Hogwarts, the University in Kingkiller Chronicles, the House of Black and White in Game of Thrones—magical schools have had a bit of a renaissance in recent media. That is also true in gaming, where academies offer a good way for the player to learn new powers at the same time as the character does in the fictional world.
In this month’s article, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on a series of games set in a fantasy college. The 4 part series, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, released the long-awaited final version this month and I’ve barely slept since! The Cold Steel games were originally only available for consoles, but over the years they have been ported over to the PC and Switch, in multiple languages.
Like its predecessors, Cold Steel 4 is a turn-based JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game), a type of game where you play as a character in an imaginary world, choosing how their story unfolds. JRPGs are recognised as really distinct, because they have a particular art and control style, with a clearer narrative than many western versions. Actually, I usually haven’t been able to get into JRPGs, so I didn’t anticipate enjoying the Cold Steel series; however I fell in love with them and have played each game multiple times, even though each can take well over 100 hours!
Cold Steel is an in-depth, story-driven game set in the fictional world of Erebonia. You play as the character of Rean Schwarzer, a practitioner of the Eight Leaves One Blade school of Swordsmanship.
During the first 2 games in the series, Rean is a student at a special military school that teaches combat skills in addition to general education (like Hogwarts in Harry Potter but with wayyyy more swords). Rean joins class 7, which is full of students from different backgrounds, each with their own skills and backstories.
This lets the games explore interesting issues, such as differences in social class, with ‘nobles’ looking down on ‘commoner’ students.
In Cold Steel 3 and the latest game, Cold Steel 4, Rean has graduated and works as a teacher at the same school. As you might expect, the kinds of challenges you have to face are a bit more complex than in 1 and 2, but there are lots of familiar faces from earlier games that make the experience feel like a natural continuation in the series.
In addition to studying and then teaching at the school, Rean and his students get involved in epic quests, battles and even politics. Your character can also get closer to other students in special “bonding events” with other members of class 7 and people in the school. These enable certain storylines to develop, including romances, and some of the other students may make subtle hints and jests depending on how your relationships evolve (so in that vein, the game is similar to a real school!).
Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Cold Steel series. I got really immersed in the story, the bonding events, and even found myself searching for all the little side quests. I only have the full use of one hand, so I find that some games that are played in first person can be challenging, but with Cold Steel I am able to configure the controls to suit my playstyle and enjoy the game to its fullest.
The game has good re-playability – not just because of the story, but because there are so many different choices that you can’t possibly make them all on your first playthrough. There is a load to learn about each character, secrets to unlock, and bonding events to choose. You can even participate in classes and exams (which is more fun than it sounds!).
Although the dialogue in Cold Steel is voiced, there is some reading involved and the maths around equipment and powers can get complex on higher difficulties.
It’s also important to look past the graphics of the game; remember that it was originally a console game before it got ported to the PC and Switch, and so the graphics aren’t as advanced as many more recent games.
The music is also pretty good, blending well with the action, and I found myself listening to it numerous times.
If you’re into RPGs or fancy trying something a little different, I highly recommend the Cold Steel series. Even if you don’t think that JRPGs are your thing, you might be surprised and, like me, find yourself wondering where the last 3 weeks went!
Accessibility: 4 stars
Replay-ability: 3.5 stars
Awesome Moments: 4 stars
Danger of Losing Track of Time: 5 stars
Total score: 15.5 / 20 stars
Written by Ben James, as part of his regular RARE Youth Tech column.