Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

Okay, this review is a bit shorter than for the first episode. If you liked all the little details that made ToCS I so much fun, then there's still the fishing, trial quests, finding books and recipes, plus plenty of side quests to help build up your stats. There's also the odd diversion like snowboarding to pass the time.

In short, ToCSII is incredibly similar to the original in terms of gameplay features. Many of the early locations are the same too, but have suffered destruction or oppression in the ongoing war caused by the Noble Alliance.
Good morning campers, I'll be your recurring pain in the ass for this episode
But what of our heroes? Rean Schwarzer wakes up being moaned at by that damn cat, to find his giant fighting robot, Valimar, out of commission. Stumbling down a mountain, he is soon launched on a quest to reunite with the rest of Class VII, and then to start fighting back against this nasty imperialism.

If you played the first game, then you can import your save, and some stats and relationships will carry over, which is a clever touch. If you played the first, you'll get the intricacies of the plot, but there's enough flash-back sepia shots to help explain the who, what and why to new players.

As you pick up your rag tag army of school mates, strung across the land, plus some new friends, the on-going story reveals itself. Old characters make surprising revelations and enemies go from Batman-camp to mildly scary with ominous undertones.

We slowly get a sense of the scale of the war, and that the armies you met in the first story are still battling manfully against the superior technology of the Nobles and their political shenanigans, which will split and divide the party along the way, just who among your egalitarian bunch can you really trust when high power is at stake?

Your early battles and quests are very much about survival. To spice up the combat, Overdrive is a new power that allows multiple attacks in sequence to real deal some damage to the major enemies. Unfortunately, there's still too many God-likes floating around the battlefield, twisting the story to their own ends, and you know you can never defeat them early on, which makes these fights a real chore.

Wading Into the Plot and Battle

Once everyone is together, Class VII start fighting back and trying to make a meaningful difference to the war. First up is disabling a jamming device on top of the watchtower in the Nord Highlands. As the action starts to pick up, I find the game is still full of odd quirks. There's rest points in corridors inside the enemy bases, really?And, the team will never kill an obvious enemy, letting them reappear later on for a rematch to do some more damage.

That was fine in the first game when the squad were innocent school kids, but this is war, dammit and they should have learned the price of mercy! Still, soon they are racing across the land, stopping off to find random food or other items, if you really want to complete every side quest, and with a barrage of trophies for getting closer to each of your pals!
Weren't you in Rise of the Robots? 
In a fight, you rely on movement, skills and constant healing and buffs to keep beating up the enemy, be it angry wildlife, a massive robot or increasingly annoying range of mercenaries. Your powers come through orbments charged into your Arcus technology which also acts as a communicator. That's a fun way to build and swap out skills, but in most battles you just rely on brute force and special attacks to win the day. A shame, as the movement, enemy analysis and counter tactics rarely get a look in.

After the first couple of chapters the plot thickens and the pace picks up, without spoiling it, its not quite as epic as the first game, in part due to familiarity. Also, perhaps the developers are saving the big shots for No. 3, although there's no guarantee that game will ever launch on the Vita.

As you explore the wider world, there is still very much the sense that Cold Steel's developers have created a wonderful visual scenery and a decent political tapestry and crammed on to the Vita, even if it is all explained in a Politics 101-class style. Trails of Cold Steel 2 is pretty damn epic and a great way to spend the cold autumn/winter months buried its embracing plot.

Score 8/10
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Price: £29.99 on Amazon
Dev: Falcom
Progress: Act 3

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