Back in May, I discovered a game and a world of character that I fell in love with. This game was The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Now a mere month later I have returned to fight the good fight in its sequel The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II.
Trails of cold spoilers
If you haven’t played the first Trails of Cold Steel then I recommend you avoid this section as I bring you up to speed with our plucky protagonist Rean Schwarzer. Since last we saw Rean he had become the Ashen Awakener, a member of a select number of individuals who can harness fractions of the ‘Great Power’ known as Divine Knights.
With his Divine Knight Valimar in tow, he tried to save Thors Academy from invasion after civil unrest had broken out in the capital city of Erebonia. Unfortunately, there were surprises and betrayals and one-time friend (my best friend) Crowe turned out to be the Azure Awakener complete with his own Divine Knight Ordine.
After a sound defeat, Rean fled the scene with his proverbial tail between his legs, to live to fight another day. His friends from Class VII guarding his escape from the dastardly Azure Awakener.
Trails of new beginnings
Now in the opening scene of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II we learn that Rean has been unconscious for close to a month. For the month though he has been watched over by Valimar and Emma’s pet cat Celine who turns out to be a magical being known as a familiar. Players will remember that Emma (one of the members of Class VII) turned out to be a witch in the climax of the previous game so learning Celine is a familiar isn’t that big of a surprise.
After realising he is near his hometown Ymir Rean makes his way to what he hopes is a family reunion. When he arrives he learns from his family and the townsfolk that a fullscale Civil War is going on between the Nobles and the Imperial Reformists of Erebonia. Rean doesn’t have a lot of time to come to terms with this before his sister Elise and Princess Alfin (who’s hiding out in Ymir) are kidnapped right from under his care.
So Rean decides to try and save his sister and the princess he must embark on a quest to reunite Class VII and bring his sister home. Along the way, he may find the meaning behind his power and maybe just maybe stop this Civil War that has brought ruin to his homeland.
Starting up The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II I was immediately struck by the familiarity of the world. I mean this as both a compliment and a criticism. After literally only a month since last I was in Erebonia with Class VII seeing how little the world had changed design wise I felt surprisingly underwhelmed. I expected something of a graphical improvement/enhancement. There was none of this within The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II. It looked so much like the last game that I almost felt like this was DLC for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel.
This theme of DLC runs through Trails of Cold Steel II with not just the graphics but also the gameplay and world of Trails of Cold Steel II. It’s the same turn-based battle system with a few flourishes to try and keep the player’s interest.
One such flourish is the Divine Knight battles. Introduced in the final act of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel the Divine Knight battles have Rean and Valimar fight other knights. These are big scale boss battles where the battle is less dynamic and fast-paced as normal battles but far more strategic. You have to understand when to attack, when to defend and when to unleash your abilities against your opponent. These choices can be the difference between victory or defeat. I should know this because it happened to me a few times.
Players also utilise the bonds between Rean and the rest of Class VII and their supporters to give Valimar unique abilities in battle. Though less dynamic than the rest of the boss battles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II the Divine Knight battles break up the routine with their strategic style.
Also for those looking to explore Erebonia and see even more of its wonder I sadly have to inform you that you only visit a handful of new locales. The best way I can describe this experience is you travel the highways and byways of Erebonia that connect the locations you’ve already been to in the first game. Save for a few new dungeons and Rean’s hometown of Ymir players will be returning to 90% of the locations in Erebonia.
Trails of family & friends
Easily the best element of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is the world. Diving deep into the lore and expanding this already epic story was my favourite part. Bonding with the characters, building the relationships and learning all about their motivations was once again a highlight. You have to travel around Erebonia not only reuniting with your class but also rebuilding Thors Academy.
You do this by tracking down and recruiting the students of Thors scattered around Erebonia. This was surprisingly enjoyable and a major compliment to the team behind The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II because I remembered every student by name. They had been so memorable in the first game that I looked forward to meeting them once again in this adventure.
Add to this an expanded roster of playable characters, an initial 13 from the previous game to a whopping 25, you have your pick of the litter. And though the familiarity of the world means that nothing majorly new is introduced gameplay wise there is still a warm sense of family when you rejoin all your favourite characters. Every time I was reunited with a member from Class VII my heart grew three sizes (it turned into a health risk by the end).
On top of that the narrative of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is still strong. Though not having as many twists and turns as the previous game the moments of surprise feel far more impactful as they are rarer.
Trails of ultimately triumph
I had issues with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II. It felt like a retread of the familiar at times, even a DLC but it once again won me over with its cast of characters, the incredible world building and that element that all great RPG’s have, a sense of wonder.