The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PS4) Review

Ever since I played, loved, and reviewed Tokyo Xanadu eX+ back in 2017, I’ve received numerous suggestions to play The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and its sequel. However, as I knew an enhanced PS4 version was on its way, I thought I would wait and play that version as I was highly impressed with the remastering and additional gameplay elements Nihon Falcom had implemented within the Tokyo Xanadu eX+ ‘port’. So, 135 hours after I started playing the first game in the series, and two playthroughs later, I think it’s time to discuss my thoughts on this amazing game.

For those who aren’t aware, Not only can you purchase The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, but the sequel also came out a few weeks ago. I’ve just started that game so it may be a few weeks until I’ve managed to complete it in order to produce a review. However, it’ll be up before I get my hands on the third game which is due to release in September this year!

There’s never been a better time to jump in and experience one of the best JRPG games currently available on the PlayStation 4.

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 1

Our nine protagonists!

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is its own self-contained story, yet it’s not an entire tale. The ending leads onto the next game, which I presume also happens in both the second and third games as a fourth is also out in Japan already. However, don’t be put off by the story not being technically ‘complete’, just think of Shenmue and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake – they are complete adventures with many hours of content, but be aware that a number of things may not get wrapped up within the same game.

Anyway, the story is very familiar yet different – if that makes sense? The game follows the adventures of Rean Schwarzer, a student from ‘Class VII’ which is a newly formed group of students at Thors Military Academy. Whereas the traditional way of segregating the students into their classes was via their status, family name, skills, or political reasons, Class VII is comprised of a range of students from the upper-class of society to common humble citizens. However, the choice of participants is by no means random as each and every person was hand-picked for a specific reason which will become clear over the course of the series. 

Outside of the school, there is an ongoing struggle of power between two major factions, the Nobles and the Reformists. Caught in a supposed stalemate, the two continue to see each other as threats and ‘outsiders’ yet decide to carry on with their lives without having to resort to violence and war, if possible. Their children are sent to Thors Military Academy to study and work out who they are, but that doesn’t mean the conflict stops within the walls of the facility – as shown by the obvious segregation via the ‘class’ system. 

So, just like games we’ve seen before, you’ll be living out your days as a student of the Academy whilst helping out the students, facility staff, and civilians during the many field trips you embark upon. Each new place you venture to presents you with new challenges and obstacles to overcome as you take out monsters, find resources, trial new experimental tech, and delve deeper into the depths of the old school house. The story unfolds with every passing day as the tension between the factions grows stronger, revealing the hidden motives of a number of people; the students of Class VII will need to bond together in order to survive.

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The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2

I guess the ‘bonding’ events are more hands-on this time around…

Gameplay
When I heard everyone telling me to try out The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, due to my love of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (I’ve now platinumed both the Vita and PS4 versions of that game), I thought it was purely going to be a visual similarity as it’s the same developer. Nope. Just like Ys VIII, not only do the games look and feel the same, they are essentially the same game with a new story and textures on top! Okay, that’s being a little unfair as there’s so much more than that, but if you love either Ys VIII or Tokyo Xanadu eX+, you’ll feel right at home whilst playing The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel.

The major difference here is the combat. Instead of live-action real-time combat, as we saw in the games above, the Trials series implements an ATB (Active Time Battle) system, similar to games like older Final Fantasy titles. It also introduces the ability to not only take into battle a selection of students, but you can also take in a few ‘backups’ as well, which can be swapped in and out when needed (as long as your party isn’t dead), a bit like Pokemon! I’ll be honest, coming from real-time battles, I found adapting to the new style of combat a little jarring at first, but after a few fights, I was wiping the floor with the enemies faces!

Other key aspects of the gameplay from Ys VIII and Tokyo Xanadu eX+, such as missions, talking to and befriending everyone, cooking food, and customising your characters with upgradable abilities and powers, are also all present and used seamlessly within this new adventure we embark upon. You can even spend quality time with the characters of your choice in ‘free time’, as we saw in Persona 5 and Tokyo Xanadu eX+, in order to boost your relationships. The catch here is that you can’t do everything in one playthrough – you unlock the ability to ‘buy’ more bonding points upon completion for your second run in New Game+.

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Although I love how deep and detailed the game can get – almost every single aspect of the gameplay mechanics comes with their own trophies and grind. I’ll talk about this later but there are some things I really wish Nihon Falcom would stop torturing us with!

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 3

ATB combat mechanics.

Combat
Combat played a major part within The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. If you’re not out talking to people to build up your friendship blog, looking for a lost cat, tracking down a kid who is distributing ‘indecent’ pictures, or cooking hundreds of recipes, you’ll be engaged in combat; either out in the enclosed open-worlds or within the many dungeon-like locations. For the most part, the combat is quite generic – when the ATB says it’s your turn, you pick if the character will attack, use a skill or an Art, then watch as they perform the action followed by the next person in the timeline (you control all the students). 

However, the game comes into its own when you start to look at the Arts, Skills and the additional attacks you can perform. By altering the gemstones which are assigned to a character (just like we saw in Tokyo Xanadu eX+, you can fully customise and create your perfect loadout with both active and passive abilities to use in and out of battles. Some such abilities for outside of battles are allowing the map to show the treasure chests, or making enemies run away from you so you can take them from behind!

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There’s also the Link mechanic – which is where two students work together to take down the creatures whilst increasing their bond with one another. As your bond increases, new automatic passive abilities will become available, such as having your linked partner automatically heal you if you’re low on health, or even provide a killing blow to the enemy if you’ve taken off almost all its energy on your turn. The bonds you create also go towards unlocking the numerous endings within the game, yet another staple mechanic which the developers love to implement.

Every character is different, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own unique weapons and abilities. So, having the ability to swap out your current character for either of the ‘backups’ you brought along with you isn’t only a fun and interesting mechanic, it’s essential as you bring in the best person for the job in order to strategise. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is actually a very deep game, especially when you crank up the difficulty to the highest one upon completing the game for the first time, as the enemies are ruthless and will stop at nothing until you’ve perished to their hand/claw/tentacle/teeth.

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The Legend of Heroes: Ocarina of Time…

The world
One of the things I love about Nihon Falcom are the worlds they create. We saw a modern Japanese town setting within Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (bar the alien-like dungeons which popped up via random portals) and lush colourful forests and beaches within Ys VIII (populated by hideous beasts and strange creatures). The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is almost like a mixture of the two. Not only will you be within the Academy, but you’ll also visit massive cities, smaller towns, and even a settlement based within a few tents. These habitable places are often surrounded by linear/small open-worlds comprised of colourful vistas, demonic creatures, and hidden treasures. 

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Each location has it’s own personality and visual style, with no two locations looking the same. You even get to ride a horse, like Epona, within one location and move around the city via the help of a tram! My one complaint with this game though is its missable nature with almost everything. If you forget to do something before you move onto the next day (as it has a day system like Persona 5 and Tokyo Xanadu eX+), then you can’t go back and get it now. If you leave an area, chances are you’ll never come back. If you didn’t open a treasure chest, you’ll probably never get another chance unless you play the game again…

The only other thing which I didn’t like, and it’s probably because it was originally a PS3/Vita game, is the lack of ‘life’ within the game. Sure, as you move from day to day, people move around and are located in different places. That’s great. But you never see people randomly walking around or going about their own lives. As such, each day feels like an animatronic set-up or The Truman Show. Everyone is in their own set position and won’t move unless you initiate a quest which forces them to move. This isn’t a big issue and not one I’ll hold against the game, but I would have liked more ‘life’ in the world.

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Blade!

Fancy a game of cards? Maybe a spot of fishing?
Fans of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ will be very familiar with this game, Blade is back! I absolutely loved playing this game within Tokyo Xanadu eX+, although in that game it was a necessity to get a trophy as you had to beat numerous people a number of times. However, in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel the game is played as you’re either on the train on the way to your next location, or when you have downtime within said locations. Whether you win or lose, you’ll get 50 points added onto the relationship bond you have between Rean and the person you’re battling. 

The game itself is fun, I just wish you could play it at will whenever you wanted to. All you have to do is beat your opponent by having the highest value of cards laid out in front of yourself. You achieve this by dropping cards from your hand to either increase your value, void the opponent’s last card, undo a voided action from the opponent, or swap all your placed cards with theirs. There’s a lot of strategies involved as you have to systematically increase your value without allowing them to force you to waste all your cards and lose due to having no cards left to increase the value. Seriously, forget Gwent, I want a stand-alone game based on this mini-game!

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Alternatively, if cards aren’t your thing, you can go find a relaxing spot and fish. Unlike simulations such as Fishing Sim World, or farming-based games like Stardew Valley, the fishing within The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is very simplistic. Simply push Cross when a fish bites then mash the button on the screen until you reel it in and shove it in your pants. However, just like the developer’s other games, there is a variety of fish to catch and certain ones only appear in certain locations – which are locked off as you progress through the story. So, if you’re looking to collect ’em all and get the trophy/in-game reward, then be prepared to fish a lot…

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Actually, it’s a young, blinking mini-girl who clings to me for all time!

The remaster
I said this in my Tokyo Xanadu eX+ review, and I’ll say it again – I love the amount of effort and time which has gone into the remastering of these classic titles. Sure, the visuals look rather simplistic in places with their single coloured textures or almost cartoon-like appearance, but you have to remember – it was originally a PS Vita and PS3 game. There have been a number of improvements within the game, but there’s not been any additional content added as we saw in Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (that game had new post-chapter content, new characters, and a brand new post-game chapter which was around ten hours long). 

These are the obvious enhancements:
• The PS4 Pro runs at 4k and the PS4 runs at 1080p
• Both versions run at a smooth 60fps now
• There’s a new ‘turbo mode’ which allows you to speed up time both in and out of battles (this is an amazing feature!)
• PS3 and PS Vita Cross-Save. That’s right, you can actually import the save files from these two consoles and continue playing on your PS4. The downside – there’s no new trophy list. So, you can’t import and then play through for a new platinum, you’ll just be working towards the same one you had previously. Thus, if you’ve already got the platinum, you’ll be unlocking no new trophies – as we saw with Dragon’s Crown Pro. Although, there is a separate list for both EU and NA – so you could double up, triple if you include the Japanese version!
• Over 45 pieces of DLC are included within the base game. These are mostly cosmetic.
• Supposedly you can import your cleared save files into the second game in order to obtain some bonuses (I’ve not tried this yet though).
• As well as the obvious texture upgrades for the higher resolutions, it appears some of the other visual effects, such as draw distances and LoDs, may have also been enhanced.

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Essentially though, the game is identical on all three formats (bar the DLC which you had to pay for previously) as if it wasn’t, Cross-Saves wouldn’t work. Personally, I would have loved it if the game didn’t support Cross-Saves and instead, had new additional content and a new platinum – as I would have bought both the PS4 and the last-gen versions. However, the publisher and developer decided not to do that this time. 

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Straight to the point…

The Grind
Okay, this part is only going to matter to those who like to obtain all the trophies, especially those who want to play it for themselves and not use a guide (like me) – Good Luck! The developers haven’t been kind when it comes to tracking and understanding what you have and haven’t done in order to obtain certain trophies. The main ball-ache trophy is the ‘Open every single chest in a single playthrough’ one. This wouldn’t be bad if we could jump back to previously visited locations and/or saw a counter telling us how many chests we have to open in that area – just like how Tokyo Xanadu eX+ did it. But no, there’s no counter, no checklist, no on-screen info, nothing… And yes, I was very careful on my second playthrough as I opened everything I saw – I still didn’t get the trophy for it though!

Then you have a trophy for collecting the data on every enemy in the game, data which carries over with the New Game+ mode. Yet, I’m missing two enemies and I’ve killed everything that moved. This time we have a total number and how many you have, but it doesn’t tell you which area the missing ones are in – that’s obviously asking too much!

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Similar to previous games, you have to talk to everyone, all the time, in every room, and about everything multiple times. You have a friendship diary which you have to fill – but you don’t know when or where to talk to the various people, so it’s a case of talking to everyone every day, all the time! Thankfully, I managed to complete this on my second run through the game, but it wasn’t easy. Another long and tedious trophy lies with not only obtaining all the recipes but also cooking them all and creating all four variants of each meal.

I imagine that if you found a decent guide and followed it word for word, you’ll probably get through the game and unlock all the trophies with little issues, but that’s not how I roll. It took me just over 195 hours to platinum Tokyo Xanadu eX+, I’m just over 140 on The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – I’ll get that elusive Platinum trophy… One day.

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
For a simple remaster, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel looks and plays great. I say ‘simple’ because there’s not been that many enhancements outside of the visuals. Sure, we get a perfect 60fps, a crystal clear 4k, and the heavenly ‘turbo mode’ which makes traversing the world so much more satisfying, but there’s no extra content, no new chapters, no enhanced backstory, or platform-specific dungeons/areas to visit.

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However, a game isn’t as good as it looks, it’s as good as it plays; The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a bloody brilliant JRPG game which I’m quite ashamed I’ve never actually played before grabbing it on the PS4. The story is very interesting, with lots of separate stories and events going on which all combinate into an intriguing and exciting narrative, combined with very satisfying and strategic combat. The combat itself may look generic and simple from the outside, but once you’ve cranked up the difficulty to eleven, it’s time to turn on your little grey cells as you swap your students on the fly and link them together in order to maximise their efficiency. 

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has quickly become one of my favourite JRPGs on the PlayStation 4, I can’t wait to get neck-deep into its sequel and you can check out my review of the sequel HERE, which I’ve played in preparation for the third game which is due out in September. If you love games such as Persona 5, Akiba’S trip, Tokyo Xanadu eX+, or The Caligula Effect, and want another 100+ hour adventure to suck away at your free time, buy this game today!

I’ve also reviewed the incredible Trails of Cold Steel III HERE.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

£34.99
9

Final Score

9.0/10

The Good:

  • - Great narrative with an intriguing set of stories which all combinate into an ongoing story
  • - The combat is a great mix of strategic and turn-based
  • - The game looks great with it's higher resolution and 60fps gameplay
  • - Literally hundreds of hours of fun to have if you're going for the platinum with no guide
  • - Great voice acting and music

The Bad:

  • - The grind for the Platinum is insane. There are too many missable and unlisted criterias to find
  • - The vast majority of the game looks great, but some textures do appear a bit 'muddy' when close up
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