Much like I stated in my first impressions for the title over a month ago, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is not a title for anyone that hasn't already played through the previous game in the franchise, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (spoilers for the first game will follow, you have been warned, including II's beginning hours). The RPG's story, following the ending of the first game, has protagonist Rean Schwarzer gathering up his classmates in order to both try and find ways to help diffuse the situation surrounding Erebonia's civil war as well as carve their own path to bring their former classmate-turned-terrorist back home. If the previous sentence doesn't make sense to you, there's a good reason why. Besides issues with pacing throughout the majority of the game, Trails of Cold Steel II fumbles in its storytelling in many of the same ways that the prior game actually succeeded. This isn't a case of the game's translation being subpar, either. Just looking at the overall framing of the game's various story scenes shows that the game's translation is nothing but faithful to the original Japanese intent.
It's hard to explain some of the worst parts about the game's pacing and overall story progression without spoiling it. The best way that I can think of explaining it would be to contrast the pacing at the beginning of the game (Act 1) to the middle half of the game (Act 2), and then the ending (Everything Else). In Act 1 the player is mostly railroaded down a linear path, as Rean looks for and eventually finds each of his classmates, through mostly familiar locations that the player had already explored in the previous game. This isn't so much a problem with Act 1 itself, but many of the same areas that you might have explored earlier in the game are revisited in at least one way or another later in to the story. When seeing them again, it's not like you're visiting new parts of the environment, either.
Because of this, between Act 1 and Act 2 it might feel like the player is retreading some of the same ground. You're visiting similar or the same parts of the environments that you visited in either Act 1—or the first game—in Act 2. The weird part about it is that it feels like the game either didn't drag on long enough in those initial sections in Act 1 or could've been solved in less time. Instead, the game felt like it had chosen some sort of middle ground, where you were in each area just long enough to start getting tired of it, but not long enough to really explore what may have changed there without being egged on to the next portion of the story in what felt like a bit of a rushed manner ... just for the story to drag you back to many of these same areas later on.
One new feature that really hurts the game's pace would have to be the Divine Knight battles. They're unavoidable, since Rean's connection to the Ashen Knight is the one thread that persists throughout the game's story, but what was an interesting distraction at the very end of Trails of Cold Steel has only been slightly expanded, and more often than not overstays its welcome in the sequel. Compared to the depth that the game's combat has in most of it's "normal" battles, Cold Steel II's Divine Knight battles feel slow and dull, while lacking any of the "weight" you'd expect from a Mech fight in the first place. After the first few goes in the Divine Knight, I grew to dread these battles, and they never really change from the very first fights near the beginning of the game.
In contrast, Cold Steel II has made some great changes to the regular battle system that help it feel more dynamic. Overdrive allows for linked characters to attack one after the other for three turns in a row, while also regaining some HP, EP, and CP. Lost Arts that can be gained from defeating various "Cryptids" in Act 2 grant characters unique Arts that can be used once per battle, with drastic effects. From the get-go, every character has the various crafts that they had earned up until the ending of the first game, and as the game goes on even more crafts are unlocked. Whereas Divine Knight battles are dull from the beginning and stay that way throughout the story, regular battles are engaging to begin with and become even more so the farther the player progresses through the game.
Various other smaller changes have been made with this sequel, such as the ability to travel across most of the game world at your leisure in Act 2, and the addition of the ability to use the Orbal Bike on the game's various routes or trails. Every playable character from the previous game and then some are available for players to use in one way or another, even though most of these characters only get some real screen time at the very ending of the game. On that note, Cold Steel II decides to drag its ending out for even longer than the previous game. I won't explain why and how, due to spoilers, but it goes without saying that you'll recognize what I'm referring to when you get there yourself.
Despite my qualms with the story's pacing, Cold Steel II does manage to answer many of the surface level questions that you're given at the end of the first title. That being said, it also leaves the player with more questions about the story than they probably went into it with. Part of the problem probably stems from the fact that some key portions of the games' story seem to either directly tie into or reference titles in the franchise that have yet to be released in English. The game's story doesn't "need" the context from previous titles aside from the original Cold Steel, but at least from my perspective it felt like there were quite a few moments that felt like they were supposed to have more of an impact, but due to a lack of context, said impact just flew over my head.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is still one of the best RPGs that I've played all year, and it should go without saying that if you played and enjoyed last year's Cold Steel, you owe it to yourself to see this part of the story through. I can't say just how much of my problems with the game's pacing might be fixed when and if the other titles in the series come over, so I find it hard to judge the story as a whole at this particular point. If nothing else, Trails of Cold Steel II is a story worth seeing through, flaws and all.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II stumbles with its pacing in places where the first game doesn't, but it's still an RPG worth playing.(Review Policy)
- Combat has been improved, with new features like Overdrive and Lost Arts
- Great soundtrack, with a mix of both old songs and new
- Answers most of the immediate questions left by the end of Trails of Cold Steel
- Story pacing leaves a lot to be desired
- Divine Knight battles feel dull
- Makes it obvious that the West is missing a few of the earlier titles in the series