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 developed by Nihon Falcom, a pioneering company of the JRPG genre. I say pioneering because Falcom is linked in one way or another to almost every defining element of the genre. This is surprising to me, the JRPG fanatic, as I've never played any Falcom games before this!

Truly, what a sham I am! Worry not as I will do my utmost best to explore what Falcom has to offer and to start things off, here is my game commentary on the first game in the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy.

I’ve actually wanted to play Trails since its inception on the PS3 back in 2013 but I was in no position to play it at that point in my life. After years of waiting though, Trails has finally made its way to the PC with 5000 additional voiced English lines (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 and remasters, especially so for games with turn-based battle systems.

Upon appearing in the Steam store, I preordered it immediately and plowed through it with no regards for my wellbeing or social life when it released. I went through a catharsis from all the pent-up anticipation I had over the last few years and it was certainly a game worth the wait. It’s definitely no Persona but depending on how Falcom executes the rest of the series, it has the potential to be one of the best video game epics out there.

Trails basically contains two sections of gameplay: the 'high school' portion and the '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 just 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.

I think it's also worthwhile saying that even the background characters get personal entries within the glossary and actually have their own subplots playing amidst the main story. 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.

The battle system for the game is pretty damn fun. It's a turn-based battle system but with a field matrix quite like the Neptunia series. However, just moving your character takes up a turn so it really is a blend of positioning (as you have different ranges and AOEs to work with) and timing (you can play your cards right to get your turns faster). Do you want Fie to start with a stun so you can prime Emma for a full-field magical wipeout the next turn? Or do you just want to combo Rean and Laura to completely obliterate stronger enemies with pure physical damage?

To complement the combat, a progression system known as the Orbment system exists. Each character carries a device which contains a finite number of slots which you can then fill up with unique gems to augment stats or grant new abilities a la older Final Fantasy titles. 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 as most others nowadays but it has flavour reminiscent of more classic JRPG titles. What it does, it does very well. If you have to know, Atrocious Raid is my personal favourite.

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.


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