Rean Schwarzer is just beginning his education at the prestigious Thors military school. It is renowned for its rather modern approach to teaching. As one of the few elite establishments, it allows people to study where they do not come from noble households. With the creation of the new class, the management went one step further. Students from the lower social classes have been mixed with those from well-known and high-class families.
This was the class to which Rean was assigned, and with him – Alisa Reinford (daughter of the president of an engineering company), Elliot Craig (son of a famous commander of the imperial army), Laura S. Arseid (daughter of a famous warrior and nobleman), Machias Regnitz (son of an imperial administrator), Jusis Albarea (heir to one of the four royal houses), Emma Millstein, Fie Claussell (former member of a jaeger group called Zephyr) and Gaius Worzel of the North Highlands. The beginnings were not simple, but the care and teaching skills of Sarah Valestein, their tutor and the goodwill of the members of Class VII themselves meant that, step by step, they began to grow closer to each other and to rely on each other.
Table of Content
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Audiovisual Design
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Translation
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Plot outline and characters
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Gameplay
- Summary and evaluation
At the beginning, I would like to point out that I always use original voices in foreign media. This is no different in this case either. Whenever I mention character voices and characters, I will be referring to the original Japanese voice. Not – the poor English dubbing. The first thing I did as soon as I fired up the game was to go into options and change something that should have been set by default.
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki known in the west as The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. This is also how I will refer to this game in the text. I am in favour of using the original titles, but decided to use the western title mainly for SEO reasons. The Kiseki universe is a highly complex one. Cold Steel is just one of many stories taking place in this world. I myself don’t quite grasp what is what yet. All I know is that the Cold Steel tetralogy is a good entry point.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Audiovisual Design
There is no need to beat around the bush here. The game was developed for the Sony Vita portable console. You can’t expect water features, although there is an add-on that significantly improves the texture quality. Animation and facial expressions are highly simplified and the environments are quite lacking. However, this does not mean that the game looks bad. Absolutely not. Despite the clearly visible limitations of the hardware for which the whole thing was originally developed, it looks good enough after all these years that it doesn’t put you off. At least not to me. Character design is great. The effects of attacks during combat are a joy to look at. Especially when you consider the hardware the game was written for.
It is difficult to write about optimisation here. The game should run without any problems even on a so-called potato PC (I played it on a PC myself). Therefore, there is no way it could have any problems running on my rather powerful hardware. Nor did I find any graphical errors. Apart from the obvious XSEED bugs, where the windows were not scaled appropriately to accommodate all the text. This was mainly due to the addition of a lot of unnecessary text that was not in the original. This is covered a little further in the section about translation.
As is usually the case, the icing on the cake of almost any Japanese production is the voice actors themselves. I expected to be similarly confronted with work done at the highest level. This is pretty much always the case. The first instalment of Trails of Cold Steel unfortunately has very little voiced dialogue. In fact, only the essential parts of the storyline have voice acting.
However, this was enough for the seiyuu to shine. My favourite heroine (Alisa Reinford) was voiced by a true legend – Horie Yui (one of my favourite voice actresses, by the way). Of course, the list does not end there – the cast is truly stellar. Emma Millstein is Hayami Saori (another of my favourite seiyuu). Misty is Tamura Yukari (and another). Towa Herschel is Ise Mariya (another veteran actress). Fie Claussell is Kanemoto Hisako (and another). Sharon Kruger is Yukana (and another). Millium Orion is Koiwai Kotori (and another). In fact, every name among the voice actors could be on someone’s list of favourite actors. I have only listed the ones most important to me. A phenomenal cast and the sheer work done by the people in question.
The audio part is also the soundtrack, which also plays an important role in shaping the atmosphere and emotions. I am pleased to say that Unisuga Takahiro and others has done a wonderful job. In many places, his arrangements reminded me a little of the superb work of one of my favourite composers, Abo Takeshi. Just listen to the sample tracks linked below. I found it difficult to choose just a few. I will certainly be returning to this soundtrack pretty often.
I could hardly ask for a better soundtrack. It contains powerful motifs during battles, and there are also calm and atmospheric tracks relating to current events. Many of them perfectly combine electronics ( synths, electric guitars) and acoustic instruments (violin, double bass, flutes).
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Translation
Like almost all Japanese games – Trails of Cold Steel suffers from Western overlocalisation syndrome. To avoid the impression that I’m just complaining – it’s fortunate that those were still the days when XSEED was still constrained by dialogue rewrites. Unfortunately, I could only find what had been changed during the voiceover scenes. As I mentioned earlier – there weren’t that many of these. I don’t have as much determination as, for example Mondblut1984. He pointed out a lot of dialogue from later instalments (translated by the losers at NISA – it was a disaster there, but that’s not the subject of this review) and compared it to the original Japanese text.
Of course, it was not without nonsensical insertions and the embellishment of writing new text instead just translating. After all, how can you not translate a simple statement like delicious to super extra bombastic.
Fortunately, there was no censorship, no changing of names and other rather (unfortunately) common foolishness. However, I would like to point out again – this only applies to the text, where the voices were recorded. I have no idea how many things were made up in this way, in the parts where only the text appeared. Personally, I had hardly considered playing this game fully in the original language. The incredible amount of text, unimaginable amounts of lore etc. would have rather overwhelmed me completely. This will be discussed later in the review. The obvious changes were easy to spot as they stood out in tone from the rest of the dialogue.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Plot outline and characters
The first part of Trails of Cold Steel is just an introduction to the whole story. We observe the plot from the perspective of the main character. He introduces us to the world of the game and comments on the events in the form of a diary. In fact, the entire summary of events available in one of the menu items is done in the form of a diary.
For most fans, it is the first part that is praised the most from the characterisation, world-building or the creation of relationships between the characters perspective. I still do not know what I will experience in the following parts. However, I absolutely do not intend to argue with this statement.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Setting and flow pattern of the plot
It was not accidental that the creators chose a school setting in the elite military outpost of Thors for the very beginning of this long story. From the very first hours in the game, it is clear that the script writers and the entire team working on the plot and the characters had a perfect plan to achieve their vision. In the classroom, where the differences in social strata have been eliminated, there was a fair amount of friction at the beginning. While Rean (the main character) remained rather neutral, others clashed with each other.
The facility directors and the class teacher wisely arranged an educational plan for the new, experimental class. In addition to the usual learning, at the school facility, the students also participated in field studies. However, these were not activities conducted in the facility surroundings by the teachers. The class was divided into two groups and sent every month for 2-3 days to different distant towns of the Erebonia nation.
It is on these trips that the integration between the individual students of Class VII progresses the most. The difficult situations they often find themselves in and having to even rely on others makes the characters open up to each other and get to know each other better. By the way, we – the players – also participate in this and it makes it much easier to get to know the characters. After a while, you feel like a fully-fledged member of Class VII.
Each field trip is a journey to a place familiar to one student. Most often it is his hometown, where he grew up. We meet his friends and family there. The assignments are given to us by local people, not teachers.
There is a lot of dialogue in the game. When you start playing Trails of Cold Steel, you should expect to spend most of your time in the game reading and listening to dialogue and a whole lot of other stuff. This brings me to the next subsection.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Lore
So far, I cannot get out of my awe at the importance the creators have placed on lore in the broadest sense. The way in which the world of Eiyuu Densetsu (not just Trails of Cold Steel) has been built up has left me astonished. We can learn new things at every step. It does not stop at the current geopolitical situation in the game. Far from it.
How is the lore presented
We can learn about the history of the kingdom and the game world from various books. We can also find a few stories in the form of single volumes of books. Some of them (in fact, most of them) we have to find ourselves or get them handed to us. Often by random characters. However, the whole is interesting enough that the search is not done out of obligation, but to satisfy curiosity. There is also no shortage of books to study in the school library. Knowledge from them is essential for passing exams. Examinations in which we – the players – take an active part, answering questions on history, militaria or general knowledge of the world.
It doesn’t stop there. Countless characters have their own separate entries in Rean’s diary. We can most often only gain entries about them by interacting with them. These interactions mainly occur outside the plot line. Often as a result of coincidence. We can read everything in the aforementioned diary. A plus for the developers here. The entire menu is very clear and pleasing to the eye.
Even food or fish has been given attention in the lore of Trails of Cold Steel. Most of the recipes we can get are derived from the traditions of a particular town or region. We get them from local people and often learn about their history. There was no lack of lengthy explanations of the places we go to. A lot of attention has also been paid to the internal politics of the game world.
I can’t get over how many things the developers put in, even though they didn’t have to. In fact, without many of the things mentioned above, Trails of Cold Steel would still be a game with great characters, a masterfully handled storyline and characterisation. Nevertheless, they wanted to expand the world even further and create a universe rarely seen on such a scale and scope. A lot of the dialogue is simply casual conversation between characters. Often long thoughts and analyses. This is what makes us grow strongly attached to the characters and literally soak in the game world.
Personally, I am not a fan of reading a huge amount of side texts that have no direct connection to the main storyline. In this case, I just couldn’t help myself. Everything I read enriched the overall story I was experiencing. I also gradually gained more and more respect for the creators. In many places, it is clear that the Nihon Falcom team, working on the games in this series, do so out of sheer passion for what they have managed to create over the decades.
Trails of Cold Steel – Characters
The characters we spend the most time with are members of our class. Most of the events are directly linked to them. This does not mean that other characters are lacking. Absolutely not. We can learn something about basically every character (as long as they are given a name in the game). I’ll only mention those from the closest circle that we get the chance to directly control during the game.
Son of Baron Teo Schwarzer and pupil of the famous Eight Leaves One Blade fencing school. Calm and composed. He is not afraid to make up his mind in difficult situations. Often plays a bonding role for the whole class.
Daughter of Irina Reinford, chairman of the Reinford Group, she uses the orbal bow in combat. Determined, confident, and straightforward. Despite the fact that she often denies it, she cares a great deal about her closest friends. She is not indifferent to the fate of other people either.
She comes from a small village in Erebonia, unknown to anyone, and uses an orbal staff in combat. A very empathetic person. She behaves in a calm, polite and courteous manner, which makes her very well-liked by the other students. She usually follows through on tasks given to her without much thought and rarely disregards them. Despite this, she is as pragmatic as she is secretive.
She was raised as a member of the Ironbloods for Imperial Intelligence Chancellor Giliath Osborne, and in combat uses an orbal Airgetlam puppet she calls Ga-chan. She’s also known as White Rabbit. A cheerful, energetic above-average intelligent teenager who is full of energy wherever she goes. A bit scatterbrained, but not unusual for her age.
Laura S. Arseid
Daughter of Earl of Legram Victor S. Arseid and a student of the Arseid fencing school. Known at school for her pride, dignity and composure. She is not easily provoked and tends to take everything at face value. Determined to do everything in her power to become stronger. She sees every new experience as an opportunity to learn more and become a better fencer.
Also known as Sylphid. She was raised by the former leader of the Zephyr jaeger corps, Rutger Claussell. In combat, she uses two types of guns-daggers. A quiet girl who shows little interest in most things. She doesn’t focus much on her studies and tends to flunk out. However, as she was raised as a Jaeger, Fie is more focused and takes the battlefield seriously.
Son of Lieutenant General Olaf Craig of the 4th Armoured Division, he uses an orbal cane in combat. Shy but capable of great courage in the face of extreme adversity. His gentle personality and appearance are a stark contrast to his bold father. He firmly believes in the power of music.
He belongs to a group of nomads from the Northern Highlands and uses a spear in combat. Gaius is a friendly and reasonable person, able to see the true nature of things without bias. His personality is devoid of any sense of discrimination, leading the members of Class VII to rely heavily on him. He often makes use of common sense in the group.
Son of Governor Carl Regnitz, he uses a shotgun in battle. A hard-working and exceptionally gifted student. He achieves above-average results by holding himself to rigorous standards and expects the same from his classmates.
Son of the head of one of the Four Great Families, the Duke of Albarea, student of the court school of sword fencing. He gives the impression of a poised and serious aristocrat. His haughtiness seems typical of the upper classes, but this is mainly due to the need to keep up appearances rather than ill will. Jusis shows a deep conviction of the proper role of the upper class and despises people who callously try to curry his favour.
An emigrant from the Jurai Special Economic Zone, he uses double-edged weapons in combat. Despite being a laid-back reveler who often skipped lessons, Crow proved to be a dependable person who cared deeply about his friends. At the end of his sophomore year, circumstances made him a member of Class VII.
Prior to her employment at Thors, she was a member of the A Rank Bracer Guild. In combat, she uses a sword and a handgun. As an instructor of Class VII, she is developing a unique educational programme that draws from both the expected military academy curriculum and her experiences. Also known as Eclair. A very laid back person, reluctant to do difficult work if she can avoid it. Sarah is a very caring and nurturing woman who is not afraid to give motivation and encouragement to her charges, but prefers the method of letting others cope, intervening only when necessary.
The only daughter of Heidel Rogner from the province of Nortia and a student at the Taito martial arts school. She does not miss any opportunity to flirt with the girls around her. Angelica is a friend of Class VII, always offering help when needed. A pure-blooded aristocrat by birth, Angelica is a noble in both character and position, but she is also quite stubborn and firm in expressing herself.
Petite president of the Thors student council. She loves her friends Angelica, Crow and George, who competed together with her in the tests of Class VII of this facility. A kind, cheerful yet hardworking girl. She takes her role as student council president seriously. Towa also shows an independent nature and has a habit of working on herself and taking on more responsibilities than the average person. Despite this, Towa is universally liked by students and teachers alike.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Gameplay
The time spent in the game is clearly divided into several parts. During our time at the school, we deal with matters directly related to the affairs of the institution. We are usually given several tasks to complete, not all of which are compulsory. Doing them, however, has its advantages. In addition to meeting new people, we also gain AP points. These are ranking points, for which we receive various valuable items when we achieve further places in the ranking. A summary always appears at the end of the chapter. Many tasks are also hidden. We can often discover them completely by accident by striking up conversations with people on the streets of the places we are in.
The story is led by a calendar, which is again reminiscent of a diary. Each day in the game is preceded by an animation clearly showing on which specific day the events take place. This is very helpful if you are familiar with other games from this universe, as some events take place in parallel.
During the days spent on campus, we often get days off. This means no more than an opportunity to deepen friendships with classmates. However, here there is an element that makes the choices a little more difficult. We only get a few points to spend time with someone. You have to think about who you want to get to know more closely. Especially as this also has a direct bearing on how the characters in question will behave on the battlefield (but more on that later).
In the last chapter there was even a school cultural festival. A very nice addition.
On top of this, we need to prepare for the examinations. In order to rank highly, we are not only required to know how to answer the questions correctly. We also need to ensure that Rean has read enough books. These are available in the library and from vendors in the local shops. In addition, we are given the opportunity to study together with classmates, but at the expense of friendship points.
Theoretical tests are not the only way to test skills. Once a month, there are also practical exams, where, under the supervision of Sara (the teacher), we fight in groups with other students or herself. We can receive extra AP points for winning a fight in the right way, which the she asks for.
After completing the practical exam, we usually get assignments to field studies. The class is divided into two groups. As players, we always follow the group in which Rean is placed. I will write more about the field studies themselves later in this review.
Investigation at abandoned school building
Every month, one of the main tasks is to investigate an abandoned school building where strange things are happening. Each month a new underground floor is unlocked in the ancient lift mechanism, where a formidable adversary awaits at the end. It soon becomes apparent that the mystery hiding there will be crucial to the further fate of Rean and the rest of Class VII.
At the beginning of each month, the class is divided into two groups and sent to different, sometimes very distant places. What they also have in common is that they are towns or villages related to one of the class members. Most often the areas in which they grew up. A lot of attention is paid to them on the field study spot. We learn about their backstory, their family relationships and their memories. This is also where most of their character development takes place.
Tasks are received from the locals. They mostly touch on local issues. This part also has another role – world-building. Each of the places we go to has a different relationship with the authorities and their surroundings. I personally enjoyed the most the trip to the Northern Highlands, where Gaius was from. There was something magical about those vast green meadows and the tasks given to Class VII.
During the various trips, quite a few threads relevant to the main plot were brought up. I was impressed by how well the whole game was tied together. At one point I really felt like one of the members of Class VII. The field studies were an excellent idea to show the game world, the political themes. They certainly also enriched the characterisation. It made it even easier to get to know the characters.
I will not cover the entire combat system here. It’s too broad and explained in the tutorials anyway. Trails of Cold Steel is one of those games that, after more than 50 hours of gameplay, still shows pop-ups explaining various mechanics. These are introduced gradually, so it absolutely does not make you feel overwhelmed by an overabundance of options. Battles with opponents are conducted in turn-based mode. We get five types of attacks at our use.
The first is simply the use of the weapon a character wields. It is based purely on the character’s stats. However, it performs a rather important function. It regenerates CP (Craft Points). Essential points during combat. Used to perform Crafts and S-Break attacks.
Crafts are individual skills acquired as a character gains higher levels. Each has its own special benefits, and some can be used instead of Arts, providing the same effects. Focused on physical damage, some also inflict effects related to status or one of the seven Sepith elements. Others may involve healing, but also provide other support to the user themselves and others. These include bonuses, stat boosts or unique ones, such as nullifying physical or magical damage altogether. These have a considerable advantage over Arts. They are performed instantly, with no time penalty.
S-Craft, short for Super Crafts, are very powerful special attacks that every character on the team performs. Each character has their own unique S-Craft. S-Crafts can also be activated in the opponent’s turn, in which case the S-Craft is called S-Break. Depending on the tactics adopted, they can intercept the enemy’s action to counterattack, while also collecting AT bonuses when any team member is in a difficult situation. CP points are required to trigger them.
This is the tech-magic system used in the game world. A team member can use many types of abilities, depending on the user’s orb skills and the number of quarts installed. The origin of this system is part of the lore of the Kiseki series, so I will not describe its background. Natural advantage of Orbal Arts is that we can use any skill we want, as long as we have the quartz in question installed in the character’s device. The downside is the time penalties. Every Orbal Art is postponed. The essence of good tactics is therefore to select attacks in such a way that they are executed at the right moment and are not blocked by the opponent. Quartzs are gained from chests scattered in dungeons, for completing tasks, but also as a reward for good results of completed tasks or exams.
The Combat Link system allows two characters to directly link up in combat. Once linked, each team member has the potential to gain additional attacks, special status effect boosts, healing and other facilities. These are activated when a normal attack successfully takes an opponent out of balance (break), for example, for exploiting an opponent’s weakness to a particular element.
All connections are directly correlated with the bonding level of the characters in question. The level of bonding increases by spending time together on days off, but also by having fights together.
I have only covered the very essence. There are many nuances. I have not touched on Sepith, I have not written about link attack types. I have not written about the entire elemental system and the statuses into which opponents (or the opponent us) can be introduced. That’s better to explore on your own and to create your own strategies.
The game’s difficulty level is well balanced. In places I slightly regretted not choosing the hard level. There are, on the other hand, a few fights that have a clearly highly inflated difficulty level. Without the right tactics, they caused me a bit of a problem even on Normal difficulty. The problems in question are more a matter of not being properly prepared and trying to ramp things up. This sort of thing works well with ordinary opponents. For fights against crucial enemies it is better to prepare well.
I was very positively surprised by the main antagonists. Why? Because even though they were presented quite clearly as the bad guys, I wasn’t sure until the very end whether they really were the bad guys (and I still have my doubts – a lot of the threads were probably developed in subsequent parts). Their motives for their actions were revealed gradually as the plot progressed.
Summary and evaluation
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki also called The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel showcases pretty much everything I can only expect from a decent JRPG. Amazing worldbuilding, phenomenal characterisation and characters you just want to hang out with. Plus a brilliant soundtrack, a turn-based combat system that gives you a lot of options and just a huge amount of fun experiencing the events with the characters. In addition, there is plenty of dialogue, which makes you get very close to the characters. It would be wrong not to mention the wonderful atmosphere that prevails throughout the hours spent with the title.
Trails of Cold Steel is a must-play entry for any fan of the genre. I would even dare to say that it is one of the essential titles to play. It gladdens my heart immeasurably to know that there are three more full titles of comparable length to play, also with the same characters. The next review will come once I’ve played the whole thing. It will be a summary of sorts, although I don’t yet know how soon that will be, as all the games in this universe are very long.