The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel PS Vita Review
At first impression, I had a very knee-jerk reaction to compare The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel to Persona. All of this due to the high-school setting, relationships you can “level up” by spending time with others, and a dungeon that expands over the course of the story. However once you get into the game that impression very quickly goes away and it builds into something more unique. Honestly my initial mental comparison to Persona probably did the game no favours.
Trails of Cold Steel is more about really getting to know the whole world you’re in, the nation of Erebonia. It wants you to pay attention to its history and culture, and at times will even reward you for doing so. The story pacing can feel slow, as it does not want to throw everything at you at once.
Over the course of the game, you will get to go on field studies which will take you to a specific part of the country. It really feels like a lightly guided tour of the world in some respects, as the tasks you’re given to do really help inform you on what’s going on across the world. One moment you could be trying to stop tensions between opposing militaries, but at another you could be looking for someone’s lost cat.
At the heart of all this is a struggle between commoners and upper class nobles, where tradition dictates that the noble is superior, and that both classes must live separately. Even in schools, nobles and commoners are taught in separate classrooms. Your perspective is that of Class VII, a new class at Thors Military Academy which is made up of a mix of both social classes.
The protagonist member of this classroom, Rean Schwarzer, is unique in that he is a commoner who has been adopted by a noble. This is one of the ways in which the game really wants to express that really nobles and commoners are truly just ordinary people. That view on class struggles comes up in plenty of stories, and there isn’t enough to make that feel especially distinctive.
While Xseed’s snappy localization helps a bit, most of the actual characters in the story just feel very typical. In the classroom there’s the commoner who hates nobles, the noble who thinks he’s above commoners, the girl who gives the impression she hates the main character but truly she likes him a lot, and the quiet emotionally distant one who has a past they seem like they don’t want to talk about. Even the main character doesn’t have much defining traits outside of wanting to always help people even if it means hurting himself.
And while I’ve said this game is a little slowly paced in terms of its narrative, once you get into the thick of exploring dungeons and fighting monsters, it can feel much faster. Turn-based battles are quick, but outside of a few bosses offer very little challenge. If you can sneak up behind an enemy before the encounter, it’s possible to start fights in a way that makes it difficult for them to even hit you before you defeat them.
The battle system itself is where the game’s relationship level aspect comes into play. Depending on the strength of that level, you are able to link up with other party members who can then assist in ways such as following up successful attacks or sometimes healing immediately after taking damage. It feels good when those things come into play, and helps contribute to the quick pace of fights.
The version tested here was on the PS Vita, and it really does not feel as though it was made for the platform. The interface feels like it was made for larger TV screens as it can be quite small on the Vita’s screen. There are also framerate drops whenever there are a lot of characters on the screen. These issues don’t make the game unplayable, but from the looks of it, the PS3 seems to be a more optimal platform to play it on.
While it does take its time to really get going (the story doesn’t feel like it properly kicks off until about 15-ish hours in), The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a really fun game to play. The story moves slowly, and can take a while to get through, and while not much about it feels new, it does a good job of taking already established elements and making them into something fun.