“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!

Links

Video Games– here are all my posts about video games.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” First and Second Chapter Review

I know I’m really late to the party, but I don’t have as much time for video games as I used to. I try to be very discerning in the games I spend time on now, scouting around reviews and looking into information before I commit to playing through. “The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” had been on my list for a while. An old-school JRPG that is supposed to have a phenomenal story paired with good gameplay? Sign me up. I devoured the first chapter. I completed every single side quest, getting every treasure chest, etc. I logged about 51 total hours on the first game. The second game, I did every achievement, logging 86 hours along the way and once again enjoying every single second of it.

Trails in the Sky begins with a slow burn. It is unpretentious. It starts as what seems to be a simple coming-of-age story, as you take control of Estelle and Joshua Bright on their quest to become better “Bracers,” individuals who go around doing odd jobs, taking out monsters, and the like all to contribute to the well-being of all. Over the course of the main story, it becomes clear there is more going on than meets the eye. Friendships are formed, conspiracies develop, enemies are made, and the plot gets deeper as you continue. It is continually punctuated by joyful interludes and humor, but the plot is both serious and endearing. It gets inside your head and grows, becoming bigger and more emotionally-involving as time goes on. It’s a phenomenal take on many of the standard JRPG tropes for plot, while also pushing it in a few new directions, particularly by having such deep investment in the characters.

The world in the game is superbly detailed and developed. Locales are filled with characters who change the simple statements they say at different points in the game. The world brims with detail, though no one would claim the graphics are top-of-the line. The music is otherworldly in its quality. I don’t listen to video game soundtracks much if at all. These games stand alongside Seiken Densetsu 3 (now “Trials of Mana”) as the only soundtracks I’ve listened to outside of a track here and there.

The world, again, is developed throughout both games, with more and more locations opening up and history filled in as players explore the game. There is some backtracking, but the music is so delightful, battles are skippable by avoiding enemies (though I pretty much never did), and the animations so smooth that it never felt like a chore to backtrack through locations. The only gripe here is that some of the quests are fetch quests and require more backtracking than seems strictly necessary.

Battles are turn based and fought on a grid with boosts to critical power and the like added randomly on turns. Players can utilize systems to ensure their characters align with the most important boosts. Strategy is pretty deep and some bosses require much planning beforehand in order to effectively counter their strengths (I needed some trial and error or a guide to get some of the achievements, but I’m not going to claim to be awesome at video games). Alongside this is the “orbment” system which allows players to effectively customize their characters abilities from moment to moment by slotting in different orbs to make new synergies and unlock new moves throughout the game. Struggling with having enemies beat you to the punch? Slot in some speed orbs. Need some magical punch? There are orbs to help you there, too. It’s a great system that keeps players involved in the gameplay as it develops throughout the series.

Trails in the Sky is difficult for me to adequately describe. It has the sense of wonder, delight, and fun that I missed for a while in video games. I thought that I’d maybe lost it myself. But instead, here comes a series that has such joy built into it alongside so many plot twists, villains, and stunning revelations that I just feel my heart warm thinking about the games. I recommend them very, very highly. Play them.

The Good

+Fantastically detailed, intricate world
+Superb music
+Great overaching plot
+Side quests often seem like they have an impact in the world
+Absurdly phenomenal characters

The Bad

-Somewhat dated graphics
-Some fetch quests
-Slow start

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Thoughts on the Final Fantasy VII Remake

Used under fair use.

Used under fair use.

Let’s just get this out of the way. An FFVII full-on HD remake is coming, and this is probably one of the greatest pieces of gaming news ever. People will hate on it, but that’s just going to happen. Final Fantasy VII has rightly earned its place as the holy grail of JRPGs. Part of this is certainly its place in time as a game that reinvigorated the genre, but the game is just awesome.

I will have SPOILERS in the following.

Nostalgia ‘R’ Us?

Many naysayers have stepped up both before there was a remake in the works and now that it has been announced to basically say that one of the things that makes FFVII so near and dear to us is the enormous nostalgia that factors into our assessment of the game. Look online and you’ll find all kind of pictures featuring screenshots from the game saying things like “This scene wouldn’t be as funny/epic/etc. in HD.” Part of the argument is that the blocky graphics and the games sometimes self-referential humor about them is what made us love it so much.

Thus, people will say: Imagine your favorite scene in FFVII. Now think about that scene in HD. Still sound like a good idea?

My answer: Okay, I imagined my favorite scenes from FFVII in HD. It was awesome.

Yep. There is far more to FFVII than some good shots of humor from blocky graphics or some nostalgia from a game I enjoyed so long ago. It had genuinely innovative gameplay, a great plot, and–at the time–superb graphics. Do you seriously think that any of these factors can’t be carried over into a remake?

Stop trying to rain on the parade, folks. Let people be excited.

Redone Story?

The fact that Square Enix execs have mentioned redoing parts of the story hardly surprises me. Think about the amount of text in FFVII compared to the amount of dialogue in games like Mass Effect. It’s paltry. There’s going to be a significant amount of added dialogue in the game, if you ask me. Moreover, the fact that large portions of background was left untouched or unexplained means that Square Enix can take this opportunity to expand on these details and give us, well, more of what we love.

Honestly, in my opinion it makes absolute sense that they would do this. Would it be awesome to have a remake that just updated the graphics and left the game untouched? Sure. But I think it will be even more awesome to have a remake that not only updates the graphics but also fills in important plot points and gives us more dialogue. All of this, of course, is with the caveat that they stay true to the main plot of the original. This means that major points and characters should all be there. Things like Aeris/Aerith (I don’t care which is default) getting killed by Sephiroth just as you think you saved her… those things should remain largely untouched.

Updating the Game Systems?

Ah! But what about the game systems? Will they change things like the battle system, mini-games, and the like? I think that absolutely they will. Here are my brief thoughts.

First, I hope they leave the Materia system largely alone. It was pretty awesome being able to customize your characters based on the Materia they used, to level up the Materia, and so on. This system could be slightly modified but overall it was great.

Second, the battle system could be updated. Was it fun? Yes. Does it remain fun? Absolutely. Could it stand for an overhaul? Yep. I don’t know what they might do here, but I could see this being really done differently.

Third, mini-games. There are a lot in FFVII, and I hope to see them continue to appear. I wouldn’t mind some more being added too, like the cool card game from later games. I guarantee they will change these a lot and probably make it so you don’t have to complete any to beat the game.

Give me a PS4 that’s FFVII Themed

The heading pretty much says it. I want an epic-looking PS4 that is themed after FFVII. Make it happen, folks.

What do YOU think?

So what are your thoughts on the upcoming remake? Please don’t use this as your forum to just attack anyone who’s excited about it, but I am curious to know what you would like to see or not see in this remake.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

I enjoyed the thoughts from the editor over at RPGamer on the remake as well. I think it’s worth reading if you’d like to take the time.

SDG.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper: My Thoughts on the “Big Reveal”

FF-RCI’m writing this post the night before the “Big Reveal” so this introductory part is without knowledge of what is going to show up tomorrow. I figured it would be worth writing about, even though my prediction is it’s going to be some compilation album or book or something I’m not going to buy. Maybe it will be a game, but I suspect any game that they’re showing characters from all the Final Fantasy games is not going to be one I’d enjoy. But hey, who knows! Maybe it will be the holy grail AKA Final Fantasy VII REMAKE!!! I’ll write more when the reveal happens tomorrow.

The Reveal

Okay, so it is a game and it’s called Final Fantasy Record Keeper. Astonishing. Anyway, as I suspected it looks kind of like a cash-in on the whole series, though depending on how they do it it may be fun. The premise is some guy is studying with a Moogle and is researching Final Fantasy history. He’s going to research the stories of the games and you can pick up different characters along the way as you complete areas in the other FF games.

The problem is that the reason we love final fantasy so much has been because of the stories told therein; but how do you tell a story in a mash-up game like this? I don’t know if it’s going to be possible. Color me skeptical and probably not playing.

I guess we still have to wait for the “holy grail.”

In the meantime. I hope FFXV will be awesome. It better be, considering how long we’ve waited.