Gamers always hope that sequels live up to their predecessors. Thankfully, Trails of Cold Steel II goes above and beyond the first installment so let's go back to school and see what Rean and his pals have been up to.
Before I begin this review, I should mention that playing the first Trails of Cold Steel is highly recommended before you dive into the sequel because this tale picks up right after the first. If you haven't played it yet then be sure to read my full review to see if you'd like it. Anyway, I'll assume that you played the first game before reading this review so let's get started.
The original Trails of Cold Steel featured a satisfying blend of side-quests, party management, and an awesome strategic turn-based yet free-roaming battle system. This time around, none of this has changed much but there are many enhancements that make playing it all the more enjoyable. For example, you now slowly fill overdrive meters that allow a character and their linked ally to perform a fury of consecutive attacks. When setting up your party, you can level up your orbment slots in order to equip more powerful orbs. Aspects like these and the fact that battles seem generally smoother than ever means that combat is rarely a chore to take part in. That reminds me, if an enemy is severely weaker than you then you can snuff it out on the map before entering battle. Doing so allows you to explore the early areas without having to get into easy fights with insignificant foes.
All of that being said, this is still a very similar experience to the first Trails of Cold Steel. The biggest contributor to the feeling of "been there, done that" is the areas that you revisit as most of them remain unchanged from the original adventure. On one hand, this creates a nostalgic atmosphere but it also becomes repetitive at times. The gameplay is basically the same as well with a handful of enhancements that help set it apart. In other words, if you were to play both games back-to-back then it would feel like one extremely long game.
One implementation that remedies the repetition is the ability to explore the world as you want once you gain access to an airship. This doesn't happen until halfway through the story but considering the first title was incredibly linear, it's fantastic to finally be able to have this freedom. There's something about completing a quest on one end of the continent then visiting a shop on the other side to pick up a few goodies and chat with some familiar faces. I wish that you could actually control the airship like in Final Fantasy VII and many other JRPG classics. I have no idea why developers started to dismiss that part of JRPGs. Overworld maps have gradually turned from expansive environments that are fun to explore to simple menus, but I digress. My point is; this freedom is definitely a welcome addition.
Although the battle system is familiar with the exception of added enhancements, one new kind of battle is introduced. Near the end of the first game, you get to take part in a mech battle. Throughout this tale, you'll fight many more mech battles and can even use your mech in regular encounters whenever you can summon it. The mech battles themselves are implemented in a seamless and intuitive way where you can team up with an ally who provides support. My only problem with these fights is the fact that they have the tendency to last an extended period of time as both you and your opponents gradually chip away at each other's enormous health meters. This made me regularly dread the next mech battle just because I knew I'd have to sit and tap X for half an hour or so.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel ended on a cliff-hanger and that made me excited to play this sequel. Thankfully, Trails of Cold Steel II ties up all the loose ends wonderfully and leaves you satisfied by the end. Without giving too much away, it does leave room for a sequel although it doesn't leave you hanging like the first game did. Reuniting with the cast of the original and being able to play as many guest characters makes this follow-up a very comprehensive experience. I'd go as far to say that both games should be in every JRPG fans' library simply because together, they add up to one of the most memorable tales ever told in the genre.
On the other end of the spectrum, Trails of Cold Steel II frequently felt much more cliché than the original. The main part that made me feel this way is that characters save each other in the nick of time during far too many story sequences. This not only ends up making these moments less special, it also becomes predictable and just plain cheesy. The equivalent is when you watch a police drama and every episode has a cop shoot a criminal just before they shoot a main character. It's exciting if done sparingly but if it happens all of the time then it's clear that the writers don't know how to create thrills without resorting to the same old trick.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is definitely a step up from the original due to its enhancements and added sense of freedom. These aspects come at a price, however, yet the underlying experience is so enjoyable that its flaws are easily forgivable.
- + Many new enhancements make the gameplay more enjoyable than ever
- + Open game world offers a lot of freedom
- + Ties up the story in a satisfying way
- - Doesn't quite do enough to differentiate itself from the first game
- - Mech battles are often very drawn out
- - Too many cliché story sequences