“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!


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!


“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


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.


“Amazing Tales” – Review of a pencil & paper RPG for kids

I don’t really make it a secret: I’m a huge nerd. So is my wife. So when we found out we were having a child some years ago, one of the things that came to mind was how to pass on my love of tabletop RPGs to my kids. I even did some research early on. More recently, with my child growing older and another on the way, I got more serious about the search. Time and again, the book “Amazing Tales” was what was recommended to me. This past Easter, I finally got the book for my eldest and started to play it right away.

The game is a smash hit in our house, to say the least. My kid talks about it constantly and we have a ton of fun together. I’d like to offer my own little review here, so that others who may be interested can enjoy it as much as we are!

One of the best parts about Martin Lloyd’s system is that he basically has the different aspects that make games like Dungeons & Dragons great in this game, while making them much simpler- simple enough for a four year old to grasp it. There’s character creation–you pick a “class” that relates to the type of adventures you’re doing, with several suggestions in each world (eg. Robot for the sci-fi setting or a knight in a fantasy setting). Then, you pick 4 things that the character is good at. Some ideas are provided (eg. “being strong” or “making things”), but Lloyd encourages letting your kids run with it. For example, he writes about a game with one of his kids where the Pirate he made has a pet octopus and has a kind of “handle animal” as a skill that let him, in the adventure, use the octopus to do things for him. The character creation part lets your kids run wild, but Lloyd also offers suggestions to help make characters as broadly effective as they need to be. With 4 skills, you then ask the kids to pick which they’re best at, next best at, and so on. Then, these skills are assigned a D12 (best), D10 (next best), D8, and D6. Success for using the skill is 3 or higher, so the game is heavily weighted on letting kids run with their imagination while you guide the story along.

Lloyd has 4 settings, effectively following Fairies/talking animals, knights/magic, pirates, and sci-fi tropes. I have started a homebrew setting for my kid’s knights/magic kingdom. Lloyd provides tons of ideas for expanding the setting, integrating sounds/etc. into it, and the like. Then,  you just run with it. It’s a lot like the “Yes, and” type of improv comedy people do. Your child may say something that seems impossible, but instead of shooting it down, let their imagination guide you! In the sci-fi setting played, my child played an inventor who was good at building things, and when confronted by an asteroid threat to the planet, the solution was offered to build a dungeon for it to get stuck in. We did it, but then got stuck later in the same dungeon and had to escape! These kind of wrinkles allow a more complex and rewarding play experience.

The book itself is richly illustrated and full of ideas. It’s not going to tell you everything about how to run a game, but Lloyd gives many seeds for stories (and I love the “twists” he throws into them, letting you make an even deeper story for your kids). The ways to deal with repeated failures (eg. rolling 1-2 over and over) are interesting and helpful, and the book really gives a quick baseline for you to run with as a parent. Experienced role playing gamers will easily be able to pick it up and play, while newer gamers may need to teach themselves a little bit more. Overall, the ease of the system is a huge selling point. I read the book and within a few minutes was playing the game with my child, who adores it.

Amazing Tales is a really excellent resource as an introduction to role-playing games. It does it in a way that lays foundations for a long, illustrious, book-collecting, dice-rolling career as a gamer. I very highly recommend it.


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!


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.