Isn't it great to meet up with old friends!? Nihon Falcom certainly thinks so, as Trails of Cold Steel II, which was originally brought over to the US on the PlayStation Vita in late 2016, is now getting its own PS4 port. Generally, I'm all about games getting onto multiple platforms (the game was released two years ago on PC), but the PS4 conversion is especially important as the first game in the series was ported as well not too long ago and Trails of Cold Steel III has been announced for a future PS4 release. It goes without saying that Cold Steel II isn't exactly new, but there's a good chance it may now be much more accessible to you.
Just in case you weren't aware, Trails of Cold Steel (and other Trails games) are SUPER heavy on the story. There are a lot of characters throughout the game, and Trails of Cold Steel II starts you off right where the last game ended. Seriously, if you don't import your save data in (and how cool is that!?), you will start the game at level 45, recovering from the shocking ending of the last game. Which means... You really, really, really want to play the first Trails of Cold Steel before playing the sequel!
There is definitely an over-arching story, and the game doesn't really re-introduce characters or remind you of their importance. There is a story re-cap you can watch (and I'd definitely recommend it unless you play both games back to back), which is a nice addition. Speaking of the story, I was definitely impressed with how different the pacing is compared to the first game. It really was a school simulator as the main hero Rean and his friends study at the same military academy. While the story wasn’t quite as in-depth as Persona, it was fairly linear with regularly scheduled school trips and grading. Trails of Cold Steel II on the other hand... Well, after the ending of the first game, the entire country of Erbonia has been turned upside-down (without spoiling too much). Cold Steel II game starts off fairly linear for the first act but opens up considerably after that, and feels like more of an impromptu adventure than a regulated classroom.
Even with that big change in the storytelling and pacing (and the enhanced starting levels), Trails of Cold Steel II handles it all naturally. The linear part at the start lets you get your feet back up under you and gets you adjusted to the gameplay quickly. The grading system is also back, awarding you points for finding and completing quests as well as overcoming challenges. Somehow, even though you're out of class, you're still being graded! Overall, though, Trails of Cold Steel II sticks to the heavy storytelling theme from the first game, which may very well be the most important and unique thing about the series. If you enjoyed the story in the prequel, there is just more to love here, with more characters and intrigue thrown in as well. Truly top-notch stuff!
If you've played the prequel, the gameplay in Trails of Cold Steel II isn't going to surprise you. It’s still very much a tactical-RPG, with your characters and enemies taking turns beating up each other. Still, there is a lot of strategy involved, as characters’ abilities often target an area or portion of the battlefield. The same goes for enemies, of course, which makes character positioning pretty important.
The materia system from the first game is still present here, with each character having an Arcus that has different slots to put gems into. They are split into various elements that let you customize your party members in just about any way you want. The system lets you give your party members stat buffs, passive skills (10% chance to freeze enemies, for example) and spells. There’s a limit to the slots you have, though, so you can't abuse the system too much.
Actually, one of my biggest disappointments stems from the Arcus system and its gems. In the first game, you are continuously finding new gems and tinkering with your setup, however, here you are mainly using the same gems you used in the first game. And even though you are at level 45+ at the beginning, you still need to wait for gems like "HP III" to unlock. There are a few new gems here, of course, but Level 45 may as well be Level 1 with how the gem system plays out here. That's the price of making you feel like you're progressing in the game, though.
Another big thing are the Mech battles. They are much more prevalent in the sequel and still retain the "paper, rock, scissors" aspect of targeting enemy mech parts to find their weak points. However, these battles are enhanced as well. You can now have one of your teammates linked to you during them and help heal you and damage enemies. As you play through the game, you'll also be able to equip gems to your mech. It's a change of pace in battle mechanics that fits into the story well.
As the game originates from the Vita, it's easy to be concerned about the graphics. Thankfully, they are remastered to better suit the PS4. Granted, Cold Steel II isn't the best-looking game on the system by any means, but the visuals are solid enough - even if some of the post-battle animations still look pretty bad (you know what I'm talking about, fist bump). Still, character models and animations are fine. There are a lot of new enemies introduced as well, from new common ones to brand new villains that often act as bosses and get in your way (you can tell the ramped-up story means many more interested parties, and the game isn't holding back here). You also get to visit a handful of places that you never visited before.
Another thing I enjoyed was the out of classroom looks that all the returning characters sported. After spending so much time with them in the first game, it was cool to see new casual outfits. This is enhanced by DLC included in the PS4 version for free, as you can change outfits and add accessories to anyone you wish, like sunglasses, hats or even having Mishy, Nihon Falcom's mascot, riding around on their arms.
Even though Cold Steel II is so story-driven, it isn't fully voice acted. There are tons of voice overs, though, especially during the game's more important events, so fans should be fairly happy overall. Rean sounds great, and all his classmates speak exactly like they did in the first game. The newcomers sounds solid as well, and overall, the voice acting is well done. The soundtrack is great, too, but I’m not surprised by that as I've always enjoyed Nihon Falcom Sound Team JDK's work in the past (their work on the Ys series is fantastic). A full orchestra makes all the sounds come to life, and everything here is generally good (although, thanks to the grinding, I think I've heard the main battle theme enough for one lifetime).
As with most RPG's, actual re-playability is pretty low, but Trails of Cold Steel II has a New Game + and Nightmare modes. Both are great, especially if you are a trophy hunter and missed something. Unless you are super meticulous, you will probably miss the odd side quest here and there, as some of them are hidden and can be only acquired by talking to every NPC you run across. Since side quest completion reflects on your final grades, as does beating certain (very tough) fights that you don't technically have to even win, you may very well find yourself replaying the game to gain the best class marks, if you care about those sorts of things.
Other than that, though, the story is going to remain the same, no matter what. You should also keep in mind that we're getting Trails of Cold Steel III soon, and chances are exceptionally high that you can load your cleared data to the new game as well. I know I'm looking forward to that (I'm probably going to play through this game twice and platinum it as a result). Overall, if you've played and enjoyed the first game in the series, getting Trails of Cold Steel II is a no-brainer. You're going to love it. If you've never played the series, however, this sequel might not be the right place to start. It's pretty easy to say that the PS4 port is the definitive version with enhanced graphics, sounds, and all DLC included with it.
It's good to meet you! I'm better known online as "Bkstunt_31" and have been writing Reviews and video game Strategy Guides/Walkthroughs for WAY too many years! Feel free to stop my my Facebook page and say hello! Have fun and keep playing!