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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Score: 93%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom Corporation
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
For many students, school is a pretty repetitive process. You go to class, study, try to learn something, and get tested on your knowledge. Itís a pretty simple process that gets stale quickly and Iím sure most people would agree with me, but thereís an exception. That exception would be Class VII from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Youíll be experiencing school the fun way, so I hope you came ready to learn.

Trails of Cold Steel tells a tale of heroism, friendship, bonds, and trust. Players experience that tale with the same graphics theyíre used to seeing from PlayStation 3 RPG games, but that doesnít take away from the game experience at all. Many of the cut scenes are animated using the characterís regular models, so you won't be sitting through walls of text looking at a 2D render. The style of graphics seems to lean more towards an anime style and it really synergizes well with the voice acting. I really enjoyed the story with the graphics as they are, and the locations featured in game were beautiful. They make the story a joy to experience, so don't cast any doubts before checking them out for yourself.

Trails of Cold Steel features a pretty satisfying soundtrack. Many of the tracks are pretty upbeat, especially when youíre in a battle. Thereís also tracks that provide a more ambient feel based on the situation or environment, such as at the end of a day with the sun setting. I also need to give a nod to the voice acting, which I felt was very well done. Fans of English dubbed works will be pleased to know that the game features full English voice acting, so you wonít have to keep up with subtitles to follow the story or day-to-day conversation. Some people might not be a fan of that, but the English voice acting is very well done for Trails of Cold Steel, so I think most people will enjoy it.


Gameplay:
In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, players take control of Rean Schwarzer, a new student of the Thors Military Academy. As Rean, players will experience the life of a Thors student, but itís not all about taking exams. Thors is a military school and youíll be doing a big share of fieldwork, but donít forget about your schoolwork!

Players are able to explore the field as Rean performing different tasks based that youíve been assigned. The Left Analog Stick moves Rean, while the Right Stick controls the camera, which is pretty standard stuff. Holding (R1) while moving will cause Rean to dash and you can control how much the camera is zoomed with the directional buttons. You can interact with some of your surroundings, such as spots in the river to fish in, by pressing the (X) button next to certain things. The minimap can be expanded by pressing Start, but a larger, more detailed map can be opened by pressing the (Square) button. This map even allows you to quick travel between areas, so itís incredibly helpful for getting around the city. Rean also keeps a notebook and you can check it by pressing Select. Itís chock full of useful information, such as your Quest information and all your hints, so if you ever get stuck, make sure to check it often.

As a Thors student, you are required to be experienced and proficient in battle. After all, fighting is a pretty major part of your studies. As you roam the field, youíll see monsters walking about. If they see you, theyíll charge at you and try to initiate a fight. Running into them will trigger a normal battle, but if you strike an enemy from different angles, youíll be able to go into the fight with a certain advantage. If you run into an enemyís back without them noticing, you get a double advantage and the turn advantage. If you stun an enemy by sneaking up behind them and striking their back with the (X) button, then run into them, youíll get triple advantage where youíll get the turn advantage and the enemy team will lose a certain percentage of health. Once in battle, your characterís stats, such as hit points, energy points, and craft points, will be displayed at the bottom of the screen. Keep in mind youíre responsible for four characters along with your sub character. Victory is achieved by destroying all opposing enemies by depleting their health bars to zero, but if all of your characters hit zero health, thatís game over. To prevent this, itís your job to utilize all the tools at your disposal to win a battle. The most obvious way is by cutting down the enemy using your Attack command. You can probably guess, but this command allows your character to run up and strike the enemy as long as theyíre in range. The range indicator will display around your character as a red line and if you try to cross that line, your character will run to the edge of it and stop. You can also maneuver using the Move command to get a better position against your opponent. Proper analysis is also a very important aspect of battle and you can check what an enemy's weakness is by using the Analyze command or simply pressing the (Square) button over them. The turn order is displayed to the left of the screen and youíll probably notice funny icons next to some of the characters. These are turn bonuses and they randomly appear from time to time. Theyíre locked in place, so you can shift the turn order by delaying your turn or the enemy turn in order to get the bonuses on your characters or away from enemy characters. Proper strategy is needed to succeed in battle, but youíll need some luck too.

Battling takes a certain degree of strategy, but youíll need plenty of strength to overcome your foes as well. Using your Crafts, youíll be able to obliterate your enemies with strong skills without worry of too much retaliation. Each character has their own special Crafts and using one consumes Craft Points (CP). The bad part about Craft Points is how hard they are to regenerate. Certain passives allow you to regenerate CP based on certain objectives, so you should be mindful of how you use your skills, but theyíre very powerful and can easily turn the flow of a battle in your favor. Once you save up 100 CP, you can perform an S-Craft. S-Crafts are incredibly powerful moves that deal an absurd amount of damage and you can even use an S-Break to use a characterís S-Craft when it isnít their turn. The more CP you save up, the stronger your S-Craft will be. If you save up the maximum 200 CP, your S-Craft will be at full power, but an S-Craft will drain all of your CP no matter how much you have.


Difficulty:
Upon starting a new game, players are able to select the difficulty on which they'd like to play. There are four different difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. If youíre real big on story and not really used to RPG titles, then the Easy difficulty is for you. If you have a little experience with RPGs, then go for the Normal. Hard Mode is targeted towards the more experienced RPG players and provides a greater challenge than Easy or Normal. Nightmare has been balanced for the New Game Plus and shouldnít be attempted on a first playthrough. Well, itís not recommended, anyway. If youíre feeling confident and think you can best it on a first playthrough, or just want the extra challenge and bragging rights, then feel free to give it a shot. I do have to give the Nightmare difficulty a bit of praise. Many RPG titles with a New Game Plus feature often become boring after the first playthrough because of how overpowered you more than likely will be after gaining a ton of good equipment. Having a difficulty specifically balanced for the New Game Plus gives a very nice challenge and makes the game just as enjoyable on subsequent playthroughs.

Game Mechanics:
Every Thors student is required to use a combat ARCUS Orbment, which is the device that allows them to use magic known as Arts. Arts will be one of your best friends on the battlefield. Proper Art usage comes from knowing what types of Arts are at your disposal. Arts can be powerful combat spells which can decimate the enemy forces or buffs that can give your team the edge they need in a close fight. Arts come in different types, such as fire or water, and many enemies have a weakness to certain types. Proper analysis will allow you to exploit these weaknesses and destroy your enemies with decisive blows. Arts can be used in battle or in the field, but youíll be limited to healing Arts outside of a fight. In a fight, Arts must be charged before being used. Once you select the Art you would like to use, the character using the Art will begin to charge it. This will delay the characterís turn until later, at which point they will cast the selected Art. You can use the delay to shift the order of turns around and give yourself an advantage as well. Make sure to not only keep in mind what Arts will have the most affect, but also what strategic advantage you can give yourself from simply using them.

Arts are nice, but they canít be used naturally. Their power comes from the Quartz equipped in your Orbment. Each Orbment can equip regular Quartz and Master Quartz to change the attributes and Arts a character has. Master Quartz confer certain bonuses based on the type of Master Quartz it is, and they can even be enhanced by using them in battle. Having the Master Quartz equipped will give it experience which will cause it to level up after so long. This enhances the stat bonuses the Master Quartz gives and also unlocks new Arts that the Master Quartz may have. Regular Quartz can allow the owner to use different Arts or even enhance other stats. Certain rare Quartz may combine both effects into a single Quartz or unlock multiple Arts for the character to use. Experimenting with different Quartz allows a character to be very versatile in a fight and can make your team synergize incredibly well.

On the topic of the ARCUS Orbment, the members of Class VII can utilize a special function which most ordinary Orbments canít. In battle, your team members can form links between each other called Battle Links. Battle Links allow the team to fight together more efficiently by allowing them to use certain special abilities with their linked partner. Initially, every character can use the standard link attack whenever their linked partner strikes a vital point on the enemy. This simply allows the linked partner to perform a follow up attack for extra damage. As characters become more familiar with one another and level up their links with each other, they unlock better link abilities such as finishing off a weak enemy or covering an ally. Increasing the bonds with your allies can be done participating in events with them on your free days, similar to the way you spend time with friends in the Persona series. Youíre given a certain amount of points that you can use to spend time with your friends and classmates, so you have to choose wisely which links you want to increase. You can also gain link experience by playing the card game Blade with your classmates and completing missions with them. The stronger your links, the stronger your team will be in battle. Focus on raising those link levels.

Customization plays a big role in this game. When you receive your Orbment, youíll quickly notice most of the slots are locked. You can unlock more slots by using sepith, which is obtained from battles. Slots cost differing amounts of sepith to unlock and you canít skip a slot to unlock a slot farther down unless itís part of a different line. You can also use sepith to synthesize new types of Quartz to use with your Orbment, but just make sure you have the correct amount of sepith to make what you want.

The last major customization you can perform is on your weapon. Itís easy enough to go buy a new weapon, but most weapons are pretty subpar until you upgrade them. They gain a bunch of new stats and transform into a completely different weapon which will serve you well until itís time to upgrade again. Keep checking to see what new types of things you can make.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a pretty awesome game, especially when you consider the fact youíre playing on the PlayStation 3. Youíve got most of what you want in an RPG and youíll be able to get a ton of time out of it thanks to the Nightmare Mode being balanced for New Game Plus. I must admit, the game gets a bit tedious with how often youíre doing field missions, but they change them up enough to make sure you get a little something new out of each mission. I also wouldíve liked to spend more time with my classmates rather than the occasional free day, but the storyline did a decent job of fleshing out characters. With that said, Trails of Cold Steel definitely gets an A in my grade book.


-SS-54, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ren Plummer

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