When I picked up The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, a successor of the early day Dragon Slayer series, memories came rushing back. For the longest time, my fear of having to deal with a complex battle system and convoluted type matchups resulted in me staying away for a fair bit of time from the game, which is why this review is delayed.
That changed when I went out with a fellow gamer friend to a local mall. She had mentioned that she was looking for new games to play and we got on the topic of JRPGs. I brought up the aforementioned title and the way her eyes lit up was as though the gates of Heaven themselves had opened and a shower of S-Rank items had fallen into her lap.
Admittedly, I haven’t played many JPRGs of late, as my brief forays into the Altus hit Shin Megami Tensei series (mine was IV on the DS), and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest resulted in me staring into space, wondering what had become of me when I learned of the Press Turn System and romancing my fellow fighters.
My friend was currently playing the Steam version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, while I was playing through on the PS4. She was really animated when I questioned her about the lore and characters. Curious after the conversation I looked up the game and its characters. Commenting that this was my first game of the series, she laughed and said playing what came before it would help plenty with context but added that playing this with diligence can open up swathes of lore and backstory.
As an avid reader of fantasy and worldbuilding, that hooked me in. That night, after we had parted ways, I plugged in my PS4 and booted up the game. To say that it was fun is an understatement — I was screaming with her over Discord and my excitement was palpable — with every sentence entirely in Caps Lock.
It came to a point where I had to be reminded to eat my dinner, as I’d gotten too engrossed in the game. Even as I chewed my meal, the thoughts of Rean cutting through monsters like they were butter with the help of friends and family alike were playing like an internal cinematic reel.
What I have learned by playing The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II was the amount of care that had been put into the game — from the aforementioned extensive lore to the lively, motley cast of characters. Even the battle system seemed less intimidating from when I had first encountered it.
As Rean, I journeyed down from the Eisengard Mountains with a talking cat as a companion. Along the way Rean is ever-grumpy and I feel sympathy for the cat, Celine, as he wordlessly cuts through enemies. Reaching the outskirts of Ymir, Rean and Celine make peace after the former comments that the snow-covered beyond is where he was born and raised.
But no self-respecting JRPG would come without an epic roadblock, and this game presented it in the form of a golem — basically a stone statue enchanted to move with magic. Rean does battle with it, but his weakened state does him little help and he is ultimately saved by three people, which I later find out comprised of his sister, the princess of the Erobonian Kingdom and her retainer, as well as Celine.
He wakes up to the snow-covered rooftops of Ymir and next all the characters, alongside Rean’s parents, discuss a contingency plan. It is then I discover the ties that they have stretched back from over several games prior. I also recalled my enthused friend saying that strong bonds forged in games prior would carry over with character-specific dialogue. To say that I was impressed with that subtle feature is an understatement.
As Rean wanders around town, talking to each and every character yielded a lot of juicy info for a newbie like me. When it came down to sitting in the privately-owned Onsen (because really, I’ve not seen a game set in Japan / someplace similar without it), I was admittedly a little taken aback by Rean’s sister coming in to join him and we sat there chatting, as I, the player, pressed X as quickly with a look of horror. Thankfully, it was just a normal sibling chat, albeit in a very awkward setting.
As our conversation was drawing to a close, the princess, who looked no older than Rean, came in with Celine to enjoy a hot bath with the protagonist and his sister. I’d spoken to her in the church pews and she went on a tirade about how lucky Rean was to have a doting sister. I was just sitting there on my couch, controller in hand, mouth agape when she offered to wash his back with his sister.
Before anyone could speak further, a rumble from the mountainside alerted impending danger. It seemed like Mr. Golem was back. Long story short, Rean, his sister, and the retainer spent a fair bit scaling the mountain fighting otherworldly creatures. This was when I got a full taste of the battle system — which was the standard JRPG fare combined with link attacks between characters (P5 anyone?), charged attacks, enemy selection, and the ever-confusing elemental matchup chart, which was only slightly easier to understand here.
I still had fun despite that and ended my playthrough leaving the mountainside for my dinner, which had now gone cold. I suppose if it weren’t for my friend speaking to me about it, the fear would’ve kept me paralysed.
Now I’m ready to dive back into my copy of Shin Megami Tensei IV (I sold Conquest)!
You can buy The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II on PC and the Playstation Store.