not only English, but some of the best in the industry. Color me impressed.

While the game has a rather methodical and slow build to things to come, you never feel like you’re not progressing. That’s because there’s always something leveling up. Each of your characters levels separately and each of their master quartz levels at its own pace. On top of that, each character learns their S-Crafts at a different time in the story. Other crafts unlock for each of them throughout and various arts become available as different quartz are equipped. Quartz, like in previous games, become available as the story progresses. I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting, but you get the idea; something is always being unlocked or discovered.

Some may find that the game’s story is a bit drawn out and/or repetitive because every single chapter follows a specific pattern. Spend some time at school answering questions, take an exam which is generally a special combat with specific requirements you need to meet, get a day or two off to build your relationships and discover new information about your fellow classmates and other characters who roam around the school grounds and neighboring city of Trista as well as handle your little side missions for the Student Council. Before you end your day off, you venture into the old school house for a little dungeon delve before you skip forward a few days before you get sent off on a class trip to various parts of the country to do odd jobs for the locals as part of your studies. When you finish, you’re graded on how well you did. It may be a repetitive cycle, but I found it an enjoyable one, and I can’t wait for the sequel coming Stateside later this year.