Combat system akin to chess
WHEN it comes to role-playing games (RPGs), you’ll often hear of Final Fantasies or Personas which seem to dominate the genre. Once in a blue moon, however, a game will surface that manages to put those two iconic game series to shame.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel for the PC is one such game that no RPG fanatic should miss out on.
The story takes place in the Erebonian Empire, where protagonist Rean Schwarzer has enrolled in Thors Military Academy, an educational institute that divides the classes according to the students’ social classes. The nobles are in white uniform while the regular folk wear green.
Upon reaching the town of Trista, he makes an odd discovery; he and a few selected students are clad in red instead. During his class orientation, the “red” group is thrown into a dungeon with one simple instruction — to get out of there alive. After somehow managing to subdue all the monsters and making their escape, Class Instructor Sara Valestein finally explains the purpose of the “red” group. The students were specifically chosen as they have the most aptitude with the new battle technology known as the Arcus Battle Orbments.
The students are expected to be beta testers for this new technology and they will be sent on dangerous missions, more so than the other classes, for them to learn what the real situation is with the empire, — opposing governments, as well as to collect data for the machine.
With not much choice given to them, they all agree to participate in the programme and thus begin their adventures in the real world.
Generally speaking, the game can be divided into three parts: academics, practical exams, and field studies. During the academics session, you will be going around the town of Trista as well as Thors Military Academy to complete certain objectives, engage with other characters, and study. By study, I mean gather bits and pieces of the game’s lore via the library.
Generally, the academics will have you descend further and further down the Old Schoolhouse, where you’ll slowly uncover the mystery behind the building. You will then be taking a practical exam, which consists of a variety of combat-based challenges, such as fighting a robot or other students of the school.
Then, you will proceed with field studies, where the protagonist will be grouped up with a specific classmate and sent to other areas in the region. This is where the bulk of the game’s storyline will take place. In all three parts, there will be some side quests or optional objectives to meet, as well as the opportunity to bond with your classmates, and I can’t stress enough as to the importance of these things.
For one thing, bonding with classmates will earn you Link Points with that specific character. The points can be used to power up your Links, which will, in turn, help you work better with that specific classmate in battle.
Furthermore, you’ll have additional narratives that will give you a better idea of that character. Side quests. on the other hand, will award you with items that will make the game easier to go through, along with additional narrative.
This may make the game a bit too predictable but, at the same time, this is also what makes it surprising when it decides to throw you off-tangent. Without spoiling the game too much, it is a surprisingly effective way to design a game without the need to overwhelm players with tasks.
On the downside, it can also make the storyline move somewhat slowly, which is one negative point for the game. The game does make up for it with Turbo Mode, which makes the game twice as fast with the press of a button.
Considering that the game starts off with a glimpse of the future and thrusts you into battle with high level characters, the combat system may seem like too much to swallow but it’s a lot simpler than you think.
In combat, you can have up to four characters present in the battlefield with an additional two characters as the support team. The support team’s function is simply for you to switch with the active members, whenever you like, during battle.
The game utilises a turn-based system, so the characters’ and enemies’ turns are fully dependent on their parameters, especially speed. When it’s your turn, you can choose between six commands; Attack, Arts, Crafts, Items, Run and Move.
Attack is where you cause damage to your opponent physically whereas for Arts and Crafts, they are special attacks that will cost you Energy Points and Craft Points respectively.
Arts also takes one turn to cast whereas Crafts can be executed instantaneously.
As with any other RPGs, every character and enemy has their elemental affinity and weakness. Taking advantage of this with your Arts and Crafts will make battles easier. While Run and Item is self-explanatory, the Move command serves to re-position a character in a battlefield to either avoid enemy attacks or get in range of an enemy. Certain offence-based commands will re-position your character anyway, but only the Move command will allow you to place them at a specific position.
Taking into account that all these commands will affect who gets to act next is what makes the game interesting. For example, certain Crafts will enable you to act again after executing it, effectively giving you a free move, whereas directly attacking an opponent will not yield you such a benefit.
This makes the combat system more akin to chess, where you need to properly strategise your moves, and it keeps the game feeling fresh and fun until your characters become too powerful and they can essentially mow down the enemies with little to no effort.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a solid entry. Fans of the genre should not miss playing this regardless of whether they have tried out other games in the series. Sure, the game may have some quirks here and there, such as the story being a bit slow to progress from time to time, but these won’t hinder you from getting immersed; the hours just fly.
If anything, the addition of the Turbo Mode feature helps in making the portions of the game that seem draggy more tolerable. What would make the game better? Allowing more characters in the field of combat such as Suikoden, (given the sheer number of playable characters) — which will certainly have people stressing out deciding on who should be placed in combat.