So, I’ve started playing Trails of Cold Steel on the Vita, and so far it’s entertaining enough, but I think it suffers from a problem that I’ve been having with new games lately: For the most part, it reminds me of other games that are better or that I’d rather play than it.
The character models and how they work in cutscenes really remind me of Suikoden III. The calendar dates and how they move remind me of Persona 3 and Persona 4, as does the concept of “Bonding Events”. The Bonding Events themselves remind me a lot of Conception II, as does the dungeon crawling (although, so far, it’s less grindy). The problem is that Suikoden III is far more open world then Trails of Cold Steel is, the dates matter more in the Personas since you have a daily routine, and also the character relationships matter more because you have to find the time to spend with whomever you want to spend time with, and you get immediate in-game benefits for advancing S-links, and the dating relationships are deeper, at least so far, in Conception II. All of this means that the game keeps reminding me of better or deeper games that I could be playing instead. That’s not the way to create a pleasant gaming experience [grin].
I think part of the issue is that I’d like to see more games borrow some of the good elements from my old favourites, but few of those games end up doing more with the elements. Instead, they end up including them, but making them more shallow and providing less depth while providing little to nothing new to compensate. This, then, leads you to see those elements, think fondly of them … and then recall that there were other games that did them better. If a game does something new or takes the original ideas and does something unique with them, then that doesn’t trigger. Lost Dimension is probably the best example of this, as it takes the standard JRPG combat and social link tropes and uses them in a unique way by adding in the traitor element. Trails of Cold Steel doesn’t do that.
That being said, the game is still entertaining. The biggest issue other than the above is that too much is hidden. It isn’t clear what the bonding points and events are going to give me and what the consequences of doing a Bonding Event with one character or another will actually mean in the long run. It suffers from having a very set character with a set personality and even a clear hint of a relationship thing forming with Alisa while leaving it up to you to decide who to talk to — for the most part — in the free days you get. There’s not enough vagueness in the character to make that have meaning, and again the game is not clear on what the consequences of your choices are. Also, there are Hidden Quests for you to do, but it isn’t clear on what doing them actually does for you. Thus, in order to avoid missing out on something really, really cool, I’m using a walkthrough to ensure that I get everything. This is less than fun.
But the characters are interesting, for the most part. I find myself liking Laura a lot, and also Emma and Alisa. Jusis and Machias are annoying — but are supposed to be — and the others are interesting enough, if Fie is too eccentric for my tastes. The quests are relatively interesting, and the Field Trips to different places breaks things up enough to add to it as well. The story is just developing, and I hope they can deliver on all the things they’ve promised.