The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Articles RSS Feed | The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network An Introduction to Trails: The Best JRPG Franchise You've (Probably) Never Heard Of Fri, 29 Mar 2019 13:37:32 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The gaming universe is vast, and it's easy for games to fly under the radar, regardless of how good they are. That's certainly the case for Nihon Falcom's long-lived Trails series.

It started life as a spin-off The Legend of Heroes franchise, which is itself a sub-series of Dragon Slayer, one of the oldest CRPGs in existence, and despite developing a devoted following in Japan, the series remains relatively unknown and one of the most underrated RPG series in the West.

That might be about to change, though. Xseed has released remakes of the first two Trails of Cold Steel games, the first of which — The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Decisive Edition — launched this week, and NISA will be localizing and publishing the third game in the series this fall.

For newcomers to the franchise, it can seem like an impenetrable mass of names, lore, re-releases, and confusion. If you love story-based RPGs, though it's worth sorting through it all and diving into. Think of this handy piece as your one-stop intro and FAQ rolled into one.

The Basics

There are the three Trails in the Sky games, collectively referred to as the Liberl arc; there's Sky FC (first chapter), Sky SC (second chapter), and Sky the 3rd, which doesn't need much explanation.

The next games are Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki, known as the Crossbell arc and translated loosely as Trails to Zero and Trails to Azure, respectively.

Then come the four Trails of Cold Steel games that make up the Erebonia arc, two of which remain unreleased outside Japan.

The Trails games take place in the same universe over the span of roughly three or four years on the continent of Zemuria, and they’re heavily story based.

Terms and people that pop up in the first Sky game will be important later in the series, while a character who makes a minor appearance in the first Trails of Cold Steel is also a major antagonist in Ao no Kiseki and plays an important role in CSIII.

Or a new perspective will be introduced that completely changes how you view the plot so far.

And despite being nine games strong, the overall plot is only at 80% completion, according to Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo. It's the sort of depth reserved for lengthy novel series, something you rarely see in video games.

Characters and Story Structure

Like the rest of Falcom’s offerings, the Trails games don’t break the RPG mold. However, they do use it in creative ways and combine various different strands of mechanics and characterization into a high-quality, engaging package.

Most characters will, initially, resemble a trope you might have seen elsewhere — the sexy big sister with a passion for drink, the quiet young man with a past, the brash tomboy, and so on. But the character development is handled in such a way that the tropes gradually fade away until you’re left with a believable, dynamic personality.

One notable example of deeper characterization involves Estelle Bright, the protagonist of Sky FC and SC and the brash tomboy mentioned earlier.

Normally in Japanese games, you expect lots of positivity and platitudes about kindness and hope. Yet when Estelle responds to the coldest of cynicism and most brutal callousness with hope for a brighter future and redemption, you believe her, just because that’s who the character is. It takes good writing and characterization to pull that off in a genre stuffed full of tropes.

The Trails games aren’t afraid to tackle heavier subjects either, from PTSD and mass murder, to exploitation and the darkest of tragedies. These things are handled surprisingly well too, with believable outcomes and greater coherence than some other examples of RPGs that deal with more profound themes like Xenogears and Persona.

Though it isn't opposed to throwing in some humor either

The story is part of what makes the games so unique and worthwhile as well, though it might take some getting used to for some players. Each game follows a set structure, and the first game in each arc begins slowly — some more than others.

Typically, around the halfway point, the action picks up noticeably, and players get a partial idea of the larger scenario before that comfortable structure is completely shattered, and everything rises in a dramatic crescendo as you propel to the conclusion.

With the exception of Zero no Kiseki, the first game in each arc also ends with a massive cliffhanger. If you’re just joining the series now, consider yourself lucky that you can power through without waiting years in between for the next installment. For the most part.

It's difficult to go into much detail about the plots without entering spoiler territory, but here's a short overview.

The Sky games juxtapose an intimate family story with a sinister political plot that eventually gives way to something with much broader implications for Zemuria and Estelle personally.

It's also a coming of age story done well. The way information is revealed about important events and the gameworld in general, the player only realizes the full extent of people's and nations' motivations and how the world works as Estelle does, making that moment of emotional and mental maturity seem much more natural than is often the case.

The two Crossbell games expand on what the Sky games started in a vastly different setting, the urban commercial city of Crossbell. It combines personal stories with local politics, including  gang problems, woven around broader political troubles associated with the tiny country's massive, warmongering neighbors, Erebonia and Calvard.

The Cold Steel arc presents some of the same events from the Erebonian perspective and was meant to introduce new players to the series. These games include the same personal and political emphases as earlier ones, though they add even more dimensions to the political and focus on what constitutes a moral use of power and how those considerations should guide a military nation. It's also wrapped around a school story with some slice of life elements.

Useful Quests

In between progressing the main plot, you’ll take on a variety of side and main quests that help you get to know the places the game takes place in and the people who live there.

For the Sky games, you act as Bracers — a sort of NGO organization dedicated to helping civilians and maintaining peace — while Cold Steel puts you in the role of student council aid, and the main characters in Zero and Ao are part of a special police force.

Quests come in a variety of forms, from fetch quests to monster exterminations, but they're wrapped around interesting concepts. One quest might involve talking to different people to gather information, but the end goal is re-uniting an orphan with her extended family after they were separated during a war.

As you can imagine with quests like that, the NPCs are one element that makes the Trails universe unique, since their dialogue and lives tend to change with each major story beat. It sounds tame on paper (who plays a game for NPCs after all?) but experiencing it is a different matter. Along with the top-notch writing and engaging characters, it’s yet another way the games manage to immerse players in the story.

Anton's story unfolds across almost every Trails game.

Going Into It Blind

A common question is whether to use a guide for playing Trails games. Because there are easily missable hidden quests in each chapter of each game, it’s tempting to reach for a guide immediately.

But like the Persona games, it’s better to just do your best and work through the game your own way first, so you can experience everything organically, instead of just completing tasks. The games are meant to be played through more than once anyway, especially the Cold Steel games, and the second playthrough is when you can focus on full completion.

Deep Combat System

Trails games are also RPGs with innovative combat systems that each series improves on. It retains the movement-based structure of the earlier Legend of Heroes games, while adding almost endless customization options how you build your characters.

Each character wields a specific weapon type and has access to a growing range of attacks called Crafts. Crafts often have a wider range than normal attacks or cause some sort of status effect.

The other main attack type is Arts, which work basically the same as magic in other RPGs and is where Trails combat gets interesting. In the Sky games and Zero, the arts a character can use depend on what quartz you insert into a machine called a battle orbment (Trails jargon).

The quartz are created using shards of crystallized elemental energy and grant certain bonuses — increased attack or defense, shorter casing times, and such like — while having an elemental grade, so to speak; these bonuses and grades increase with higher level quartz.

For example, in Sky FC, the HP 1 quartz increases HP by 5% and has a value of 1 for water; HP 2 increases HP by 10% and has a value of 3 for water.

The arts a character can cast depend on the values of each element in their orbment, with higher level spells requiring a combination of elements at varying grades. Some characters are built to favor certain elements, with some slots in their orbment being restricted to a specific element. With the exception of a few characters, though, you’re free to focus a character primarily on Arts, on strength, or on both.

It’s also where Falcom experiments the most in terms of combat. Each Sky game adds new quartz and new Arts. Zero follows suit, but Ao no Kiseki includes Master Quartz, which level up through battle and grant different arts and stat increases depending on which Master Quartz is used. Cold Steel uses these as well, but removes the element combination component. Instead, individual quartz will grant access to specific arts.

It’s a minor touch, but it speaks to Falcom’s design philosophy: keep what works, innovate where you can, and make a game for the fans first and foremost.

Stellar Soundtracks

All the Trails games rank among the top games with the best soundtracks as well. Falcom’s in house team, the Falcom JDK Sound Team, creates the soundtracks for each. Like the games themselves, the tracks might not re-invent video game music, but they certainly get used in effective ways.

The opening tracks feature J-pop style vocals from Kanako Kotera with lyrics that (in English) set the tone for each game. For example, Ashita E No Kodou combines cheerfulness and unity with recognition of a lurking darkness, which basically describes the entirety of the first Cold Steel game, while Aoi Kiseki revolves around the themes of loss and suffering that permeate Ao no Kiseki.

Trails in the Sky the 3rd gets Cry for Me, Cry for You, a foreboding song whose significance players only understand as they begin the game’s last chapter.  Sky FC is the exception. It gets an overture-style opening and closes with Hoshi no Arika, an emotive song that matches perfectly with the somber and resigned ending players just witnessed.

Falcom also has a way of bringing in the right track at just the right moment, and in some cases, it’s the only moment you hear the track, making it even more memorable. For Sky FC and SC, that honor goes to Silver Will (with SC getting the Super Arrange version). The 3rd — which actually has one of the strongest soundtracks of the series — can boast Overdosing Heavenly Bliss, Cradle Where Feelings Rest, and Masquerade of Lies as some of its most effective pieces.

The Cold Steel games are much vaster and have too many excellent musical moments to count. Atrocious Raid, leading into Belief, is one of the most notable in the first game, with the earlier Shoshin/First Visit showcasing the OST's diversity nicely.

Keeping Things in Order

With all the names being thrown around, you might be wondering “what order should I play the Trails games in?” The answer is less definite than you may think.

The short answer to the play order question is “start with the first one in whichever arc” and “just don’t start with Zero.”  

That’s pretty easy advice to follow, since Zero and Ao haven’t been localized, and you have to jump through some hoops to legally play them and their fan translations. But the main reason is just because Zero is a direct continuation of the Sky games, and you’d greatly benefit from playing either FC and SC first or all three.

If you’re looking for an RPG that hearkens back to the glory days of yore, yet includes all the mod cons of contemporary gaming, then Trails of Cold Steel is where you should start. Falcom intentionally designed the games as newcomer friendly to help ease people into the series anyway.

You might not pick up on the same Easter eggs as players who’ve gone through the other games, but you’ll still easily understand what’s going on. Plus, it gives you a different perspective on the Sky games if you do go back and play them.

If you want to experience the story from the beginning and see the gameplay mechanics evolve, and you don’t mind slightly older mechanics, then the Sky games are the best way to go.

Regardless, just don’t try to jump into any arc mid-way, or you’ll completely spoil the story and be entirely clueless about what’s going on at the same time.

Changing Things Up

One question that floats around on the internet a fair bit is “Is Trails in the Sky the 3rd canon?” Yes, definitely.

In fact, The 3rd was created after production began on Zero. Falcom realized there needed to be some kind of tie-in between the Sky arc and the next two games for everything to make sense. Given how the Crossbell games tie in with the Cold Steel games, The 3rd also provides some insight into the Erebonia arc.

The primary story uncovers Father Kevin Graham’s, an important character from Sky SC, mysterious past, but the side stories flesh out other characters’ backgrounds, fill in the gaps between what happens at the end of SC and right before Zero starts, and provide foreshadowing for the future games.

If you enjoy the first two Sky games, you’d do yourself a disservice to skip it. That goes double if you liked the personal element of the Sky story, since Kevin’s tale even manages to eclipse that.

If you don’t want to spend the time on it but want some of the important background information, just watch gameplay videos for Star Door 8, Star Door 14, and Star Door 15.

Be warned: Star Door 15 contains disturbing (but not graphic) content explaining how a certain character you meet in Sky SC came to be the way she is.

It goes without saying that if you watch any of these without playing the first two Sky games, you’ll spoil a lot of the plot-related enjoyment.

Multiple Versions

Having gone through all of that, there's still one potentially confusing barrier left to overcome: which version of each Trails game is the best.

It depends on your needs. If you prefer portability, the PSP (or PSN for Vita) version would be your best bet. True, it’s not quite as polished as the PC version, but it’s still excellent. If not, then the PC version would likely be best. Along with the updated translation, it has sharper graphics and added quality of life features like Turbo Mode to speed things up.

If you want to legally play the Crossbell games, PC is your only real option for experiencing the main games. Falcom granted another Japanese company the rights to create updated versions of the Liberl and Crossbell arcs under the moniker EVO (evolution) that released on the PlayStation Vita, but were never localized.

The games tweaked some of the visuals (not always for the best) expanded most breasts by about ten times their original size just for the sake of it, and included voice acting, among some other changes. English patches do exist for the EVO games, but require a hacked Vita system to implement.

The portability factor is the other deciding feature for the Erebonia arc. The Vita version has longer loading times and framerate issues, while the PC version boasts improved graphics, QoL features, and more voiced lines.

Or if you have a PlayStation 4, you can do yourself a favor and pick up the Decisive Edition of the first Cold Steel and the Relentless Edition of the second when they launch at the end of March. They have even more voiced lines than the PC version, with improved graphics, and a number of other features.


With their lengthy stories and heaps of dialogue, the Trails games might not be for everyone. If you're looking for a game to settle down with for a while, you enjoy niche RPGs, and you like the idea of a video game series with a plot akin to something you'd find in a novel, any story arc of the Trails games would be well worth your time.

5 JRPGs You Should Play Instead Of Tales Of Berseria Fri, 27 Jan 2017 03:00:01 -0500 BizarreAdventure

Tales of Berseria is finally out in the west. Why should that stop you from playing other games though? Here's a handful of games to play instead!

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger is the mac daddy, big papa, that cool kid in High School, some other phrase or such to delineate that this game is the utter best. If you make a list about JRPGs to play this one should always be there. Seriously, this game does just about everything right. Great story, characters, solid gameplay and amazing technical achievements for its time.

It's almost not fair that this game is a thing. It was pretty much destined to be amazing from conception. Seriously, some of the guys who worked on it include Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest, and Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball. These three dudes just decided one day "Hey, want to make one of the best games ever?" Then they did. If you haven't played this game just do it, go, now.

Kingdom Hearts

I'm one of those twenty-something year olds whose taste in games was heavily influenced by this one. Did I know that something that combines Final Fantasy with Disney was going to be the thing that did it? Hell no. But it did and here we are. If you haven't played this series you're in for a doozy. It's got tight action rpg combat, a wonderful (albeit cliche at times) story, big shoes and a cast of new and known characters that all mesh together wonderfully.

Which is one of the weirdest things about the series. Never would I have thought that I would be so engrossed into a series where Donald Duck says, and I quote: 

"Look Sora, it's Sephiroth!"

This is also the same series where Mickey Mouse goes on a murderous rampage after believing Goofy to be dead via falling boulder. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I completely understand. But if you're at all on the fence I highly encourage you to give them a shot.

I do have to admit one thing though, the original Kingdom Hearts is lacking in the tight combat department as well as the "gummi ship," mechanic used to travel between worlds and the second in the series Chain Of Memories is very, very niche.  But hey most first games in series have a bit of roughness to them and sometimes developers take gambles on game design and they fail. Every game beyond that one though is absolutely fantastic.


This is in my oh so humble opinion, the best Sci-Fi JRPG you can play.  It's a massive space opera that takes you on a journey filled with aliens, androids and enough Christian themes to make the Pope blush. Don't let that deter you though if it would. As I said they are just themes, the game isn't trying to convert anyone or anything. At it's heart it's a story about humanity's fight against the alien race known as the Gnosis.

It's not much of a fight though more of a slaughter, because the Gnosis can phase through all physical objects and rip your soul right from your body. So humanity has to develop a way to truly fight them. This comes in the form of an android named KOS-MOS which can create a field that makes the Gnosis tangible. Without going too deep this puts you in the shoes of Shion, the Chief of the department developing KOS-MOS and her fight for survival.

That fight comes in the form of a classic turn based RPG style with some impressive strategic elements. For instance each character can charge up to 6 action points. Each character has 2 different basic attacks available (square and triangle) and a special attack (circle). These attacks can range from basic hits, to elementally charged moves that hit enemy weak points. Saving action points allows you to perform combos as well. This is how you deal big hits in one turn. Chaining together multiple attacks and finishing off with your special attack for massive damage.

Combine all of the above and you've got yourself a really solid JRPG series.

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

What can I say about this game? Story wise it's one of the most finely crafted games I've ever seen. The combat is quite easy, but never unenjoyable. Requiring nothing but a basic understanding of a slightly more advanced rock, paper, scissors elemental weaknesses chart.

But that's not the draw of this game. You can spend hours going through a single town reading every bit of dialogue for every character and feel engaged, or at least I did. This isn't just a world revolving around your main characters. This is a world where every NPC is living a life just as your playable characters live theirs. You can talk to the woman in the first town who owns the shop for instance and find out that her son is single. Talk to the son and you find out that he's friends with your main characters and annoyed that his mother is always trying to find him a girl. After you progress through the game a bit, the mother has left the town to find a daughter-in-law in a neighboring town. With no luck she gets on the airship back and meets a woman whose dream is to run a shop. You might be able to allude what happens next.

That's just a vague recollection of one of the many side stories too. The game is filled with them and it's world building is so much richer for it. So give this one a shot if story driven games are your thing.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

This one might not be truly considered a JRPG, but I believe it takes a lot from the genre and makes it it's own. Which is a wonderful game with JRPG elements.

Princess Peach is missing again and it's Mario's job to go find her. Like the title says though, this isn't your favorite plumber in 3D. No, once again he's made of paper. The only lead he has for the Princess though is a map she left behind. With this map, Mario embarks on a journey to find seven crystal stars in hopes that they will lead him to his end goal, the Princess.

The overarching premise isn't what drives this game to be on the list though. It's the wonderful sub-plots, humor, mechanics and simplistic yet enjoyable combat that make this title so good. On your quest to get the stars you encounter all kinds of enemies known throughout the series as well as allies. Some of them including a girl Goomba with a thirst for adventure, or a Bob-omb who was once a famous sailor, but has since vowed to never sail again.

With your motley crew in tow you traipse around whimsical world doing battle, making use of various abilities and items that reward you with proper timing. Or solving paper based puzzles that may require you to fold yourself into a paper airplane or simple turn to slip through cracks in walls. Whatever the situation you find yourself in, it's always enjoyable.

 These are just a handful of my recommendations, take them how you will. If you think something else should be on the list, let me know in the comments!

If You're An Anime/Manga Fan, You Need to Play These JRPGs Wed, 19 Apr 2017 16:00:01 -0400 TL Bickler


You've now been given a little taste of what JRPGs have to offer. From the dark creepy horror of, The Witch's House, to the battle tactics and well rounded characters of, Fire Emblem Awakening. Hopefully we've provided a little something for everyone.


Is there any JRPGs that you'd recommend? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out some of the other JRPG lists here on GameSkinny (such as JRPGs will be coming out this year).

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Platform: PSP, PS Vita, PS3, PC


It all started out when Estelle’s father randomly adopted a young boy named Joshua. Five years later the sibling duo strike out on their own as bracers. Bracers are a type of odd job mercenaries who do everything from escorting people through dangerous areas to exterminating monsters. But when their father goes missing, they must travel all across the kingdom to find him.



If you are a fan of Hunter X Hunter or Fairy Tail, then The Legend of Heroes is the perfect starter JRPG for you. Like in Fairy Tail or Hunter X Hunter, your job in like is taking on odd requests and helping out those in need with whatever your special skills (whatever they may be). Legend of Heroes also offers engaging characters and narrative that will keep you playing till the very end.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Platform: Wii


Join the fight for Bionis as a mechanical army threatens to invade. Wield the magical sword, Monado, and the ability to see into the future to defeat the evil that threatens your home.


Unlike Fire Emblem, this game is for anime fans who like plot driven stories like Berserk or Nanatsu no Taizai. Not that the characters are bland, Xenoblade Chronicles just has one of the most interesting back stories on this list. If you want a real time JRPG with a strong plot and a large world to explore, then give Xenoblade Chronicles a try.

Fire Emblem Awakening

Platforms: 3DS


Follow Chrome and his band of fighters to stop an enemy capable of destroying empires. Choose your party, plan your attack, and gain alliances that will strengthen your party and aid you against the enemy.



Fire Emblem Awakening is interesting mix between tactical strategy and match making game. The best story elements of the game come about when you deepen the relationship between your party members and watch their character development shine. If you like animes/mangas with major character growth (such as Akatsuhi no Yona or Fullmetal Alchemist) then this should be the next series you play.

Dragon Quest Builders

Platforms: PS4, PS Vita


You are not the hero of this world, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be saving everyone. You are the legendary builder! Years ago the evil Dragon Lord plunged Alefgard into darkness and people lost their ability to build. You must collect the necessary materials, craft a new home for them, and destroy the Dragon Lord.



The Dragon Quest series is a beloved game series for JRPG fans everywhere, and Builders is no exception. This title does not let its fans down and is a wonderful mixture of a sandbox game and an RPG. If you love chibi art and Minecraft then think of this title as a Japanese Minecraft with a story.

Persona 4: Golden

Platforms: PS Vita


It all starts with a murder that left police baffled with no clues or suspects; then a string of strange crimes occurs all over your small rural town. It isn’t long before you realize that you and your friends are the only ones with the power to solve this baffling case.



Persona 4: Golden is an interesting title that is part RPG, part high school simulator, and part dungeon crawler. If you are a Durarara!! fan, then this strange mix of RPG and mystery will definitely be to your liking. Or if you could use some variety to your PS Vita game collection, then this is a must have.

Final Fantasy VII

Platforms: PlayStation


Most believe that Shinra is one of the few good forces left in a dying world. Cloud once believed that, so he became a Shinra soldier. That is until he learned of their corruption and just how Shinra was slowly draining the planet of life energy. Join Cloud and his group of mercenaries in order to save the planet from the evil known as Shinra. Final Fantasy VII is also getting a Remake soon!



One cannot talk about JRPGs without at least mentioning one Final Fantasy game and why not go straight to the most loved game in the series. If you love animes with a steampunk worlds, like Fullmetal Alchemist or Castle in the Sky, then Cloud's world will draw you in instantly. The art style currently leaves something to be desired since it came out in 1997. But don't let the graphics hold you back for long since they are currently remaking this title for the PS4. If the current graphics hurt to much to play, try out one of the spin offs like Crisis Core.


For other Final Fantasy title recommendations, try out these games!

The Witch’s House

Platform: PC


The young Viola likes to visit an old house in the woods, even though her father has warned her to stay away. Sadly, when she learns of the sinister nature of the house -- and its only inhabitant -- it's too late. Will Viola get out alive in this ever changing house?


Lovers of the darker side of anime/manga will enjoy the creepy atmosphere in The Witch's HouseIf you like animes like Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni and old style RPGs, this should be the next JRPG you play. But the creepy factor isn't this JRPG's only selling point, this game has a dreadfully intriguing story that will suck you into the fandom as fast as your first anime did. If you like this game, be sure to check out Mad Father, IB, and Misao.

The Last Story

Platform: Wii


Take control of a band of mercenaries who dream of becoming respected knights. Work has called them to the mysterious Lazulis Island; but one small job turns into a much larger task when a young girl pulls them into the political turmoil of the small Island nation.


The Last Story has got to be one of the best JRPG to come out on the Nintendo Wii. Anime fans will love the art style that renders wonderfully on the Wii and the characters will make you smile and cry as you follow them around Lazulis Island.


This title is a good place for Akatsuki no Yona fans to start. It has all of the political intrigue (if not more) and lovable characters set in a fantasy world. Akatsuki no Yona fans will also enjoy the similar love story of a knight (or knight wanna be) and his princess. 


It all starts with a friend or relative introducing you to your first anime. Next thing you know you've become addicted to all things Japanese. You not only sing along to your favorite J-pop songs, but you even know what a few of the phrases mean. Things are no longer cute, they're kawaii. Your sibling isn't stupid, they're a Baka.


You fell in love with Japanese culture through anime and manga, but why stop there? Japanese role playing games (JRPGs) offer plenty of titles that hold the same beautiful art style, awesome characters, and creative stories you've come to love with in anime and manga. If you haven't taken the jump into JRPGs, then why not start with these awesome titles?

Forget Final Fantasy XV, Here's Why You Should Play Trails of Cold Steel Instead Fri, 18 Nov 2016 05:23:56 -0500 Kris Cornelisse (Delfeir)

After a decade of development, numerous delays and who knows how many redesigns, Final Fantasy XV is due out in a matter of days. Most of the demos and previews of the game are being positively received and show a lot of promise. It could very well be a solid and enjoyable JRPG and a strong return to form for Square Enix after the less than stellar Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. There’s plenty of buzz and hype around it, and I know some people will be quick to pick it up.

Me? I have absolutely no intention of playing it for some time to come.

There are a few reasons I feel this way. Some of it is based on rumours and hearsay regarding the many delays, suggesting that the game still wasn’t fully finished as originally intended. Even if those are just rumours, there have still been some worrisome signs of FFXV’s troubled development, and it’s hard to say just how ready and complete the game will be.

This isn’t exactly being helped by the absolutely absurd DLC plans for the title. While I have no problems with things like the multiplayer co-op expansion DLC, some of the other sections suggest unfinished content being re-added. After all, the base game doesn’t let you play as anything but the lead character Noctis, and while that’s not exactly a problem… the fact that there will be DLC packages for each and every other character to be playable in their own episode seems odd to me.

Combine this with other spinoff games, the Kingsglaive movie, and the insane amount of marketing and money being thrown into this project? All in all, it feels very much like Square Enix is attempting to make a huge multimedia franchise out of FFXV. This is pretty much identical to what they were doing with FFXIII, but when that game failed to get the positive reception necessary, the spinoff games were quietly retitled to be unrelated. Need I remind you that FFXV was originally supposed to be one of those?

To me, it really just feels off. They’re throwing a massive number of eggs into this basket, but we haven’t even been able to fully see and gauge the quality of the basket itself yet. I’d rather they build a franchise out of something that’s proven to be successful already, because if for some reason FFXV doesn’t live up to expectations -- well, it could be a disaster for not just the game itself but for Square Enix's whole future.

This isn’t me trying to say that FFXV is a bad game. It's not out yet, how could I know? I’m just saying that I don’t ever believe in hype and choose not to make judgements until information and feedback is readily available to me. Otherwise, you end up in situations like people did with No Man’s Sky or Mighty No 9. For this title, I simply plan to wait and bide my time.

Besides, no matter how good Final Fantasy XV is, it’s going to be hard pressed to match a criminally overlooked JRPG that’s already out and is already fantastic.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Nihon Falcom games have never really made much of a splash in the West, possibly because very few of them were actually localized and released prior to more recent years. Enthusiasts may know of them for the Ys series, which are excellent (albeit challenging) action JRPGs. Just recently, another title of theirs called Xanadu Next was re-released on Steam. But to me, their most impressive success has been the long running Legend of Heroes series.

If the name sounds familiar, you might have seen a game called Trails in the Sky on Steam and PSP. Set in the same series and in the same world, Trails in the Sky feels and plays similarly to Trails of Cold Steel, and is absolutely well worth your time. With a fantastic story, brilliant characters, and a solid gameplay system, it’ll be one of the better experiences a JRPG fan can have, as is its sequel. It comes very highly recommended from your truly.

Trails of Cold Steel, however, is a more recent release and was effectively made to be a good entry point into the Legend of Heroes series. Not all the games so far have been released outside of Japan, but each arc of the story is largely self contained within different sections of the same world. Only a few subtle nods or references to other titles will be missed, as opposed to crucial plot details. As such, it’s designed so that you can jump right into Trails of Cold Steel without having to dig up other untranslated titles.

So what is Trails of Cold Steel?

Imagine the most core concepts of a JRPG, boiled down to their most pure form and then refined into a combat system and polished until it gleams. Then take just about every other JRPG combat concept and repeat the process on top of this until you have a ridiculous network of features. While there’s nothing especially new on offer, there are enough interwoven systems with plenty of complexity that requires you to play intelligently.

For example, each character has a set of unique abilities called Crafts. These require CP to use, which you get from doing other actions in combat or from buffs. Characters also can have gems equipped to them which grant them magical Arts, which use EP. These gems can also give passive effects or stat increases, so you can customize your characters to work however you want them to.

Image credit: Nihon Falcom via Steam.

But that’s not all. There are a whole variety of status effects and buffs/debuffs that you can utilise as well, all of which have a wide array of uses. Abilities also have elemental affinities, so you have to keep that in mind when selecting targets. Not only that, but character speed and action times also affects things -- faster characters get turns more often, and you can use attacks that impede or delay enemy turns to buy more time. You even have the means of interjecting a turn with a character in order to perform a Super Craft. And even the turn placements have the ability to grant passive buffs or heals just for going at the right time.

Do I have your attention yet? On the surface the system looks pretty straightforward, but there are so many working parts that it quickly becomes a theorycrafter’s dream. And I’m not even touching every element of combat and customisation here. This is easily one of the most in-depth battle systems I’ve ever come across, and even the most basic and straightforward battles can still be threatening to you if you don’t play cleverly.

What really makes the Legend of Heroes series so iconic is the overall presentation, in terms of world design, writing, sound and music.

Did I mention that there are no less than ten different playable characters in the game, each with their own unique stats and crafts? You can only use four at once, but you can quickly sub them in and out at a moment’s notice to better utilise their strengths. Plus, pairs of characters can be linked in combat to grant additional bonuses and the potential for extra attacks.

The list of features and tactics at your disposal goes on. But since it’s all introduced gradually and explained well, it never feels too overwhelming and becomes natural fairly quickly.

So the battle system is fantastic, which is the backbone of any good JRPG, but it’s not even the best part of Trails of Cold Steel. What really makes the Legend of Heroes series so iconic is the overall presentation, in terms of world design, writing, sound and music. It may not be the most graphically stunning thing you’ll ever see -- even the PS3 version is an enhanced port from the PS Vita, after all -- but everything else beyond that is immaculate.

Nihon Falcom’s sound team is arguably their strongest point, and their soundtracks are always top notch. Trails of Cold Steel is no different, with a large array of suitable tunes that always suit their situation, be they mellow exploration tones or amped up battle themes. The localization and voice work performed by XSEED is extremely high quality for an English dub, too, with almost all the characters being well acted.

And it’s a good thing too, because you’ll quickly come to love these characters for more than just their combat skillset. The writing and worldbuilding of the game is second to none, and while I’ve played many RPGs in my life, there are very few that have gotten me as invested and attached as Trails of Cold Steel.

The plot starts out sounding somewhat stereotypically anime, with the main character Rean arriving at a military academy and quickly being assigned to an experimental special unit's class. There’s a number of character archetypes quickly on display too, such as the aloof noble, the quiet rogue type, the all-too-intelligent female class president… but it only takes a short time before those archetypes are thoroughly cast aside in favor of well-developed and interesting characters.

I do mean well-developed, too. See, the game progresses in an almost Persona-esque manner of time advancing between week-to-week affairs. You’ll be balancing out your school days with field trips that, due to being a military unit in training, usually end up becoming missions as the plot continues to unfold. These field trips usually have set configurations of characters present, which allows them to have their own plot and development arcs.

Believe me when I say that they all do. Every single playable character goes through some kind of development, and throughout the several months of plot you’ll learn more about their personalities, their histories, and their goals. These are incredibly fleshed out characters that absolutely should not be judged by their cover, and the quality of writing is phenomenal.

What is truly impressive about all of this is that this writing extends to not just the playable roster, but to every single character in the game. There is an absolutely huge cast, and even the students at the academy that aren’t in your class have names, personalities, and traits that you’ll come to pick up. So do your teachers. So do the character's families. So do the minor NPCs that show up from time to time in multiple missions purely by providence or because that’s the way the world is shifting.

Trails of Cold Steel is an absolute marvel of video game writing. The plot is a massive, country-spanning set of events that unfolds over months and months of game time, and every character -- friend and foe alike -- has a part to play that you’ll be eager to learn about. There are twists and turns that you can sometimes see coming, but will still hit you hard. Characters that you write off as boring or uninteresting will grow into some of your favourite characters in video game history. It sure did with me, anyway.

So with an excellent plot, world-building that is second to none, some of the most believable characters ever written, and a fantastic battle system set to a truly inspirational musical score, Trails of Cold Steel is an experience like no other.

Well, okay, there are others; Trails of Cold Steel 2 just came out recently, which is a direct continuation of the first game’s events and is more like a second act of the same game rather than a sequel. And remember how I talked about Trails in the Sky? Well, the same glowing commentary goes for that sub-series as well, and since they’re set in the same world, the characters and events that do crossover are just as consistent and well-written as the rest.

Image credit: Nihon Falcom via Steam.

Yet sadly, I know of very few people who have been playing these games. I bought the first Cold Steel game on impulse just because I saw it in a store and vaguely recognized the series name, yet I ended up purchasing what may just be my Game of the Year. Maybe it’s because it was released for the PS3 and PS Vita, which at this point aren’t massively relevant. Whatever the reason, they’re being criminally undervalued, and I’m making it my mission to spread the word about them.

So that’s the primary reason why I’m not picking up Final Fantasy XV. No matter how good it is, it seems extremely unlikely to me that I’ll grow as attached and happy with it as I was for both Trails of Cold Steel games. I have no problem with waiting and seeing how a new release pans out when I already have near-perfection readily available.

If you’re looking for a solid JRPG experience that is guaranteed to be high quality and lives up to all expectations without requiring a DLC Season Pass, then go look up the Legend of Heroes series. I promise that you won’t regret it.

Erebonia awaits.