Official Trails of Cold Steel 2 art, Artist: Enami Katsumi
Currently I am playing Trails of Cold Steel 2, which picks up directly from a significant cliffhanger in the same way Trails in the Sky did; it begins with the cast divided, the enemy holding the upper hand and the situation generally bad except certain fundamental details of scale are different, which puts a very different tone on it and one that makes the whole “message” of the story different. It builds on a different set of pop-culture references, evoking more the “magical high school” kind of anime story rather than the easygoing pastoral fantasy Sky built on and so focuses on a cast of truly exceptional, highly-specialised heroes who fill various expected role of that sort of ensemble. Certain decisions in the sequel double down on this, taking the story outside of its initial high-school setting, which create some interesting questions about the story. As it stands I have yet to finish the game, but am some significant time into it, and this article reflects my initial thoughts on where Cold Steel stands as a series narratively.
Note: This article deals directly with story details of Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, as well as referring to Trails in the Sky
This was the first time my CEF army had been used, and only the second my Southern forces had seen the battlefield. Now better-equipped with the rules, battle was joined between the ill-fated Southern forces and the untested CEF:
Before reading up on the background for the Caprice faction I wasn’t sure if I would find them interesting – afterwards, I found their background appealed very much, as I am a huge fan of the mecha series Fang of the Sun Dougram.
The idea of being able to play either the collaborating forces of a colonised planet or the resistance working against them seemed very interesting, and as I worked on building this army I realised it would have to be a Militia or Resistance list all the way…
After playing a couple of demonstration games of the new edition of Heavy Gear Blitz, and having painted two full 150-point armies, I had a go at playing a full-sized game – a rematch between my North (played this time by my friend Phillip Preece) and my South army (played this time by me). In a previous solitaire game to learn the rules, the South heavy units had dealt horrible damage to a Northern patrol – in this larger game, the tables would be turned!
Objectives: North: Assassinate (Shou Kyao, Hooded King Cobra), South: Wipe Out (Fire Support Unit, Quincy Piloledge et al)
As much as Battlefleet Gothic was an often entertaining game, it suffered from a number of issues that I feel show its age, and show how wargame design has developed; while its factions have numerous flavourful rules and are very distinct, most of these rules do not work particularly well to create a fun game. There is absolutely a place for a game which focuses on flavour and narrative over strict statistical balance, but BFG never, I felt, committed enough to doing this and what was left was a game with two well-thought-out factions balanced against each other and a number of strange, often very thematic but not fun to play or face factions. There were numerous other mechanical idiosyncrasies that got in the way of it being a good game; small ships were unviably weaker than large ones and the special order system added far too much unnecessary variation to games by requiring a leadership test on often randomly-generated leadership.
Having now finished both halves of Trails in the Sky I feel it is a game that does very little new, but does almost everything incredibly well and with enough charm and character that it is consistently enjoyable to play and highly engaging. I have explained in previous articles how its escalation of scale from small personal problems to an ultimately nationwide threat is well-paced (over around 60-80 hours of gameplay across two games) and turned into a key piece of character development. What is more, the personal aspects (which are what make the game memorable) are very well-woven into the main plot; characters appear in sidequests and then become plot-significant, for example. In a game where a good amount of the story is about trying to work out from zero information what is going on, having the NPCs feel like they are people living lives and carrying out plans that intersect with the party’s travels is a good, immersive touch.
NB: This review touches on plot details from Trails in the Sky SC and FC, and discusses the game’s themes and storyline in some depth.
I have not played Games Workshop games for quite some time; the latest rules revisions of both Warhammer Fantasy Battle (now rebranded Age of Sigmar) and Warhammer 40,000 were not to my taste. It is fair to say my initial negativity towards Age of Sigmar has softened somewhat as subsequent updates and revisions have added more to it and addressed my initial complaints – however, while it has become a solid, basic wargame with a quite distinct aesthetic it remains a game I would not choose over the various competitors on the market (and I do question whether it being introduced as a wholesale replacement for the very different WHFB was the best course of action). Nevertheless, I have been following GW‘s shifting strategy as a company and I think they are going some way to improving; while their prices remain comparatively high, they are introducing bundles like the “Start Collecting” sets which seem sensibly put-together and represent a significant discount over buying things individually. Similarly a return to boxed games and the rumoured return of “Specialist Games” ranges like Blood Bowl seem to be reflective of what consumers have asked for, and so it is heartening to see a positive shift in direction.
Note: This article deals with events from the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Trails in the Sky SC, as well as the ending of Trails in the Sky FC
Something I observed on Twitter today was that Trails in the Sky, despite working with quite limited sprite-based graphics has a strong emphasis on personal, intimate character details. This was embodied by the fact it has a set of sprite animations for characters hugging each other; as all cutscenes are done in engine, the repertoire of animations each sprite has limits what actions can be depicted in a cutscene and a good number of things such as sitting down or standing up are elided over with fade effects. Yet nevertheless there are animations for giving a character a hug, a very specific action which is used incredibly well to add a personal, emotive touch to numerous scenes – there is a storyline in First Chapter about an orphanage that is burned down, and so it is natural that there should be scenes of the matron comforting her charges.
Note: This article contains details of the ending and story of Trails in the Sky First Chapter, and should probably be read only by people who have played the game or do not mind knowing its story.
When I began playing Trails in the Sky FC I was impressed by its small scale and sense of unwilling, unusual escalation; it was a game that, I felt, very well justified its game mechanics of levelling up and gaining rewards through diligent searching for secondary objectives by framing the entire story as an extended examination. The two main characters were being tested, sent on a series of journeys to cities which as a quest was completely secondary to the main plot. A lot of games have their heroes put into the main plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or through a mission which changes parameters as the “real” villain shows themselves. In many ways, Sky does this, but does it in a subtle and charming way that, I feel, quite credibly justifies why the unlikely heroes continue being heroes.