The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II has some tall shoes to fill: both the game itself, which picks up after a truly brutal cliffhanger at the end of the first game, and the soundtrack, which has to continue the strong showing of its predecessor. The game itself most certainly meets, and even exceeds, those expectations; check out Derek’s review to find out how. However, I wasn’t really expecting the soundtrack to do the same. It’s not that I didn’t have faith in Falcom Sound Team JDK to do what they do best, but more a testament to how much I enjoyed the first game’s soundtrack — it was hard to imagine the sequel showing up the original because the original was so good.
But, like the game itself, Cold Steel II’s soundtrack does ultimately outshine its predecessor, at least in the opinion of this humble reviewer. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about Cold Steel II’s soundtrack is that it’s significantly smaller than the first game’s OST: two discs versus the original’s four, and over thirty tracks shorter. This is because Cold Steel II reuses a lot of music from the first game, which isn’t terribly surprising since you wind up going to a lot of the same areas. The shorter length is actually a plus as far as I’m concerned. The original Cold Steel’s soundtrack has many amazing pieces to listen to, but they’re somewhat spread out over a four-disc album where every disc has a not insignificant number of simply “okay” or filler tracks. There are, of course, filler tracks to be had in Cold Steel II, but the overall effect of its shorter length is that the soundtrack as a whole feels like a tighter and more compact experience.
Starting things off strong is the game’s opening vocal theme, “Senkou no Yukue.” I like it quite a bit more than the opening vocal from the first Cold Steel, particularly the verse and the bridge, and I often found myself watching the opening movie whenever I booted up the game just so I could listen to it again. Speaking of vocals, the game’s ending song, “I’ll remember you,” is a catchy arrangement of a particular reoccurring theme throughout both Cold Steel games. It’s also much easier on the ears and more tone appropriate than the ending theme from the original Cold Steel, which is another plus.
After “Senkou no Yukue,” the soundtrack settles into a “little of column A, little of column B” experience, with battle and field music interspersed every so often with cutscene tracks — of either a heartwarming or sinister nature. Sadly, a good chunk of the cutscene themes just don’t do much for me. Pieces like “Gambling Strike,” “Majesty,” “The Giant Silver Ship,” and “Lucifenlied” all fall into the category of “bad guys doing bad things” music, and none of these tracks do anything interesting enough to break them from that mold. Similarly, pieces like “Reunion” and “To The Irreplaceable People” help fill the sweet and touching quota, but they’re fairly generic sounding, and I usually find myself skipping over them when listening to the soundtrack as a whole.
Not all of the event music is a waste, though. “The Witch of the Abyss” and “ALTINA” are both excellent theme songs for two of the game’s antagonists. The latter in particular has a great beat and a syncopated, electronic bass that I feel makes the track stand out more than if it had been played straight. “Forward, With Determination” doubles as both cutscene and title screen music; I love the way it manages to not only call back to the first game’s title theme through muted percussion and similar instrumentation, but also distance itself from said theme with a slower tempo and more melancholy melody. Finally, “Hostilities” and “Inner Twilight” are good examples of event themes that manage to do cool or unexpected things despite initially coming off as generic.
Field and dungeon themes are generally strong, though there are a few duds. The weakest tracks, in my opinion, would be “Spirit Cavern” and “Chasing After the Mountain Hare,” the latter of which features loud, grating synths and quite possibly the most aggressively happy melody I’ve heard since Star Ocean: The Last Hope’s “The Bunny Hop.” It must be a rabbit thing.
On the flip side, I could spend an entire paragraph talking about how much I love “Wintry Arrival.” Suffice it to say, it’s a great first area theme whose instrumentation and composition lend themselves to the imagery of snow created by the track’s title. The bell-like ostinatos that play through most of the track have an almost steel drum quality to them, and this is echoed later in the piece by a piano to great effect. I also have to give a special mention to “Awakening Will,” which is my favorite piece on the soundtrack. There’s something really cool about the pulsing bass line combined with synth ostinatos, and the piece as a whole — especially the climax toward the end — conveys the serious determination Rean and his friends must feel before commencing their various operations in the second half of the game. Another neat thing about this track comes about a minute in, where it references a theme from Trails in the Sky the 3rd. This particular theme is actually repeated in two other tracks, “Inner Twilight” and the absolutely epic “Phantasmal Blaze.” This endgame dungeon theme is almost overwhelming, with its breakneck pace, synthesized chorus, and multiple key shifts. It’s one of my favorite dungeon themes of all time, and it certainly outdoes the equivalent theme from the first Cold Steel. And that theme is pretty damn good too!
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Falcom game without some rocking battle music, and Cold Steel II delivers on this front yet again. “Heated Mind” is a significantly more serious-sounding main battle theme than “The Glint of Cold Steel” from the first game, but it does flirt with falling into more typical-JRPG-battle-theme territory by losing some of the unique elements of its predecessor. “Awakening” is a really energetic piece featuring piano, strings, and a great beat; it also shares a melody with the game’s title music, which is neat. “Bring Up Trust!” became one of my absolute favorite pieces on the soundtrack, and it’s the only track besides the vocal themes that features live instruments, so it feels extra special in that regard. “Blue Destination” is another piece of music that I could go on and on about, so I’ll just say this: Falcom found a way to make “Decisive Collision,” the final boss theme from the first Cold Steel, even better. This is one of those tracks that, like “Silver Will” from the very first Trails in the Sky, will likely stick around in your favorites collection for some time. Finally, I want to briefly mention “E.O.V.,” an endgame boss theme. This track sounds like your typical epic final boss music, but what’s interesting about it is that it’s basically a synthetic orchestral variation of “Artillery Class VII,” the title music from original Cold Steel I referenced earlier. While I still ultimately prefer its predecessor from the first game, “A Great Power,” I do love that thematic connection, especially since it reaches back to the previous title and all the emotional buildup that has occurred between the main cast since then.
There are three battle tracks I do think qualify as hit-or-miss. I actively despise “Impatient,” which is the theme that replaces normal battle music when you get into a tight spot. Like its predecessor from the first game, it’s just not fun to listen to, and I usually find myself more frustrated with the music change than the pickle I’ve gotten myself into in battle. “Heteromorphy” is used for some late-game bosses, and while it certainly packs quite a punch, it’s just…not the kind of punch that particularly appeals to me. Last, but not least, “To A Glimmering Tomorrow” is pretty unusual as far as final boss themes go. It’s happy and upbeat, and while it does fit the situation in which it plays, I just find it kind of…odd. The theme even gets repeated almost verbatim in the end credits music, “Season of Departure,” but it seems to fit there much better than it does in a final boss fight.
I’ve thrown a lot of words at you with this review, yet again, but my end takeaway is ultimately the same as it was for the original Cold Steel. This is another great Falcom album, and I think it features some of the best music in the Trails series. If you like Falcom Sound Team JDK, you’ll like this soundtrack. If you hate them with the passion of a thousand burning suns, this album won’t change your mind. And if you’ve never listened to their music or you’re unsure if you’re into their style, this is a fantastic place to get to know what they’re all about.