by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
My opinion on The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II has changed enormously since the first playthrough session, and that’s without a doubt from negative to positive. Things started off pretty frustrating, because I did not play the first game, and going in with previous knowledge likely would have helped. The story background would have been nice too, but thankfully, the game is very much like Shonen anime – the characters’ power grows in spikes, and there are plenty of flashbacks to previous content to remind you or introduce you to characters and experiences. That was handy for me since I have not played the first, but it is now certainly on my radar. It also would have introduced me to the combat and skill system, though there is a new mechanic to add a bit more depth and fun to the combat system.
Trails of Cold Steel II is a direct sequel to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I, and takes place about a month after the first game. Unlike its predecessor, it does not focus on the school setting, but it is interesting to note that if you have a save file from the first game, events and dialogue can change depending on relationships from the previous games. The game takes place in two Acts (Two Acts, an Intermission, and a Finale really), where you control the main character and anime superhero, Rean Schwarzer, and begin in immediate dire straights. This game does not wait around to get the action going, and before long I found my favorite part of the game – Valimar, the Ashen Knight. I love giant robot fights, and this game has plenty of them for me.
Much of the early game is meeting up with the huge cast of characters and traveling the world fighting people. I’ll spare story details because it gets pretty wild pretty fast. It feels as though it was written by a manga/anime creator, because it has a nice steady wave of stronger generals, intense rivalries, potential love interests, and all of the tropes you expect in anime characters. Fan of cool marksman guys in glasses? No problem. Emotionally detached lolis? Got you there too. Older sister types or military commanders? The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II checks all the boxes you could be looking for. I think it’s only missing anthropomorphic characters. The new player experience was mostly a positive one, despite me being incredibly frustrated. It taught most of the things I needed to know, but a bit more in-depth for the Quartz system might have been nice.
Your Magic/Skill system in Trails of Cold Steel II involves materia-like objects called Quartz (the Orbment System). You gain a variety of elemental shards as you open chests and win fights, which are in turn used to create Quartz. They are either passive stat buffs, modifiers (add poison/etc to abilities), or active abilities of a variety of elements. Where my frustration began was not knowing just how powerful buffs are. A long-time friend of mine pointed out to me when I was starting to grow angry was just how important buffs are. Any important fight should probably be started with a host of attack and defense buffs to increase your damage and survivability. They’re overwhelmingly useful, and if you aren’t aware, you might find yourself in the same boat as me. Otherwise, the introduction is reasonable and helps newcomers understand most of the game.
It’s also important to know what enemies are weak to and to understand that combat occasionally has useful buffs that crop up at seemingly random. So dropping buffs is key, and so is a system I learned about called “Stacking”. As you collect and craft Quartz, you’ll see Attack/Defense/etc passive buff Quartz. You can stack different levels of these in your equipped Quartz (Attack 1, 2 and 3 for example), and get tons of bonus stats. So figure out what your characters main stat is, and stack these wherever you can in your Quartz menu.
There are lots of ways to build these characters, equipping whatever skills/builds you want, making them whatever you want. There’s a ton of customization in this. You can make Rean into a support/tank instead of the infinite damage monster that I’m pushing him towards. I have a feeling this is another strategy that is made clear from having played the first game. As for other customization, this edition of the game comes with a treasure trove of useful items from cosmetics for the main cast to items that will help you get started. I used them and have no regrets there. It looks like it just comes with all the DLC packs that might have been on previous editions of the game.
So let’s talk about combat! It’s a huge part of the game, and you spend about the same amount of time spent building relationships with your friends than you do with them in mortal combat. On the left side of the screen, you have a turn order list, much like in Final Fantasy X. This can change at a moment’s notice, since virtually every ability in the game has some measure of delay on it. Attacking and using Skills can go quickly or very slowly, depending on the circumstances. You also have Crafts (Unique skills), Items, and you can move around on the map. If the enemy has a lot of big AOE attacks, it might behoove well of you to get spread out to avoid everyone being hit. The various melee attacks also come in four flavors: Slash, Thrust, Pierce, and Strike. Each character has a different proficiency in these, and hitting certain enemies with the right type of attack can Unbalance them – when this occurs, you get a special menu where you get to use team-up attacks with your allies.
This only works if you have characters Linked (used by the L1 button), and the higher their bond, the more awesome skills can be done here. It starts off fairly weak, but this will grow in strength as you go through the game. Arts (Skills) are used with EP points, but Crafts use a separate gauge, CP. There are regular Crafts that cost a set amount of CP, and then there are S-Crafts, which are your huge, world-breaking ultrapowers. These require a minimum of 100 CP, deal tons of damage, and hit nice wide areas. The best part of these? They can be activated when it’s not even that character’s turn! I’ve popped them as soon as an enemy finished an attack and then used that character again to act normally. S-Crafts are incredibly useful, especially when Rean gets his (major spoiler) power spike.
If it sounds a little complicated, it can be! It took me a little bit to really sink my teeth into this system. There’s also a new system called “Onslaught/Overdrive”, which is a meter that builds up. When it’s full, you can activate it for two characters that are linked. They gain back 30% of their HP/EP/CP, and their Spells/Arts do not have a delay on them. They also gain three extra turns! When you begin dealing with Robot combat, that’s also a different animal. You start off with just you and Valimar, but eventually, you can have allies aid you, each character having specific EX Arts Valimar can use. In the Valimar battles, you want to figure out the weak/Unbalance points for the bosses, and depending on their stance, this can change. Unbalancing them will let you get extra attacks (including huge Finishing Attacks).
There are plenty of Points-of-No-Return in Trails of Cold Steel II as well. You’ll be warned every time though, so if you haven’t done all of your Relationship Building, completed side-quests, or item purchasing, make sure to be aware that you’ll be locked out after. There are lots of Missions/Side-Quests to complete that give new gear, money, and other useful things; completing these is also part of your Grade. As you complete portions of the game, you’ll be ranked/graded much like you are in school, and hitting certain AP milestones will grant rank increases. These will give new Quartz and other handy items, so take the time to explore (or use an FAQ, I don’t judge) to maximize the use of this system.
The side quests are usually visible with a green exclamation mark, but there are also hidden side-quests. I also appreciate that you can teleport around some of these towns because damn, they’re huge (some are, anyway). While combat is turn-based, the rest of the world is open, and you can clearly see friends and foes on the map. The areas you explore thankfully are not packed with enemies, and you can avoid/out-run many of them. This is not a game you have to grind in (until likely the last dungeon), so you don’t have to stay on a map for hours unless you’re grinding money. Since I didn’t do much cooking in the game, I wound up selling a lot of the crafting materials the game gave me in the Gifts tab to buy gear/healing reagents as I needed them. This is also a game that does a lot (and I mean a lot) of relationship and world building. Get ready for absolute tons of dialogue. If you’re into that sort of thing, that’s no big deal. The visuals are solid, the music is great, but it doesn’t feel like it receives a lot of upscaling from the previous iterations of the game. There were several moments where I was locked/trapped against furniture until I could fidget my way through, and the geometry of the world is not always kind. This is a game that’s at least two years old though. It’s not an HD remaster that I’m aware of, and felt more like a port (albeit a very good one).
More Like “Trails of Warm Feels II”: 4/5 (Great)
I started off hating this game because of how difficult it was, but once I figured things out, it got a lot better. That’s not to say it got easy – there are far too many enemies that can buff their damage, heal absurd amounts of health back, and usually both. Thankfully you can retry fights infinitely, or weaken them slightly and retry if that’s what you want. There are a fair amount of “unwinnable” fights, though you will reach a point where Rean can trivialize a lot of battles. The beginning of the game could be frustrating for the uninitiated, but I imagine a lot of people will play the first one before this – and I cannot stress enough how important that is. If I had the time, I would have played part 1 first, and I probably will come back to play this again after I have. This world is absolutely massive and it builds heavily upon the previous game.
Many of the boss fights in the first half of the game really aggravated me when I’d watch them just build all of their health back in a few turns, but that was more because I didn’t know what I was doing. One of the things I love about this game (that I didn’t at first) was the characters start at the minimum level 40, and I was receiving characters later that hit the party in the level 70 range. So not only is it a true, honest sequel, but it doesn’t have the characters starting at level 1 again for some asinine reason. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 has a very deep storytelling experience, and virtually every character has depth to them. Something that really stuck out to me is in the Intermission Act when [Spoiler] happens, you learn a great deal about the antagonists, and why they’re working together. There are shades of grey, instead of black and white characters (Good vs. Evil). They aren’t just flat evil characters, and that’s important to me. It may feel very much like anime, but it’s quality anime.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 Screenshots