In the long history of needlessly long JRPG titles The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 manages to stand out. Thankfully, it is also a great game that could get away with being given any name. Bringing back many of the same great characters introduced in the first game, Cold Steel 2 furthers its engaging story. This is a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” making it easy for players to jump right back into the world of Erebonia.
Cold Steel 2 is the rare game the requires you to play the first game to fully enjoy it. There is an option in the menu to read character bios and to to learn about what previously transpired, a nice addition that fills new players in on the where the story has been and where it is going. But it also lacks any charm. This is not the game’s fault. Reading log entries does not give the player the same opportunity to get to know the charming cast. It is pretty much a necessity to play the first game.
***Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a direct continuation. I will try to avoid spoilers but there may be minor ones.***
The first Cold Steel introduced players to students of Class VII. Much like the Persona franchise, the game is part school sim part dungeon crawler. In between exploring Erebonia, there are tests to pass, friendships to be made, and chores to do. It sounds mundane and pointless, but the engaging cast and story make the whole thing worthwhile.
Right off the bat, players will see the importance of having played the first game. The sequel takes place literally where the previous game ended. The synopsis in the menu will get people up to speed, but seeing an unconscious Rean start the game will take those who played the first entry back while also immediately drawing them right in.
Those who have played the first game will also feel very comfortable, as the battle system is almost identical. The S-Break, Link System, and Bravery Points are all still here. Still, Cold Steel 2 changes thing up just enough to prevent things from being boring. The new Overdrive feature makes it possible to get multiple attacks in. Best of all, it does not mean instant victory. It is just a way to turn the tide of battle. Strategy is an even bigger part of the game.
Exploration takes a much bigger role in Cold Steel 2. The first game saw the students take a field trip before ending up back at the school, rinse and repeat. Thanks to the the characters and great story, this loop never became boring, but it was certainly repetitive. The sequel is the same linear affair the first one was, but it offers a little more freedom. There is more to see and since it is not necessary to return to Thors Military Academy after every adventure, there is also a sense of newness.
As was the case in the first game, the story takes center stage. The first game set up the story and the cast. Cold Steel 2 moves right into the heart of the action. Even though it is more action oriented, the tale is as rich and deep as the first one. There are some twists that will unbalance players, but nothing seems out of place. There is more of an anime feel here (the increased use of mechs, for example) but there is nothing that will ruin anyone’s enjoyment.
Going in cold is highly discouraged, but those who do will still like the game. Obviously, the nuances will be completely missed and the reason everything is happening will have to be picked up along the way. This is not a self contained story, but the writing and characters are interesting enough to keep new players intrigued. The battle system will be familiar to anyone who has played a JRPG while the strategic elements add another layer. There is fun to be had here for new and returning players.
Most JRPGs tend to focus more on story than graphics and Cold Steel 2 is no different. The character designs are great but the enemies start to blend together. The main cast also has an odd tendency to have heaving upper bodies. At first, I thought it was fan service, but I noticed it was the same for male and female characters. The game is two years old, but the character models look very outdated at times.
Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a worthy successor to the excellent first entry. In many ways, it is even better. The charming cast returns while the engaging story continues, giving players depth and closure. The more action oriented and less repetitive gameplay are a welcome change and the battle system has been tweaked just enough. While Final Fantasy keeps milking the remake market, The Legend of Heroes continues to improve.