At the start of 2016 we got The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, a much welcome release in Europe and Australia, particular for the Vita that has all but faded from our store shelves. As long as strong releases like The Legend of Heroes exist, the Vita (and even the PlayStation 3) will continue to stick around. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was a title jam packed with content, an RPG with as much gameplay variety and density as something like The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim, no exaggeration there. A huge cast of characters to interact with and take control of, a ton of compelling gameplay features to fine-tune your character in a way that is meaningful and not superficial, and above all a rich setting backed by a well-developed lore that fuels a plot and story which is as much about politics as it is about character development. If you haven’t done so already, do check out our full review of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel which we rated quite highly. If anything, all praise (and criticisms) for that game essentially applies to its sequel in the exact same way, and more.
Now as we reach the end of 2016, we receive the localisation for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II. So we get not one but two games in The Legend of Heroes series in the same year, both of which belong in the same continuity. How fortunate right? It can feel a little jarring to jump from one Japanese RPG epic and then to its direct sequel in the same year, but you have to understand that in their original Japanese release, these games were released nearly a year apart. Still, better late than never localisations has given us two JRPG epics in the same year, and those left hanging at the cliff hanger finale of Trails of Cold Steel did not have to wait too long to pick up business in Trails of Cold Steel II.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is set literally weeks after the closing moments of the original Trails of Cold Steel. The plot built up to quite a roller coaster and one shocker of a finale which left us dying to know what was next. Trails of Cold Steel II doesn’t waste time to get things going. For those who have not played the original Trails of Cold Steel II lets you watch, and read up on, the main chapters of the last game right from the main menu.
Trails of Cold Steel II picks up right after where the original left off and it doesn’t bother to reintroduce its cast, treating the lore and cast as assumed knowledge. This is great for those coming off the last game as it makes the pacing and character development feel organic, but it can make things confusing for newcomers even with the compendium text summaries. The war is still on-going in Trails of Cold Steel II, the stakes are high, and the pacing is just at rocket speed from the opening scene. What’s great about the plot and story progression is that despite being set across two massive games, it rarely ever hits speed bumps or drags along. The cast is also as compelling as ever, with new characters joining the fray and familiar faces surprising you.
Now when it comes to gameplay, this is where moving from the original Trails of Cold Steel to Trails of Cold Steel II can feel a tad discerning in the first few hours. You have this well established and maxed out team from your playthrough of first game… only to find out that you have to build them up all over again in what is quite literally a direct continuation. Stats, experience, crafts, and arts, none of these things carry over from the last game. However, having a completed save file of the original can unlock a few goodies and reinforce past social links. Practically speaking, having a fully maxed out party right from the start of Trails of Cold Steel II would have thrown the game balance off quite a bit! So in a way, Trails of Cold Steel II feels like it falls halfway between being a sequel and an expansion to the original Trails of Cold Steel. Veterans would find it strange to go through the gameplay tutorials again, but that said there are plenty of new little touches to these existing mechanics.
All things considered, if you loved Trails of Cold Steel then you will love Trails of Cold Steel II for the exact same reasons. It’s really a case of more of the same, but this time you get some new quirks such as the prominent presence of Divine Knight battles. During these battles you take control of a powerful mech and follow a very distinct turn-based battle system that feels far more different than standard battles. The battle system itself is just as visceral as it’s ever been, and the sheer amount of customization options as well as other gameplay distractions will drain away the hours.
If you were already swept away by The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, then you simply cannot afford to miss its direct follow up. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II gives you more of the same great experience, but this time you get a enthralling plot that moves at an engaging pace without wasting your time or interest. The gameplay variety is as rich and dense as any big budget console RPG, but it does away with superficial elements and ensures that anything you do in the game feels worthwhile, whether it’s fishing, cooking, or even experimenting with various Quartz stones to customise the characters and their weapons. Much like its predecessor, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a one hell of a time sink for your Vita (or PS3). For the uninitiated, know that a Trails of Cold Steel III is in the works and so now is as good a time as any to jump into this saga.