Game Commentary: Trails of Cold Steel

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (which I will abbreviate to just Trails) is a video game series made by Nihon Falcom, the pioneering company of JRPGs that seems to be stuck in time. I’m not trying to insult them, I actually love Trails as you’ll soon come to know but Falcom works like the team behind Tales. They make enough money to up the budget for the next project but they don’t do it. The games may play slightly better but the graphics just drags it down from reaching higher. PLEASE. I know fans are still going to come back regardless but at least try to learn from other companies like Square Enix.

(Though, great job for porting aging or otherwise inaccessible games to the PC!)

Anyways, Trails! I’ve had the pleasure of playing and binging the first game in the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy. I’ve actually known about Trails for a long time now; maybe since its release on the PS3 but I was in no position to play it. I always wanted to jump into it but fate hates me. After years of waiting though, Trails finally made its way to the PC with 5000 additional voiced English lines (apparently, the original had some glaring problems with the lack of voice acting and polish) alongside a Turbo function (to accelerate the game by whatever speed you set) which I think is a MUST for ports or remasters. Especially so for games with turn-based battle systems.

Anywho, I preordered it immediately and while I did not start it on release, I plowed through it with no regards for my wellbeing or social life once I did. It was like releasing all the pent-up anticipation for the last 2 years and it was certainly a game worth my time. It’s definitely no Persona but depending on how Falcom executes the rest of the quadrilogy, I think it can most definitely be one of the best video game epics out there.

Trails basically contains two sections of gameplay: the high school portion of the game and the ‘JRPG adventure’ portion. I won’t mention any spoilers aside from the fact that it may sound like Persona but it really doesn’t flow as well. That’s not to say it’s bad. The entire game feels more like a set-up for the next few parts rather than a game of its own. To set up politics, culture, religion, character, world and whatever else you can imagine takes a lot of time and a LOT of exposition. Sure, that shouldn’t detract from a solid plot of a single game but because of the game’s narrative approach, the only true plot is the one that’s going to take more than one game to tell.

I, for one, don't really mind just simple exposition. I'm not going to complain if I don't have a threat to save people from just yet. Simply travelling to the countryside while my classmates explain the lay of the land is a comforting and interesting change of pace. They could have executed it better but I'm quite friendly with information dumps as long as it doesn't feature complicated jargon and heavy handed plot devices.

The battle system for the game is quite fun too. It's a turn-based battle system but with a field matrix quite like Neptunia. Moving however, takes up a turn. So it really is a blend of positioning (as you have different ranges and AOEs to work with) and strategy (you can play your cards right to get your turns faster). This system is further augmented by the game's own progression system known as the Orbment system. Each character carries an ARGUS which contains a finite number of slots which you can place quartz to further augment stats or grant new abilities. It's a rather involving system that I can't quite break down in this post. I admit though, I've spent hours just tinkering with it.

While the graphics of the game may show more than a few holes, the music plugs some of that right up. The game's soundtrack isn't as vast and epic as most games nowadays and certainly shows patterns reminiscent of more classic JRPG titles but what it does, it does very well. Kudos to them for nailing the menu track!

The game also features numerous things that I believe is a trademark of the company. I've only ever played another Falcom demo called Tokyo Xanadu eX+ but I can see some similarities. Falcom loves their menus and info dumps on even side characters! Side characters get personal entries within the glossary and actually have their own subplots playing in the background. You can either get involved with it by constantly talking to them at different points in the story or completely ignore them and live in your own small bubble. It's quite a fun and interesting feat that's not even accomplished by the likes of Square Enix or Atlus.

All in all, I think Trails of Cold Steel is a fantastic game. I've been anticipating it for a long time and I can definitely say I'm looking forward to the sequels.

P.S. I apologise for the stock photos. Because of the nature of the game, I believe even Google imaging the game can slam me with a ton of spoilers (of which I have seen a few unfortunately).


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