XSEED has certainly been on a roll lately when it comes to localizing the many, many entries in the Legend of Heroes series. Last year, they gave us the excellent Trails of Cold Steel II, earlier this year we got Trails in the Sky the 3rd, and now we have a fantastic PC port of the first Cold Steel, with a port of the sequel already in the works. While I still appreciate the Vita version of Cold Steel that I originally played over a year ago, this PC port is without a doubt the best version of the game yet.
Trails of Cold Steel sees you thrust into the shoes of Rean Schwarzer and a special group of students at the prestigious Thors Military Academy. Known as Class VII, this group consists of young adults from all walks of life. Some are nobles, others are commoners (the combination of which is considered unorthodox in the class-driven society the game is set in), and others still come from outside the Erebonian empire entirely. Unlike the other classes at Thors, Class VII spends one weekend every month on field studies in significant locations across the country. As they experience firsthand the various issues and conflicts plaguing these areas, Rean and his classmates slowly become embroiled in a conflict brewing behind the scenes that threatens to plunge the empire into civil war.
The ultimate conclusion of the story does get quite dramatic, but like most Trails games, it takes a while for things to pick up steam. Outside of the field studies, you spend your time attending classes, getting to know your classmates and other Thors students, and doing odd jobs around the academy and the neighboring town of Trista. There’s a passage of time mechanic that is pretty blatantly based off the Persona series, only instead of going through each individual day over the course of the game, you instead experience a smattering of days each month; and considering the sheer amount of stuff you have to do and people you can talk to on each of these days, that’s a blessing. Every month, you also have the opportunity to spend bonding points on classmates of your choosing in yet another Persona-inspired mechanic; doing so deepens your relationship with your chosen friends and grants you access to various perks when you pair up with them in combat.
Speaking of combat, it’s a delightful blend of tactical decisions (positioning, enemy weaknesses, turn order, status effects, skill management, etc.) with a faster pace than previous entries in the series. Normal battles can end in a flash, quite literally, while major boss encounters can require some pre-planning in order to emerge victorious. Linking with party members allows you to take advantage of various useful bonuses — such as follow-up attacks, auto-healing, and of course, rush and burst attacks — which can result in your linked partner or potentially the entire party getting a piece of the action in a single turn. Combined with a craft system (think technical skills or special moves) that’s pretty flashy and the option to skip the animation of almost every move and spell in the game, Cold Steel’s combat provides a good balance between style and substance on the one hand, and speed and efficiency on the other. My one complaint is that the difficulty feels a little uneven in the last few chapters, but even that is a relatively minor issue; and to the game’s credit, you’re given fairly generous options should you fall in battle.
Up to this point, I haven’t really told you anything new about Trails of Cold Steel. So let’s talk about the various improvements XSEED has made to this version of the game. First off, while Cold Steel is never going to win awards for its graphics, the PC version is definitely the prettiest the game has ever looked. Using high quality assets where possible and offering a bevy of options you can tweak to match your rig’s specs and desired performance, the PC version produces a much cleaner and smoother image than its console and handheld brethren, although the limitations of the game’s original iterations still bleed through in the form of low resolution textures lingering about in the world and the UI. Cold Steel also performs much better on PC, as one might expect; whereas the PlayStation versions of the game were plagued by slowdown and framerate drops, everything is buttery smooth at 60FPS on PC, and there’s even an option for an unlimited frame rate too. One of the best additions to the game, however, is turbo mode, which lets you speed up gameplay significantly by simply holding down a button. I do wish that there was an option to make it a toggle rather than something you have to hold, but I still greatly appreciated having the option to speed up the more tedious moments of the game.
On the audio side of things, players can look forward to over 5000 additional lines of voiced dialogue throughout the game. A significant chunk of those extra lines go to Rean; in the PS3 and Vita versions of the game, there were a frustrating amount of scenes where everyone but Rean was voiced. As you can imagine, this made for an awkward and somewhat baffling experience, but it’s a thing of the past in the PC version. Similarly, minor NPCs in major cutscenes are now voiced alongside everyone else, and there are even several scenes featuring Class VII and supporting characters that have also been given the full audio treatment. There are still large portions of the game that are not voiced, but if the seemingly haphazard audio treatment of the original versions of the game bothered you, the PC version will feel like a marked improvement. And while I would love to gush about how good the music is, I will instead simply say that it’s fantastic and if you would like to know more, check out our review on the subject.
In case I haven’t said it enough already, the PC port of Trails of Cold Steel is quite simply the best version of the game you can get at the moment. It’s also an excellent port on its own that brings many improvements and scales well between a dedicated gaming rig at max settings and an ultraportable laptop squeaking by on low. If you’re a fan of the series, this is a no-brainer. If you’ve never played a Trails game before, this is an excellent place to start.