The game follows Rean Schwarzer, who finds himself part of Thors Military Academy's brand new Class VII, an experimental course of study in which the otherwise-segregated nobles and commoners are forced to intermix. Over the next six months, Rean and his classmates find themselves lodged deep within Erebonia's complex political landscape as it begins to fracture over worsening class conflict, discovering hidden agendas and terrorist plots that threaten to erupt chaos across the whole empire.
Much like its predecessors, Trails of Cold Steel allows the player to explore a 3D environment that alternates between towns, dungeons and the overworld. Towns act as hub worlds; places where the player can purchase weapons, armor and items for use in battle, as well as talk to NPCs to receive sidequests and information about the world they live in. Dungeons, on the other hand, are visibly filled with monsters and treasure chests, and occasionally feature light puzzle elements that the player must solve in order to progress. The overworld connects towns together to form the country of Erebonia, and functions similarly to a dungeon.
What makes Cold Steel unique is its structured gameplay cycle that conforms to the days of the calendar. Each cycle takes roughly one in-game month to complete, and all consist of the following:
Free days: On the second-to-last Sunday of each month, Thors shuts down all classes and lets its students roam freely throughout the campus and its nearby town, Trista. Most students, including those from Class VII, use this time to engage in club activities, but Rean finds himself unwittingly roped into helping the Student Council with its tasks. As such, each free day sees Rean completing a small number of sidequests on behalf of the council. Some are required, others are optional and yet others are hidden, but all provide a reward as well as a number of academic points (AP). Cumulative AP represents Rean's overall success as a student, and there are 15 achievable ranks from B7 to A0, each providing an extra reward.
Bonding events: In addition to his duties as an honorary member of the Student Council, Rean can hang out with his classmates - among others - during free days, by spending bonding points. Each free day provides a limited number of bonding points, one of which is received in the evening. Spending these points will deepen the relationship between Rean and his person of choice in the form of link experience, an extension of a system first introduced in Zero no Kiseki. There are five link levels from 1 to 5, and higher ranks bestow additional benefits to linked party members in battle. For more information on the link system, see the 'Battle System' subsection.
Schoolhouse mysteries: At the end of each free day, Rean must select up to five other members of Class VII to help him with the exploration of the Old Schoolhouse. This building is a mysterious multi-floored dungeon, with one new floor becoming available to explore every month. The exploration party is tasked with making their way to the depths of each floor, dealing with monsters and ancient switch mechanisms on the way. A dangerous boss awaits in these depths, and only upon defeating this boss will the story progress.
Practical exams: The Wednesday after the free day sees Instructor Sara test the mettle of Class VII with a practical exam. Opponents range from strange orbal puppets to rivals in other classes, and while winning the battle on its own is all that is required to advance the story, additional in-battle restrictions provide additional tactical challenge, giving Rean the opportunity to net some extra AP.
Field studies: On the Friday after the practical exam, Class VII is split into two groups, each of which goes to a different town or city across the empire in order to perform a field study. Generally lasting most of the weekend, it is during this time that the meat of the story takes place, as Rean and company learn about the culture and politics unique to each location. Typically, the group begins the field study with a set of sidequests similar to Rean's during his free day, and upon the completion of each set, the story advances and the political tension increases. The climax of each field study sees Class VII fighting an end-of-chapter boss as part of an attempt to stave off the immediate danger the various antagonists present.
Like previous games, Trails of Cold Steel features a 2D positional turn-based battle system, slightly modified by dispensing with classical grid-based movement, allowing the player to fine-tune the placement of characters during combat. Turn order is variable, depending on the combatants' SPD stat, as well as their choice of actions. This variability allows the two sides to vie for favourable turn bonuses, while attempting to force unfavourable ones onto the enemy.
Before the fighting begins, however, the player must prepare for battle through a thorough check of their equipment. As usual, support items can be bought from shops, as can the gear which will be slotted on their characters: weapons for offense, armor and boots for defense and two accessories for general purposes. Next, to enable the use of arts, orbment slots must be unlocked at orbal factories and equipped with quartz. Unlike previous games where a character's magical abilities were determined by the sepith elemental value on each line, Trails of Cold Steel has gone with a more streamlined system where quartz directly endow the user with arts, among other things. Furthermore, the master quartz system first introduced in Ao no Kiseki returns, providing an additional orbal source of skills and benefits.
Running into enemies on the field will initiate an encounter, though not all encounters begin in the same way. Ordinary encounters occur when the two parties face each other directly; if one finds themselves with their backs turned, the other will start with a turn order advantage. The player can also attack enemies on the field, and assaulting them from behind before confronting them will result in a double or triple advantage - the latter if the enemy was weak to the weapon in question. Double advantages grant all allies 10 CP, and on top of that, triple advantages inflict damage to all enemies.
Once in battle, there are six options available to the player on their turn, which function nearly identically to previous titles:
Attack: Performs a weak physical attack that depends on the character's STR and the opponent's DEF. Can unbalance (see below).
Move: Moves the character within a range determined by their MOV stat.
Item: Uses any consumable item.
Craft: Performs a character-specific skill that costs CP to use. Crafts can be physical or magical in nature, and are used instantly. Offensive crafts can unbalance unless otherwise specified.
Art: Performs a magic attack that costs EP to use. Damage depends on the character's ATS and the enemy's ADF, but they require time to cast. Offensive arts cannot unbalance.
Run: Commences an attempt to escape from battle. The base probability of escape is 60%, and increases or decreases depending on the encounter advantage and any special quartz equipped. If the attempt fails, the character loses their turn, and the next attempt to escape will enjoy a 10% increase in probability of success.
Furthermore, the player can intercept an enemy turn at any time by using a character's S-Craft, as long as said character has at least 100 CP.
The most major addition to Cold Steel's battle system is known as combat linking. It is considered to be the crowning feature of the ARCUS model battle orbment, endowing users with an intimate awareness of their comrades in battle. Every pair of playable characters possesses a link level determined by the amount of link experience gained, representing the bond between the two. As such, link experience rises with friendship and falls with conflict, and when that conflict gives way to dislike, the link may be severed entirely, if only temporarily. Characters will also gain link experience when fighting together in battle, and Rean, as the protagonist, has many other ways he can deepen his relationship with others, from spending bonding points to playing games of Blade.
The link system first comes into play when opponents are unbalanced, allowing the linked partner to perform a follow-up link attack. Every character's weapon is capable of performing at least one of four different attack types - slash, thrust, pierce and strike - and its proficiency in each is symbolized by a letter grade, ranging from D to S. Furthermore, every enemy carries an efficacy for each attack type, ranging from 0 to 4 stars. When a character uses certain attacks on an enemy and is linked with anther ARCUS user, the enemy can be unbalanced, with a probability that increases with letter grades and star rankings. As an exception, all appropriate attacks performed on criticals are guaranteed to unbalance.
There are many other perks to combat linking. As the plot progresses, two more link attacks can be performed. These attacks require Bravery Points (BP), which is accumulated as normal link attacks are performed, up to a maximum of 5. The first attack, called Rush, allows a linked pair to simultaneously attack a small group of enemies by spending 3 BP, and the second attack, called Burst, allows the entire party to simultaneously attack all enemies by spending 5 BP, as long as all party members are linked to someone. Furthermore, there are many character-specific skills that are gained with higher link levels. These can be offensive, as when finishing off a low-HP enemy after a follow-up attack, as well as supportive, such as healing a linked partner after taking damage.
In order to take a breather from the main content, the player can engage in several smaller activities at various points in the story, ranging from card games to school festival events.
Fishing is a long-standing tradition in the Kiseki series, and it returns to Cold Steel in a new form. The player is first introduced to it when Kenneth Lakelord suddenly appears in front of Rean to hand him a rod and fishing notebook, and from here Rean can fish whenever he spots a patch of disturbed water. Upon inspecting the location, Rean is prompted to select a rod, at which point the action begins. The player must first hit the select button as soon as a fish bites, and upon a successful hook must then press the corresponding buttons as they appear on screen before the time limit runs dry. A victorious catch will provide the player with various items and a certain amount of Angler Points (AP), depending on the size and type of fish caught. AP is used to buy items from Kenneth, and as Rean snags a wider variety of fish, his Angler Rank levels up, increasing the range of items available. In order to achieve the higher ranks, Rean must fish multiple times at each location. However, attempting this too many times will cause the remaining fish to scatter, at which point groundbait must be used to lure them back.
- Main article: Blade
The card game Blade was first introduced in Brandish, and in Cold Steel can be played on the train on the way to field study destinations. In it, two players take turns to vie for the higher score. Players cannot play a card that would result in a total less than their opponent's, and if the totals are the same, the two must redraw. Bolt cards remove the opponent's most recent card, 1 cards revive a bolted card, and Mirror cards switch the current totals. The game ends when one player cannot play a card to at least tie the score, resulting in their loss.
There are several other smaller activities peppered throughout the story. Whenever Rean finds himself in a swimming race, the player is presented with a brief rhythm game in which buttons must be pressed in sync in order to increase swimming speed. Several characters can ride through an equestrian course during the festival, where collecting flags and avoiding obstacles helps the jockey finish under the time limit. Finally, Mishy Panic is imported to Erebonia for the festival; the player gains points by whacking Evil Mishy but loses them by smacking others.
Moving away from the Crossbell setting in Ao no Kiseki and Zero no Kiseki, Trails of Cold Steel takes place in Erebonia, one of the largest and most powerful nations in Zemuria. Chronologically, the game runs parallel to some of the events of the Crossbell duology, starting in March S.1204 - roughly around the same time as the third chapter of Zero no Kiseki.
Despite its wealth and military prowess, Erebonia is in a state of political instability. The Orbal Revolution brought sweeping changes to the sociopolitical, economic, technological, and military landscape of the empire. Among the most significant changes was the formation of a class of powerful, educated commoners whose upward social mobility began to directly challenge the longstanding Erebonian nobility. With the rise of chancellor Giliath Osborne, the nobility has seen their power decline on multiple fronts. While many see this new class of commoners as a positive force of change in Erebonia, others have grown wary of Osborne's regime and his continued militarization of the empire. With tensions growing between supporters of each side, many worry about Erebonia's future.
The story of Trails of Cold Steel centers on Rean Schwarzer and his freshman year at Thors Military Academy, a famous school established by the late and great Emperor Dreichels Reise Arnor. Unbeknownst to him, Rean is enrolled as member of Class VII, a small group of students from various backgrounds and social classes gathered to take part in a pilot curriculum. Armed with state-of-the-art ARCUS orbments and donning unique red uniforms, Class VII embarks on an eventful first year that few students could ever imagine.
- Rean Schwarzer: Adopted son of Ymir's Baron Teo Schwarzer and student of the famed Eight Leaves One Blade school of swordsmanship. As the main protagonist, he enrolled in Thors in an attempt to find his own path in life, as well as come to terms with the strange power he holds within himself.
- Alisa Reinford: Daughter of the Reinford Group's chairman Irina Reinford, and wields an orbal bow in combat. She has a strained relationship with her mother and the company, and enrolled at Thors to assert her familial independence.
- Elliot Craig: Son of the 4th Armored Division's Lieutenant General Olaf Craig, and wields an orbal staff in combat. Skilled with the violin, his main love is music, but he enrolled at the half-military, half-liberal arts school Thors as a compromise with his father.
- Gaius Worzel: Part of a group of nomads of the Nord Highlands, and wields a spear in combat. On the recommendation of the 3rd Armored Division's Lieutenant General Zechs Vander, he enrolled at Thors, believing that deepening his understanding of the relationship between Erebonia and Nord will allow him to better protect his homeland.
- Machias Regnitz: Son of Imperial Governor Carl Regnitz, and wields a shotgun in combat. A combination of past trauma and family politics has led him to develop a deep-seated hatred of nobles, which only becomes more stark when he is forced to interact with them as a student of Thors' Class VII.
- Jusis Albarea: Son of the head of one of the Four Great Houses, Duke Albarea, and student of the court fencing school of swordsmanship. Despite good relations with his brother Rufus, the same cannot be said of his father, and Thors provides him with a place to thrive away from conflict.
- Laura S. Arseid: Daughter of Legram's Viscount Victor S. Arseid, and student of the Arseid school of swordsmanship. Despite nudges to enroll at St. Astraia Girls' School, Laura considered Thors to be a more suitable venue at which to improve her swordplay.
- Fie Claussell: Also known as Sylphid, she was raised by former leader of the Zephyr jaeger corps Rutger Claussell, and dual-wields gunswords in combat. Having been abandoned by Zephyr after their fatal clash with the Red Constellation, she came to Thors at the behest of Sara Valestein.
- Emma Millstein: Comes from a small, unknown village in Erebonia and uses an orbal staff in combat. Scoring first on Thors' entrance exams provided her with a hefty scholarship, allowing her to attend the academy with her feline friend Celine.
- Millium Orion: Also known as White Rabbit, she was raised as an Ironblood for Chancellor Giliath Osborne's Imperial Intelligence Division, and operates the orbal puppet Airgetlam in battle. Having first met Class VII during a field trip in Nord, she later joins them as a transfer student at the behest of the chancellor.
- Crow Armbrust: Emigrant of the Jurai Special Economic Zone, and dual-wields handguns in combat. Was part of the initial testing phase for Class VII along with three other students, but despite being a second-year he is forced to transfer into the real Class VII due to his failing grades.
- Sara Valestein: Also known as the Purple Lightning, she used to be an A-rank member of the Bracer Guild before her employment at Thors, and dual-wields a sword and gun in combat. As Class VII's homeroom teacher, she develops a unique educational program that draws from both the expected curriculum of a military academy as well as her experiences as a bracer.
- Angelica Rogner: The only daughter of Marquis Heidel Rogner of the Nortia Province, and student of the Taito school of martial arts. She never misses an opportunity to flirt with the women around her, but while her carefree attitude made her an ideal candidate to test Class VII's potential, it also puts her at odds with her father on occasion.
- Towa Herschel: The petite student council president of Thors. She adores her friends Angelica, Crow and George, who participated in the testing phase of Class VII alongside her.
- Rufus Albarea: The eldest son of Duke Helmut Albarea of the Kreuzen Province and one of three of Thors' board of directors. He likes to gently tease his younger brother Jusis whilst performing myriad duties in his father's place, and he does so with an unusual degree of both charisma and competency.
- Victor S. Arseid: Also known as the Radiant Blademaster, he presides over the Arseid school of swordsmanship as the Viscount of Legram, projecting an aura of immense strength and stability.
- Irina Reinford
- Carl Regnitz
- Patrick T. Hyarms
- George Nome
- Giliath Osborne
- Alfin Reise Arnor
- Olivert Reise Arnor
- Elise Schwarzer
- Claire Rieveldt
- Sharon Kreuger
- Michael Gideon
Prologue - The Way to Thors
Trails of Cold Steel begins at Garrelia Fortress, located on the eastern edge of the Erebonian Empire. The fortress is in chaos due to an attack by heretofore unknown assailant. A group of teenagers accompanied by two young adults rush indoors and are repulsed by the sight of numerous dead soldiers. Upon assessing the situation, the group quickly realizes that the enemy's attack was a diversion to let them reach the two railway guns stationed at the fortress. Using these weapons, the enemy plans to fire at a target in Crossbell, disrupting a trade conference currently in session and killing Chancellor Osborne in the process. Fearing the worst, the group rushes through Garrelia's interior, fighting off waves of archaisms along the way. After reaching an outdoor deck just below the railway guns, the group is attacked by two Zephryanthes archaisms. They do their best to quickly destroy these archaisms, but they're too late. The railways guns are deployed and the scene cuts away as Rean yells out in desperation.
The game then cuts to March 31st, about three months prior to these events. Rean Schwarzer is seen arriving to Trista by train. After going around town and meeting some fellow students from Thors, he walks to campus to attend Principle Vandyck's opening speech. After the speech is over, most of the students leave the auditorium to attend their designated classes - with the exception of those in red uniforms. Recognizing these students' bewilderment, instructor Sara Valestein explains that their situation is a bit different from every other student's and tells them to join her at the Old Schoolhouse for an orienteering exercise.
Once inside the building, Sara reveals that they are part of Class VII, a newly-formed class that combines students from various backgrounds, including social class. This infuriates Machias Regnitz, who hates nobles and quickly butts heads with Jusis Albarea, a classmate from one of the Four Great Houses in Erebonia. Sara breaks up this squabble and proceeds to start the class's exercise proper. She presses a button on a nearby column and activates a trap door which sends Class VII falling a the basement level below - with the exception of Fie Claussell, who attempts to avoid the fall with a grappling string. Unfortunately, she is scolded by Sara, who snaps the string with a throwing knife and drops her into the basement like everyone else.
Upon dropping down into the basement, Rean finds himself in an awkward situation. He had attempted to save Alisa Reinford from falling, but had unfortunately caused her to land right on top of him with her chest on his face. Embarrassed and angry, Alisa impulsively slaps Rean and refuses to talk to him for a while. After everyone regains their bearings, Sara contacts them via their ARCUS units. She instructs them to pick up their weapons and master quartz, which were placed on stands around the perimeter of the room. Afterwards, Sara explains that the class's objective is to reach the basement's exit. Thus, Class VII splits up to look for the way out. Fie moves on alone, with Jusis and Machias following stead after getting into another argument. The remaining students split into two groups, with Gaius Worzel and Elliot Craig following Rean and Alisa and Emma Millstein following Laura Arseid.
The rest of the prologue is mostly a dungeon crawl with Rean, Gaius, and Elliot. Jusis eventually joins the team and they find their way to the exit, but not before being attacked by a statue turned monster called the Iglute Garmr. The quartet initially struggles to fight off this beast, but the rest of Class VII eventually come to their aid and they kill it together. Afterwards, Sara congratulates the students on a job well done and explains that their teamwork took advantage of the one the ARCUS units' key new features: combat linking. While Class VII is preparing to leave the old schoolhouse, principal Vandyck and a blonde-haired man dressed in red are seen overlooking the basement from afar and making small talk about their hopes from the class's future.
Chapter 1 - Unconventional Studies
Practical exam: farmer.
Chapter 2 - The Verdant City
Practical exam: sewage cleaner.
Chapter 3 - Beyond the Railways
Practical exam: nomad.
Chapter 4 - A Midsummer's Revels
Chapter 5 - Signs and Omens
Oh shit was that-
Chapter 6 - Progressive Chaos
Practical exam: mine worker.
Final Chapter - Put to the Test
The real Sen no Kiseki starts here.
An alpha build of the game's engine was demonstrated in March 2012, half a year after the release of Ao no Kiseki. It features a small area resembling the final Alto Street in Heimdallr. In this sample, Alisa Reinford serves as main character and was capable of interacting with a couple of NPC's. From this location, it was possible to access the prototype of the Old Schoolhouse discussed below.
Instructions reveal that players could switch characters using the L button and start a battle by interacting with enemies on the field. The battles proceeded in real time, in which one character could be controlled and the others fight automatically. Switching between characters was done using the L and R buttons. One of the NPC's in this area mentions the train derailment of the Transcontinental Railroad. This is dialogue originally appeared in Ao no Kiseki.
Another room that was used during development is a prototype of Trista. In takes place before the Academy Festival. Since in this build Rean Schwarzer has assumed the role of protagonist, it can be assumed that this build was released after August 2012.
Alisa Reinford now serves as an NPC, who Rean finds wondering whether her grandfather or mother are responsible for keeping her bank account in a healthy state. Alisa, surprised that Rean overheard her, tells him to mind his own business and inquires whether that includes jobs for the student council. The demo seems to focus on emotions and gestures of characters.Other NPC's present in this build include Becky (written as ベッキオ, or Beckyo/Vecchio), Hugo, Colette and two nameless students. An unused NPC student named Lyner is also present. Elliot, Towa, Instructor Sara and Sharon are mentioned in passing.
Falcom officially announced Trails of Cold Steel for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita during their investor's meeting on December 14th, 2012. The press release confirmed that the game would take place in Erebonia and that the mechanics would be enhanced with a combat link system, active voice segments and a 360 degree camera. The press release also reveals the designs of Rean Schwarzer, Alisa Reinford, Elliot Craig and Laura S. Arseid. Their names, however, were not included in the press release.
The Finale of Trails of Cold Steel describes the events that transpired between Chapter 6 and the Finale, which were removed from the game and moved to the Drama CD that came with the limited edition of the game. Data mining reveals that fans were correct in assuming that the scene was removed from the game due to time or budget constraints.
Ymir as it was in development for Trails of Cold Steel hardly changed when it finally appeared in-game in Trails of Cold Steel II. The most noteworthy change is the position of grocery store Plover, which was originally positioned directly next to the foot bath in the centre of Ymir, and the residential house, which was originally situated between Plover and Baron Schwarzer's Mansion rather than next to the Valley's Echo inn in the final version. Whereas the village itself appears to be finished, the interiors remained largely unfinished. Models for Rean's adoptive parents, Teo and Lucia Schwarzer, have also been found among the files in Trails of Cold Steel despite not appearing in-game.
Trails of Cold Steel was originally released for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita on 26 September 2013. Through a collaboration between Nihon Falcom and the Sony Computer Entertainment divisions of Taiwan and Korea, a Mandarin and Korean version was localised on 24 June 2014. On 26 June 2014, Nihon Falcom re-released Trails of Cold Steel under the SuperPrice banner.
On 5 June 2015, XSEED Games announced a localisation of Trails of Cold Steel and soon thereafter Trails of Cold Steel II for 2015 and 2016, respectively. Trails of Cold Steel, as the localisation was named, was released on 22 December 2015 in North America. Apart from the standard edition, XSEED offered a limited "Lionheart Edition", which came with a sturdy box for both Trails of Cold Steel games, a paperback artbook and a pin of the "Golden Stallion", the emblem of Erebonia. Trails of Cold Steel was published in Europe by NISA America on 29 January 2016.
On 2 August 2017, XSEED published released a PC port of Trails of Cold Steel. The port features almost 5000 new voiced lines and a Turbo Mode, which allows players to speed up battles by skipping animations. The port was developed by Durante and features achievement icon art by kyotyan and garmmy.
A remastered version, titled The Legend of Heroes: Sen no Kiseki I Kai -Thors Military Academy 1204- (英雄伝説 閃の軌跡Ⅰ：改-Thors Military Academy 1204-), was announced by Nihon Falcom on November 16th, 2017 and released for PlayStation 4 in Japan on March 8th, 2018. The remastered version runs at 60 frames per second with compatibility up to 4K and features a higher quality of audio. This PlayStation 4 version is compatible with save data of the PlayStation 3 and Vita version through the cross-save mechanic. Save data from Sen no Kiseki III can also be used to unlock the bonuses at the start of the game.
- ↑ Endless History. http://www.esterior.net/2012/12/the-erebonia-set-legend-of-heroes-sen-no-kiseki-for-ps3-and-ps-vita-in-2013/
- ↑ Memoirs. Trails of Cold Steel II official website. http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com/cs2/memoirs1.html