"I could probably go on forever about Trails of Cold Steel."
It wasn't so long ago that the localization of anything beyond the Second Chapter of the Trails series seemed like an impossibility. The games were all but doomed — thanks in equal part to having gargantuan scripts and being largely on a commercially dead platform — but Trails seems poised to storm the West in a big way. Against all odds, XSEED is currently finishing QA on the second game in the series, and has already completed translation on the sixth, now known as Trails of Cold Steel.
Why skip so many entries? The third through the fifth games in the Trails series were all released on the PSP, a platform that is no longer a viable option for release in the West. As such, XSEED is in a position where they have to work on games for currently-supported hardware; Trails of Cold Steel, for PS3 and Vita, fits that bill. You're probably thinking, "But won't I be missing out on a ton of story?" Well, yes and no. While the games are definitely connected, they can be thought of like a book series that tells multiple self-contained story arcs in different parts of the same world. These stories intersect and all contribute to an overarching plot that involves a huge cast of characters hailing from a wide variety of locales. In an ideal world, we'd be playing the games in the order they were released, but Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo has gone on record
saying that it's okay to play Cold Steel before Zero or Azure, so you needn't worry too much. Trails of Cold Steel takes place in the Erebonian Empire, a region heretofore unexplored throughout the series, despite having been the homeland of several major characters. The tale centers around the cadets of a prestigious military academy where recruits are generally divided according to the country's classist paradigm. However, the main characters, led by young upstart Rean, belong to a special squad of talented people from all backgrounds. The player controls this group of teenage soldiers as they weave their way through battlefields and political conspiracies alike. The story promises the usual emphasis on character- and world-building the Trails series is known for, with plenty of twists along the way.
Also keeping with Trails series tradition is the return of its strategic, turn-based battle system. It's functionally quite similar to the system found in Trails in the Sky, but the action is now in 3D, with a couple of dynamic new functions in place. The Link system splits the party into two pairs, drawing glowing lines between connected characters and giving them access to cooperative abilities, like follow-up attacks and boosts to HP restoration. Links can be switched instantly, at any time during the player's turn, and without penalty. Likewise, because the playable cast is so large this time around, it's possible to switch out any character in the active party with one in the reserves during battle — but only one per turn. Characters earn Link Points at the end of battle, which in turn advance the levels of their links, granting them ever-stronger powers over the course of the game. The theme of camaraderie between squadmates effectively carries over into the game's combat mechanics, and the player is afforded ample freedom to prioritize the development of relationships as they see fit. The materia-like Quartz system also makes its return, though in a streamlined fashion; gems now grant direct access to specific magic spells instead of contributing to an Orbment's overall elemental attunement, facilitating more straightforward customization of each character's arsenal.
For those familiar with Falcom, it should come as no surprise that Trails of Cold Steel has an amazing soundtrack. As I played the demo on the E3 show floor, I was spurred on by one of my favorite tunes from the game's soundtrack, "Atrocious Raid
." I also chatted a bit with XSEED Project Coordinator/Trails superfan/generally fantastic person Brittany Avery about the game's English voices, which she is committed to casting appropriately. Recording of the dub is set to begin shortly, and I can't wait to hear how it sounds in the full version. Deep characters with compelling relationships are at the heart of the Trails series, so I was impressed by her (and by proxy, XSEED's) attention to what makes these games so near and dear to fans' hearts.
I could probably go on forever about Trails of Cold Steel, but suffice to say that it's shaping up to be an excellent RPG for series aficionados and newbies alike. Its slightly-dated presentation belies a charismatic, if traditional game that is poised to set my heart ablaze when it releases for PS3 and Vita later this Fall.