As the gaming industry continues to expand, niche titles from around the world are getting more and more exposure. With social media and the internet in full swing, it comes to no surprise that demand for imports and localisations is always on the increase. It is for this reason that companies such as NIS America, XSEED and IFI, among others, get involved quite heavily with Japanese companies, to name a major player, and project their game towards a much more numerous audience, typically North America and Europe, or as known among gaming enthusiasts, “bring the game west.”
One of such titles being brought westwards is Trails of Cold Steel, a japanese role playing game, just like countless other important titles. Trails of Cold Steel is not a new IP in itself but is a part of the Legend of Heroes series, which was never published outside of Japan. With Trails of Cold Steel though, the series makes its debut in Europe and North America officially, and what a good debut it is.
Trails of Cold Steel follows the adventures of what is known as Class 7, a group of students at a school known as Thors Military Academy. Class 7 is not only central to the game because of it hosting the main characters but also because of the differences of said characters. This is because Class 7 is the only class in the whole academy which does not separate noble from civilian, meaning students from whichever background could be joining forces together. This also gets the player to almost want the characters to like each other and put their backgrounds behind them to be able to collaborate together towards the common goal, which is defeat the Archaics, a robotic army which is sending out soldiers to attack the academy. The story thus places a conflict within another conflict, that of the different social status of the students within Class 7 and also the bigger battle between the Erebonian empire and the Archaics.
The gameplay cycle is quite easy to understand and get into, but also offers complexities which will make any JRPG fan proud to have chosen this title. The first half of the day is composed of a school simulation, similar to Persona titles, while the second half of the day you are free to roam around Erebonia, which is the land hosting Thors and the whole game, build friendships, undertake quests and so on, in parts called field training. It is important to state that, unlike the vast majority of games which contain dialogue and interactions just for the sake of it, in Trails of Cold Steel the interactions actually signify something, as when in battle special link attacks begin to form. The stronger the bond between two characters, the better the link attack will be, so spending time and investing in relationships actually pays off in the end.
As for combat, which takes up a big chunk of the gameplay sections of the game, it follows very standard JRPG formulas of party versus enemies in turn based fights. Characters can use a variety of options such as moving, normal attacks, arts, which are magic attacks, and crafts, which are special attacks. The link attacks, as described above, also make part of the arsenal of each character, and may come in extremely useful when magic attacks are not possible, or also to subtract a big chunk of health points from a boss or a tough opponent. Fights are also fast paced and do not exhaust players in waiting for enemies to make a move, so it does not subtract attention from the battle.
As for presentation, the game looks very good on the small screen of the Vita, even though its colours do show how this is a port and not a fully developed game on the handheld. I am not saying here that the game looks bad since it is quite pleasant to look at. The menus are “clean”, without too much in the way of extras which often times tend to be more distracting, so points to that. Music is a generic selection for the title, meaning while nothing special it still does its own to hold the game.
Trails of Cold Steel is a very solid JRPG, one which could also be the first of many for adopters. The combination of story-heavy gameplay and actual meaning in the actions you take in the game is quite rare to see in games, but one which we have come to see more of lately, culminating in this game’s execution which is impressive. It is definitely a game to check out if you have been a fan of previous games in the series, but also a good game to begin with since it does not depend on the other games’ stories to build its own.