The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a third-person Japanese role-playing game available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4, while previously having released on PS3 and PS Vita with compatibility for PlayStation TV. The Legend of Heroes series began in 1989 as a spin-off of the Dragon Slayer series under the title Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes followed by a sequel in 1992 called Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II with both games releasing on such platforms as PS1, SEGA Mega Drive, SEGA Saturn, Super Famicom and more besides, although the second game has never received a release in English regions. The three subsequent games moved away from the Dragon Slayer moniker to what is known as the Gagharv trilogy that originally released respectively in 1994, 1996 and 1999 that all made it to PSP some years later. After the Gagharv trilogy came the Trails in the Sky trilogy that originally released in 2004, 2006 and 2007 receiving releases on PSP before later being enhanced for PS3 and Vita. Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure released in Japan during 2010 and 2011 respectively on PSP before receiving enhanced ports titled Trails from Zero: Evolution and Trails to Azure: Evolution on Vita in 2012 and 2014, but are yet to receive an English localisation as development of the Trails of Cold Steel was preferred to it, although there is a possibility that it may still one day be localised. The future of The Legend of Heroes series looks bright as all four parts of the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy have been released in Japan with the first two games released on PS3 and Vita with the third and fourth games having released on PS4, while the third part is confirmed for an English localisation to be released on PS4 in late 2019 after the second part also receives an enhanced port. Can the PS4 port of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel deliver significant enhancements?
The story revolves around the increasing tensions in recent years between the Noble Faction and the Reformist Faction that opposes the other side’s approach to the leadership of areas ruled by aristocracy that causes unrest in the Erebonian Empire. When an agreement cannot be met between the two opposing sides; it results in a time of conflict in which it is tradition for a new term to begin at Thors Military Academy situated near the Imperial City in a small town called Trista. New students are invited from a variety of backgrounds to participate in academic military training; leading to the introduction of Rean Schwarzer, alongside the other eight heroes who collectively form the new Class VII.
The chapter ranking system works by completing a variety of missions and tasks such as main, sub and hidden quests as well as acting appropriately and forming bonds with ally characters which are all activities that are rewarded by earning Academic Points (AP) with the amount of AP earned in a chapter determining the rank for that chapter amongst the 15 chapter rankings ranging from B7 to A0 with every rank increase resulting in the reward of a perk from the academy, while a further chapter rank is the S rank which is incredibly hard to achieve as it requires every single AP to be earned and nothing to be missed. Meanwhile, New Game+ allows the player to carry over statistics from your previously completed playthrough of the story.
There is a complete freedom of movement outside of battles, although that immediately switches to turn-based actions between ally characters and enemies as soon as a battle begins. However, you can pick and choose your battles as there are no random battles to suddenly force a battle onto you; resulting in the ability to be more controlled and calculated in your approach by sneaking past enemies to avoid battle if you want to progress onto the next area that much faster.
Assist attacks can be performed by having an ally character nearby and reacting to the assist attack prompt within the limited duration it flashes on screen for. Inflicting damage on enemies and even receiving damage will earn the respective character Craft Points (CP) that can be utilised to perform Super Crafts that are also referred to as S-Crafts, although each S-Craft has a specific range that it is best used within and a certain level required by a particular character before their S-Craft can be utilised.
Orbments are an important part of battle as they are mechanical devices which extract orbal energy from septium with the purpose of generating magic and a range of enhancements, while Battle Orbments that are also referred to as ARCUS are personal devices that are capable of harnessing orbal energy in a variety of ways, depending upon the Quartz set within the Battle Orbment. The multiple varieties of Quartz which can be utilised with Battle Orbments include the ability to enable specific arts such as Aqua Bleed which provides a member of the Class VII team to use the Aqua Bleed art and Fire Bolt allows the usage of the Fire Bolt art. Quartz can also increase statistics such as HP 1 adding 500 to the maximum HP and Evade 1 improving the chances of evading an incoming attack by 10%, alongside Quartz that possess multiple functions including Heal which recovers HP during exploration and providing the ability of using the Tear and Teara arts, although multiple functions are only provided by rarer Quartz. Master Quartz is stronger and more adaptable in comparison to regular types of Quartz which fits into the centre of the ARCUS Battle Orbments which even has the capabilities of levelling up and gaining new abilities by fighting battles as it is equipped.
XP can be earned for those ally characters who participate in a successful battle in which enemies are all defeated with XP awarded at the end of the battle. Earning XP and levelling up is incredibly important as ally characters will receive rewards such as new crafts. Another form of levelling up is the Link Experience that is connected to forging strong bonds with ally characters within the Class VII team that strengthens the Combat Link between Rean and those around him. However, there is further motivation for participating in such bonding events as they also help to tell a personal individual story of each ally character.
Character design for all ally characters creates a cast of characters with their own unique personalities and traits which make them likeable and feel relatable which certainly helps the progression of the story, while the enemy design also feels spot on as enemies look as menacing and threatening as players would naturally anticipate.
Environment design is quite varied as the Thors Military Academy grounds alone are vast with many buildings and outdoor areas to wonder around the campus exploring the unique surroundings of each area, although the potential exploration does not end there as there is the entire nearby town of Trista to also enjoy discovering, therefore providing a lot of square footage for your continued exploration.
For an incredibly large JRPG; The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel excels at being as accessible as possible as camp menus present every necessary detail of what has been learned in the game so far in such a way that players could return to the game after any length of duration away from the game and immediately know how to refresh their memory of fundamental gameplay mechanics, while dialogue boxes, descriptive boxes and even the dialogue itself can be skipped, but that is not advised as the dialogue is a joy to behold.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has a Limited Edition titled the Decisive Edition that is available from the Marvelous Games Store for the very reasonable price of £44.99. The Decisive Edition comprises of a retail release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS4, a 50 mira replica collector’s coin, a soundtrack album CD containing 21 full-length songs, a steelbook case with alternative artwork, a 52 page printed manual and a 10 page exclusive Alisa Reinford’s Cold Steel Crash Course comic. Elsewhere, all previously released downloadable content is bundled into the standard and limited edition releases as it is directly integrated into the gameplay, while cross-save allows The Legend of Heroes fans that have previously played The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS3 or Vita to import their save to immediately continue from where they had progressed to, alongside items and XP and levelling up statistics.
The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of pressing X to confirm, talk, inspect or to perform a field attack; pressing square to open the quick travel menu or pressing square during battle to display detailed information regarding the enemy; pressing triangle to open the camp menu or pressing triangle in conjunction with a direction during battle to select a character to immediately perform their S-Craft; pressing O to cancel; pressing R1 to dash; pressing L1 to switch leader; pressing L2 to engage turbo mode to increase the pace of gameplay; pressing up or down on the d-pad to zoom the positioning of the camera in or out respectively; pressing options to expand the minimap; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move and in conjunction with holding O to walk; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to rotate the camera; pressing R3 to reset the camera; and pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu. Tapping the touch pad displays the notebook, while vibration occurs when hitting an enemy with a weapon or using the character’s unique quartz skills and when defeating an enemy to reflect the impact of the weapon or art or when being hit by an enemy to similarly show the reduction in health of your character. There is no light bar implementation, although it could have produced various colours to represent your character’s health or the quartz utilised by your currently chosen character.
Graphically, the PS4 remaster of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel focuses mostly on improving character models, their weaponry and enemy models, although some environments have flat textures or pixelation, while other environments look amazing in their ornate details, lighting and design. Battle animations are incredible, especially during the S-Break sequences with a consistent frame-rate throughout exploration and combat no matter how chaotic battles become. Meanwhile, PS4 Pro support produces 4K resolution at 60 frames per second.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel’s presentation is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, options menus and gameplay menus including all of the camp menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, d-pad and face buttons, although there is no support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. Menu backgrounds consist of two characters sitting on a train as it moves past picturesque scenery.
An extreme amount of effort was invested into the English language localisation for the Vita version, while there was even further effort put into the English language localisation for the enhanced PC release that actually featured an additional 5,000 lines of English language dialogue with the PS4 version including all of the PC version’s English language localisation. Meanwhile, the original Japanese voice-overs are included for players that would prefer to hear how the characters sounded in their native dialect. There is exceptional voice-over talent in the English language localisation such as Sean Chiplock voicing Rean Schwarzer having previously voiced Kiyotaka Ishimaru in Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Edward Bosco who voices Machias Regnitz having previously voiced Chipp Zanuff in Guilty Gear Xrd: -SIGN-, Cassandra Lee Morris voicing Fei Claussell and Alfin Riese Arnor having previously voiced Calilica in Ys: Memories of Celceta, Marisha Ray voicing Laura S Arseid having previously voiced Margaret, Mela Lee who voices Sharon Kluger having previously voiced Rachel Alugard in the BlazBlue series and many more talented voice-over artists throughout the entire cast. Sound effects include text being written into dialogue and descriptive boxes, walking, running, doors opening, performing moves and utilising special abilities to attack enemies and more besides, while the music consists of climactic and battle driven themes. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation that could have produced voice-overs, sound effects or music.
The trophy list includes 51 trophies with 38 bronze trophies, 10 silver trophies, 2 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies are story related in the earlier part of the game such as the Freshman Orientation bronze trophy for arriving in Trista for the first day of school and The Way to Thors bronze trophy for completing the prologue that includes an easier enemy boss, although later story related trophies have harder enemy bosses, so it is perhaps best to play the first playthrough on easy difficulty to increase the possibility of earning all of the story related trophies. Harder trophies include the Chest Grabber silver trophy for opening every treasure chest in a single playthrough that is not as easy as it sounds given players cannot return to earlier areas after the story has progressed; the Making the Grade bronze trophy for earning an S rank on any chapter with the requirements of completing every main, sub and hidden quest including extra conditions and correct answers as if even 1 AP is missed then you will receive an A rank instead of an S rank; and Crown of Nightmares silver trophy for completing the game on nightmare difficulty. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take over 100 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are four difficulty levels including easy, normal, hard and nightmare with the major differences being the gradual reduction of damage inflicted by allies on their enemies and an increase to the amount of damage received by allies from enemy attacks, alongside an increase in the efficiency of enemy attacks and an increased quantity of HP that naturally makes it harder to overcome specific enemies, especially enemy bosses.
There are no local or online co-operative or competitive multiplayer and no online leaderboards, although there could have been local co-operative multiplayer for up to 4 players, while local competitive multiplayer could have focused on one or two players playing as the characters from the Class VII team and another player or two playing as the enemies that would have fitted the turn based gameplay rather easily. Meanwhile, online multiplayer could have taken the same approach as local co-operative and competitive multiplayer, alongside online leaderboards that could have ranked players accordingly based upon how quickly each player has completed every combined battle and the lowest amount of combat moves used in each battle.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel’s replayability stems from a large amount of main, sub and hidden quests with a range of mission objectives taking place within huge environments that can be entirely explored, a chapter rankings system that rewards exploration and completion of everything, combat with a wide range of varying abilities and equipment, XP and levelling up, four difficulty levels to tailor the difficulty to your skill and a superb story that collectively is capable of having players returning for over 100 hours of gameplay, alongside New Game+ providing the capability of bringing statistics from the first playthrough into the second playthrough.
• Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
• Developer: Nihon Falcom
• Publisher: PQube (Europe)/Marvelous
• System: PS4
• Format: PS4 Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
• Cross-Buy: No
• Cross-Play: Yes (Cross-save to continue from PS3 or Vita save)
• Players: 1
• Hard Drive Space Required: 4.95GB