Siliconera played an early English build of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel at E3 this year. The demo ran us through the prologue of the game (literally!), a flash-forward where the students of Class VII and their instructor are storming a military facility full of mechanical beings called Archaics.
Before I jump into some of the gameplay, let me provide some context for the plot. The story of Trails of Cold Steel happens within the timeframe of The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Zero and Trails to Azure, which didn’t see a Western release. While Zero and Azure took place in the often conflicted country of Crossbell, Cold Steel takes place in the Erebonian Empire, and follows a newly-organized military unit comprised of young students called Class VII. Lore in the Trails series runs deep and the new series after Trails in the Sky fits within a 2½ year time frame.
The player can switch between one of four characters as their lead (this is a purely aesthetic choice), and much like Persona 4, can approach enemies on the map before entering battle. Attacking on from behind will help the team land some extra damage at the beginning of the match.
While The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel sticks closely to its predecessor’s battle mechanics, it does veer away from tradition in one way, and that’s in the inclusion of the Tactical Link System. Players can choose which characters are Linked in the heat of battle, and those Linked characters can perform one of three powerful Link Attacks. Increasing Link levels grants access to new Link abilities. If you don’t have the right pair in battle – don’t worry, you can switch party members on the fly during any character’s turn. Doing so won’t use up a turn, either, so you’re free to re-assign Links or do as you please.
Trails of Cold Steel also features an Active Time Bar that displays the turn order for all participants in battle. Special attacks called S-Breaks can be used to push enemy turns back and give you just enough time to take a breath before jumping back into a tough fight. This is especially useful in more difficult fights where certain enemies can take two, and sometimes even three turns in a row.
While I got a good feel for the battle mechanics of Trails of Cold Steel, I only scratched the surface of the Master Quartz system, which the game inherited (with some changes) from Azure. I was told that the game does away with the Sepith system, and that Quartz is more straight forward with what Orbal Arts it grants. In this way, the system seems comparable to materia from Final Fantasy VII.
In the end, Trails of Cold Steel felt much like a Tales game reverted to using turn mechanics – which by no means is intended to discredit the game’s battle system. The characters speak to each other in and outside of battle, and the player (finally) has 360 degree camera control during battles. If the prologue is as fast-paced as the whole game, then the game delivers a flashy, action-packed experience that a JRPG fan would be proud of.
A representative of Xseed assured me that plans to localize The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II have already moved forward, and that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter is to be released this summer.