The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 Impressions

It’s been just over six months since The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was ported to Steam. I had never heard of the series before reviewing it last year, but it quickly became one of my favorite Japanese RPGs. Its world building, likeable protagonists, and rich combat system instantly sucked me in. The wait for the sequel felt long indeed. Thankfully, that wait is over, and Trails of Cold Steel 2 is as excellent a sequel as I could have hoped for.

As a warning, this article will contain some spoilers for those who haven’t played or finished the first game. Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a direct continuation of events, not a standalone entry. That said, a robust summary of the prior story, most of which is even voiced, is available from the sequel’s main menu. You could potentially read those entries and get caught up to speed, but it’s not ideal compared to experiencing those events firsthand. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the series go read our previous coverage and/or start with the beginning title.

Trails of Cold Steel 2 opens one month after the first game’s conclusion. Rean Schwarzer awakens in the mountains near the province of Ymir, separated from his friends from Thors Military Academy’s Class VII and unaware how Erebonia’s civil war is progressing. Determined, Rean sets out with new allies to reunite Class VII and help bring an end to the war.

Trails of Cold Steel earned its place at the top of my library because of its well-built world and cast, and nothing’s changed on that front. Rean and his allies feel like grounded characters, despite fitting into various archetypes. And it’s great to see them lean and influence each other in respectable ways in Cold Steel 2’s heightened circumstances. It’s easy to buy their allegiance to each other and trust in Rean as a protagonist, rather than have a hero who everyone looks to for no particularly well-explained reason.

What’s particularly interesting about Cold Steel 2 is that the plot demands a tenser structure and rightly delivers one. The first game had uneasy political conflicts brewing in the background, but much of it was spent at Thors Military Academy or on field studies that allowed the characters to grow into their responsibilities. Cold Steel 2’s focus is on the larger threats to Erebonia’s stability. The tale is grander, more exciting, and tends to move faster, as well. I also appreciate that it spends time on characters that originally didn’t get explored as much as I wanted.

In terms of gameplay, a lot of the systems will be very familiar to old players. The turn-based battles once again take place in a 3D field where positioning, manipulating turn orders, managing resources, and exploiting weaknesses are important to victory. Characters can spend craft points (CP) on instant-cast abilities or save the points to unleash special attacks at 100 to 200 CP. Delayed elemental artes are spent using finite energy points (EP). Furthermore, characters can be linked to each other to deal co-operative attacks when landing critical hits. Those links can be leveled to unlock bonuses such as automatic finishers and heals. And every so often bonuses and disadvantages can appear on the turn-order list, creating other elements to take advantage of or try and avoid.

That’s the 30,000-foot overview of the combat system, but suffice it to say there’s a lot to manage. It never feels overwhelming, however. Instead, it’s one of the most enjoyable turn-based combat systems I’ve played with. It’s both thought-provoking and visually pleasing, meaning no battle is ever dull. Do I spend my crafting points now to unleash a large, AOE attack? Or do I save them for an ability to shore up my defenses? Of course, it is possible to avoid enemies on the field and not be too punished for it – the game slows down EXP gains to prevent you from over leveling too far – or even as skip turn animations if you’d prefer to just get on with things.

Cold Steel 2 does start out a bit difficult compared to the last entry. High-level quartz, which are buffs or abilities that are slotted to characters, can’t be equipped immediately, either, so you won’t be breaking the game quite as fast. Slots need to be upgraded now before certain quartz will even fit, and doing so requires spending sepith. Thankfully, if you do find yourself getting beat down by a boss or combat trial, the game will prompt you if you’d like to lower the difficulty. There’s no penalty for doing so, either.

Jumping into Cold Steel 2’s combat system feels like riding an old bike, but it’s not without additions. A welcome new Overdrive ability increases the number of tactical options in any given battle. It starts on a meter that increases with attacks and victories. When full, Overdrive can be activated in place of a normal attack. Linked characters restore 30% of their HP, EP, and CP; cast artes instantly; can attack uninterrupted for three turns; and each strike results in a critical hit. The gauge fills up relatively quickly between regular fights, so the wait between uses isn’t too long. Thankfully, it doesn’t make the game too easy. I’ve generally used it to get back up from a tough enemy’s beat down.

I’m also a fan of the new chain battles. If multiple enemies near you on the field, you’ll fight several battles in a row for increased rewards. It saves some time instead of going through multiple loading screens. And I always appreciate time-saving measures.

Trial battles are another great inclusion. These are marked by blue chests on the map. They require two specific characters, typically not Rean, to overcome a challenging boss. If they’re successful, not only do you get a nice item, but the pair gets a large boost to their link level. It’s more reliable and exciting to earn link levels through this method than by the usual grind.

Finally, Rean gets to use Valimar, the mechanized suit of armor briefly playable during Cold Steel’s climax, quite a bit more frequently in Cold Steel 2. These fights are a lot of fun, as you’re calculating enemy weak points, responding to changing enemy postures, and utilizing allies to charge Valimar’s abilities or unleash elemental attacks.

The Cold Steel series’ combat is excellent, but equally worthy of praise is how well the games have been ported to PC from the PlayStation 3. The first game’s Steam release was phenomenal, offering higher framerates, increased view distances and resolutions, a turbo mode, autosaves, and even 50% more voiced lines. Cold Steel 2 features all those same, wonderful improvements. But it also includes something I wish I’d see other PC games adopt. It’s possible to load straight into the latest save without going through any startup intro, logos, or menu. This appears as a launcher option when double-clicking the game in Steam’s library, and it takes mere seconds to get right back into the action. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a worthy sequel. The stakes are higher, the bonds of Class VII remain a high point, the combat system is as engaging as ever, and the port is perfectly executed. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Full Disclosure: A copy was provided for review.