The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold II takes place a month after the end of Trails of Cold Steel. Civil War has broken out with the Nobles and the provincial army wanting to take control away from the Imperial Family and have launched an all-out attack in order to take it by force. Caught in the middle is the once experimental Class VII of Thors Military academy that have been split up to the four corners of the empire. Armed with nothing but his sword, a black cat named Celine, and the Divine Ashen Knight, Rean makes his way across the lands in order to find the rest of the class in order to hopefully help restore the peace for the sake of the people caught up in it.
As mentioned with our Preview, the start of Cold Steel II contains plenty of spoilers for the end of the first being a direct sequel with the same cast. The main cast has been split up after Celine ordered the Ashen Knight to withdraw before it could be destroyed and Rean, currently the only contract holder to pilot it, be killed in battle. Waking up on the cold hard ground of the mountains of his home region, Rean makes his way down the pathways to his parent’s estate.
Had Trails of Cold Steel II simply made some touch ups to Trails of Cold Steel it would have been a great experience with all the character interactions and the original system being more than able to hold its own. Instead of just touching it up here and there as there were some small rough patches, such as skipping an animation could take as long as letting it run, Cold Steel II has not only made these touch ups but has also received some upgrades both subtle and otherwise that improve the gameplay and the experience.
Being only one month later in game, the unfolding events feel less like a sequel and more of a continuation of the original especially with the return of the main cast. I love sequels to RPGs but sometimes with the addition of others or the change of who the main focus is on, things don’t work out. Thankfully not only have the main cast been kept, but other characters that used to only play supporting story roles are now tagging along for the ride letting you see another side of them.
I’m sure many of us would have loved all of Cold Steel one package, but when there’s more than 60 hours' worth to do and you didn’t even do the side quests in the first part alone, not to mention all of the polishing and localization work, being split up and improved upon is a good idea. It’s these improvements that make the sequel better than its pressor such as the character in charge when they swing their weapon in the field in order to break an object or try to get the upper hand in battle can now swing twice and the animation is smoother. Instead of stopping and swinging they move a bit into the attack. It doesn’t sound like much, but it creates a more natural feel that is also smoother to see.
The biggest issue that I had with the first entry was that the option to skip animations could take just as long as letting them run. This is not only no longer the case, but the skip feature has been integrated into a few other elements that it wasn’t part of originally. Now on top of skipping Arts and Crafts, Link and Burst Attacks can also be skipped saving some time from seeing everyone swing their weapons and heal bars lower on the enemies. Like swinging twice on the field, it doesn’t “sound like much” (I’ll be a broken record soon) but with the amount of battles that take place, skipping these moments adds up.
On the subject of Arts and Crafts they both have made their returns but not without modifications of their own. Crafts and S-Crafts learned from Cold Steel all make a return including the modified upgraded versions that were learned near the end of the game. As enemies have become stronger though, earlier learned crafts can now level up to re-become useful no longer just occupy a space on the list for the sake of it.
Unlike the Crafts that can level up, Arts which require orbs to be placed into the Arcus now come with a bit more of a catch. Previously, every character had to pay in order to unlock the slots of their Arcus in order to equip more orbs. Some slots cost was more than others and certain slots could only hold an orb of a certain element. Starting off with all the slots unlocked, slots can now be leveled up in order to “better harness the potential held inside”. Basically if you want to use more powerful Arts or obtain better passive bonuses, slots are going to need to be upgraded in the same principle as before. This basically gives a reason to grind for the currency required to do this when there are no more orbs that you need to craft yourself.
Lastly on the broken record train was a modification of Brave Points that lead to Link and Burst attacks with the others members of the battle party which were originally gained by performing Assist Attacks. Once a character performed a critical hit, whoever they were linked to through the Arcus units were given the opportunity to follow that attack up with one of their own. Three points lead to a Rush attack that had a duo simultaneously perform an extra attack while five points lead to a Burst in which the whole party participated. Now these points can be gathered both through the original method as well as critical hits performed through counters after dodging an enemy attack.
While being a continuation of the story, Rean and the rest of Class VII’s newest adventure takes a bit of a different route for the better. Instead of having specific assignments inside of the various locations inside or out of the empire with quests to be done, this time around things are much more story driven with more specific events and less fetching or monster killing for others. There still are quests that will require these, but it’s not two or three in game days of this. Instead things move much more smoothly in a traditional RPG sense creating a much smoother flow. While I did enjoy the formula of the original, the change does it some good.
Through all the exploration, some locations will be familiar while others will be brand new. Exploring or re-exploring these areas may have felt old as some of them have already been done however new elements help create a fresh feeling to these environments. There were many times in which multiple enemies could be seen on the field together though running into one only started a battle against that one. Now if there are a few enemies mulling around or if the character on the field runs between in order to herd them together, a chain battle can be started in which the party does back to back battles in order to gain higher rewards in the process. This makes “grinding” much easier.
As the team’s Arcus continue to unlock new features, characters can now go into an Overdrive mode with one another. This feature is originally only accessible by Rean and another party member though over the course of the journey Blue Chests can be found in which pairs of other characters can tackle a challenge in order to perform this feat without Rean in the equation. The addition to the overdrive gives battle a little more something to spice it up especially with the fact that the levels are already much higher up the scale than having started at 1 as the base level is 40, and most of the joining / re-joining party members are five or more levels higher since they haven’t been sleeping for the last month.
The Overdrive feature is a lot like the S-Crafts in that it’s a game changer and a way to turn the tide especially if it wasn’t in your favor. Switching it on, both characters in the pair that trigger it share three immediate turns are grants with health (HP), craft (CP), and art point (EP) recovery. Each hit comes across as a critical allowing for an easy accumulation of Brave Points on top of the recovery aspects.
Even with the Overdrives and the Burst Attacks there are some situations that just cannot be solved as a human. Using the Ashen Knight, Rean can even the playing field especially with the Provincial Army’s bipedal mechanical forces. These specific fights are fun to play out with loads of health and some rock / papers / scissors strategy to it. Hitting any weak point on the enemy will lead to a follow up attack stocking up Brave Points in order to unleash a very powerful attack once three points are in stock. This was fun but it felt a bit lacking when going up against more than one opponent which is where the rest of your party comes in filling up that very tiny gap.
With Rean piloting the Ashen Knight however, the rest of the party isn’t uselessly sitting off to the side awaiting the verdict. Using their bonds through the Arcus, one party member can heal the Ashen Knight while another has access to launch offensive arts in order to deal more damage. Party members can be swapped between on their turn as these actions get their own initiative. This evens out the field especially when it is more than a 1v1.
With all of the new and the old, Trails of Cold Steel II is a vast improvement on its predecessor which was already very good. Sometimes it really is the small adjustments that can improve the overall flow such as there now being plenty of options to skip over running through an area for the upmteenth time. Instead, there are plenty of opportunities in order to simply skip it over and get to the next part especially on those “I want to know what happens next”, which to be honest is often in this one.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 is an excellent follow up to Trails of Cold Steel. With many improvements to the core system both subtle and brand new elements to grace the field of battle with, this “sequel” is the perfect continuation to this already epic series of JRPGs from Nihon Falcom and XSEED Games.
Article by Pierre-Yves