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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: Dec. 22, 2015 (US), Jan. 29, 2016 (EU)

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PS3/PSV Preview - 'The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 29, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Trails of Cold Steel is the first in the RPG series to tread Erebonian soil and explore the nation's political conflicts.

Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is set in a different part of the world as Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Players take on the role of members of the Thors Military Academy in the Erobonian Empire, a place where social status is everything. Nobles and commoners have their places, and the politics are complex, so there are reformists, conservatives, and everything in between. Even at the academy, social status determines one's uniform – except in Class 7. For unknown reasons, those in Class 7, noble and commoner alike, are given the same red uniforms and placed in a squad together. The truth behind this decision is central to the plot of the game and the fate of the entire empire.

Our demo took us through the opening, which is a flash-forward to a later point in the game — around level 50 or so, based on the character stats. It only gives us a brief glimpse of the dangerous fights that await, but it's clear that the massive battle involving magical soldiers, giant tanks and robotic enemies isn't merely a training exercise. The details are intentionally obscured, so it's difficult to get much of a feel for the plot based on this foreshadowing, but we got a taste of some aspects of the combat system.


The turn-based combat system is similar to what was seen in Trails in the Sky, where every character's actions appear on a list on the left side of the screen. You move your characters around the environment and take advantage of positioning and special attacks to battle multiple enemies at once or avoid incoming assaults. An important component of the combat system is your ability to manipulate the turn order. Moving before enemies has a number of benefits; if you're smart about manipulating your turn order, you can go multiple times in a row. Additionally, there are special bonuses that you can get only if you attack on a certain turn. If you manipulate the turn order so your turn falls on a bonus square, you can turn quite a profit. This is made easier by S-Breaks, which you can use to force your character to take a turn. This is great for emergency healing or for grabbing a valuable bonus before an enemy can use it.

New to the franchise is the Link system, which sounds like Social Links in the Persona franchise. As you play, you build up friendships with the other members of the cast. As their friendships blossom, they gain access to special techniques and abilities that they can use. The only one we saw in the demo was called Link Attack, which allowed two characters with basic friendships to assist each other's attacks. I'm told that higher levels of Link abilities grant more powerful bonuses, so building those friendships can improve difficult battles.


Trails of Cold Steel introduces some interesting changes to the core Legend of Heroes mechanics, such as the way your Orbment is handled. Rather than the semi-complex equipment upgrading from Trails in the Sky, quartz are now equippable skills. You don't have to juggle your sepith count but can equip a quartz associated with a skill and go to town. Since juggling sepith often devolved into using the same few attacks rather than allowing for more depth or complexity, this simplification seems like it's for the better. You also have the ability to instantly swap characters in battle, so you're not stuck with a set party.

We only saw the opening dungeon, so unfortunately we didn't get a great feel for how it progresses. While the previous games were done in a sort of overhead view, Trails of Cold Steel is the first fully 3-D game in the franchise. This adds some interesting complexity to dungeon crawling, if only because there are more ways to move around. Enemies appear on the battle map, and you now have the ability to attack them, Persona-style, to get bonuses. If you hit an enemy, you can stun them and run past or go into the fight with a turn advantage. The new 3-D graphics also look quite good, which really makes the game enjoyable to watch.

Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is shaping up to be one of the strongest RPGs in the upcoming year. A cool combat system, an interesting concept, and some fantastic music come together to make it easily one of the coolest RPGs I saw on the showroom floor at E3 2015. An extra bit of good news is that the sequel is also already being translated, so there won't be a long gap between parts of the story like in Trails of the Sky. RPG fans should keep an eye out for Trails of Cold Steel when it hits later this year for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Some good news for fans of portable games: Trails of Cold Steel supports cross-play, so you can swap back and forth between the two platforms.



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