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]

To note: the first Legend of Heroes were the most plain, boring shit, in a series (Dragonslayer) of crazy high concept RPGs.

Yeah, it’s definitely firmly in YMMV territory.

I think that the whole world and setting and everything just feels very generic fantasy-world-y. There’s no particular hook that draws me in (other than the combat). I feel like Kiseki substitutes longevity for world building. Like, they don’t do all that much to make the world feel alive or real, but eventually, just due to the sheer number of games, it starts to gel into something that seems like it has substance, but there’s no particular point at which anything clicked. I guess you could characterize that as slow-burn if you want.

I feel kind the same way about the recent Ys games (not coincidentally also Nihon Falcom games). I feel like they assume a level of affection of Adol and Doge that I don’t really have, and without that level of attachment, it’s just kind generic fantasy game the game. The rotating cast of characters in Ys games are fine, but I don’t ever feel any kind of real weight to them. For me, both Trails and Ys are high quality time-fillers for when I just want to play a pretty generic RPG and don’t want to deal with whatever perverted nonsense NIS is doing this year.

But that isn’t really a criticism per se: the same could be said for 95% of anime produced each year, and something about each one clicks with somebody. (Cold Steel feels very much like it was written by an anime writing staff, IIRC, the first Cold Steel starts with accidental meet-cute knocking into a girl and accidentally knocking her over and maybe kinda-sorta touching her breasts?)

But also with a top class combat system, which makes up for a lot, since that’s what you’re doing in a JRPG like 80% of the time.

You’ve hit the nail on the head with the recent Ys games. While I greatly enjoyed parts of Ys 8’s combat system and world (fishing!), I was a lot cooler on the character interactions and story. The bishonen-ification of Adol really didn’t work for me, and the new characters were paper-thin anime archetypes that completely failed at trying to be endearing. I also really did not care for Dana, between her nonsensical outfit and her reverse grip sword things.

While IMO it was a successful iteration on the franchise in a lot of ways (the island-building as the framework for questing in the open world was as good a hook as the cartography in Ys Seven), I really don’t care for the way Falcom is gutting their Kiseki and Ys storytelling for the purposes of jamming these games full of modern anime character archetypes and story beats. Between Cold Steel and Ys we’ve covered “special kid battle high school” and “rebuilding the world on a fantasy island”. At this rate, I wont be surprised if the next entry has Adol trying to find a certain treasure to become king of the pirates.

It seems @tomchick edited the thread title, in case you’re wondering. ;)

I am devastated :(

Sorry, I don’t mean to ruin anyone’s fun. Thread titles are, of course, welcome to include inside joke, but preferably not at the expense of being functional. :)


I suddenly found myself in the mood to replay Suikoden (II or III, wasn’t sure which) but rather than going through the hassle of doing that, I thought, ‘hey, you know what game was kind of like Suikoden. . .” and booted this instead.

So, I started a new game of the first part of this absurdly epic series a few weeks ago and am easing my way into the endgame now (at least, I think it’s the endgame). Several years ago, this was the game that convinced me that JRPGs are good, actually after having spent well over a decade being a hater. But, I stalled out around the 20-hour mark and then DQ11 came out not long after and I just sort of forgot about it.

My loss because now I’m looking at trying to fit in three more 60+ hour games into my downtime once I finish this one. The anime tropes get to be a little much sometimes, but the characters are mostly charming (once you get past the aforesaid tropes, Gaius excluded who is kind of a bore but that’s already been covered in this thread) and I really like the setting as it’s something you don’t see much of.

However, the real star for me is the combat system. I think it’s maybe the best turn-based JRPG battle system I’ve played. It’s most similar to SMT (probably the other major contender to best JRPG combat throne, though JRPG heads can stone me for missing something obvious), but with movement emphasized and being less likely to devolve into simply exploiting weaknesses. The orb system is also a nice way to introduce some unit customization and synergies, building on FF7’s materia system to an extent.

No real reason to necro this thread other than to mention that this is a game I’ve been playing and enjoying lately. It’s pretty underrated, so I don’t see the harm in giving it some more shine. (Yes, forum, I want to ‘revive’ this ancient, 9-month-old topic.)

I have these still on my backlog. Wanted to finish the Trails In the Sky series first. Put about 25 hours into it and put it aside with the intention to return, but that was when Trails Of Cold Steel 1 released.

Now that it’s up to Trails of Cold Steel 4 I’m afraid I’ll never have the time to play these. Didn’s stop me from buying 3 and 4 for the Switch (and 2 for the Vita). But damn, way too many JRPGs in my backlog.

I wonder if I need to play 1 & 2 to be able to play the latest entries?

I’ll defer to someone who knows the later games better, but the first game seems nearly entirely to be character and world building. Not that those things aren’t important, but it does seem skippable (to an extent) if you wanted to jump straight into the latter ones, though I’m sure you’d miss some callbacks and context for certain events/characters. I actually enjoy the leisurely pacing that slowly ramps up the longer you play (very Suikoden-esque), but it’s very much a slow burn. I think one of the reasons I stalled on it initially is that I was playing it too much and too fast (I think I did those 20 hours mostly over an extended weekend). The first game seems better suited to play an hour or two before bed on weeknights rather than playing several hours per day on the weekend.

Finally finished this. Overall, I still think it’s mostly great, but oof, that finale! I thought I was nearing its end about 10 hours before it actually ended. I didn’t mind at first—the festival parts probably overstayed their welcome, but I assume the subsequent games leave the academy, so I get the game spending more time there at the end as a kind of last hurrah for the setting—but the last few fights after it turns into Gundam/Xenogears/other mech stuff it goes from having excellent JRPG combat to horrible JRPG combat. Maybe it was just general burnout at the end of a very long game, but the last few fights were so tedious it’s really blunted my interest in playing the second part if that’s the direction the series heads with its combat.

That’s the sad state of matter with JRPGs featuring good combat, I fear: they throw out the balance in the finale parts and get back to their old 90s demons of HP sponges versus the mindless hammer.
It is why I never finish them nowadays :O

With regard to the thing you spoilered, it does become part of the series but it is a very secondary combat method. (And it gets a bit better, though it’s still a huge step down from the “normal” fights, which are probably my favorite of the modern JRPG battle systems.) Think a fight or two after a major chapter boss.

The remaining Cold Steel games are better in some ways (each game they fix whatever was most imbalanced about the previous, if nothing else). The weakness is that by the fourth they’re so far down the Trails lore that it’s hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t already fully “in” on the series. If you enjoyed everything but the very end of the first game, though, I’d say you’re probably pretty safe to keep going.

Don’t worry: most of the fighting in Trails of Cold Steel 2 is the standard fighting you already know (with some improvements). The other type of combat you mentioned is still there, but it’s better executed and more interesting, and only happens occasionally, so I don’t think you’d have any issues going into part 2 if you want.

Back on the list it goes.

Cheap Chinese knockoff Trails.

I guess it’s time for my now annual-ish update on my playthrough of the Cold Steel series. Since last time, I have played parts 2 and 3. My memories of 2 are a bit hazy since I played about 3/4of it a month or so after my last post in this thread and then the rest earlier this year, but I liked how it opened the world to exploration early on. However, I started developing some misgivings about the story by the end. The mech parts were improved, but still not exactly good and I always dreaded them.

I wrapped up Part 3 a few weeks back and have a bit more to say. For a good 4/5 of the game, I thought it was easily the best in the series. It was an improved, more refined version of Cold Steel 1. The additions to the combat system were good. Both the school and party members are smaller in scale which was an improvement as well since it was all a bit more focused and less time consuming (I liked the cozy feeling of Cold Steel 1, but not sure I would be up for a repeat anytime soon).

With the combat and orbment systems being solid as ever, the difficulty balance was the most significant gameplay issue. When the balance is right the combat is probably the most satisfying in the genre. It’s tense and tactical, and encourages creative character build synergies, of which there are multiple viable ones for each character (I like my Rean fast and spamming time magic attacks). However, these well-balanced encounters become less frequent as the game progresses. Normal becomes too easy unless you play under leveled and/or do not spend time upgrading your quartz. Meanwhile, hard becomes too time consuming since the enemies do not behave more intelligently or make more cutthroat decisions in combat, but rather have more HP and all the bosses have an action where they heal and buff themselves (essentially, you’ll reduce their health by 20 percentage points or so, then they do the heal/buff action to regain about 15 percentage points of health, prolonging the fights and turning them into a slog unless you have all your limit breaks primed to go, and even then since they buff their defenses it still is not quite enough). On the plus side, the mech battles are kinda fun this time! Unfortunately, since the boss fights on hard become tedious HP sponges, they effectively replace the boring mech fights from 2 so the fact that the mech fights are better here does not meaningfully improve the game.

The characters are hit and miss overall, but new character Juna was handled pretty well and actually had a moment of legitimately good pathos. Some returning characters like Claire and, to a lesser extent, Sarah had some nice bookends for their character arcs. Even Gaius became vaguely interesting. But, the story as a whole is a trainwreck at this point, there are multiple characters who I do not care about and was actively dreading their next appearances (special shoutout here to everything having to do with Rean and his sister), there are too many characters in general, the character designs for female characters especially is atrocious and only getting worse, it habitually undersells the stakes of its presumably intricately crafted story by leaning into absurd anime-style rivalries (paraphrasing cutscene dialogue: “never mind the thousands of nameless drones dying in the background, let us instead discuss what a thrill and honor it is to have a worthy foe with which to have spectacular but ultimately meaningless fights”), its protagonist is so naïve and/or stupid that he is becoming genuinely unlikeable (though his friends are not much better in that respect). In short, there’s a lot of cringe in this game!

To make matters worse, despite being the third game in a sub-series and forming the bulk of the back half of the first part of a larger series littered with 80-hour games, there’s a ton of wheel spinning here. It looks like Part 4 will essentially place Rean etc. in the same position he/they were in at the beginning of Part 2. This on top of the fact that Part 3 was, in broad strokes, pretty similar to Part 1 as it is. Which is to say that I do not think there is five games worth of story here. Further, skimming review blurbs of the just released Reverie (ostensibly the finale of both this and the Crossbell arc) I see people complaining about that game spinning its wheels as well. How? I know these games are part of a larger series, but it would not hurt to resolve something instead of introducing more and more mysterious plots and characters to an already convoluted story. If I’m going to continue with these games I might have to become one of those people that skips all the cutscenes.

It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and I do not know that it is worth the trouble to continue with no matter how much I like the combat and orbment systems, but the fact that it is still occasionally great (I wouldn’t spend this many paragraphs on a game that legit sucks after all) means it’s a topic I’ll have to revisit a few months from now.

Interesting timing on your update, since (as you note) Reverie just came out, and I’m 25 or so hours into that, and have been generally thinking more about Trails games this year with three of them getting their official US releases in the last ~10 months. I do think as the Cold Steel games move on, the battle system and aspects of character building (or equipping, really) get better and better, while the macro story spins more and more wildly out of control. Very anime, for sure, and generally most of the things I don’t like about the recent games are because of how heavily they’ve leaned into some of that. (You’ll particularly see a lot of discussion/criticism among the series’ fans about shifting from a canon story romance in Sky, to a strongly suggested canon romance but also everyone wants Lloyd in Zero/Azure, to full out anime harem for Rean in Cold Steel. It’s both a thing in itself and also emblematic of how the tone of the series has shifted over time.)

I don’t remember specific issues with HP sponge bosses on hard in any particular CS game, though I’m sure there could very easily have been one where it was out of balance, as there have definitely been games where the difficulty has been a bit off. (I remember Sky 2 being wildly more punishing than Sky 1, and particularly some of the bonus point objectives were quite frustrating.) That said, I’m on, what, my tenth of these at this point, I play them all on Hard, and it has worked fairly well for me. Normal feels much too easy pretty much from the jump, and (especially in the later entries) Hard feels balanced right on the knife’s edge of I can usually win the first time I try a fight, but it’s going to be close, and I’ll bounce off and retry maybe one in ten.

I’d call Reverie more of an epilogue to Crossbell and CS than a finale, at least the vibe that I’m getting from it so far. (Saying this from the point of view of having completed CSIV, in particular, which is very much a finale of that arc.) Definitely some wheel-spinning in the big picture story, but not one that I mind so much as I did the fact that CS 3/4 were kind of repeats of CS 1/2. Quite possibly because I came in expecting it to be more of a bridge to the Kuro games rather than needing it to do as much on its own.

I’m having a lot of fun with Reverie so far, but more in the sense of just having all of these characters together than in the sense of the big plot really being compelling. Put all of the characters and all of the minigames and all of the equipment and quartz in one place and have at it, is kind of the idea, and it works for me. I have an above-average tolerance for anime in my JRPGs at this point, though. Honestly, my biggest complaint is that for a series that can do above-average character writing for these kinds of games, it would be really nice if they could design a female character model in between “fourteen years old” and “looking into options for surgery for back pain” - Reverie stepped it up another notch on both fronts, not great.

Yeah, the first few hours of Sky 2 were really rough. They felt unfair, with you being so limited in both power and options early on. It’s been a while, but I remember getting more frustrated there than anything.

I’m trying for the 100th time to get into the series. I’m starting at the beginning to give myself the least chance of every accomplishing anything. ;) I’m about 16 hours into Sky and really like it. I heard this one is a slow burn and it hasn’t bothered me at all. I quite enjoy finding all the random people and I haven’t been overwhelmed by the amount of dialog. I’d like to get up to a point where I can move to a console preferably the switch. Maybe be the time I get through 5 games they will finally release CS 1 and 2 to the Switch. :(

I didn’t quite get the quests expiring until I got to the 3rd town so I missed a bunch of side quests from the beginning. Hopefully that’s not a big deal.

That’s where I am, too. I recognize it’s more about nostalgia of what this series used to be more than any interest or excitement in what it is now or will be going forward, but I still can’t help but smile every time some characters like Estelle and Joshua show up (despite their pervy 3D artists making her look like a porn star)

Messing around with the orbments is still fun and while the combat balance isn’t ideal - on Hard it tends to feel easy most of the time but then blows me up fast if I get lazy - it’s good enough to keep me going.