Rating : 9/10
There is something about playing a sequel that remains true to the original that feels so very satisfying, like coming home from a long trip away to a warm bath of nostalgia. Getting the balance right is a fine tightrope to walk though. Between tone shifts and gameplay changes, it’s quite common to find that game you enjoyed being given a follow up that doesn’t quite hit the same notes as before, Final Fantasy X-2, and Dino Crisis 2 springing to mind here. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II dances its way over that tightrope, offering an experience that’s not only familiar and true to its forebears, but with just enough changes to feel engaging.
Set a few weeks after the events of the first game, it would be hard to discuss the plot in any detail without obvious spoilers, as such we will proceed as vaguely as possible. Where the first game introduced you to the continent of Erebonia and the famed Thors Military Academy, the second seeks to put emphasis on character interaction and relationships. Set against the backdrop of civil war, events have left your former allies scattered and it’s your job to track them down, before attempting to quell the flames of conflict.
The combat in this series is turn-based, with a free-roam style arena rather than a traditional two sides facing the middle. Player controlled characters and enemies alike move around as battle progresses, forcing you to take into account the shape of certain attacks. Some attacks will strike more than one enemy, like a blast from a shotgun, but only if there are multiple foes grouped together. It’s up to the player to try and maximise the amount of monsters you can strike with your attacks, either by selecting the middlemost of the enemies or freely placing skills with the analogue stick/mouse.
If you have a save from the first Trails of Cold Steel, your level, DLC costumes, and interactions with party members and other NPCs carry over, recalling your standing with them and even offering a link boost whereas if you don’t, you start off on a neutral footing. Your friendship with your allies affecting not only dialogue options, but combat as well, the better your relationship the better your incombat link strikes will be. Making a return from the first game, link strikes are bonus attacks from allies, should you exploit an enemy weakness. This is powered up in the sequel with a new Overdrive mode, allowing you to use up to three turns instantly, though it leaves you at the mercy of the enemy taking their three turns next. This opens up a new level of strategy, where this all-or-nothing gambling can turn the tide of battle.
Another battle mode making a return is Mech mode, enabling you to take control of a giant robot knight in a manner similar to the White Knight Chronicles series. Where Trails of Cold Steel had a small handful of these battles, you can now expect them to be a lot more frequent; you can even use your mech in regular battle to replace your party members for a few turns. Fights against other giant robots are quite different, with you picking different body parts to attack and, depending on what stance the enemy is in, attempting to knock them down to gain an advantage, like a game of rock-paper-scissors.
Rather than having you wait until late in the game to give you a form of transport like most RPGs, Trails of Cold Steel II acknowledges that you’ve put the effort in before by giving you faster modes of transport very early on. It’s not just airships either, with other vehicles like motorcycles or horses it makes the world feel open from the start, rather than sealing off places you have previously explored, forcing you to discover the map all over again.
Trails of Cold Steel II is a marvelous addition to the series. It carries the tone of the original perfectly, continuing a saga that sees its third installment hit later this year, while at the same time delivering an exciting story all of its own. Though it offers a backstory catch up in the main menu, the best way to experience this second instalment is to play the first. The game makes no assumptions of you having played the original, however, teaching you all you need in tutorials and giving you plenty of explanations and past events nothing compares to seeing them first hand. If you’re new to the series and are unsure if it’s a worthy investment, the quality of these games cannot be stressed enough. An old-school JRPG feel with modern day looks and slicker mechanics that, judging by this second outing, will be consistently well written and a delight to play. A must have for any fan of the genre.
Trails of Cold Steel II is a marvelous addition to the series. It carries the tone of the original perfectly, continuing a saga that sees its third installment hit later this year, while at the same time delivering an exciting story all of its own.