“The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel” – First Impressions

Official Art from Nihon Falcom. Used under fair use.

I started playing “The Legend of Heroes” series back in 2015, ultimately finishing the first game, “The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” in 2016. The series recaptured my love of role-playing games, particularly Japanese RPGs, in a way I never thought I’d feel again. I played through all 3 games in the “Trails in the Sky” arc and was in love with them every minute. I fell in love, moreover, with the characters. I purchased the “Trails of Cold Steel” games on sales as they came out, knowing I’d want them in my back pocket to play once I wrapped up the “Sky” series.

But once I’d finished “Sky,” I was afraid I wouldn’t find the other games captured the same feeling. I knew many people had become fans of the series by playing “Cold Steel,” but was concerned myself about how many comparisons were made to the Persona series–a series that I have played and enjoyed, but that always stresses me out. The main reason for the latter is because I always felt stressed I’d miss things and not get to enjoy the full feel of the story. But that couldn’t keep deterring me. I started watching a “Let’s Play” to experience the Crossbell games but I didn’t want to stay away from the beautiful world Falcom had created. So I dived in to “Cold Steel.”

I was blown away fairly quickly. At the very beginning, the game thrusts you into the middle of an intense action sequence, but without any connection to the characters, it was hard to really get into this part. Then, after this brief introduction to the battle system and some characters, you rewind to see Rean Schwarzer, the main protagonist, getting off a train and starting school at Thors Military Academy. In traditional Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) fashion, you can walk around and talk to people around town, and it was here I knew I was falling in love with the game. Falcom, you see, crafted a detailed, beautiful world for these games. No, the graphics aren’t the same as modern blockbuster games–Trails of Cold Steel looks like it would be at home on the PS3, for example–but the amount of details crammed in to every room is stunning. It’s the little things like having flowers prominently displayed throughout town, the way townsfolk go about their days, and the like that made me feel at home. It’s a JRPG through-and-through.

Thoughtful design aesthetics can only take one so far, however. The gameplay itself is a delight. I’m only about 15 hours in now, and the cycle seems to be: spend some time at the Academy and around town doing projects to know side characters, make connections, and complete quests; then, go off to a distant locale for field work which is where the great battle system comes in to play; repeat. Tons of character development is liberally sprinkled throughout, and I’m falling in love with the characters and setting.

There’s a clear undercurrent of class struggle happening. At Thors Military Academy, those from the upper class get their own dormitories, complete with staff to complete all their cleaning and indulge their whims. The lower class students have different dorms but have to cook, clean, and do all their housekeeping themselves. Class VII, however, combines upper and lower classes into one group of students for special assignments. This has caused no small amount of tension, especially between two main characters: Machias and Jusis. The latter is of the uppermost crust of the nobility, the former despises nobles with a passion. But I can already see there seems to be much more going on than this in the background, as we start to learn more about Jusis’s family.

The music is incredible, as it seems to always be with Falcom games. I find myself humming the tunes at work or just enjoying the music in the background as I do things around the house.

If you are a fan in any way of JRPGs, I would strongly encourage you to play these games. It’s probably best to start with the Trails in the Sky series (I reviewed the first two games here). Those games are some of my all-time favorites for their amazing stories, music, and gameplay. But if the very old school graphics of the Sky series puts you off, you should still at least give Cold Steel a try. I guarantee that you’ll find something to love in this series if you like JRPGs.

Anyway, back to playing the game! Let me know what you think, but please don’t spoil this game or later games for me!


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