This time we are whisked away from Joshua, Estelle and the lovable supporting cast of the Liberl Kingdom. In their place, we have the newly commissioned Class VII of the famous Thors Military Academy, located in the Erebonian Empire. These nine students represent the first time in the Academy’s history where a Class is fully desegregated: nobles and commoners are now in the same outfit. A revolutionary concept in a nation where the class system is taken very seriously, and segregation between the social classes is widespread.
This game is part one of a trilogy of games in the broader Trails/Legend of Heroes franchise. It is part of a separate saga from the previous games. Although previous events in prior games do not directly contribute to the storyline, the game will make occasional references, though nothing super spoiler heavy. This is good for those new to the franchise. As such, previous experience with Trails in the Sky FC/SC is not required, but is highly recommended.
The best way I can explain the premise of this game is that it is the result of combining a fantasy battle school manga with Persona. You cross in-between life as a military school cadet (in japanese-style, anime school life, of course), and the more traditional JRPG responsibilities of running around doing quests and fighting a lot of monsters.
During the school life segments, you have the opportunity build relationships (Tactical Links) with your fellow students, and participate in typical school shenanigans. It is a good execution of a game mode that feels very similar to the Social Link and high school simulator mechanic of the Persona games. These links are definitely worth exploring as they provide bonuses when used in this game’s combat.
That’s not to say your stuck at the Academy all the time. Throughout the game, Class VII will be deployed to various locales across the Empire as part of their curriculum. With a diverse selection of places lined up, it makes sure that you are almost never bored. From bustling cities, to the vast wilderness of frontier country, there is plenty to see and do in this game.
What I like the most about this game, is that it takes many staples in the JRPG genre and executes them really well. Combat is very fluid and enjoyable. Encounters can be won quickly with the right strategy, and there is a great feeling of satisfaction after every battle. The characters, which I feared would be a dull and generic bunch, were actually decently written. They do still conform to traditional anime troupes though. The excellent plot, while slow to start, grabs your interest and doesn’t let go. Something that I have come to expect out of Trails games. The orbment system from previous games is there, having been streamlined and simplified somewhat, but there still is a fair amount of customization to be had here. Additionally, there is a lot of side content: such as secrets, an evaluation system, and hidden quests, that greatly bolster the replay value.
Another cool feature is Cross-Save. Save files can be used interoperably between the PS3 and Vita versions of this game via the PSN’s cloud storage system. It is for this reason that I opted to get both versions of the game. The convenience of seamlessly playing this game both at home and on-the-go was pretty cool.
If I had to lay one criticism down, it would have to be on the graphics. This game looks as if it should be on the PS2. Character animations are also sub-par. There are also some pretty noticeable framerate issues, which are worse on the Vita version. For a game originally released in 2013, this can be disappointing to some. I’m not going to bash this point to heavily though. This is after all Nihon Falcom’s first fully-3D, third-person RPG. Their other games were 3D isometric using CGI 2D sprites.
Ultimately, Trails of Cold Steel is a game that may initially come off as a generic, anime-heavy, fantasy JRPG on the surface. However, given enough time, this game quickly blossoms into an excellent adventure well worth your time.