Trails of Cold Steel II
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Game Reviewed: Trails of Cold Steel II
Publisher: Nihon Falcom
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platform: PS3, PS Vita
Category: Japanese RPG
ESRB Rating: T
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The first game’s long buildup led to the inevitable outbreak of civil war in the land of Erebonia. To make things worse, Class VII (a group of students experimentally comprised of both commoners and nobility) has been separated, scattered across the land in the face of the growing conflict. In the face of betrayal, escalating violence, and mysterious forces beyond our heroes’ understanding, they must fight to reunite and help bring peace back to Erebonia in whatever ways they can.
That’s about as much as I can say without spoiling a ton of details; Trails of Cold Steel II absolutely expects you to have played the first game, or else you’ll be rather lost in its complex political tale and absurdly huge cast of characters.
This is the second in a trilogy of RPGs by Nihon Falcom, itself just one part of the larger Legend of Heroes series. Despite being relatively small releases, they’ve been making a splash among fans of Japanese games for their excellent story and characters, deeply strategic battle system, and simple but impressive visual presentation. Whether the games are appropriate for your children to play, however, could depend on a number of factors.
What Parents Need to Know
Trails of Cold Steel II has a turn-based battle system; the heroes start in formation on one side, the enemies on the other, and the player chooses their actions from a number of options as each character takes their turn acting in combat. Characters use all sorts of weapons, from bows to swords to guns to giant robots to magical staves, and will flinch bloodlessly when attacked.
While the combat has no blood, there are a few sequences in which more graphic violence is shown; a man is shot through the heart, and the wound is seen along with a spreading pool of blood underneath him. Another person is pierced with a spear, with the same result. In a flashback, a boy is seen with blood on his clothes.
The S-word is used on occasion. More frequently, minor swear words such as “damn” and “ass” are used.
The character outfits are generally very practical and modest, but for a brief time, the player controls a woman with very revealing clothing.
While never graphic, there is a decent amount of sexual dialogue. Characters enjoy teasing the protagonist about his relationship, knowing he is easily flustered. One female character is openly gay, and makes the same kinds of remarks one would expect from a “ladies man” character archetype.
One uncomfortable subplot (something that would be more acceptable in Japan, but doesn’t translate too well into American culture) involves the protagonist’s adopted sister having a crush on him, and her friend enjoys teasing her about that in a similar manner (including one cringe-inducing “kindship and skinship” innuendo).
Most of the “magic” in this game is actually just the science of this fantasy world, revolving around crystals that produce energy, which can be harnessed in various ways. But this game also begins introducing magic that is mysterious and magical even to the characters. One major character is a witch, as is a major antagonist. Various spells are used throughout the story to open ancient doors, heal dying people, and to summon an ancient, malevolent being. Magic itself is portrayed as morally neutral, capable of being used for good or ill.
The story and character development of the Trails of Cold Steel games allow for a lot of great talking points. There’s not time to go into even half of them in detail, but characters deal with issues ranging from family disputes to finding their purpose to coming of age to taking responsibility to all sorts of other issues. The characters are constantly growing and maturing, and there are great lessons to get out of each of them.
I’ll just be upfront about this; these games are some of the best I’ve played in a good long while. From the compelling story, interesting world, complex characters, and strategic battle system… I just love everything about this series.
Trails of Cold Steel II continues the first game’s legacy of greatness in most respects, despite a few narrative stumbles and some slowdown on the Vita. You come out of the experience having grown with all these characters, and the customizability of the battle system ensures that you can spend hours playing with ways to make each character fit into a highly effective role in battle. This game made me think, it made me feel, and as far as I’m concerned those are just about the two best things a game can make me do.
Of course, this doesn’t come without concerns for younger players. There’s language that may give you pause, and while sex is never graphically discussed it is referenced and alluded to on a number of occasions. It’s up to you whether your child is mature enough for this game, but if they are, it comes with no shortage of good discussion points.