It's been nearly a year since the first Trails of Cold Steel released in the West, but fans can finally enjoy the conclusion to the tale started roughly nine months ago. It's very much an improvement upon the last game, thanks to its small and qualitative changes.

This direct sequel to Trails of Cold Steel takes place a month after the events of the last game. Rean awakens to find out he had been drained of mana, and was recovering by being asleep for a month. He also finds himself near his hometown of Ymir. After meeting up with Toval, Alfin, and foster sister Elise, he makes his way home to greet his parents. Once relocating and checking up on Valimar, they drive off a mercenary group attacking the village.

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Rea then decides to go searching for his classmates, regrouping with them to slowly take his country back from the Noble Alliance's control. The majority of the game is spent not only getting the group back to together, but -- after the campaign's halfway point -- also gathering the other prominent Thors students to aid you. All these other students aren't extra playable characters, but they do provide lots of cool functions to the Courage, the flying airship you acquire. This actually makes the game have some Suikoden vibes.

The actual gameplay hasn't changed much from the last Trails of Cold Steel. Much like Trails in the Sky SC, you can upgrade the slots in your ARCUS to increase your max EP and use more powerful orbments, but the battle system has a few tweaks to it as well. There's a new Overdrive mechanic that let's you use one of two Overdrive Points to instantly get three free turns to make instant art use, and all attacks and crafts are critical. Damage is also increased in this state as you get a strength buff in addition to a small HP and CP boost. This just adds to the way that you can manipulate the turn order to your advantage.

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The other change is that Rean can use his power to buff himself for three turns. You can summon Valimar to deliver three attacks ands inflict some serious damage to an enemy, provided you are in a place you can summon them. Of course, this leads to the mecha battles with Valimar in the game, which were introduced in Cold Steel's conclusion. Rean will get support from other characters in these battles, as well. These changes make the game a bit more balanced, and there is a layer of strategy to the battles to meet the extra challenge presented in this game. Although the game's difficulty starts hard, it gradually become easier to manage over time.

The improvements like an actual cross-save load function being available from the title screen are nice, but there are still some lingering issues in the game. Its framerate is more stable overall in the PS3 version I played, but it still has some major drops in some places. This mostly happened whenever a large character count was on screen or whenever there's a fog filter in Legram (just like the last game). There is also a side-story chapter that's cool because you can get a taste of what the Crossbell games were like, but it kinda deflates the pacing of the main game. Right after that is the Epilogue chapter, which -- aside from the ending sequence --  feels extremely unnecessary. It feels like the team threw a post-game dungeon into the middle of the ending rather than have it be DLC.

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The last issue is that the voice acting is still not complete. While XSEED did do a 1:1 match with the Japanese voice acting and handled it better than the last game, it's still a bit disappointing to hear. However, these issues are still very minor. This is a much improved game, and if you like the first game, be sure to pick this one up. It's also important to note that Trails in the Sky the 3rd and a Cold Steel III are coming in the future, so be on the lookout for those games, as well.

VERDICT:

The Good: The game has been rebalanced to be more challenging, with less grinding involved to compensate not having to go on a grind fest come endgame.
The Bad: Instead, there's a few bosses that do require an intricate strategy to them. Otherwise, you will have a hard time.
The Ugly: Falcom managed to fix the cross-saving issue, but the game still suffers from some framerate issues.

SUMMARY: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is a solid, over 100-hour conclusion to the first Cold Steel with some gameplay additions and tweaks to make for a better experience.

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration made by XSEED Games and Marc Bianchi. Reviewed on the PS3.

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