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April 2021

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: June 4, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II'

by Joseph Doyle on Aug. 9, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Awakening one month after the events of Cold Steel, Rean tries to find his friends and reunite with his sister Elise. Rean and his fellows try to find the remainder of Class VII and Thor's military school.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II sets out to cover a lot of different genres and tropes in one game; the aesthetics and plot run the gamut from steampunk to fantasy with subtle notes of mecha. While this certainly does seem like an undertaking, turn-based RPGs have always been a welcome to the broad and expansive, narratively, gameplay-wise and more. However, this time around, nothing seems to be challenged, rather bolstering the stereotypes of these genres we already knew, even back when it originally came out in 2014. The version we're reviewing has been remastered for the PS4 this year. Nihon Falcom and XSeed Games bank on the comfort of familiarity in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, but it largely ends up backfiring, resulting in a largely tired feel, especially from the characters, plot and visuals, with little redemption from its music and gameplay elements.

Trails of Cold Steel II comes in hot off the heels of its predecessor, following protagonist Rean Schwarzer almost immediately following the events of the first game, where many, many shenanigans happened. This leads to the first major flaw of the title, which you encounter in less than 10 minutes: the absolutely dizzying plot.  Trails of Cold Steel II recaps the events of the first game both throughout the beginning and as an optional series of text and videos from the menu, but the sheer amount of information necessary to play is mind-boggling. Going through the text during the optional recap takes at least 20 minutes, with an overwhelming number of names, places, etc., thrown at the player. This has the potential to be overlooked, but unfortunately, the game implements its own recaps in a series of poorly written dialogue and black-and-white stills, making the opening situation all the more confusing. The main conflict is adequately described, but the prior game's plot is not rolled out fluidly, leading the player to be confused about the abrupt beginning of Trails of Cold Steel II.

Long story short, you've been sleeping in a mech for a few months, and luckily, it's close enough to Ymir, the small town where you grew up. Fortuitously, your baron father happens to run the town! You make your way down the mountain without the mech, and the game runs into its second narrative fault: creepiness/awkwardness. Your sister runs up to you and hugs you because she was so worried. It's a sweet gesture until a different character walks in and says something to the effect of, "Aww, look at the lovebirds," knowing full well that you're her (adopted) brother. One could perhaps chalk this up to a translation error, but within another 30 minutes, your sister asks to join you in the hot spring and wash your back. You hem and haw but eventually let her in with you. Your sister's dedication to you is strange and definitely a little upsetting.

Likewise, some of the tone between Rean and the other characters comes off as incredibly unnatural. For example, his father, Baron Schwarzer, speaks to his own son like he's a guest who's heard of him a couple of times rather than a part of his own family. The whole tone of the dialogue is like this, with characters sounding largely inappropriate to the situations they're in or the characters they're playing. The antagonists' motivations and personalities feel flimsy and boring. Archetypes reign supreme in the creation and development in these characters, with in-world events hardly making a dent on individuality.

The gameplay largely emulates mechanics of other giants in the world of RPGs and does so adequately. As you encounter enemies on the open field, you fight them in a limited 3D space while you control different characters in your party, who have different attacks, specialties, spells, and more in turn-based combat. Strengths and weaknesses of each character are revealed through the plethora of engagements you go through with your party, showing you in the gameplay rather than telling through the narrative. What is likewise elucidated in combat is the sheer amount of gameplay mechanics/systems, with characters boasting specialized attacks, spells and weapons with FF7 materia-esque slots, which leads into the crafting portion of the game. Similar to the story, this is incredibly overwhelming at the start, but it has the flipside of providing a grandiose amount of content that has a variety of enemies and allows the player to utilize different play styles.

This is at least the idea of the system, given the grand scope, but it's unfortunately ill-developed at points. For example, the prologue revolves around defeating an incredibly large enemy on the outskirts of Ymir after a few tutorial battles. It seems like bad form to then lead into a harrowing, unwinnable battle that can take over 10 minutes. Worse yet, a few hours into the game, you fight the same enemy, only to find that the experience is equally as long as the first time and requires using a certain character's health spell to succeed. (On a personal note, both of my attempts together took over 30 minutes.) Likewise, some of the mechanics aren't well described, leading the player to be confused over what certain enemy stats mean or how to trigger specific situations. While the combat and gameplay systems are well conceived, they fall to poor execution and needless overcomplication.

The visuals and music in Trails of Cold Steel II are middling at best. The visuals have been updated from their original version, but they still look and feel very clunky. The assets for the landscapes look blurry and stretched out and lack any texture and terrain. The players' walking animations are stilted and choppy, like MegaMan's from Legends for the PS1 and Nintendo 64. The dialogue boxes and menus look like they could have been ripped out of an RPGMaker game, and characters mouths move in a way that's reminiscent of Sonic 06 NPCs. While the gameplay and narrative were obviously the focus of the game, and this is a remaster of a PS3 title, the visuals leave a lot to be desired. They seem like they come from a PS1 game that the developers kept slightly updating until the PS4.

The music is more humdrum than anything. Nothing about the compositions is aggravating or appalling, but it does seem a little unpolished at times, when it could have used a little more reverb or sustain. It seems like it was all done electronically and not cleaned up — humanizing these tracks would've been a great help — which is a shame at the end of the day because the tracks lose so much to sounding robotic.

Production notes aside, the music isn't super memorable or stir up any emotions from a musical standpoint. It reminds me of other generic anime music, with big bursts of energy at the beginning (screaming guitars, heavy drums, overdramatic strings, etc.) bounce into mundane spells, swooping and swaying from one scene to the next. The most gripping music to me was this piece, which sounds incredibly similar to Yoko Shimamura's piece from Kingdom Hearts. All of the pieces simply sound like they're emulating from other multimedia works, which is formidable but ends up feeling hollow.

On that note, there's little you can get from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II that you couldn't get from other titles that likewise do it better. The narrative is winding and confusing, the characters are off-putting, and the visuals are a sore sight for the eyes. While the music and gameplay show some glimmers of promise, they ultimately end up feeling lifeless and overcomplicated, respectively. At the end of the day, Trails of Cold Steel II ends up feeling like a middle-of-the-road shonen anime that's a little too scatter-brained, and you have to slog through the off-screen battles.

Score: 5.0/10

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