Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

I wanted to talk about this game the minute I started playing it, but I knew a lot of people had just gotten into the first game to play them in order. Since it’s nearly impossible to talk about this game without discussing the ending of the first, I decided to wait a long time before I gave my final verdict. I originally wanted to do this in two parts. The first part was going to be how I felt about the game during the beginning chapters where Rean is searching for his classmates. The second was going to be how I felt about the game after pushing through to the end. I came up with this idea because the first game gave me hours of joy, but became quite the drag near the half-way point. Then, at the end of the game, I was blown away. So how does the second game hold up?

To put it simply, this is the game I wanted the first one to be, but without the first game, I wouldn’t be as connected to the second as I found myself. In the first game, you live out the life of Rean in a military school, learning to be good little soldiers for whatever unit you got assigned to after graduation. Along the way, you and your classmates went to different locations to learn about the people and politics therein. You learn that there’s much more to the history of these former warring nations. You learned of tensions and grudges that are still around from wars over a hundred years ago. You also learn of a secret organization called the Imperial Liberation Front that’s working to undo all the peace that’s been had for a century. All the while, you are exploring your own hidden past and this power within you that seems overwhelming when it manifests itself. It turns out that this power is key to Rean becoming the Awakener of the Ashen Knight, Valimar, a huge mecha that allows him to stand up against the Liberation Army and his former classmate, Crow, who pilots the Azure Knight, Ordine. The reveal of Crow’s betrayal is a driving force behind the sequel, and a major reason why I didn’t want to push this review out too soon.

In the final moments of the first game, you finally get to pilot Valimar. You fight against antagonists who’re piloting mechs designed after Ordine. These battles are greatly different from the battles throughout the game to this point, and they are really fun. You get to see how powerful Valimar truly is by ripping through these knock-offs until you finally face off against Crow and Ordine. Seeing that Crow had awakened Ordine years ago, his ability to control Ordine far exceeds your ability to control Valimar. Rean nearly dies trying to defend his classmates, but they tell Valimar to take you somewhere safe before you die. Rean objects, but Valimar refuses his override commands and the game ends as Valimar flies off into the horizon. It’s the kind of ending that makes you want a sequel right now, but if you beat the game at a reasonable pace, you had to wait about a year before you would see what happens next.

So was that long spoiler needed to review the sequel? Well, yes. These are all things that you need to know going into the second game. Speaking of that, the game has a rundown of said events, but I recommend playing the first even after reading that (or this) to get a better feeling for your classmates. The first game’s real purpose is to introduce you to these people in a much more intimate manner than most games would allow. It’s worth the slow plot development if you plan to play this game.

In the beginning of ToCSII, you once again play Rean. The game starts about a month after the events of the first game, and Rean is in a very weakened state deep within the Eisengard Mountains. When he wakes, he immediately wants to get back to his classmates. Close to home, Rean decides to make his way there to see how far the war had spread as well as see his family and find a place to recover from his current state. His homeland had been untouched by the war efforts, but by returning home with Valimar, he unwittingly made it a target. Without spoiling this game, things happen, and now Rean has to travel around the world to find his friends before deciding their part in stopping the Liberal Army and ending the war…hopefully.

Now, this is where I was going to post my initial review, holding off with thoughts about the game until I got a chance to see how much of a drag it was compared to the last, but as I’ve stated that this isn’t going to be the case, I can tell you that I wish I was able to choose who I was going to save first, but this game is entirely linear in its story-telling. This one aspect, however, could have easily been made to give the player some choice. Regardless, once you’ve found all your classmates (and a few adults from the previous game), the story opens up quite a bit and you are allowed to travel more or less where you need to go. I wish I could speak more about the story, but literally anything I say will be spoiler-driven. One thing I can say is that you should try to get your link with one of the adults to level 3 before this point in order to earn a cool item.

This game, much to my chagrin, follows the exact same formula as the first. You go to a new area, get some tasks to handle, grind a bit, then move on to the next area. Where this differs is in the locations. There is a lot of variety in the locations this time around, but make no mistake that this will begin to drag after awhile. That drag, however, is much less pronounced than in the first game. You’re constantly progressing forward in this game, much more like a traditional RPG than the previous game’s structured monotony. Along with this progression comes a much more interesting story. Every time I started to feel like the game was beginning to drag, new story elements would quickly quell that feeling. The pacing is so much better than before.

Perhaps one of the coolest things in this game is being able to control Valimar. The battle system has been ever so slightly enhanced from the first game’s all too few battles to make it more balanced. Most of the time, Valimar is trying to conserve mana in these fights which makes them more difficult. I really enjoy the story build around the relationship between Rean and Valimar, too.

One of my complaints is the same complaint from the last game; frame rate. You see, the game is exceedingly choppy in just about any cut-scene. It’s not the easiest on the eyes and more so than the last game, the in-engine cut-scenes have a much bigger potential for greatness that is only marred by this choppy frame rate. I’m sure it’s not as bad on the PS3, but I only played the Vita version, so that’s what I’ve got to go on. For me, RPGs are best served on handhelds. At any rate, the stuttering and often sub-20 fps during these times is just unforgivable. Luckily this only really becomes an issue when they zoom out and pan around locations. When it zooms back in down to the character level, there are much fewer instances of frame skipping.

I wanted to mention the characters’ new looks. They all look great. They’re no longer just students of Thors Military Academy, and their individual styles are front and center. All of the outfits except maybe Fei’s fit their previously established characters so perfectly. Even Fei’s fits her, but it’s strange, even for an ninja-like orphan ex-mercenary. I also don’t think it’s very appropriate for a 14 year old. It’s not lewd, but she’s definitely showing a lot of skin. Just thought I’d throw that out there for anyone who it might matter to.

If you enjoyed the first game, I can’t imagine that you’re reading this to decide on if you should buy the second, but if you’re new to the game, please check out my review of the first for more details on the battle system and whatnot. At the end of the day, the engine is the same, and the characters evolve from where they left off in the last. I will warn you that not all of your questions will be answered in this game as there is a third game in the series, but MOST of the story revolving around Thors and your friends will be summed up quite nicely.