The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Articles RSS Feed | The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network The 15 Best PS4 RPGs You Can Play on PS5 Wed, 16 Dec 2020 16:38:55 -0500 Josh Broadwell


Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom


There’s Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom if you can’t get enough of Level-5’s world. This one follows Ding Dong Dell prince Evan as he struggles to regain his sense of self following a bloody coup.


Fortunately for him, and us, he meets a charming band of misfits along the way, as well as a gaggle of Higgeldies, giving the sequel as much charm and character as the first Ni No Kuni. There’s even a robust kingdom-building simulator and some extra DLC to round out the experience.


That's it for our list of the best RPGs playable on PlayStation 5 right now. In the coming months and years, the PS5 will naturally get its own hefty library of top-notch RPGs. For now, we hope these are enough to tide you over until then and offer a chance to fall in love with a world you've never experienced before.


What RPGs would you add to this list? Sound off in the comments below! 


Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered


Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch returned to PlayStation 4 in remastered form with updated visuals, which is really just a good excuse to dive into Studio Ghibli and Level-5’s heartwarming (and breaking) masterpiece again.


Young hero Oliver travels to another world to save someone dear to him and mends the shattered hearts of those he meets on the way. It’s part Pokemon, with little familiars you “catch” and train, part action RPG, all wrapped in a package that’s like you’re playing a classic anime series. There's even more where that came from too.


Monster Hunter: World


The original Monster Hunter: World is also free in the PS Plus Collection, making it easier than ever to get into Capcom’s long-running franchise. World redefined Monster Hunter by smoothing over the edges and making it more accessible in a number of ways, from seamless world design to easier tracking.


There’s still plenty of challenge on offer from World’s biggest and baddest monsters, though. You’ll need to keep up with your gear — with the help of MonHun’s adorable Palicoes of course — back at the gorgeous base camp/city if you want a shot at the Elder Dragon causing so much chaos in the world.


Once you’ve done all that, the fun is only just beginning. Monster Hunter: World Iceborne adds new regions, monsters, and gear plus a series of new events. Even better, Capcom’s making these events available again for those who missed them before thanks to a new rotating cycle, so everyone can join in the fun.




Sure, Demons’ Souls is great (it really is), but have you played Bloodborne? If not, now’s your chance to get it for free with the PS Plus Collection. While the power of the PlayStation 5 doesn’t boost Bloodborne to 60fps, it’s still a remarkable game.


Set in the gothic city of Yharnam that’s just oozing atmosphere from every flying buttress, you play as a fighter injected with special blood by the city’s ruling organization, the Healing Church. It’s supposed to offer protection against a plague turning everyone into monsters, but surprise! It doesn’t.


Now you have to kill them in spectacular style while hunting for a cure. It’s Dark Souls-adjacent, but fast-paced and exhilarating in both visual design and action.


The Outer Worlds


If you really like the idea of a futuristic RPG where your choices (kind of) matter, give Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds a chance. You play as a human taken out of cryogenic stasis to investigate what happened at the Halcyon colony, a corporate-owned space experiment with no end of shady deals attached to it. But you’re free to do… whatever really.


Be a good person, be a stooge, take the middle road, and whatever you choose, watch as your actions shape the lives of everyone around you and determine what ending you get. It's more Fallout-esque than what Obsidian has developed in a little while, but that's definitely not a bad thing.


The Outer Worlds doesn’t re-shape the genre, but it’s a solid first-person sci-fi RPG with equally solid DLC.


Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon


Yakuza 7 is a reboot of sorts following a new character in a new gameplay style. This time, you play as optimist Ichiban Kasuga on his quest to bring some semblance of order to an unjust world. “Quest” is key here because Ichiban sees his world through the lens of his favorite series, Dragon Quest.


That means turn-based battles, job classes, and plenty of retro RPG references mixed in. It takes the series’ usual heartfelt story and dials it up to 12 with some surprisingly on-point observations about society.


Really, both Yakuza games are some of the best RPGs on PlayStation 5, so you can't go wrong either way.


Yakuza 0


There’s so much Yakuza to choose from on PlayStation 4, but your best bet for getting started is Yakuza 0. Yakuza 0 is where it all begins, hence the 0. It’s the height of the bubble economy in 1980s Japan, and you play as newbie yakuza Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima.


While the story is good, as ever it’s the side stories and characters that steal the show, with some of the best writing and wackiest scenarios in gaming. It’s also one of the most refined combat systems in the series. If you want to jump into the latest Yakuza, though, check out the next entry.


NieR: Automata


If you like it when stories mercilessly toy with your brain, then go play NieR: Automata immediately. This bizarre and wonderful game brings together the best parts of Yoko Taro’s scenario writing and Platinum’s peerless action combat for an experience that really is like no other.


In this post-apocalyptic world, where Shakespeare-spewing technology ran humans off the planet, you play (mostly) as 2B. You’re a robot fighter created by the human resistance to destroy the invading menace in action that switches seamlessly between fast-paced 3D fighting and top-down bullet hell across the game’s gorgeous environments.


Once you’re done — you’re not done. You have to beat NieR: Automata several times to get the full story. And don't fret if you think you have to play the upcoming NieR: Replicant to understand it either. The two are completely separate stories.


Tales of Berseria


We’ll have to wait a while yet for more Tales of Arise news, but meanwhile, there’s Tales of Berseria to hold you over on PlayStation 5. While it’s designed as a prequel to the somewhat contentious Tales of Zestiria, Berseria works perfectly well as a standalone game and shakes up the series’ usual storytelling style.


Gone are the obviously good heroes with primarily good motives. In their place is a ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells seeking their own ends. Their motives don’t always align, but they share one thing in common: an unquenchable desire for vengeance.


Berseria feels like a culmination of the series’ combo-based fighting begun with Xillia, with fast-paced battles that require much more than just mashing buttons until you win. It’s a solid package and one that’s frequently on sale too.


The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 1-4


Why settle for one RPG when you can buy and play a four-part series on the same system? As of 2020, PlayStation 4 has all four Trails of Cold Steel games, and if you’re looking for an epic RPG saga like few others, these are definitely worth checking out.


Despite sitting mid-way in the overall Trails series, Cold Steel tells its own story, one of warfare and political intrigue in the aggressively expansionist Erebonian Empire. You play as Rean Schwarzer, son of a minor noble and new student at Thors Military Academy. All is not well in the empire, however, and as Erebonia gradually spreads its influence over the continent, its dark history repeats itself and threatens to consume the entire world.


Like all Trails games, Cold Steel uses a unique combat system where placement and stat augmentations matter more than most RPGs, and the worldbuilding is unparalleled, with countless side stories developing alongside the main plot.


Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition


Maybe you played Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age already, but if you haven’t played DQ XI Definitive Edition yet, you haven’t experienced the game at its best. You get new story chapters for every protagonist plus new story segments where the party travels to the worlds of previous Dragon Quest games to resolve issues popping up there.


It’s the ultimate series tribute, and the scenarios are designed so well, they’re enjoyable even if you haven’t played every game before. You can also play the entire game in 16-bit style 2D if that’s your thing.


If you’ve never played Dragon Quest XI before, then get ready for one of the best RPGs of the generation. The story starts out basic before turning in on itself and making you question the nature of heroism and goodness, making it bolder than previous DQ games. And in true series fashion, XI has a sizeable cast of outrageous and fantastically well-written characters to fall in love with.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition


CD Projekt RED kinda sorta shafted reviewers and consumers alike with Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles, there’s no denying that. But rejoice, ye lovers of massive RPGs, because there’s another option in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.


If you’ve yet to play this hulking behemoth of a game, the PlayStation 5 is one of the best ways to experience it. Apart from faster load times taking the sting out of fast travel, there’s a next-gen upgrade in the works giving it some extra visual polish.


The Witcher 3’s vast, open-world houses secrets galore if you feel like finding them. The combat might be stilted, and your choices don’t matter near as much as in Divinity. But the story is pure candy for lovers of high fantasy. Geralt’s world and those who inhabit it gradually absorb you the more you play, and the complete edition boasts two of the finest expansions in RPGs.


Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition


Saying Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a modern Baldur’s Gate is true, but this rich, unique gem of a game is far from derivative. There’s a core story in DoS 2, and it’s a good one with plenty of fantasy flair, treachery, and surprise murders. The real narrative is the one you make along the way, though, and that’s not just a meme thing to say.


DoS 2 is the Romancing SaGa of Western RPGs in that so many choices you make shape the game in ways you don’t always see right away.


A seemingly offhand response to a Seer has you fight her to the death, where you could have just chatted. Your bloodthirsty elf friend wants to kill the slave trader for obvious reasons, yet you need him alive for info… It’s utterly engaging with a complex, yet rewarding combat system and some gorgeous visuals on PlayStation 5.  


Persona 5/Persona 5 Royal


You’ve got two options for Persona 5 on PlayStation 5, and both are easily some of the best RPGs available for the system.


PS Plus subscribers get the original Persona 5 for absolutely freesies through the PS Plus Collection. The original Phantom Thieves saga and all the intertwining character stories that made it a top RPG on the PS4 still hold up now, along with the series’ trademark Persona fusion system and the countless customization options that entails. It’s all wrapped in the most stylish package in gaming too.


But if you’re fine with spending a bit of extra dosh, then go for Royal. It augments the original’s winning system with a wagonload of quality of life upgrades, new Confidants to hang out with, more battle options, and an entire new semester carrying the story to a surprising and touching conclusion.


Final Fantasy 15: Royal Edition


Final Fantasy fans have no shortage of options on PlayStation 5, from the ambitious Final Fantasy 7 Remake to the magnificent Final Fantasy 14. But you’ve just spent hundreds of dollars on a new console, and if you’re looking for the best value for your money, the PS Plus Collection on PS5 brings you Final Fantasy 15: Royal Edition for no extra charge (you do have to subscribe to PS Plus to get it). 


FF15 is a twist on the series’ usual, with a dudebro car adventure taking place in the middle of the franchise's standard political dramas.


We’d be lying if we said it was flawless, with its too-simple combat and somewhat disjointed story. However, the Royal Edition goes a long way in making FF15 feel whole with all the additional story episodes giving new life to the world of Eos. Then there’s the food. Just look at the food!


The PlayStation 5 is here, hooray! And out of its launch lineup, there's only one RPG: Demon's Souls. It's an incredible RPG, sure, but outside of that, it's a bleak slate often par for the course with new consoles.


Fortunately, while we wait for Final Fantasy XVI, Tales of Arise, and whatever else might be in store, the PlayStation 5 is still in a pretty good position for RPGs thanks to backwards compatibility with PS4 games.


Some of the best RPGs are free with the PS Plus Collection, some are expansions of older games, but they’re all top in the genre and definitely some of the most noteworthy PS4 RPGs you can play on the PS5 right now.

PlayStation Store Hosting Golden Week Big in Japan Sale Fri, 24 Apr 2020 11:40:19 -0400 Josh Broadwell

We had one PlayStation Big in Japan sale earlier this year, and we're getting a second Big in Japan sale now, coinciding with Japan's national Golden Week holiday. There's a huge list of games on sale, ranging from hits like Devil May Cry 5 and Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age to more niche titles like the (very good) Atelier Dusk Trilogy and the first two Trails of Cold Steel games.

The second Big in Japan sale goes live today and runs through May 8 at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST. Here's a taste of what's on offer.

Game Sales Price Original Price
Atelier Dusk Trilogy Deluxe Pack
 $71.99 $89.99
Castlevania Anniversary Collection
 $8.99  $19.99
Catherine Full Body
 $29.99  $59.99
Danganronpa 1+2 Reload  $19.99  $39.99
Dark Souls Remastered
 $23.99  $39.99
Devil May Cry 5 Deluxe Edition
 $24.99  $49.99
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth — Hacker's Memory
 $14.99 $59.99
Dragon Quest Builders 2  $35.99  $59.99
Dragon Quest 11 — Digital Edition of Light
 $29.99  $59.99
Earth Defense Force 5
$35.99  $59.99
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered
 $9.99  $19.99
Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age
 $24.99  $49.99
God Eater 3
 $23.99 $59.99
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life Special Edition
 $7.49  $14.99
Lost Sphear
 $19.99  $49.99
Judgement $29.99  $59.99
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Master Edition DD
 $46.89  $69.99
Okami HD
 $9.99  $19.99
Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection
$21.99  $54.99
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
 $14.99  $29.99
Resident Evil 2 Deluxe Edition
 $22.99  $49.99
Saga Scarlet Grace: Ambitions
 $22.49  $29.99
Star Ocean: First Departure R  $14.69  $20.99
Tales of Berseria
 $14.99 $59.99
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
 $23.99  $39.99
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II  $27.99  $39.99
The Yakuza Remastered Collection
 $44.99  $59.99
Tokyo Xanadu eX+
 $11.99  $59.99
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered + Valkyria
Chronicles 4 bundle
 $17.99  $39.99
Yakuza Kiwami 2
 $20.09  $29.99


There's a ton more included in the latest Big in Japan sale, and you can check out the full list on the PlayStation Blog.

Meanwhile, don't forget Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and Journey are still free to download for a little while longer, and you can round off Drake's story in Uncharted 4 with this month's free PS Plus games too.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more game sales and deals news as it develops.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 Steams Over to PC Soon Mon, 20 Jan 2020 10:57:43 -0500 Josh Broadwell

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is coming to PC on March 23. It will be available on both Steam and Good Old Games. The news came during Nippon Ichi Software America's PAX South panel on January 17.

Unlike the original port of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, NISA isn't handling this one. Instead, Engine Software and PH3 Games are responsible for porting the massive JRPG to PC.

Cold Steel 3 launched back in October on PlayStation 4. The first two games in the sub-series — and all three in the Trails in the Sky sub-series — are all on PC, so fans naturally wondered if and when they could expect a PC port for CS3.

Like all previous PC ports in the series, this one is getting some extra special features, too:

  • Ultrawide screen support
  • Fully customizable key bindings
  • Enhanced visuals
  • Additional High-Speed Mode Options (now up to 6x faster)
  • Auto-Save functionality

In short, it's easily the definitive edition of the game. Whether it will be getting a demo like the PS4 version isn't certain yet.

We were rather taken with the third entry in the deep Cold Steel saga, with its expert weaving of plot threads and character arcs. More and better ways to experience this school-saga-meets-war-drama certainly can't be a bad thing. While more March games might be quite a strain on our wallets, we at least don't have to worry about spending on Final Fantasy VII Remake until April.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Trails of Cold Steel news as it mobilizes.

Trails of Cold Steel 3: How to Get All Vantage Masters Cards Mon, 21 Oct 2019 10:37:40 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Trails of Cold Steel 3 improves on the previous Cold Steel games' card mini-game, Blade, with a much expanded, more strategic card game called Vantage Masters. The game goes in-depth about how to play Vantage Masters early on, but what it doesn't tell you is how many card types you can collect, how to get the cards, and what happens when you do.

There are 34 Vantage Masters card types in total. If you collect at least one of each type, then successfully defeat Orie in a Vantage Masters match at the Vander Training Hall in Heimdallr, you win the Chevalier Master Quartz. Chevalier is one of the best Master Quartz in the game, with highly useful arts, stat augments, and abilities all around.

This guide shows you how and where to get all the VM cards, including all of the possible Vantage Masters opponents and when you can (and should) challenge them to a match. It's divided into two sections, one detailing cards earned through Vantage Masters matches and cards you can purchase outright.

There are a couple of points to make before getting into the nitty-gritty about who you can challenge to Vantage Masters, though.

Most main characters (Branch Campus characters, Class VII, and other important characters) can be challenged in Heimdallr towards the end of the game, should you either miss their initial challenge or lose and not feel like trying again.

Those who are location specific, like random people you'll meet during your Field Exercises, cannot be challenged to a rematch. However, the reward you would have gotten from winning against them is usually available in the Neinvalli Exchange Bargain Bin in Leeves at the beginning of the next chapter.

Chapter 1 Vantage Masters Opponents

April 16 (Leeves)


  • Where: Carnegie Book and Game in Leeves (this is your first VM match and is a tutorial)
  • Reward: Magic Crystal
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes


  • Where: Carnegie Book and Game
  • Reward: D-Alma
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes

Rachel is a challenging opponent, but she can be challenged any of your free days in Leeves, so you don't have to defeat her immediately.

Sydney (Evening)

  • Where: Thors Branch Campus Clubhouse
  • Reward: Hepitus
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Dreichels Square, Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
April 21-23 (Saint-Ark)


Juna is only available on the night trip aboard the Derfflinger. Once you arrive at the Ex Camp, you can't challenge her again. Even though you can try for a rematch in Chapter 4, Ranger is a very useful Master card to have, so it's best to go ahead and challenge her on the Derfflinger.

  • Where: Derfflinger Car 3
  • Reward: Ranger
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Karel Imperial Villa, outside Heimdallr (Chapter 4)


  • Where: Marquis Hyarms' Mansion
  • Reward: Guene-Foss
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Heimdallr Cathedral (Chapter 4)


  • Where: Parm
  • Reward: Zamilpen
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes
  • Rematch: No

Chapter 2 Vantage Masters Opponents

May 13 (Thors Branch Campus)

Major Michael Irving

  • Where: Branch Campus Cafeteria
  • Reward: Wall
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Future Ex Camps or Rieveldt and Co., Reica Sector of Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
May 14 (Leeves)


  • Where: Recette Bakery and Cafe
  • Reward: Dullmdaler
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Karel Imperial Villa, outside Heimdallr (Chapter 4)

Munk (Evening)

  • Where: Outside Barney's Tavern
  • Reward: Uptide
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Dreichels Square, Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
May 19 (Aboard the Derfflinger)


  • Where: Derfflinger Car 4
  • Reward: Knight
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Dreichels Square, Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
May 20 (Crossbell)

Wendy (Morning)

  • Where: Orbal Store Genten (Crossbell Central Square)
  • Reward: Da-Colm
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes
  • Rematch: No

Xin (Afternoon)

The time transition for this one is a bit vague, but the afternoon of May 20 is basically after you meet with the Epstein Foundation Chief at the RF Group building and deal with one of the investigation missions on Ursula Highway.

  • Where: Heiyue Trading Company (Crossbell Harbor District)
  • Reward: Currier Bell
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes
  • Rematch: No

Chapter 3 Vantage Masters Opponents

June 10 (Leeves)


  • Where: Recette Bakery and Cafe
  • Reward: Ae-Ferrion
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Le Sage Boutique on Vainqueur Street in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
June 11 (Branch Campus)

Stark (Morning/Afternoon)

  • Where: Branch Campus Cooperative Store
  • Reward: Thief
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Lucien Cafe in Heimdallr's Reica Sector

Randy (Evening)

  • Where: Branch Campus computer room, second floor
  • Reward: Oonevievle
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Vainqueur Street in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
June 16 (Derfflinger)


  • Where: Derfflinger Car  3
  • Reward: Vanish
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Foresta Inn on Westa Street in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
June 17 (Ordis and Raquel)


  • Where: Outside Alisha Casino in Raquel
  • Reward: Gia-Bro
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes
  • Rematch: No


  • Where: Egret Mansion in Ordis' North Street
  • Reward: Amoltamiss
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: Yes
  • Rematch: No

Chapter 4 Vantage Masters Opponents

July 8 (Leeves)

Musse (Evening)

  • Location: Branch Campus Dormitory, second floor
  • Reward: Tarbss
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Le Sage Boutique on Vainqueur Street in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
July 9 (Leeves/Branch Campus)

Rosine (Morning/Afternoon)

  • Location: Leeves Chapel
  • Reward: Fifenall
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Heimdallr Cathedral (Chapter 4)

Dr. Schmidt (Evening)

  • Location: Branch Campus Hangar
  • Reward: Witch
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Imperial Museum in Heimdallr's Reica Sector (Chapter 4)
July 15 (Derfflinger and Heimdallr)


  • Location: Derfflinger Car 3
  • Reward: Greon
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Imperial Racecourse in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)

Freddy (Afternoon)

  • Location: Westa Street in Heimdallr
  • Reward: Neptune
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Herschel's General Store on Westa Street in Heimdallr (Chapter 4)
July 16 (Heimdallr)

Jingo (Morning)

  • Location: Watson Armory on Vainqueuer Street in Heimdallr
  • Reward: Swordsman
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Heimdallr Airport (Chapter 4)
July 17 (Heimdallr)

Orie — Final Opponent (Afternoon)

  • Location: Vander Training Hall in Heimdallr's Reica Sector
  • Reward: Chevalier Master Quartz; if you win and challenge Orie again, you get Dragon Incense for winning
  • Available in the Bargain Bin: No
  • Rematch: Same place, but do it on the same day; July 17 is the last time you can freely chart your own course in the game.

Vantage Masters Cards You Can Buy

These are all of the Vantage Masters cards you can purchase. All of these cards are initially available at the Carnegie Books and Games store in Leeves, the day you first pick up Vantage Masters (April 16). However, they're also available at any general store throughout the game.


  • Cost: 700 Mira


  • Cost: 200 Mira


  • Cost: 1,000 Mira


  • Cost: 500 Mira

If you've been counting, you'll notice all this adds up to only 28 cards, not 34. That's because the remaining six are the cards you automatically start with in your first Vantage Masters deck.


That's it for how to find all the Vantage Masters cards and get one of the best Master Quartz in Cold Steel 3. Be sure to check out our other Trails of Cold Steel 3 guides for other tips and tricks to make the most of your return to Erebonia.

Trails of Cold Steel 3 Guide: All Recipes and Where to Find Them Mon, 21 Oct 2019 11:28:03 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Recipes have always been an integral part of not getting your posterior handed to you in the Trails games, and that's no different in Trails of Cold Steel 3. Where medical items are expensive and typically just restore health or Energy Points (EP), food items go much further, restoring both health and EP, raising stat parameters for a few turns, restoring Craft Points (CP) so you can pull off another S-Break attack.

The cooking mechanic first introduced in the unlocalized Trails to Zero, where a recipe turns out differently depending on who makes it, is back again as well.

Unless you know where to look and take the time to try and find them, chances are, your recipe book's gonna be pretty slim by the end of the game.

This guide is here to ensure that doesn't happen to you. It lists each recipe, where to find it, and what the three variants are in the order they'll appear in your Recipe Book

Unique Dishes and Special Chefs

On top of the regular dish, some characters will produce a superb dish with added bonuses. Some will produce a unique dish that could have a completely different bonus. Failed (peculiar) ones could even be used as attack items.

Your best bet for a superb dish is using a character with high affinity for that dish, and if you want a peculiar or unique dish, try one who isn't very good at it.

It's worth experimenting for unique dishes. You'll actually need at least eight separate unique dishes to finish the Great Crossbell Cookoff quest in Chapter 2.

There is one big difference in Cold Steel 3's cooking party mechanics, though: after you've joined up with other party members, you can still choose them as the chef for a recipe, even if they aren't currently in your party. 

Cold Steel 3 also sort of brings back the old system from Trails in the Sky, where you learn a recipe when you eat a new food item. This time, though, you have to eat it when it's offered as a special at a specific restaurant or cafe.

Your First Recipe

You'll get your Recipe Book as part of a required quest in the prologue. Speak to Gina in the Branch Campus cafeteria to get the book, the first recipe (Chunky Potato Salad), and enough ingredients to make it a few times.

Chunky Potato Salad
  • Best chef: Juna
  • Worst chefs: Altina, Laura, Fie

Variations and Effects:

  • Superb — Pillowy Mashed Potatoes
    • Recovers 600 HP and increases Defense for two turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Chunky Potato Salad
    • Recovers 500 HP and increases Defense for two turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Shield Chips
    • Recovers 400 HP and increases defense for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Crispy Potato Croquettes
    • Recovers 600 HP and increases defense for four turns (small area of effect)

Chapter 1 Recipes

Piled Onion Rings (April 16)
  • Location: Talk to Barney at Barney's Cafe in Leeves; buy the special
  • Best chef: Elliot
  • Worst chefs: Kurt, Jusis, Fie

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Glistening Onion Rings
    • Cures K.O. and recovers 800 HP
  • Standard — Piled Onion Rings
    • Cures K.O. and recovers 600 HP
  • Attack Dish — Onion Tear Gas
    • B-class power rank; reduces speed by 50%
  • Unique — Onion Trio
    • Cures K.O., recovers 300 HP 60 EP, and 30 CP
Fluffy Chiffon Cake (April 22)
  • Location: Speak to Nash at the April Cafe in Saint-Arkh, and buy the special
  • Best chef: Fie
  • Worst chefs: Rean, Ashe, Sara

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Summertime Fruitcake
    • Recovers 700 HP and increases speed for two turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard Fluffy Chiffon Cake
    • Recovers 600 HP and increases speed for two turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Hollow Cake
    • Recovers 500 HP and increase speed for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Airy Meringue Cookie
    • Recovers 700 HP and increases speed for four turns (small area of effect)
Southern Punch (April 22)
  • Location: Dyna, the stall proprietor in Saint-Arkh's Cathedral Square
  • Best chef: Rean
  • Worst chefs: Juna, Elliot, Gaius

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb Sunshine Punch
    • Recovers 300 HP, restores 20 CP, and cures poison, blind, and burn
  • Standard — Southern Punch
    • Recovers 200 HP, restores 20 CP, and cures poison, blind, and burn
  • Peculiar — Orange Liquid
    • Restores 100 EP and 20 CP and cures poison, blind, and burn
  • Unique — Yuzu Honey Soda
    • Recovers 100 HP, restores 40 CP, and cures poison, blind, and burn
Hearty White Stew (April 22)
  • Location: Speak to Bertrand at the Footpath Inn in Parm; buy the special
  • Best chef: Laura
  • Worst chefs: Altina, Machias, Fie

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Silky White Stew
    • Recovers 800 HP and increases Strength for two turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Hearty White Stew
    • Recovers 700 HP and increases Strength for two turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Cold Stew
    • Recovers 600 HP and increases Strength for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Regal Beef Stew
    • Recovers 800 HP and increases Strength for four turns (small area of effect)

Chapter 2 Recipies

Juicy Ham Sandwich (May 14)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Recette Bakery and Cafe in Leeves
  • Best chef: Kurt
  • Worst chefs: Altina, Machias, Jusis

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Nostalgic Sandwich
    • Recovers 1,500 HP and cures freeze, petrify, and faint
  • Standard — Juicy Ham Sandwich
    • Recovers 1,300 HP and cures freeze, petrify, and faint
  • Attack Dish — Electro Sandwich
    • B-class power rank, 50% chance of inflicting seal status
  • Unique — Croque Vader
    • Recovers 1,000 HP, restores 100 EP, and cures freeze, petrify, and faint
Fresh Tomato Noodles (May 20)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Orzel at the noodle stall in Crossbell's Harbor Sector (in front of the Crossbell News Service building)
  • Best chef: Alisa
  • Worst chefs: Musse, Elliot, Laura

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Champion Noodles
    • Recovers 800 HP, restores 30 CP, and cures seal, mute, and stat down
  • Standard — Fresh Tomato Noodles
    • Recovers 700 HP, restores 30 CP, and cures seal, mute, and stat down
  • Peculiar — Scorched Noodles "Misery"
    • Restores 70 HP and 70 CP, but 50% chance of near death (reducing HP to 1)
  • Unique — Vegetable Double Noodles
    • Recovers 500 HP, restores 50 CP, and cures seal, mute, and stat down
Dragon Fried Rice (May 20)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Feng at the Old Dragon Inn on Crossbell's East Street
  • Best chef: Machias
  • Worst chefs: Altina, Alisa, Emma

Effects and Variations:

  • Super — Heavenly Rice
    • Recovers 1,500 HP and increases Defense and ADF for two turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Dragon Fried Rice
    • Recovers 1,300 HP and increases Defense and ADF for two turns (small area of effect)
  • Attack Dish — Fiery Riceball
    • B-rank power class, 50% chance of inflicting burn
  • Unique — Special Garlic Rice
    • Recovers 1,400 HP, and increases Defense and ADF for four turns (small area of effect)
Cafe Macchiato (May 20)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Vingt-Sept Cafe in Crossbell Central Square
  • Best chef: Altina
  • Worst chef: Musse, Jusis, Millium

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Special Macchiato
    • Recovers 700 HP, restores 150 EP, and cures nightmare, sleep, and confuse
  • Standard — Cafe Macchiato
    • Recovers 550 HP, restores 150 EP, and cures nightmare, sleep, and confuse
  • Peculiar — Brown Liquid
    • Restores 200 EP and cures nightmare, sleep, and confuse
  • Unique — Rich Chocolate Parfait
    • Recovers 300 HP, restores 150 EP and 30 CP, and cures nightmare, sleep, and confuse
Honey Bagel (May 20)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Morges Bakery on Crossbell's West Street.
  • Best chef: Emma
  • Worst chef: Ashe, Fie, Gaius

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Golden Bagel
    • Recovers 1,200 HP, restores 60 EP, and increases ATS for three turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Honey Bagel
    • Recovers 1,000 HP, restores 50 EP, and increases ATS for three turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Mirror Bagel
    • Reflects magic once
  • Unique House of Sweets
    • Recovers 1,200 HP, restores 60 EP, and increases ATS for five turns (small area of effect)

Chapter 3 Recipes

Juicy Hamburger (June 10)
  • Location: Purchase from Gina in the Branch Campus cafeteria
  • Best chef: Ashe
  • Worst chefs: Rean, Altina, Laura

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Artisan Hamburger
    • Recovers 1,800 HP and increases Strength for three turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Juicy Hamburger
    • Recovers 1,600 HP and increases Strength for three turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Indestructible Burger
    • Immunity to one physical attack
  • Unique — Spicy Loco Moco Rice Bowl
    • Recovers 1,800 HP and increases Strength for five turns (small area of effect)
Colorful Bouillabaisse (June 17)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Edmond at the Sea Breeze Inn in Ordis
  • Best chef: Millium
  • Worst chef: Juna, Elliot, Jusis

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Passionate Hot Pot
    • Recovers 1,200 HP and 50 CP and cures freeze, petrify, and faint
  • Standard — Colorful Bouillabaisse
    • Recovers 1,000 HP and 40 CP and cures freeze, petrify, and faint
  • Peculiar — Envious Hot Pot
    • CP regeneration (30 points) for three turns
  • Unique — Yogurt Hotpot
    • Recovers 1,000 HP and initiates CP regen by 20 points for five turns
Fisherman's Paella (June 17)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Miranda at Miranda's Tavern in Ordis
  • Best chef: Sara
  • Worst chef: Kurt, Alisa, Fie

Effects and Variation:

  • Superb — Big Catch Feast
    • Recovers 2,000 HP and cures seal, mute, and stat down
  • Standard — Fisherman's Paella
    • Recovers 1,800 HP and cures seal, mute, and stat down
  • Peculiar — Scorched Rice
    • Restores 600 EP, with a 50% chance of near death
  • Unique — Spicy Jambalaya
    • Recovers 1,600 HP and 60 CP and cures seal, mute, and stat down
Purple Heart (June 17)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Julia at the Hermit Bar and Inn in Raquel
  • Best chef: Jusis
  • Worst chefs: Musse, Machias, Emma

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Purple Cloud
    • Cures K.O. and recovers 2,400 HP
  • Standard — Purple Heart
    • Cures K.O. and recovers 2,200 HP
  • Peculiar — Purple Liquid
    • Cures K.O. recovers 100 HP, and restores 250 EP
  • Unique — Esmelas: Rain
    • Cures K.O., recovers 2,000 HP, and restores  200 EP
Stuffed Meat Pie (June 17)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Morley at the Decken Pub and Diner in Raquel
  • Best chef: Juna
  • Worst chefs: Rean, Machias, Fie

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Master's Meat Pie
    • Recovers 2,200 HP and increases Strength and Defense for three turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Stuffed Meat Pie
    • Recovers 2,000 HP and increases Strength and Defense for three turns (small area of effect)
  • Attack Dish — Badly Smelling Pie
    • A-class power rank, 100% chance of poisoning the target
  • Unique — Lovely Apple Pie
    • Recovers 2,200 HP and increases Strength and Defense for five turns (small area of effect)
Aquamarine Ice (June 18)
  • Location: Speak to Jacqueline at the Crepe Stall in Ordis' Business Sector
  • Best chef: Musse
  • Worst chefs: Kurt, Ashe, Gaius

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Grand Blue Gelato
    • Recovers 1,600 HP, restores 80 EP, and cures poison, blind, and burn.
  • Standard — Aquamarine Ice
    • Recovers 1,400 HP, restores 70 EP, and cures poison, blind, and burn
  • Attack Dish — Explosive Snowball
    • A-rank power class, 30% chance of confusion and freeze
  • Unique — Elegant Snowflake Pastry
    • Recovers 1,600 HP, restores 80 EP, and cures poison, blind, and burn

Chapter 4 Recipes

Piled Spaghetti (July 8)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Barney's in Leeves
  • Best chef: Rean
  • Worst chefs: Musse, Millium, Sara

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Shining Spaghetti
    • Recovers 2,500 HP and increases Speed and Movement for three turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Piled Spaghetti
    • Recovers 2,300 HP and increases Speed and Movement for three turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Salted Vongole
    • Recovers 2,100 HP and increases Speed and Movement for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Hunter's Carbonara
    • Recovers 2,500 HP and increases Speed and Movement for five turns (small area of effect)
Tomato Curry (July 15)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Arendt at the Foresta Inn on Heimdallr's Westa Street
  • Best chef: Musse
  • Worst chefs: Kurt, Laura, Jusis

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Special Tomato Curry
    • Recovers 3,000 HP, restores 50 CP, and cures sleep, nightmare, and confuse
  • Standard — Tomato Curry
    • Recovers 2,700 HP, restores 50 CP, and cures sleep, nightmare, and confuse
  • Peculiar — Super-powered Curry
    • Recovers 2,100 HP, restores 60 CP, and cures sleep, nightmare, and confuse
  • Unique — Aged Shrimp Curry
    • Recovers 1,800 HP, restores 180 EP and 50 CP, and cures sleep, nightmare, and confuse
Pure White Shortcake (July 15)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Nancy at the Lucien Cafe in Heimdallr's Reica sector
  • Best chef: Altina
  • Worst chef: Ashe, Gaius, Sara

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Supreme Shortcake
    • Recovers 2,700 HP and increases Defense and ADF for three turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Pure White Shortcake
    • Recovers 2,400 HP and increases Defense and ADF for three turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Hard Cake
    • Recovers 2,100 HP and increases Defense and ADF for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Noir Mont Blanc
    • Immunity to one physical attack
Croquette Burger (July 15)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Oscar at the Lafite Bakery in Heimdallr's Westa Street
  • Best chef: Ashe
  • Worst chefs: Kurt, Altina, Alisa

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb Angel Burger
    • Recovers 1,000 HP and regenerates 20% HP for five turns
  • Standard — Croquette Burger
    • Recovers 1,000 HP and regenerates 20% HP for three turns
  • Attack Dish — Devil Burger
    • S-rank power class, 30% chance of death or nightmare
  • Unique — Steak Burger
    • Recovers 1,000 HP and regenerates 20 CP for five turns
Hearty Skewer (July 17)
  • Location: Purchase the special from Brecker at the Imperial Meat Stall in Heimdallr's Dreichels Square.
  • Best chef: Gaius
  • Worst chefs: Juna, Musse, Elliot

Effects and Variations:

  • Superb — Dynasty Grill
    • Recovers 4,000 HP, restores 50 CP, and increases Strength and Defense for five turns (medium area of effect)
  • Standard — Hearty Skewer
    • Recovers 3,500 HP, restores 50 CP, and increases Strength and Defense for five turns (small area of effect)
  • Peculiar — Attack Grill
    • Recovers 3,000 HP, restores 50 CP, and increases Strength and ATS for one turn (large area of effect)
  • Unique — Nordic Kebab
    • Recovers 4,000 HP, restores 50 CP, and increases Strength, ATS, and Speed for seven turns (small area of effect)


That's every recipe in Trails of Cold Steel 3 to help see you through the many trials awaiting Class VII. Be sure to check out our other Trails of Cold Steel 3 guides for more tips on your journey through Erebonia.

Trails of Cold Steel 3 Bond Events, Romance Guide, and Gift List Tue, 22 Oct 2019 17:42:41 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 follows its two predecessors by including a bonding system, where Rean can spend time with, and learn more about, his friends and colleagues during the course of the story.

There's more to it this time around, though, including more characters and more ways to bond with them, plus actual "romance" options. This guide will cover how to get the most out of each bond event, how to unlock the final bond event and trophy, and who the romance options are.

How Cold Steel 3's Bonding System Works

The Cold Steel 3 bonding system works similarly to that of the previous two games. On Rean's and Class VII's Free Days, you get a limited number of bonding points you can spend on specific characters, and you get at least one more on the evening of the same day.

There are always more people available for bonding events than there are points to spend, so like with Cold Steel and Cold Steel 2, you won't see all the bonding events until New Game+.

The first two Cold Steel games tied bond levels to Link Experience, but Cold Steel 3 keeps the two completely separate, which means you're free to Link with whomever you like in combat without suffering any social consequences for it. Additionally, there's a way to increase bond levels without actually spending time with a character: sending gifts.

Sending Gifts

Gift items are available usually once or twice during each chapter, and you can send them to characters not in your party by selecting the item in your inventory. You can also gift them directly if the recipient is nearby.

Sometimes gifting items will increase parameters for one of the recipient's stats as well.

While the bond meter increase is not as hefty as when you experience a bonding event, it's a handy way to move things along.

Using Baths

Another way to (very) slightly increase a friendship meter is using the baths in the dormitory every morning/afternoon and evening when you're free to explore Leeves. You'll get a brief scene with someone else in the baths. If it's someone with a friendship meter, then you get roughly a quarter of a star increase.

Do Cold Steel 2 Bond and Link Levels Carry Over to CS3?

Nope, nary a bit. Rean's bond levels with Old Class VII start at a predetermined level regardless of who you snuggled up to in Cold Steel 2.

How to Unlock Final Bonding Events in CS3

There is, as always, a final bonding event for each character, accompanied by a trophy for maxing that character's bond points. Fortunately, it's not quite as difficult as the final event for the first Cold Steel.

Even though it's the last bonding event, it's worth mentioning now so you can plan ahead. You must do the following two tasks:

  • You need to max out that character's friendship meter, aka their favorability rating, before or during the Summer Festival in Chapter 4

  • Spend at least one Festival Ticket on that character to unlock their final bonding event

Spending a Festival Ticket also triggers a regular bonding event and can help get you to that maxed out level if need be.

During the Summer Festival, you can even get four extra Festival Tickets if you complete the optional sidequests on that day, giving you extra chances to increase bond levels.

There are two final, important things to note on the subject of bonding events. 

  1. In general, because you get more bonding events with the Branch Campus kids (Juna, Kurt, Altina, Musse, and Ash) - you should take advantage of bonding opportunities and gift-giving with Old Class VII when they arise if you want to see their final bond events.

  2. Elise and Princess Alfin work a bit differently as far as their final bonding event. They share a friendship meter, with the max rank for that one being four stars rather than five. Outside gift-giving, there are only a few specific story points when you can increase that meter as well, which we'll include in each chapter below.

Chapter 1 Bond Events and Gift List

April 16: Anytime

Gift Item

  • Silk Handerchief (Elise) - Purchased from Lapin Boutique
  • Mizu Yokan (Altina) - purchased from Nyo-Sui-An Imports (Increases Altina's ADF by 10)

Available Bond Events (2 Bond Points to spend)

  • Kurt
  • Altina
  • Musse (Character Note updated)
April 16: Evening

Available Bond Events (1 Bond Point to spend)

  • Juna
  • Towa
April 22: Morning (Saint-Arkh)/Afternoon (Parm)

Gift Items

  • Fountain Pen (Kurt) - Exchanged at the Demeter Exchange in Saint-Arkh for 1 Silver Glasses and 1 White Earring (Increases HP by 100)
  • Quilted Pouch (Millium) - Purchased in Parm (Increases Strength and Defense by 10)

Chapter 2 Bond Events and Gift List

May 13: Anytime

Gift Items

  • Imperial Sports Encyclopedia (Juna) - purchased from Carnegie Book and Game store in Leeves (Increases Strength by 10)
  • Elegant Scrunchie (Claire) - Exchanged for 1 Holy Chain at Neinvalli in Leeves (Increases Strength and ATS by 10)
May 14: Morning/Afternoon

Bonding Events (3 Bond Points to spend)

  • Juna
  • Altina
  • Ash
  • Laura
  • Millium (Character Note updated); event also includes Claire
May 14: Evening

Bonding Events (1 Bond Point to spend)

  • Kurt
  • Elliot (Character Note updated)
May 20: Anytime

Gift Items

  • Blue Glass Wind Chime (Elliot) - Purchased from a stall in East Street in Crossbell (Increases ATS and ADF by 10)
  • Orbal Dryer (Towa) - Purchased from Orbal Store Genten in Crossbell's Central Square.
  • Orca Floatie (Altina) - Purchased from Southwark in Times Department Store, located in Crossbell's Central Square (Increases ATS by 10)
  • Camellia Lipstick (Laura) - purchased from Lucca's in Times Department Store, located in Crossbell's Central Square (Increases Strength and Defense by 10)
May 21: Morning/Afternoon

Bond Events

There aren't any normal bond events in Crossbell per se, but there are two things to keep in mind on May 21.

  • Don't forget to head down the elevator corridor in Orchis Tower for a scene that raises your Alfin/Elise bond rating.
  • Check the terminal in the SSS building for a scene with Sharon that increases her bond rating.

Chapter 3 Bond Events and Gifts List

June 10: Anytime

Gift Items

  • Orchid Hairpin (Musse) - purchased from Nyo-Sui-An Imports in Leeves (Increases ADF by 10)
  • Leather Blue Book Cover (Kurt) - purchased from Carnegie Games and Books in Leeves (Increases ATS by 10)
  • Green Star Pendant (Fie) - purchased from the Branch Campus Cooperative Store in Leeves (Increases Strength and Defense by 10)
June 11: Morning/Afternoon

Bond Events (3 Bond Points to spend)

  • Juna (Character Note updated)
  • Kurt
  • Musse
  • Alisa (Character Note updated), event includes Sharon
  • Machias

Alfin/Elise Bond Meter Increase

Speak to Rosine in the Leeves Chapel on this day to undertake the quest "Temporary Sunday School Teacher," which will increase your bond level with Elise.

June 12: Evening

Bond Events (2 Bond Points to spend)

  • Altina
  • Ash
  • Towa
  • Fie
June 17: Morning (Ordis)

Gift Items

  • Phoenix Tea (Alfin) - Purchased from Kendall Imports in Kleist Mall, located in Ordis' Business Area.
  • Compact Juicer (Juna) - Purchased at the Reinford (RF) Store in Kleist Mall, located in Ordis' Business Area (Increases HP by 100)
  • Aroma Tonic (Ash) - Purchased from Hereford in the Riviera Court portion of Ordis (Increases Strength by 10)
  • Rose Perfume (Sharon) - Purchased from the florist shop Glycine in Ordis' North Street (Increases Strength and ATS by 10)
  • Heart Trilogy (Alisa) - Purchased from the Strauss Orbal Factory in Ordis' North Street (Increases ATS and ADF by 10)
June 17: Afternoon (Raquel)

Gift Items

  • Amber Soap (Elise) - Purchased from Ikaros Mart in Raquel
  • Classic Mill (Machias) - Exchange for Arabiki Sausage at McEnroe Pawn Store in Raquel (Increases Strength and Defense by 10)

Chapter 4 Bond Events and Gift List

If you couldn't tell already by this point in the game, stuff's starting to get serious, so your schedule is slightly atypical.

July 4: Evening

Bond Events (3 Bond Points to spend)

  • Juna
  • Kurt
  • Altina
  • Musse
  • Ash
July 8: Evening

Gift Items

  • Noble Ribbon (Celine — yes, the cat) - Purchased from Lapin Boutique in Leeves.
  • Fairyland Iris (Atina) - Purchased from Carnegie Book and Game in Leeves (Increases HP by 100)
  • Silver Cuff Link (Kurt) - Exchanged for 1 Silver Chain and 1 Cool Necklace from Neinvalli in Leeves.
  • Colored Braid (Towa) - Purchased from Nyo-Sui-An Imports in Leeves
July 9: Morning/Afternoon

Bond Events (4 Bond Points to spend)

  • Juna
  • Altina (Character Note updated)
  • Ash (Character Note updated)
  • Towa
  • Jusis
  • Gaius
July 9: Evening

Bond Events (2 Bond Points to spend)

  • Kurt
  • Musse
  • Emma (Character Note updated)
  • Sara
July 15: Morning (Heimdallr)

Gift Items

  • Stein Rose '96 (Sara) - purchased from Weston House in Plaza Bifrost, located on Vainqueur Street (Increases Strength and ATS by 10)
  • Aurora Barrette (Juna) - Purchased from Lepanto and Co. in Plaza Bifrost, located on Vainqueur Street (Increases Defense by 10)
  • Red Leather Key Case (Ash) - Purchased from Lumierre Orbal Factory on Vainqueur Street (Increases HP by 150
  • Edel Casquette (Emma) - Purchased from Le Sage Boutique on Vainqueur Street.
  • Ebony Pin (Gaius) - Purchased from Herschel's on Westa Street (Increases Strength and ATS by 10)
  • Starry Night Minuet (Musse) - Purchased from Rieveldt and Co. in the Reica Area (Increases ATS by 15)
  • Riding Gloves (Jusis) - Purchased from the Betting Window at the Racecourse Square (Increases Strength and ATS by 15)

July 17: Summer Festival Bonding Events

The Summer Festival on July 17 is the last point in the game Rean is able to spend time with friends and classmates. Everyone is available on this day.

It's also where you can access a character's Final Bond Event, if, as mentioned above, you've:

  • Maxed their bond/friendship meter


  • Used one Festival ticket on that character

You start out with 5 Bond Points on July 17, but you can earn up to an extra 4 Bond Points if you complete the optional quests available on that day.

Only one of these isn't listed for you outright, Melody of the Past. It's a Branch Campus request that you'll access by speaking to President Morgan at Rieveldt and Co.

Cold Steel 3 Romance Options

Some of these Final Bond Events turn romantic as well.

Cold Steel 3's romance options are limited to just Alisa, Laura, and Emma, and there's an option during their Final Bond Events to choose a romantic response or to keep everything friendly.

How this plays out when you transfer completed data to Cold Steel 4 is, as yet, unknown since the game isn't out in the West yet.


Check out our other Trials of Cold Steel 3 guides, such as the locations for every recipe and how to get all Vantage Masters cards.

Why the School Setting is Perfect for Trails of Cold Steel Mon, 08 Apr 2019 12:22:11 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Games with a school setting are a dime-a-dozen, it seems, especially since the rise of Persona. While it can be a boon for some games, school-based RPGs often comes across as derivative, full of mechanics and characters we've seen so many times we just don't care anymore.

That's how The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel seems at first. Chances are, it's what you'll hear on the fan forums, where Cold Steel is often regarded as the weakest story arc of the Trails series.

It couldn't be farther from the truth, though. The school setting actually helps accentuate the game's strongest parts to create a more dynamic and engaging experience.

[Note that this piece does contain some mild spoilers for a few characters' backgrounds.]

Narrative Continuity

When Zero no Kiseki was in development, Falcom realized they needed something with more story and detail to bridge the gap between Trails in the Sky SC and everything else that would follow. Thus, Trails in the Sky the 3rd was born: A different, but vastly important game, where most of the story is told through narrative events found behind specific Star and Moon doors.

(If all of this sounds like gibberish to you, head over to our handy one-stop FAQ for the Trails series and find out what it's all about.)

Most of the doors expand the characters and plot related to the Sky story arc or set up the Crossbell games. Star Door 8 serves both purposes. However, it's also the foundation of the Trails of Cold Steel games.

In it, you learn why Prince Olivert visited Liberl to begin with and how it connects to the troubles brewing back in Erebonia.

Erebonian society and politics were gridlocked, essentially, between the noble and reformist factions — the aristocrats and the commoners, in other words. Each had extensive influence over certain sectors of the government, and each also had access to a great deal of military power.

Osborne here is presented as basically a Robespierre — a rabble rouser who does what the people want to get their support, even to the point of instigating a civil war to destroy society so he can rebuild it around himself and his no-nobles-allowed policies.

Olivert obviously opposes this plan and wants to steer a middle course, rebuilding Erebonia without shattering it first.

Keep that in mind while we detour into Erebonian politics a bit more.

Bracers, the politically independent association dedicated to helping civilians, don't operate in Erebonia anymore. They had an annoying tendency to keep oppressive military types in check and, unlike their mercenary rivals the Jaegers, wouldn't take on any job for the right price.

Erebonia doesn't have police, but each province has its own army. The central government has a military police unit dedicated to preserving the security of the country's railroads, which basically means it has access to every town and every corner of the country.

These two points are important for a couple of reasons. From a narrative perspective, it means Olivert and his allies couldn't count on support from other organizations in their bid to save and reform the empire. From a design perspective, it also limited Falcom's choices for what affiliations the main characters would have.

Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo initially said the goal was to make Rean and his friends military officers. It's highly possible, and probably likely, the decision to use a school setting instead was influenced by the success of games like Persona 3 and Persona 4.

However, there aren't many other choices that would make sense in the story Falcom created. Military officers would certainly be an interesting focus, but it would shatter the story.

Here's what would happen: Military officers disobey their superiors because they believe the government and army are corrupt. There's strength in numbers, so they find a smattering of disaffected nobles who want to reform the system as well, especially the archaic social class system. All movements need a leader, which leads them to ally with an already controversial imperial prince to try and change the country.

What I just described is a rebellion, not a moderate reformation.

Whatever influenced the decision, there's no denying changing Rean and co. to students at a military academy works much better.

The monthly field studies give Class VII a better chance to learn about the various facets of Erebonia's problems and the spectrum of their severity. That severity ranges from the passive oppression in Celdic to the outright aggression in Bareahard — to say nothing of Nord's precarious position between Erebonia and Calvard. Like Crossbell, but without enough clout to warrant the two governments treading lightly.

Moreover, it lets the students learn about these issues as (almost) ordinary citizens, giving them a desire to work towards a brighter future for their country in general and the many people they meet along the way.

That's important, because while Bracers ultimately have the same goals, they operate as sort of dual-citizens, with one foot in their country and one in the restrictive laws governing the organization.

It doesn't mean Bracers have no love for country, but it's not the same as students learning what's wrong in their hometowns and working together to fix it. That's a cliche, to be sure, but one Falcom manages to imbue with a sense of genuineness thanks to the characters, their reactions to what they witness, and their determination to make a difference.

Trope Busters

The school setting also helps emphasize how interesting the characters in Cold Steel are. At first, that probably sounds counter-intuitive: school-based RPG = tropes a-plenty.

And that's true to an extent. At first glance, the characters and setting seem very tropey indeed — the sexy big sister-teacher, the hot-headed intellectual, the shy, quiet smart girl, the tsundere, and so on.

Falcom uses variations of these throughout the Trails series, though, and always manages to make the characters feel like real people regardless. Cold Steel is no different, but the character development process seems almost like Falcom intentionally used these just to turn them on their heads.

Take Instructor Sara, for example. Initially, she's almost a pink-haired version of Trails in the Sky's Scherazard Harvey and the usual sexy teacher trope: Fond of drink and men, hidden skills you wouldn't expect, acts as a mentor for the main character.

Starting in Chapter 5, though, you learn a lot more about Sara and her past that paints her in a new light (and there's even more in later games). After the Erebonian Bracer Guilds were closed, Sara was basically a drifter. Her Bonding Events suggest a much more troubled past as well, one fraught with heartbreak and loss.

It makes you wonder whether her seemingly irresponsible and flippant demeanor is how she learned to cope with hardship, adding an extra dimension to what would otherwise have been a worn-out character type.

There are plenty of other examples, but Alisa Reinford is one of the more notable ones.

Alisa is Cold Steel's tsundere and even has a scene where she falls on top of Rean. For the first few chapters, she's distant, unpleasant, stubbornly independent, obviously has a crush on Rean, and is someone you've seen a million times before.

And then you learn about her home life. Her (admittedly creepy) grandfather is her only real friend, and her mother lives for work, with her daughter being a necessary nuisance to control. Alisa ran away from home to try and forge her own life away from the Reinford name and to prove to her mother that she, Alisa, was an individual worthy of notice.

That conflict with the Reinford name is one of the more engaging aspects about her too. The Reinfords are an anomaly in Erebonia. The family headed the Orbal Revolution (read: Industrial Revolution) in the country and propelled to fame and fortune because of their technical and engineering expertise.

But just like in the 19th century, new money didn't sit well with old blood. Alisa's insecurity and desire to do something for herself reflects her family's precarious social position and the trials she deals with as a scion of a revered and reviled family.

All of this would make her a unique character under normal circumstances. The other story arcs in the Trails series have their share of revelations and engaging backstories too, after all

However, having it unfold over the course of the school year creates an interesting juxtaposition, where starting from the familiar only to radically depart from it makes these characters stand out even more.

The same goes for some of the others.

Jusis Albarea is your average snooty noble, until it comes out that he's not as noble as it seems, and he's just the unwanted spare wheel.

Elliot Craig is the usual non-athletic type. He feels pressured to follow his military father's footsteps but really wants to study music. It's familiar stuff, but then you learn his love for music is how he keeps his dead mother's memory alive. It makes his coming to terms with his and his father's differences stand out that much more.

You, and Rean, only learn about this as time progresses, because it's just like school. You know the least about the people you see the most until you take the time to try and understand them.

Admittedly, the game makes it initially difficult to get to these points of realization. Since it is just like school, there are fewer interactions between characters except on field studies or when the class is all together. Most of the info dumps come from Bonding Events (which you can learn more about here) and those field studies.

Some of the characters, like Gaius and, to an extent, Emma, don't get much development in the first game, which is a casualty of this being the first in a four-game arc.

But if you can look past the initial, stale tropes, Cold Steel does an excellent job busting your expectations about characters and character types, which has some interesting real-life lessons under the surface.

School Days

The other way the school setting works so well is one of its more controversial aspects: the free days and lessons.

Normally in Trails games, the action starts slow and gradually builds to a huge confrontation or revelation of some kind.

Cold Steel is a bit different, because it's a series of stops and starts. Each chapter starts at Thors Military Academy with a brief hint at a lesson of sorts and some free time to wander around. The main action is on Free Days where Rean takes on tasks for the Student Council, which take the place of Bracer Requests in the Sky games.

These tasks and Rean's free time do something interesting apart from giving you the chance to do side quests and get some extra items. 

Trails games are known for their attention to detail and the fact that NPCs actually live and change as the story progresses. However, Sky FC doesn't actually let you revisit places you've been to before; Sky SC does, but it's somewhat limited. NPC changes are limited to the action in that chapter.

Thors Academy acts sort of like Crossbell City instead, being a kind of hub area you always return to. It lets you see how a large number of NPCs — your classmates — live and change over time. Some of these NPCs have expanded roles later in the series, so it's worth following their stories. But even without that, it makes Erebonia feel more vibrant and gives a definite sense that Thors is a place apart from the rest of the country and its troubles.

That feeling eventually clashes violently with the game's action is the story progresses, ultimately making the story even more immersive. By the time Chapter 3's action comes to a close, it's clear there's something serious going on on a variety of different fronts, and you're ready to carry on with the action.

But you can't. It's back to school instead. Chapter 4 makes the adjustment even worse, making you wonder why you can't just investigate the Imperial Liberation Front and find some solution to the clash between nobles and commoners.

Then you realize that's exactly how the characters are meant to feel too.

By the end of Chapter 5, going back to school is similar to Harry Potter and co. going to Hogwarts in The Half-Blood Prince. You know something big is going to happen, and soon, and there's an element of tension to the class's routine actions.

When that routine finally breaks, and Prince Olivert introduces his new airship, the Courageous, you know things are coming to a head. The Academy Festival isn't just the usual booths and exhibits affair, then; you know it's the stage where the final conflict of the game at last breaks out.

It's an interesting and clever use of routine to get players involved in the story and its structure, and one of the only times a game's school setting actually contributes to making the action feel more believable.

Since the Cold Steel arc is the most narratively ambitious and expansive of the Trails games, that can only be a good thing.


Video games can never escape tropes and already-established mechanics. The medium is just too vast to avoid re-using something that's been successful in another game.

What stands out, then, is how games use these things in unique ways or to different effect, and that's something Trails of Cold Steel does in spades.

Trails of Cold Steel Romance and Bonding Guide Sun, 31 Mar 2019 12:34:21 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel inundates you with a lot of information in the opening hours about a variety of different gameplay systems. It offers an overview of the bonding system, but leaves the romance aspect of bonding basically untouched, to say nothing of the vagaries related to how your choices affect the sequel.

That's what this guide is for. It gives advice on how to spend Bonding Points and how those bonding points eventually lead to a romantic relationship for Rean, plus what that means for Trails of Cold Steel II.

Be aware that the guide contains some slight spoilers about characters who join your party about mid-way through the game.

If you've stumbled on this guide while looking for games with romance and aren't sure what's going on, check out our overview of the entire Trails series.

Romance in Trails of Cold Steel

Romance is tied to your link levels, which advance based on a variety of factors. The activity that increases Link experience the most is choosing to use your Bonding Points on your free days with a specific character. Bonding events for Class VII characters grant you 500 Link XP for whichever character you choose to spend time with.

Note that spending Bond Points on Towa, Instructor Sara, and — for the first few chapters — Crow is the only way to increase your Link levels with them.

However, you can also gain a bit of Link EXP for the Class VII members you take with you during your monthly explorations of the Old Schoolhouse, and everyone in your group gains Link EXP at the end of a field study.

Is There A Canon Relationship?

Unlike earlier the Trails in the Sky games and the Crossbell duology, the Cold Steel games don't have canon pairings. Alisa is pushed as Rean's main love interest, though the game allows you to ignore that if you desire.

Entering into a romantic relationship with one of Rean's classmates or a Link-able NPC (like Towa) requires maxing out their Link Level by raising it to 5. Note that the Cold Steel games treat Rean's relationships with his male classmates as close friendships, though that hasn't stopped the fan community from shipping him with, well, everyone.

Here are the characters Rean can enter into a romantic relationship with:

  • Alisa Reinford
  • Emma Millstein
  • Laura Arseid
  • Fie Claussel
  • Millium Orion
  • Towa Herschel
  • Instructor Sara Valestein

Rean's relationships with Millium and Instructor Sara don't necessarily count as romantic in the same way as the relationships with the other female classmates, given their respective ages.

Trails of Cold Steel Final Bonding Event

For the most part, maxing out a character's Link Level doesn't really change the game. You find out more about that character's past, personality, and motivations, but the big difference doesn't come until the Thors Military Academy Festival towards the end of the game.

During the Festival, Rean gets the option to spend time with his friends. Should you choose to do so with one of the love interests, it triggers a special, final bonding scene and dance with that character. You only get to choose one partner to dance with.

Rean's male classmates get a special final bonding scene as well that, while not romantic, expands their characters quite a bit.

The easiest way to trigger these scenes is, of course, to max out Link Levels. But it's not the only way

Here are the Link EXP and additional requirements for each character's final bonding scene:

Alisa, Emma, Machias, Jusis, Elliot, Laura, and Fie

  • Link EXP: 5250

Or do one of the following:

  • Spend time during Chapter 6's Free Day
  • Ask to accompany you to Heimdallr to collect the Stage Costume (Bike Ride event)
  • Use at least 2 tickets on the character during the Festival

Millium and Crow

  • Link EXP: 3500 or more

Or do one of the following:

  • Spend time during Chapter 6's Free Day
  • Ask to accompany you to Heimdallr to collect the Stage Costume (Bike Ride event). Crow will go with you if you choose to go alone
  • Use at least 2 tickets on the character during the Festival

Instructor Sara

  • Link EXP: 4400 or more

Or do one of the following:

  • Spend time with her during Free Day in Chapter 6
  • Use at least 2 tickets on Military Academy Festival Day


  • Link EXP: 2000 or more. You can't actually see your Link Level with Towa, so the other conditions might be easier to keep track of

Or do one of the following:

  • Spend time with her during Free Day in Chapter 5 (Towa isn't available during Chapter 6)
  • Use at least 2 tickets on Military Academy Festival Day

Do Bonding Levels and Romance Transfer to Cold Steel II?

The short answer to this is yes and no. Trails of Cold Steel was designed similarly to the Ys games, where the protagonist's love interests are up to the player. As such, you're free to choose a completely different romance interest in Cold Steel II.

Link Levels start at a pre-set level in Cold Steel II. However, the person you chose to dance with during the Festival does get a Link EXP boost in CSII should you transfer your save data.

The biggest carryover is at the sequel's start, though, in a series of special flashback scenes.

You get to view a special scene that is meant to have taken place at the first Cold Steel's end between Rean and one of his friends. There is some misconception around that the scene is dependent on who you choose to dance with, but that isn't true.

Instead, you see scenes between Rean and each character he could have danced with, even if he didn't. So, say you choose to dance with Emma, but could have witnessed Instructor Sara's, Alisa's, and Elliot's final scenes. You'll still see all of their flashback scenes in Trails of Cold Steel II, plus the scene with Emma.

In other words, if you want to flesh out Rean's relationships with all of his friends, it's worth focusing on bonding events with your favorite characters throughout the game, instead of just your specific romantic interest.


Romance might not be Trails of Cold Steel's strongest or most developed mechanic. However, it's a great way to learn more about Class VII and the people Rean meets at Thors Military Academy nonetheless.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review — Play The Hits Tue, 26 Mar 2019 19:23:57 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

You could be forgiven if you'd never heard of the Legend of Heroes video game series before now. Much more popular overseas than it is here in the States, it's a 30-year old franchise that is incredibly rich and deep, spanning multiple different story arcs that are all carefully weaved together so that they fit into a single narrative.

Now that the PlayStation 3 is long-dead, and the Vita is on life support, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has gotten a rerelease on the PlayStation 4. So is this re-release of a 2013 JRPG worth a look (or second look?) Well, if you're looking for a beautiful time-suck of a game crammed full of side quests and a bunch stuff to do, the answer is yes.

Get Schooled

The most jarring thing about starting this game as a newcomer to the series is that, like many role-playing games, it drops you into the game in media res, with a full party and a ton of abilities already learned with the implication that you should be at least somewhat familiar with the game's many, many complicated combat, equipment, and social systems.

You'll see meaningless words like "sepith" and "orbment," and the screen will be filled with nonsensical icons. Random words and status effects will pop up during battle and you won't know what anything means. It's stressful, and can make you feel like you'll never really get to grips with the game.

Dropping in like this is overwhelming, but don't fret. The opening scene of the game operates somewhat like a sandbox, allowing players to get comfortable with the game's advanced systems without any explanation before getting a tutorial later on. 

It's a smart and interesting way for a deep game like this to help players learn its complicated battle systems. Sure, it's a bit scary and it's a tad frustrating when the opening sequence ends and you're back to level 1 with 80% of your battle and menu options locked until you complete a tutorial. All this really means that once the game introduces a system to you, you'll have some limited experience with it already and won't be completely confused.

And hoooo boy, are there a lot of systems to master in this game. 

Turn-Based Innovations

Image via Omegabalmung on YouTube

Battles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel crib elements from other role-playing franchises, all to great effect. Like in more strategic RPGs, positioning during battle is incredibly important. You'll be aiming area-of-effect spells while trying to spread your party to avoid getting hit by them yourself. 

You can also elect to skip your turn entirely to move freely around the battle area. Many tougher fights will necessitate this, as you'll want to retreat and heal up as characters get low on health or unleash a powerful spell or attack. (Hilariously, the game's systems for magic and special physical attacks are called Arts and Crafts respectively.)

There's also a link system that allows party members to follow up on other characters' normal attacks depending on the type of weapon they wield and the opponent's vulnerability to said weapon. Get what I mean about the complex nature of this game yet? 

Altogether, this makes battles feel more akin to Dungeons and Dragons encounters than they do to other JRPG battles. It's fresh (weird to say for a game that first came out 6 years ago) and makes battles more satisfying when you surround a particularly tough baddie and are just able to wail on them. The way your team has to coordinate attacks is reminiscent of Persona 5which is high praise given that that's my favorite JRPG of all time.

Extracurricular Activities

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is the first in a story arc that takes place in the Erebonian Empire, and if you haven't played any of the other games in the series before, be prepared for a game that is extremely lore and politics-heavy. The main, overarching story is one of political rebellion and the trickle-down effects of that rebellion to the cities and towns of the empire. 

All this is to say that the main story of this game could be a turn-off, especially for folks who are just being introduced to this world. The game seems to expect a certain amount of familiarity with the lore, and it makes the barrier for entry, at least story-wise, pretty darn high.

That said, the overarching macro-level story isn't what most folks will gravitate to. The most rewarding parts of the story revolve around the relationships that the main character, Rean, has with his classmates. 

You see, Rean, as well as a whole bunch of other high-school-aged kids, have been admitted to a military school as part of a special class of problem-solvers. The most engaging parts of the story revolve around this class, how they clash with each other and their instructor, and how they all grow and mature together.

To be clear, it's full of the requisite amount of JRPG/anime tropey-ness: there's a classic tsundere character who spends the first few hours of the game mad at the main character over an accident, the tall, dark, and handsome tank, the haughty noble and the fiery revolutionary, the Serious Business Swordswoman... you've met all these characters before if you've watched a, adventure anime or played just about any other role-playing game.

And though it's a bit disappointing that so many of these characters are a bit cliched, it really is a joy to use some of your free time to get to know them and increase your social links.

Like the Persona games, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel follows a gameplay loop where the player has "free time" between missions and quests. During free time, players can do odd jobs, explore, and crucially, to choose which characters to further a relationship -- which in turn, affects what bonuses you'll receive in combat. It's a well-worn mechanic, and it works to great effect here to throw some of the dense macro-level lore into relief.

  • Immensely satisfying and complex combat
  • Dual audio means if you hate the English VO, you can just use the Japanese one
  • The interactions between classmates are often legitimately charming
  • The overarching story assumes familiarity with the world, making it difficult for newcomers to feel engaged
  • The visuals are lacking
  • Classmates can feel trope-y and shallow at times
  • The game ends on a cliffhanger, so be aware that if you get invested, you'll be in for the long haul

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is as classic of a JRPG experience as I could imagine, from its dense intertwining systems to its 50+ hour play time, to its inexplicable inclusion of cooking and fishing mechanics.

And when I say "classic," I mean that in both a good and bad way.

The visuals, although upgraded from the PS3 version to support 4k monitors, clearly come from a previous generation. A fast-forward turbo function (available throughout the game, even in cut scenes) is a great touch to help blaze through lower level encounters, though it's a bit of a heavy-handed option since it literally just speeds everything up. It can make the controls a little difficult.

The game's well-written and the voice acting is passable, but you'll find the occasional typo. Some of the side missions are pretty great in terms of scope, and some require you to get cold medicine for a priest too lazy to get it himself. It's a mixed bag, like most of the best JRPGs are.

By this point, you likely know whether or not The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is for you. If you're not a fan of JRPGs, look elsewhere. There's not much here for folks who don't love the genre. But if you do, this game will scratch an itch you didn't even know you had.

[Note: A review copy of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was provided by Nihon Falcom for this review.]

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.

Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel -- Going Off The Rails Sat, 26 Aug 2017 19:00:02 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is the first game in the Cold Steel trilogy. Originally released on the PS3 and Vita in Japan during late 2013, it wasn't until 2015 that it would be imported to the US for those same consoles. Only now, in 2017, is it being released worldwide on PC.

In this traditional turn based JRPG, you play as Rean Schwarzer, a new enrollee at the Thors military academy. At Thors, Rean is placed in Class VII, a new class that breaks tradition by placing nobles and commoners who scored high on the ARCUS aptitude portion of the entry exams together. This aptitude is used to test out a new technology called Combat Links, which is said to allow people to act in unison with one another (more on this later).

Over the course of the anime-influenced game, you play through a set routine about 6 or 7 times. You start at school. Here, there's class time, bonding events with classmates, and mandatory fetch quests for the locals. Then, you explore the mysterious, ever expanding old school house. Finally, you have your practical exam; after which you get split into groups for your field studies. During field studies, you go to various locales to help out their inhabitants and see their unique ways of life. After a few days of various fetch quests, a couple dungeons, and some large event that caps off your trip, you return to school, rinse and repeat.

During field studies, you go to various locales to help out their inhabitants and see their unique ways of life. After a few days of various fetch quests, a couple dungeons, and a large event that caps off your trip, you return to school, rinse and repeat.

I wouldn't call it a hobby so much as a chore, but I am glad my work is noticed.

The biggest problem with this structure is that so much of it is boring or superfluous. I never felt engaged by being a student. Moreover, the extremely slow plot wasn’t assisted by the fact that nearly half of your time-- the time spent at the academy-- didn’t serve to move the plot forward at all. The academy could've served as a nice breather between the more stressful field studies, but since it's so drawn out it felt like a slice of life in the worst way possible.

At this point, I feel it’s necessary to stop and mention that this game suffers from severe technical limitations; this is a B budget game through and through.

This is not to say it’s glitchy; rather, the graphics, animations, and game feel are off. Its graphics are nowhere near on par with titles from the time or even Final Fantasy 13, which is almost 4 years older; and that is after the title received graphical upgrades for PC. In fact, ToCS looks more like something that could have been a late PS2 title than anything from the last couple generations.

All of the cut corners are clearly visible. There aren’t really any cutscenes, and the game doesn’t have full voice acting -- which is a damned shame considering the amount of dialogue. This is made even worse by the fact that the voice acting is prone to starting halfway through conversations and isn't present in some pivotal scenes. The game has a nice anime intro, as well as character portraits for the pause menu, but the low-poly models are used in the dialogue bubbles instead. Most of the game world also lacks adequate objects to make it feel lived in.

In short, it feels like the game did not evolve to actually compensate for its technical or budgetary deficiencies.

My largest problem with the game, however, is the lack of a good editor. There was a propensity to over explain things that didn’t matter. For instance, during a scene where I’m entering a sewer, they go out of their way to discuss the floor being wet, which was obvious. It wasn't important mechanically and wasn’t used as foreshadowing,  so why mention it all when I could clearly see it myself?

The game also repeats things excessively. For example, one time they open the day talking about an upcoming trade conference. Then, they end the day giving you an expositional newspaper talking about the trade conference. No sooner than I got finished reading the mandatory newspaper I was hit in the face with an unskippable cutscene where Rean listened to a radio show that continued to talk about the trade conference. Going into the coming days, the trade conference was mentioned probably another half dozen times. None of these instances explained any new facts; they merely continued to bring it up for no reason.

Elliot, the wise, addressing the struggles of choosing a waifu from Class VII.

There were myriad other problems with the writing too.  Everything is always extremely accommodating and laced with positivity to the point that it drained believability from situations. There were ridiculous things that broke the tension of the story. They never use their ARCUS to call one another despite that being one of its main functionalities. The other team of students almost never seem to have meaningful things happen to them on their adventures. In short, the writing style was closer to a Pokemon game than Full Metal Alchemist.

All of this was extremely pervasive, and that's sad because the writing wasn’t mediocre across the board. In fact, these issues ruined a lot of the better character building moments in the game and clouded some tensions that could have been amazing.

Many of the initially cliched characters developed over time, especially Rean. In most media, protagonists are leaders merely because it is convenient for the plot to revolve around them, but Rean actually shows leadership traits by stepping in and helping his peers solve their problems when others were too self-absorbed or scared to do so. He was also a relatable character thanks to the fact that he doubted his abilities and didn’t know what the hell he was doing with his life. As a young 20 something, I can relate to that.

I freaking love Instructor Sara. She deserved to be present more often. 

The gameplay also fails at backing up one of the game’s largest themes: that your work is supposed to challenge you to empathize with the people you are helping because they are what being a soldier is all about. I love this theme because it fits the idea of being a military academy student well while also fostering a great, logical reason to partake in the average man’s many burdens -- unlike many RPGs where it doesn’t make sense. However, the tedious quest design, boring NPCs, and overly verbose delivery meant that by the time I’d reached the halfway point, I knew I could start skipping through all the dialogue for the side quests.

On a more positive note, I loved how easy the game was to navigate. Saving is fast and a speedy fast travel lets you zip around in a location like I’ve never seen. It also has a Turbo Mode, which speeds up the game while you are holding the designated button. Getting into, through, and out of combat is also swift since you can skip the intro, combat, and outro animations, which allows you to boil combat down to the basics when you’re in a rush.

Rean would be great at reviewing this game. 

Last but not least, my favorite part of this game is the turn based battle system. Combat starts once you make contact with enemies on the field. Units take their actions in order based upon speed, which is shown off to the left. This all takes place in a 3D arena where you move around to attack, meaning proximity matters. If enemies or allies are too close to one another, then they can get hit by AoE’s or certain splash attacks; however, group heals and buffs are also AoE’s. This means being aware of your positioning in relation to others is vital… in boss fights. In normal encounters you just sorta blast away, which made it really disappointing that you can’t change the difficulty mid-game, a trait I thought we got rid of last gen.

There is also the link system (cookie for you if you remembered it from the beginning), which allows characters to team up with one another on the battlefield. For the majority of the game, all it does is allow the teamed up ally to make a follow-up attack on the opponent you hit if you unbalanced them.

Sadly the system is flawed. Unbalancing foes was hard to strategically utilize and most battles just really didn’t even need the extra manpower. Later in the game, you unlock additions to the system, Rush and Burst, the latter of these being completely overpowered since it lets all of your units attack all enemy units. In turn, this dismantled some of the battles where overwhelming enemy numbers were supposed to be a challenge. While it was one of the worst turn-based gimmicks I have seen because of how uninteresting it was mechanically, it didn’t really make the game worse.

The "Rich person I thought would be mean because they are rich is actually nice?!" cliche is in full force throughout the experience.

In short, the game is really held back by subpar storytelling. Removing superfluous exposition and concentrating on the interesting characters and debates surrounding mounting tensions would have made this story amazing. While the combat was fun, I’m hard pressed to say that this makes up for hours spent wading through crappy side quests and uninspired dungeons. As is, I have trouble imagining non-Japanophiles enjoying this game because of the steep curve imposed by its sloth-like progression. There's stuff to love here, but most of it is buried under tedium.

Note: A review copy was provided by developer Nihon Falcon.

JRPGs Aren't In Decline... It's Just Square Enix's Offerings That Are Tue, 28 Feb 2017 08:00:01 -0500 Kris Cornelisse (Delfeir)

The JRPG genre rose to prominence almost entirely off the backs of two notable game development companies; Squaresoft and Enix. Responsible for bringing us the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series respectively, a huge amount of the most notable RPGs (and a number of less notable or unlocalized games besides) were created or published by these two developers.

Prior to the release of the PlayStation, you would be hard pressed to find a JRPG released in English-speaking territories that didn’t brandish either the Squaresoft or Enix logos. There are exceptions of course, notably on Sega systems -- I’d be loathe to ignore Phantasy Star or the Shining series -- but many would be unlikely to name those at first if asked for a JRPG series title.

More companies would start to join in the JRPG market throughout the PlayStation era, such as Konami or Monolith Soft, and the market quickly saw a boom of new titles that would continue well into the late PS2 era. But all throughout, many walked in the shadow of these two giants, or owed their continued existence to Squaresoft publishing for them. Every Suikoden or Xenosaga that was released would still never be held to the general pedestal that games such as Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger stood upon.

Then, in 2003, the unthinkable happened: Squaresoft and Enix joined forces, merging into Square Enix and remaining as such to the present day.

One would think such a monumental occasion would change the landscape of JRPGs forever, and Square Enix would catapult themselves even higher to the top echelons of developers unopposed.

Did that happen? Nope. Not even close.

If anything, the vast majority of offerings in the JRPG genre since then by the company have been... well, questionable. In fact, I’d argue that since the merger, there have been almost zero titles from them to match their respective high points while separate. There was even a stretch of time where the vast majority of games from Square Enix weren’t JRPGs, almost as if they’d abandoned the genre entirely.

Does that mean that the JRPG has since died out, then? Nope. Not even close.

Despite some inklings that JRPGs are lacking in innovation or have declined in quality, the genre continues to see numerous excellent titles released from a range of companies.

Innovations and developments continue to be made, yet the core of the genre remains present, and many classic elements are still revisited in new and interesting ways. Thanks to the increased size of the gaming market in recent generations, more and more games of all genres are being made by companies new and old -- and JRPGs are no exception.

No, dear readers, it is not the JRPG that has fallen into disarray -- it is merely Square Enix’s offerings to the genre that are in serious need of improvement. Let’s dive deeper.

Classical History

Since Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are the classic series most are acquainted with, we’ll start with those. For those familiar with the respective series, I offer a question: Which of the numbered games in those series was your favorite?

(Yes, Final Fantasy Tactics and Dragon Quest Monsters were great, but humour me here and pick a number.)

Were I to survey or inquire the answers to that question, I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people offering favorite Final Fantasy titles will say somewhere between VI and IX, with occasional outliers between IV and X. Dragon Quest is most likely to be a toss up between V and VIII, though any between III and VIII could also be selected. Does this sound about right?

How many of these particular titles were released prior to the merger of Squaresoft and Enix, though? Excluding Dragon Quest VIII, all of them.

The first numbered non-MMORPG Final Fantasy game to be released under the merged banner was XII. While reasonably well received, it had a lot of mixed opinions on it, and it’s rare to find people who would hands-down consider it their favorite. Since then, we had XIII and its sequels, and while there are occasional defenders or proponents of parts of those games, the overall opinion is that they were a massive misstep.

Not convinced? How about XIV, also an MMO? Well, on release, the game was universally panned and responses were massively negative, so much so that Square Enix had to bring down the game and rebuild it entirely from the ground up with a new team. A Realm Reborn turned out to be quite good, but we cannot ignore that initial disaster; Square Enix is quite possibly the only company in gaming history to salvage a game like that, and most others would simply consider the expenditure too great and cut their investment right there.

Last chance, then... FFXV? Well... I could write many, many things about FFXV, and there’d be plenty of negatives in there to talk about. There’s decent gameplay, but the story is an utter mess and the open world is graphically pretty but largely devoid of things to do. It’s a flawed and unfinished game, regardless of whatever positives you might take away from it.

Now for Dragon Quest, almost all of which were developed prior to the merger. The first to be released under the Square Enix banner was Dragon Quest VIII, which would be the best offering but for one catch: it was actually developed by Level 5, rather than a studio within Square Enix.

Lest we think that it’s just their flagship RPG series effected, let’s try another example: Star Ocean, created by Tri-Ace and Enix before transferring to Square Enix. With five major games in the series, it’s widely regarded that the first three are considerably stronger than the latest offerings. Guess what? Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time was released shortly before the merger. Compare most of the RPG series released by Square Enix and similar trends will be evident.

What about Kingdom Hearts, I hear some people asking? That is something I will concede as breaking the trend, but only in part. The first game was released before the merger, but Kingdom Hearts 2 was some time after, and it was received quite strongly.

But as a whole, I would say that the series is still hardly an exception to Square Enix’s declining offerings to the JRPG genre. While it does have good games, it’s also had some pretty weak ones as well. In addition, it seems like the company is doing everything in their power to hold off releasing Kingdom Hearts 3, with countless remasters adding tiny little details and padding out anything they can.

People bought PS3s under the assumption that it would be on it, after all...

So what happened? Well, if anything, the merger saw Square Enix become more of a publisher than an in-house developer. A massive number of games from a large number of companies worldwide are published under the Square Enix banner. This initially focused more on JRPGs, but has grown to include many varied genres and notable series, including Tomb Raider, Just Cause and Deus Ex.

An epic quest in the palm of your hand

If there was a decline in the number and quality of JRPGs available, it would probably fall within the previous console generation. Many are quick to highlight the number of quality RPGs available for the PS2 -- and earlier consoles -- but you’d be reaching a little further to list an equivalent number of solid PS3 or Xbox 360 titles.

But that’s not to say that they weren’t there; rather, they were to be found on handheld gaming systems. With the rising costs of quality game development, many smaller developers turned to the DS or PSP, as well as their successors, to develop their RPGs.

Square Enix was no stranger to this trend as well. Two of their most successful JRPGs released since their merger -- The World Ends With You, and Bravely Default -- were released on handheld systems. Dragon Quest made the switch to DS with the release of IX, and the upcoming DQXI is slated to arrive on 3DS and PS4.

Those who considered there to be a dearth of quality JRPGs were probably focused more on home consoles, but the genre has been alive and well in a portable form throughout.

Admittedly, many larger JRPG series fell dormant during this time period from other companies as well. While there was a spinoff Suikoden game on DS, no numbered title has been released since V on the PS2; the same can be said of Breath of Fire.

Which leads into the next point: many JRPG series are actually seeing new titles and rebirth on smartphones. Unfortunately, many of these are little more than name drops in order to attract a quick dollar, even by notable companies -- anyone who says Breath of Fire VI is worthy of that number is, I’d argue, completely delusional.

Failing that, they often are freemium Gachapon games with minimal gameplay and little more than a theme connected to the series in order to lure fans. Even Nintendo has started to fall into this trend; Fire Emblem Heroes fits this bill to a tee, though in its defence, it is of considerably higher quality and has stronger gameplay than many other alternatives.

However, despite my cynicism and the existence of some blatant cash grabs, there are admittedly more and more JRPGs being developed for smartphones that are actually worthy of attention. Are they quality enough to compare to games on other systems? Your mileage will probably vary on that, but there are certainly some that are worthy of attention, such as the recently released Dandy Dungeon.

Square Enix has been quick to jump onto this mobile bandwagon, too. The number of freemium titles they have is quite frankly excessive, but there are a whole slew of their titles available on smartphones that range from ports of classic Final Fantasy games to wholly original titles or remakes. They’re often extremely pricey compared to the wealth of cheap competitors on systems, but a handful of them are arguably quality enough to justify a purchase.

The point is that the JRPG is (and has always been) alive and well on handhelds and mobile, even if not on home consoles. But it’s not as though the consoles have been bereft of quality titles, either.

Square Enix aren’t the only JRPG developers

With all the money and attention that Square Enix receives, it’s understandable that their projects are the ones in the limelight -- that’s AAA gaming in a nutshell. They are effectively the JRPG developing and publishing equivalent of Electronic Arts or Activision Blizzard for first-person shooters.

But a big budget and high profile isn’t necessary for making quality games, as the growing indie scene can rightfully attest to. It’s not uncommon for some great JRPGs to emerge on PC from relatively unheard of developers; Zeboyd Games, the makers of Cthulhu Saves the World, are currently close to release on Cosmic Star Heroine, which is a love letter to the classic Phantasy Star games.

Failing that, there is a thriving scene of developers utilising RPG Maker or other engines to craft JRPGs by the droves, many of which are quite innovative or put interesting spins on classic concepts. Consider Undertale, or any of the games like it.

It’s not just indie companies making JRPGs, either. Square Enix may have the limelight, but perhaps you’ve heard of a series called The Legend of Heroes? My love for Trails of Cold Steel is well documented, but Nihon Falcom has been producing quality RPGs of all kinds for as long as Squaresoft was. Thanks to the hard work of companies like XSEED, these series are finally starting to see more of a resurgence in the West or on home consoles.

You can also look to the absolutely staggering number of games that are localised and published by Nippon Ichi to find a number of JRPGs that you might have otherwise overlooked. Seriously, there’s a lot, coming from a number of development companies such as Gust or Compile Heart.

There are other high-profile JRPG developers that have been constantly working on their craft, too. Bandai Namco and their Tales franchise are usually the ones held up in comparison to Square Enix’s offerings, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the work of Atlus during all of this. Anyone who stated that JRPGs were a dying breed needed only to look at the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games to know that wasn’t the case.

Even Mistwalker Studios, formed by ex-Squaresoft veteran Hironobu Sakaguchi -- the creator of Final Fantasy -- has been going strong. Lost Odyssey and The Last Story were both very good games, though due to their exclusivity to certain consoles their audience has regrettably been smaller than deserved. Sakaguchi-san is hardly the only developer to have left Square Enix and gone on to continue making great RPGs outside of their banner.

Bored of the main quest? Start looking for side quests

The gaming landscape is only growing larger every day, with a broad library of titles available to explore across all sorts of platforms. Regardless of platform or where you look, however, the JRPG continues to thrive and expand. Whether nostalgia-laden throwbacks or cliched affairs to innovative twists on plots and mechanics, they’re there in force.

But just like for other genres, sometimes you need to look past the AAA developers of Square Enix to see it.

Think of it like the grand RPG tradition: sometimes you need to go off the beaten track and explore away from the main quest in order to find the truly valuable treasure. It’s the same in finding games to play. You might find something good to play amongst Square Enix’s offerings -- and there are some good titles from recent years, don’t get me wrong -- but the hidden gems can only be found by looking around, asking questions, and delving into the side quests of other developers in order to find something you truly love but rarely hear about.

Give it a shot. Forget the Final Fantasy series. Instead, go play Ys! Swap Dragon Quest VIII out of your 3DS in favour of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse! Forget I Am Setsuna and try Trillion! Live a little, explore, and expand your horizons. Who knows, you might surprise yourself with what you find.

It’s not that unheard of for the main quest to be pretty bad in comparison to the side quests, anyway. Right, Final Fantasy XV?

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.