"It's like Falcom spied on my dreams and created a game tailored specifically to my tastes."
Ask any of my co-editors and they'll tell you how crazy I am about the Trails series. Since Trails in the Sky first stole my heart in 2011, I've followed the series with gradually ascending fervor, every twist and turn deepening my appreciation for the sheer craftsmanship of its lore. Cold Steel II, the second entry in the third arc (yes, I know that's a lot to take in) of an ever-expanding story, arrives later this year to continue the tale of Rean Schwarzer and the rest of Class VII. What I saw at E3 this year assured me that we'll be getting more of the same in terms of gameplay along with a narrative that's set to climax spectacularly once all of the pieces fall into place.
It's difficult to talk about the story of Cold Steel II without veering headlong into spoiler territory. Even the trailer XSEED released is, by necessity, full of spoilers for those who haven't played the first installment. I would strongly, strongly
recommend playing these games in order, as there are several important events with far-reaching implications in the last few hours of Cold Steel that set the stage for its sequel. In fact, players with save data from the first game will receive tangible bonuses like extra items, as well as unique dialogue that takes into account the relationships they forged throughout the first part of the story. This feature is undoubtedly familiar to those who stuck with Trails in the Sky despite the harrowing wait between FC and SC. It's immensely satisfying to see characters make references to past events when those references are borne of the player's own effort.
While I mentioned that the game's basic mechanics remain mostly the same, there are a few additions sprinkled about. A new Overdrive mode builds upon the ARCUS Combat Link system, enabling characters to act up three times in succession. A smattering of familiar faces, previously relegated to secondary roles, joins the fray this time around in a fully playable capacity. Whether it's veteran Bracer Toval, wielding an electrified baton, or gun-toting Claire "Icy Maiden" Rieveldt herself, these formidable fighters round out an already robust cast of controllable characters. Outside of battle, Rean can tweak and ride the orbal bike bequeathed to him by Angelica for faster travel on land, or take to the skies in an airship, leaving Cold Steel's charming but slow-moving trains in the dust. There's even a Suikoden-esque system in place that unlocks shops and features as Rean reassembles the far-flung remnants of Thors Military Academy's student body. It's like Falcom spied on my dreams and created a game tailored specifically to my tastes.
Despite a packed 2016 lineup full of outstanding RPGs, Trails of Cold Steel II remains firmly at the top of my must-play list. I'm rarely as invested in a single series as I am with Trails; I'm smitten by the bright and bold personalities of Class VII, and I can't wait to see how they usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for Erebonia. I believe in them, and so should you.