After having thoroughly enjoyed the first Trails of Cold Steel, Trails of Cold Steel II aims to continue the epic saga set up by the first game and develop this splinter of the Legend of Heroes franchise further… But does it stand enough on it’s own to be worth the title of sequel? Or does it feel more like cut content from the first game..? Let’s grab our ARCUS units and take a look…
Please note, there will be full spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel, and some spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel II.
Picking up straight where Trails of Cold Steel left off, Rean is left broken and vulnerable after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Crow Armbrust, and his inability to protect his classmates from the oncoming cival war; alone with the mysterious talking cat, Celine, who had stalked Rean and the rest of Class VII throughout the first game, and the Ashen Knight Valimar, Rean gets instantly placed into an odd and surprisingly effective spot of total isolation – Left totally alone to mull over his failures and his own internal turmoil as he questions his friends’ safety…
…However this brilliant setup only lasts for the most part of the first Prologue Chapter.
Rean finds himself on the border of Ymir, his hometown, as he meets with his sister Elise, Princess Alfin, Toval and Rean’s parents to near-instantly put Rean’s internal turmoil to rest; cue a few fake-out situations, Elise and the princess being kidnapped, and Valimar somehow being able to track all of Class VII’s vital signals, and you have your story acts all planned out by the end of the first 2 hours – Find the rest of Class VII, get revenge on Crow and the rest of the Noble Alliance and Imperial Liberation Front, and rescue your sister and the Princess.
It’s quite honestly leagues away from the mystery and wonder of the first title, especially with the amazing setup in the first two-thirds of the Prologue Chapter. Why did we have to learn that all of Class VII was safe straight out of the gate? Why did we get no plot relevance to Rean’s past other than a passing comment during the Prologue Chapter in Ymir? Arrrrgh… It could have been so good it hurts!
Now I will give this next entry’s plot one plus-point without delving much further than the first Chapter; Rean’s reunion with the rest of Class VII, and Class VII’s reunion with other members are done extremely well; there’s raw emotion, tears, sloppy noses and honest heartbreak that’s shown here, and god you feel every second of it. Class VII definitely grows their bonds far better than the first game, and shows just how they care for one-another in these difficult, trying times.
That’s another aspect of Trails of Cold Steel II that works extremely well – The civil war ignited in the first game has come to a boiling point, with the Noble Alliance having claimed the majority of Erebonia, making the feel of the country seem less like rural Europe and much more like World War 2 Europe – Propaganda fills the local news outlets, local armies and armed factions have upped their defenses and destructive capabilities – Citizens of the various locations featured in the first game are mostly scared for their lives, with Class VII and the other Thors refugees being seen in hiding mostly, using elaborate secret codes to communicate and disclose their hiding spots… It’s all very tense.
Now, Trails of Cold Steel II does make a few improvements to gameplay, with one new addition being Overdrive – A mechanic that has you build up an Overdrive gauge by attacking opponents, which – when full – will allow you and a linked party member to use three free turns with instant-Arts; this allows you to set up for some impressive plays, such as using a variety of buff Arts before a dangerous second phase, or allowing you to get that last little bit of CP to use an S-Break; other than this, however, the list of new gameplay mechanics practically ends here – You gain the ability to utilise Valimar in certain fights, however it’s largely the same as the Valimar fights at the end of the first title – You can eventually link with another character whilst in Valimar, however it doesn’t have too much impact on gameplay.
There are a few additional late-game mechanics from what I’ve seen, as I’ve only gotten around halfway through the game so far, so the game does open up a bit more towards the end in terms of mechanics, but for the most part, it’s Trails of Cold Steel 1.5 baby.
…Which is honestly quite disappointing – 90% of the game’s UI is ripped straight from the first game, just given a few extra details, and the engine used is exactly the same… So I have to question myself why Falcom didn’t choose to republish both Trails of Cold Steel I & II together in a sort of combo-package. Even a lot of the enemies are re-used from the first game, albeit with new colouring, so it would’ve been fantastic to futher tie the first and second game together…
Overall, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is again another brilliant entry in the Trails of Cold Steel subfranchise, held back by some poor story beats that loses a majority of Rean’s personal dilemmas in the first third of the game; the tactical gameplay remains engaging and fun to play with, yet fundamentally lacks the evolution to call this game a true sequel to the first title – Character interactions are far superior to what they were in the first game, and the sense of dread throughout Erebonia is unmatched… But it’s such a shame that the core story beats and missed opportunities are what’s putting this title just below my love for the first game.
I give The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II a: