It’s wild, I used to delay on blog posts because I tried to make them gleam with the shine of professionalism. I had to give a primer on the pop culture I was talking about, establish some sort of thesis, pretend like I’m going to do this for anyone but myself and the six people that read this thing. Turns out when you forget about all that shit and realize this is a space for you and no one else, you end up writing more often, whoms’t’v’e thought! Who even cares, if Ben Shapiro gets to crap out “””content“”” then so do I.
So anyways today I wanna talk about how Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a flaming pile of shit.
“Mint,” you say. “That’s a little harsh. It has some redeeming qualities.” And that’s true, Laura is in the game, but this is a fleck of gold on a steaming pile.
So Trails in the Sky isn’t even a cult classic anymore. The cult is gone. Everyone harps about that series. That dumbass on Kotaku won’t shut up about it almost as much as Suikoden II. When I tried it I thought my mind was going to be blown. “This is a real story,” JRPG nerds told me. “This is what JRPGs are all about.”
What I got was a moderately better story than other games, with a lot of boring padding and a really good protagonist, and pretty much nothing else. I hated most of it and quit 50 hours in. Most Trails fans would argue that I was five hours away from getting to the good stuff, but I could get more (and did get more) entertainment out of the bare-knuckled storytelling of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen.
But why do I even bring up Trails in the Sky? Because I didn’t think it was going to be possible to make its sequel series worse. Kudos to Falcom for that, I guess.
The first Cold Steel gets a bit of a pass from me. It didn’t try to be anything more than the high school harem bullshit it aspired to be, complete with annoying loli party members and half-sister — or cousin, or step-sister, whatever I don’t remember — that really wants to bang your bland, potato-headed protagonist. The blonde girl accidently shows you her panties or something 5 hours into the game and there’s a big hubbub about the whole thing. You’re playing an anime, fine. The QoL stuff was actually an improvement over Trails in the Sky, with fast travel and quest indicators.
Cold Steel 2 is worse. And it’s worse because it tries to be better. Far be it for me to tell others not to improve, but when your loli ninja is dealing with the political ramifications of the mercenary group she was part of, I have to start asking questions. Questions like: “How did we get here?”
There are three answers to that.
1. It doubled down.
Cold Steel 2 saw how popular the first game was and really went ham on the bullshit anime aspects. You got more loli antics. More harem shit. Potato-Head is an infallible do-gooder. His only crimes are being bland, and not understanding that every girl in his class has a crush on him. It turns out another 75-100 hours of that sort of thing, on top of the 100 hours in the first game, can be a little grating.
2. It tried to be political.
In theory I’d be interested in the politics of Cold Steel 2. There’s a whole web of intrigue just waiting to be unraveled, for us to find out who betrayed who and how. But in practice by the end of the game, none of these political reveals go anywhere, and no questions are answered. I understand that sequels in a game happen — this one has four (IV) — but if you can’t resolve questions without leading into another cliffhanger at the end of your game, you’ve wasted your story. You’ve shown that you can’t pace things properly, that you’re making us wait for some grand unveiling that will never come. There are a myriad of videogames that have told an amazing and satisfying story in under 30 hours. We’ve already doubled the audiobook length of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy after two Cold Steel games, with nothing to show for it.
Which leads me to my third and most egregious point:
3. THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES!!!
Cold Steel 2 is probably the most anticlimactic game I’ve ever played. I guess this ties into the first point, but why does no one in this series stay dead? Characters are resurrected unceremoniously all the time, leading to the emotional impact of their sacrifices being completely nullified. After the third reveal, I was mashing through the boring dialogue where everyone agrees with Potato-Head. Why should I give a shit? About any of this? None of it matters, no one has done anything that actually matters, and it’s clear everything is going to turn out fine because nobody dies.
Your actions don’t matter either. You’re a class of high-school students wanting to intervene in a war. You’re meant to be the best of the best, but you spend 90% of the time fighting robots before getting saved by the older generation that is much cooler and stronger than you, and whom I’d rather play as. About 700 times did I fight a boss, only for the boss to go full Dragonball Z and go “this isn’t the full extent of my power!” and defeating me immediately. I was yawning at the complete lack of conflict.
This extends into the political aspects I mentioned. The game wants you to care about all the military maneuvering going on in its civil war, but there’s never any impact to it. This really reveals itself when there’s an attack on an entire civilian town, which ends in exactly one death and a couple of destroyed buildings. Cold Steel 2 is too cowardly to delve very deeply into the horrors of war, but postures as if it does. It can’t, because it would clash even more with the mechanics of dating your high-school classmates.
And that’s pretty much the long and short of it. It baffles me that Cold Steel gets any of the praise that it does. It’s a bloated, poorly paced mess, much like Trails in the Sky, but with the added anime tropes that Falcom had distinguished itself from in the first place. I literally can’t comprehend how you move from a character like Estelle to making a character like Millium“let-me-sit-on-your-chest-onee-chan” Orion, but I guess the weebs and squeebs loved it and we’ll be seeing more in the Trails series that comes after this one.