Great JRPG series with a name that might be a reference to trains, tanks, or mechas, all at once [Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel]

I’m talking about the The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series, of course. And yeah, Cold Steel might be a reference to all of those things, since all of them leave trails, and they’re all made of Cold Steel, and they all appear in the game in some fashion.

I’ll post more info about the game later (kind of busy right now), but this is a series of games (4 of them, in fact) that is part of a larger series called The Legend of Heroes, which includes the Trails in the Sky series, and the Crossbell arc, which isn’t officially available out of Japan (but it does have unofficial translations for those interested). The individual series within are mostly self-contained, but they all take place in the same universe and the same time period, and they share events and characters, too. So it’s kind of a JRPG MCU, if you want to see it that way. ;)

Steam links for the 4 games in the series:

We’re not allowed to talk about the one with planes? :(

This series has planes too! But the one you’re mentioning is already covered by this thread:

That said, you’re free to talk about that one here too, as far as I’m concerned. Though the focus is on Rean Schwarzer and his Class VII. ;)

A cursory glance at the series reveals something like five hundred hours of JRPG. What about the games makes them worth the time investment?

(not snark, legitimately curious! I like hearing about why people like things)

It’s a game, you’re supposed to have a fun during those hours :O

Well, I guess the biggest draw is the world building. This is a continent with different nations, all with a detailed history and different cultures, etc. This series focuses on perhaps the biggest and most powerful nation in that continent, Erebonia. Trails in the Sky takes place in Liberl (a different nation that borders Erebonia) and the Crossbell series takes place in, of course, Crossbell, another neighbour of Erebonia.

In a continent like that, there’s lots of space for potential and actual conflicts and tensions, which feature prominently in the storytelling of all the subseries. And there’s also remains of an ancient civilization in the whole continent, and all sorts of legends connected to that. There’s also a secret society wreaking havoc everywhere, as part of a larger, mysterious plan… so, there’s a LOT.

Anyway, it’s a very nice backdrop to tell a lot of interesting stories. And the games do that by focusing on characters, in how they connect with other characters, and what effects the many events that take place have on those characters. It is at once grand and small, with that kind of focus.

Gameplay-wise: being a character-focused game with lots of storytelling, you talk to a lot of people and go to a lot of places to talk with a lot more people. There’s some exploration, but it’s mostly linear and focused on a chain of events that slowly unravel even bigger plots and mysteries. It is a slow burn because of that, which explains some of the many hundred hours in the series, because as a game it takes time establishing the setting, characters, motivations, etc.

As for combat, it’s really good. Turn-based, of course, but there’s a lot going on. Each character has different special attacks and all have their specific strengths and weaknesses, there’s a fully customizable “spell” system, and you can manipulate initiative to delay enemies or allies to better use the random effects that can happen in certain turns (like guaranteeing criticals, recharging your spell points, and lots of other stuff). As you unlock more options (and sometimes the ability to choose your party members) it gets a lot deeper than it looks at first.

So yeah, that’s it? I love the combat, I really like the detailed world they built here, I like the characters, and the story is pretty interesting and goes to interesting places. That said, the game takes its time setting up everything, so anyone with little patience for “slow” games should probably stay away.

Speaking of the combat system (highly refined from the grid-based slog in TitS), Falcom killed it with the JRPG power metal in the normal battle theme used in CS1:

The funny thing, I knew instantly which series this was just based on @rhamorim ’s title. Such was the infant of that previous thread.

What’s the appropriate entry point for a total newcomer? This one?

Hm. That might be why TitS has sat in my “can you please get around to finishing this?!” list.

To be fair, though, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon’s Dogma and Skyrim are also on that list.

That’s why PC is the definitive way to play it these days. The turbo speed hotkey lets you fly through the combat. and overworld travel. and the strangely slow character movement during cutscenes.

At the risk of being a “put 200 hours into game, asks for refund because not enough content” kind of hypocrite, I don’t really get the appeal of this series. I played Trails of the Sky + SC, as well as the first Trails of Cold Steel, and it never really worked for me.

Like, it’s a totally serviceable RPG series, but I didn’t really feel anything special about it. The characters aren’t very well written (I found Estelle neither interesting nor charming), and their attempts at broader intrigue weren’t very compelling. Sure, there are nations with history that could be interesting, but you end up just boiling those down to bog standard JPRG plots.

Cold Steel generally works as a Persona-like (i.e. relationships / school simulator + RPG), but none of the characters were particularly compelling. There’s a conceptual world spanning plot, but the writing suffers a lot from the restrictions of it being an RPG, and so character growth is tightly restricted by the restrictions of staying in the party.

The clearest example of the kind of world-building failure in my mind is the guy in Cold Steel who’s from “the North” / Nord Highlands, and they just talk bout it in empty generalities such that it never comes close to feeling like an actual place, even after you go there.

All that being said, the combat system is really good, and probably what kept me playing through all of them. There’s enough of the 3d positioning / AoE / status effect stuff to make it interesting. The orbs / slots system (you control who has which abilities by slotting orbs into their weapon, each orb gives different abilities) is interesting, because it has combinatoric potential: different orbs have different abilities, but different combinations can also trigger different abilities.

I always felt the orbs system seemed like it had untapped potential. Often, you’re more restricted by what orbs you have or what orbs characters are allowed to use (certain slots only accept certain colors) than by the kinds of tactical decisions you want to make. But, it’s still an interesting layer on top of you basic JRPG formula, and stays interesting, and the restrictions generally keep the characters in broad archetypes and prevent it from being overwhelming, so I get why they do it that way.

I feel like I’d be remiss not to mention that the terms they use for battle skill as Orbal Arts (spells) and Crafts (character specific techniques), which means the battle system is literally…Arts and Crafts.

I almost bought Cold Steel 2, but then realized that by the end of Cold Steel, I was just kinda playing it because it was there. In general, I think there are more interesting JRPGs out there, unless the setting really clicks with you.

If you want the full experience, you should probably start with Trails in the Sky. But if you’d rather play a more “modern” series with more refined gameplay, Trails of Cold Steel (the first one in this series) is the better starting point. That said, it is a slow burn, and the vast majority of the first game in the series is setting up what comes later, so as long as you’re aware of that, there’s a chance you might enjoy it if you like slow burners. ;)

Not sure how fair that is, since Nord is pretty much a footnote in the setting, being (at that point in the game) pretty much a non-urbanized area barely populated by nomads. They do have their own history and culture, but it’s far from being the focus of the world building in Cold Steel. There is a point to mentioning it because Nords had greater importance in the past (the War of the Lions) and it’s yet another different viewpoint to add in a story that hammers again and again the point that one of the strengths of Class VII is how it has people of many different origins and viewpoints, and how that diversity enables them to have a better overall view of what’s going on in Erebonia and even the continent at large, but I digress.

So yeah, Nord could be better developed, but it’s explained by how it’s not really the focus of this story in particular.

And I’ll agree that Gaius deserved more character development. That he gets even less dedicated time than Millium - which joins Class VII only in the second half of the first game - is a bit sad.

I think that’s a fair criticism but it’s really just a personal one as what’s interesting to one person might be boring to another. Certainly if a setting or characters or gameplay system does not connect with you than the game as a whole will not either.

Well I’m playing on the PS5 and that version (PS4/PS5) has the fast forward as well and I’m partial to playing this in as chill a manner as possible so my couch is a great place. I actually think this series is perfect for the Switch but the whole series is not available there yet.

I’ve played almost all of the first Cold Steel on Vita (stopped with a few hours left but watched the end on YouTube) and I’m playing the second one now on PS5. When it comes to JRPGs I compare the Cold Steel series to a good multi-season TV series and Final Fantasy to a TV anthology (characters and stories always change but thematic elements remain, chocobos, Bahamut, airships, etc). And I’m not comparing the quality of the writing or characters to TV which is obviously much better but more the format. Cold Steel follows the same characters over multiple games, as they grow and hit a bunch of different story beats. It’s slow and plodding at times, other times twisty and shocking. I’m okay with the pacing because I know what i’m getting into ahead of time and I’m willing to put the investment in go along with the game on this hundreds hour journey just like I am with something like The Wire or Game of Thrones (again not comparing quality here). That kind of investment can pay off over time because you’ve been there in the slow times and the dramatic times.

Oh, I didnt know they ported it to PS5 with the turbo. I played them originally on PSP.

God just list them all in one thread please.

Came here thinking this was a “Sakura Wars” thread.

They were listed in the older thread multiple times, but those are out of date because they keeping making new ones. And also older ones that used to only be in Japan keep getting ported over too.

This is a good reference:

The Sakura Wars thread title would be along the lines “Great SRPG series with a -wait, is it a VN or a mecha tactics game? And theres a stage show? How do these anime TV series figure in?”