Life simulators, real time strategy, visual novels, and card collecting games are a small sample of what can be found in the video game world. While some of these seemed destined to remain with a smaller fanbase (for whatever reason, fishing sims are unable to break through to the mainstream), others were among the most popular games of their generation.
There seemed to be a time when the JRPG genre was one of the most popular. From Final Fantasy to Chrono Trigger, it seemed like everyone loved the games. Realistically, it is a very popular genre, but it also caters to a relatively small player base. To put this in perspective, the much maligned Mass Effect: Andromeda disappointed with estimated sales figures of around two million copies. Atlus trumpeted how Persona 5 was the best selling game in the series. It sold around two million copies.
Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the Erbonian Empire. The country is on the verge of civil war and the class divide between commoners and nobles is volatile. The plot follows a group of students from Thors Military Academy. The students at the Academy are divided into five different regimens based on their class. Class VII is different since it is the only one that has people from the upper and lower classes. TCS has the look and feel of a typical JRPG, but offers much more.
The parallels to the Persona series can be drawn almost immediately. The game opens with a with an infectious tune that would it fit perfectly in the Atlus franchise. This is not just limited to the menu screen. The game is packed with fun music that will remain with those who play.
TSC is also filled with the slice of life game play that epitomizes Persona games. The player controls Rean Schwarzer, a student of Thors. Rean is seems to constantly have his hands full. HIs many tasks can be as simple as finding a classmate’s notebook to as difficult as a investigating a haunted schoolhouse. Along with the tasks, there are field studies the students go on and tests that need to be passed.
Working on your relationships with the rest of your classmates is one of the most important parts of TCS. By partnering up with them in battle, helping them with tasks, or just playing games your bond increases. This increase link leads to powerful double-team maneuvers they can execute on enemies. More importantly, it makes the grind of doing seemingly menial tasks meaningful.
The battle system is fun if ordinary. TCS is a turn based game that has the familiar components of attack, magic, and item use. The fights will be quickly mastered by long time JRPG players. Even a first timer will have no difficulty finding in this game. The Link system adds a layer of strategy while S-Breaks are ultimate attacks that can be used at any time. This is more that your stand turn based battle system.
The game’s greatest strength is its writing. There are some minor JRPG tropes, but the player is not immediately introduced to any amnesiacs characters. The cast are well written and strong individuals. Each member of Class VII stands out from each other. The story is fleshed out and deep. Along with impending war and the class divide, TCS also deals with political intrigue and self discovery. This is easily one of the deepest games of the year.
One thing about TCS that may turn some gamers off is its repetitive gameplay. While the characters and story are deep, there is not the same charm found in other life sims. It is hard for the player to not feel like they have to do things instead of actually wanting to do them. It is fun getting to know the other characters in the game; it just would have been better to learn about them in more varied ways.
Trails of Cold Steel is an engaging JRPG that fans of the genre will easily get into. The great characters and mature story are strong enough to attract those who do not usually care for these types of games. TCS is not interested in fan service or waifus and is a game every gamer should check out.