The Lore Behind Destiny 2’s Faction Rally

“The Traveler is not our only salvation. Another future lies out among the light of other stars.”


Bungie created one of Destiny 1’s major flaws when they decided to put crucial information about the game’s setting, lore, and backstory behind unlockable cards that were inaccessible in-game. These “Grimoire” cards contained information for nearly everything in Destiny, from the history of certain weapons to the lore significance of Crucible maps, the game’s PvP mode.

Likewise, the majority of information on Destiny’s three player factions–Dead Orbit, the Future War Cult, and New Monarchy–were locked away behind Grimoire cards on an external website rather than given to the player in-game. Players were given a short summary of each faction’s goals, but without the proper context of how each faction’s goal is influenced by elements of Destiny’s setting, it was hard for people interested in Destiny’s story to fully understand what each faction stood for.

With the start of Destiny 2’s Faction Rally, players are once again given the opportunity to pledge their allegiance to one of the player factions. However, just what are these factions, and why are they competing for influence among the Guardians of the Last City?

The leaders of Dead Orbit, the Future War Cult, and New Monarchy, together with the Speaker and the Vanguard, form the governing body of the Last City called the Consensus. In the early days of the Last City, factions warred with each other in order to seize power in a period known as the Faction Wars. Realizing that humanity could not afford to fight among itself while simultaneously hunted by forces of the Darkness, the fighting ceased and the Consensus was formed. Each faction participates in the Consensus in order to further their own agendas. Dead Orbit believes that humanity will ultimately fail to hold the Last City against the Traveler’s ancient enemy, the Darkness, and has build up a large fleet that they want to use to relocate humanity to another solar system. The Future War Cult has a device that allows the user to gaze into numerous possible futures, and in every timeline they see inescapable conflict against the Darkness, whether they flee the solar system or not. As a result, Future War Cult believes that humanity must always be wholly prepared to fight for its survival. New Monarchy aims to abolish the Consensus, and instill a totalitarian ruler in its place.

The Faction Rally is how these factions attempt to recruit new Guardians to their cause while simultaneously increasing their influence on the politics of the Last City. However, competition between the factions has not always been peaceful, even following the creation of the Consensus. For example, a faction called the Concordat was once part of the Consensus. Its leader, Lysander, led a coup against the Consensus in an attempt to seize power in the Last City. Ultimately, the coup failed when New Monarchy defeated the Concordat at a location that came to be known as Bannerfall–a Crucible map from Destiny 1. Here is what the Grimoire has to say about Lysander’s final stand:

Lysander and the Concordat mark the most recent example of City political factions rising in opposition to the Consensus. This site marks a legendary battle where New Monarchy’s Guardians rose to deliver the final blow to the Concordat, unraveling the war effort Lysander sought to bring against the Vanguard.

Lord Shaxx has commandeered the area not only to commemorate this last stand, but as a reminder of the City’s solidarity against those who seek to undermine the extreme efforts and sacrifice we make together to keep our peace.

Unfortunately, the Concordat’s central tenants remain unknown to Destiny’s players, as well as why Lysander staged his coup. Concordat banners found in Bannerfall as well as a handful of exotic gear gives us the only in-game evidence of their existence. The Concordat’s fall left an empty seat on the Consensus, and with an unanimous vote, the Future War Cult was chosen to take their place. However, according to the Vanguard spy network called the Hidden, Lysander lives, and schemes to return to the City with his followers. The Grimoire gives us a transcript of the Consensus’s vote:

“And so it is agreed. The Concordat shall no longer be recognized among the Consensus. We’ll begin the dismantling right away. But what of those Guardians who have pledged to them? We can’t afford any more banishments.”

“I’m sure Zavala can see to their realignment.”

“We’ll do our best. Lysander chose his followers wisely. It may take some time.”

“Lysander will not back down. He’ll continue his crusade from wherever we stuff him.”

“And so we’ll need to find some new ideas to replace his.”

“The Symmetry has been gaining a strong following…”

“Ulan-Tan’s teachings are too dangerous. Too much fear. Who knew he’d be more trouble dead than alive?”

“We’ll need to refocus our collective minds on combat. The Speaker’s anxious to regain ground we lost after the Gap.”

“There is the War Cult.”

“Too secretive. Have you ever tried to talk to one of their ‘soldiers’? Like a child. Answering questions with questions.”

“They are dedicated to the war.”

“Which one?”

“Good question.”


“They seem focused. Strong. More interesting than worrisome.”

“Let’s take it to a vote. All in favor of the ascension of the Future War Cult?”

“Unanimous? Good. We’ll grant the Future War Cult access to the Tower and a seat among us. Ghost, please offer the Speaker this proposal.”

“Now onto the next order of business…Shaxx is here with another proposal for his Crucible.”

The fall of the Concordat and the ascension of the Future War Cult resulted in the current political climate of the Last City. For now, the City’s factions seem content to pursue their agendas through peaceful methods, such as participation in the Consensus and the expansion of their numbers and influence through the Faction Rally. Recent events such as the Red Legion’s attack on the Last City and the awakening of the Traveler may shift faction politics in new directions.



Why I Love: Albion Online

“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.”

Fans of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games may be familiar with the terms “theme park” and “sandbox.” When discussing MMOs, “theme park” refers to a game that sets very clear rules and lines of progression for the player. For example, World of Warcraft is a “theme park” MMO in that each area is filled with quests designed to lead the player from hub to hub. Dungeons are instanced, specific to character level, and will match you up automatically with other players. “Theme park” MMOs are designed on the premise that if you pay for the ticket (in this case, the game), then you get to ride all the rides–the game will hold your hand and guide you through all the content.

“Sandbox” MMOs, however, work differently. While a theme park MMO is designed to show you as much as it can, a sandbox MMO creates a world and systems for interacting with that world, then leaves it up to the players to define how those systems are utilized. For example, in EVE Online, players can create open contracts for item trading, cargo hauling, and more. However, in practice, the majority of these contracts are actually used to scam unsuspecting players. While player scams are usually against the rules in theme park MMOs, EVE Online encourages it. Much like playing in an actual sandbox, sandbox MMOs require its players to be creative and interact with each other in order to create its content. Because of this, sandbox MMOs tend to be more niche than theme parks. While a theme park MMO will have activities for a player to do at any time, sandboxes require constant interaction in one way or another between players.

GameStatistic’s survey may suggest that solo play is the trade off for player actions affecting the in-game world when it comes to MMOs.

The interactions between players in a sandbox MMO are often referred to as “emergent gameplay.” Emergent gameplay refers to situations that occur as a result of player interaction without specific intent on the part of the developers. The experience of raiding in World of Warcraft, while fun, is not “emergent” because players are taking part in strictly choreographed fights in ways that the developers specifically intend them to be performed. If a raid group finds a strategy that the developers did not intend, it will likely be patched out. Meanwhile, if player pirates in EVE target a player corporation’s trade lines, that corporation may respond by sending their own ships out to kill the pirates. The pirates may choose to run, prompting a galaxy-spanning game of cat and mouse, the pirates may fight, or the pirates may pay a player-run mercenary group or another corporation to fight on their behalf. None of these interactions are specifically crafted and laid out by EVE’s developers. They created game systems that allow players to trade between stations, systems to kill other players, and systems to trade money for services, then let the players use those systems to interact with each other. As a result, situations like these “emerge” from player interaction (if you’re interested in hearing more about his, there’s an excellent YouTube video that goes into it in more detail).

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For a long while, EVE has been the only real option available for MMO players looking for a modern sandbox experience. Games like Black Desert Online and ArcheAge tried to incorporate sandbox elements, but ultimately leaned much harder into their theme park aspects. A recent trend of crowdfunded MMOs, however, hope to bring the sandbox MMO back. One of these is Sandbox Interactive’s recently released Albion Online.

Albion Online revolves around three central concepts: take the sandbox elements that make EVE memorable, make the mechanics easier for new players to digest, and move them to a medieval setting. While there’s plenty of space for Albion to grow and improve, it does a great job of realizing these three concepts in its launch state. Let’s look at these concepts in more detail:

1. Albion Online retains the sandbox elements that make EVE memorable


Space in EVE Online is divided into 3 broad categories: High Security (HiSec), Low Security (LowSec), and NullSec. In broad terms, players are safe in HiSec and vulnerable to other players in LowSec and NullSec. NullSec specifically is space that is controlled politically and militarily by player alliances. Albion follows this same structure with blue, yellow, red, and black zones. Blue zones and yellow zones are equivalent to HiSec in EVE. While it is possible to be attacked by other players in yellow zones, there are no benefits to player-killing in these zones, and players have nothing to lose by dying. Red zones hold more valuable gathering materials, better leveling spots, and allow guilds to own land in them in exchange for non-consensual player versus player (PvP) combat with full loot on death. Players who kill too many people in red zones in a short amount of time, however, will find themselves locked out of blue, yellow, and red zones until their reputation recovers. With its emphasis on small scale PvP, red zones most closely resemble EVE’s LowSec space. Black zones, then, are Albion Online’s NullSec equivalent. Black zones are territories that guilds war with each other in order to control. The benefits of controlling these zones are bragging rights, security, and most importantly, easy access to the most valuable materials in the game. Due to the value in owning black zone territory, black zone guilds patrol their lands vigilantly, often leading to large battles over valuable gathering materials. Over the past 14 years of EVE Online’s life, NullSec has been home to some of the most interesting player-driven wars in gaming, and it will be interesting to see if Albion Online’s black zones will be host to the same kinds of conflicts. So far, the answer seems to be yes.

Players who prefer more structured PvP will gravitate to Hellgates and guild vs guild combat. Hellgates are portals that spawn in certain locations in the open world. Upon activation, it will send a team of 2 or 5 players to a special dungeon with the possibility of meeting a hostile team of players. The group that wins not only gets to loot the opposing team’s gear depending on the type of zone the hellgate spawned in, but also get the opportunity to loot valuable materials from the demons populating the dungeon. Guild vs guild, or GvG, is the game mechanic used to decide which guild owns a certain territory. GvG can be 5v5 or 20v20, depending on the zone, and requires contribution by almost all guild members in order to ensure victory. Death during a GvG doesn’t mean automatic failure, but instead requires the players who have died to re-gear and head back out to the battle. In preparation for a GvG, gathers need to gather and crafters need to craft in order to fill the battle chest that guilds will use to gear back up during a GvG match.

Everything in Albion is created by the players–every weapon, every piece of armor, every mount. With full loot on death in red and black zones, there is a constant demand for new gear. Players may choose not to focus on combat in lieu of focusing on gathering and crafting. Other players choose to make their silver by buying goods in one city and selling them in another at a higher price. In a less unscrupulous way to make a living in Albion, many players choose to be bandits who kill gatherers and sell their hard-earned materials.

In a departure from most modern MMOs, Albion Online has only one quest: the tutorial. After that, players are free to level up the skills they want in an Elder Scrolls-esque way of gaining experience by performing the associated action, e.g., using a fire staff will increase your level with fire staffs. As a result, the most efficient way to level up combat skills is to make a group with other players and go to dungeons in PvP zones. Joining a guild and being social is almost a requirement in order to progress in Albion. Bad news for solo players, but a welcome change for those who were tired of massively “multiplayer” games requiring no interaction with other players

2. Albion Online makes its mechanics relatively easy for new players to digest while moving the setting to one that is more familiar than EVE Online’s


EVE Online has a reputation for being impenetrable among those hesitant to try the game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit the potential population of EVE. Albion Online takes many mechanics found in EVE and previous sandbox MMOs and attempts to make them easier for new players to grasp. Gear in Albion is tiered and there are multiple options for gearing available within a tier, just like in EVE, but there are less choices in Albion, and the game is more straightforward with what each piece of gear will do in terms of stat bonus and abilities.

Also similar to EVE, Albion Online features zones that expose the player to non-consensual PvP. However, Albion Online adds tools that makes it easier for players unfamiliar with that concept to play safe. Upon entering yellow and red zones, a number in the corner instantly lets players know how many people in the zone are “flagged” for PvP–how many players are hostile. In addition, flagged players display their name tags in red, and flagging up for PvP takes about 10 seconds. This way, when a player is in a red zone, they are always aware of how much danger they are in as long as they pay attention to this number. However, this counter is hidden in black zones, requiring scouts and communication within a group in order to avoid large groups of players.

Combat, too, is much simpler than EVE Online. In EVE, choosing a correct ship fitting is complicated enough, but players must also manage multiple modules according to ship velocity and target distance in order to be successful. Albion features a battle system reminiscent of a MOBA, where clicking on a target begins auto-attacks interspersed with skill-shots and activated abilities. It has room for depth, but on the surface presents a simple and straightforward way of fighting that makes it easy for new players to hop in.

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While all these comparisons to EVE Online may seem excessive, its only because the CEO of Sandbox Interactive constantly compares the game to EVE himself. Albion strives to be a more accessible medieval sandbox MMO against EVE Online’s complicated sci-fi MMO, and in that regard, Albion succeeds. However, Albion Online is not without its flaws. PvE content is lacking–open world group dungeons and world bosses make up the majority of PvE content in Albion, and while it is successful within the goals set by the developers because it encourages social interaction between players, players looking for structured dungeon and raid content comparable to theme park MMOs like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV will likely be disappointed. Albion’s UI, while functional, is missing several quality of life additions that would help smooth out the game experience. Players who like to play MMOs by themselves wont find much to do in Albion, as everything revolves around having a pool of players to rely on in order to safely farm in dungeons, gather, and PvP. Finally, in terms of sheer game mechanics, EVE Online simply has more to do after 14 years of patches.

However, for all of Albion Online’s faults, there is plenty that it does right. While it may lack PvE content, the focus of the game is its sandbox nature and interactions between players. By making solo play difficult, Albion encourages social interaction between its players in a time where most MMOs are removing the need to ever interact with others outside of an automatic queue. In sandbox MMOs, the content is created primarily by the players, not the developers, and Albion lays a strong groundwork for both Sandbox Interactive and their players to build upon in the future.


Final Fantasy XIV and Real World Mythology: Who is Susano?

Let the revels begin!

In Final Fantasy XIV Online, primals are flashy, single-boss raid encounters that usually represent iconic summons or monsters from the series. Previous primal bosses include Ifrit, Shiva, and Final Fantasy VI’s Warring Triad. In Final Fantasy XIV’s newest expansion, Stormblood, the first primal that players must face is Susano, the “Lord of the Revel.” Keeping in line with the expansion’s East Asian theme, the inspiration for Susano the primal is taken from a Shinto deity of the same name.

Susano slays Yamata no Orochi. Kuniteru, 19th century.

According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the oldest written works of classical Japanese history dating from 711 AD and 720 AD, respectively, Susano is the god of storms and the sea, and brother to the sun goddess Amaterasu and the moon god Tsukuyomi. The god Izanagi gave birth to Susano and his siblings as he cleansed his face of impurities following a visit to Yomi, the Shinto world of the dead. Susano washed out of Izanagi’s nose, while Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were born from Izanagi’s left and right eyes, respectively. According to some legends, Susano is also seen as a chaotic god who disrupts the order of heaven.

In Final Fantasy XIV, Susano is presented as a large, vaguely humanoid armored figure with a jolly personality, who carries the moniker “Lord of the Revel.” He is the guardian deity of the Kojin beast tribe in the Ruby Sea, whom the Warrior of Light inadvertently helps to summon when he or she brings a magatama to the Red Kojin’s treasure cove, where it reacts with a sword and mirror to summon Susano.

From left to right: the mirror, the sword, and the magatama.

The fact that Susano is summoned with a sword, mirror, and magatama is an important detail to note, because those objects are also the Imperial Regalia of Japan, which are symbols of the legitimacy of the Imperial family. The magatama, known as “Yasakani no Magatama,” holds no direct tie to Susano in Japanese mythology beyond its affiliation with the other Imperial regalia. The mirror, or “Yata no Kagami,” however, is said to have been used to lure Amaterasu out of a cave where she hid in grief after Susano destroyed her property and killed her attendant, which resulted in Susano’s banishment from heaven. Upon reaching the province of Izumo, located in modern day Shimane Prefecture, Susano defeated an eight headed serpent named Yamata no Orochi by tricking it into drinking eight vats of sake and killing it in its sleep. From Yamata no Orochi’s tail, Susano took the sword “Kusanagi no Tsurugi,” the third piece of the Imperial Regalia, which he bequeathed to Amaterasu in reconciliation.

Susano, the Lord of the Revel

As a nod to Susano’s place in Shinto mythology as the god of storms and the sea, the arena in which Susano is fought in Final Fantasy XIV is a flooded area continuously drenched in rain. Several of Susano’s attacks are related to water or electricity. For example, Susano will create an area-of-effect attack visually represented by parting waves while declaring that “the seas part for me alone!” Susano will also spawn thunderclouds around the outside of the arena, which will strike the party with lightning if players do not position correctly. Susano’s ultimate attack is called “Ama-no-Murakumo,” an earlier name given to the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, which roughly translates as “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.” Susano’s portrayal in Final Fantasy XIV seems to have taken inspiration from the myths that portray him as a chaotic force disrupting the heavenly order, as he seems to relish his battle with the Warrior of Light, even exclaiming that their hearts “sing in the chaos” of battle.

Final Fantasy is not the only video game to feature Susano. Clover Studio’s 2006 Playstation 2 game Okami, for example, features a segment where the player character Amaterasu fights Yamata no Orochi alongside a charmingly incompetent Susano. Nor is Susano the only reference to Japanese or Asian mythology in Stormblood. Up next: Final Fantasy XIV and Real World Mythology: Who is Lakshmi?



What’s up with Civilization VI?

Checking in on Firaxis’s beleaguered strategy game.

Following its release in October 2016, Civilization VI faced a divided fanbase. Although the game sat in the high 80s on Metacritic, longtime fans of the series were critical of Firaxis’s newest strategy game. Poor A.I., multiplayer balance issues, divisive stylized visuals, and numerous complaints about the game’s systems (or lack thereof) compared to Civilization V dominated the discussion around Civilization VI. Why was the diplomatic victory removed? Why are players still punished with warmonger penalties? Why does the A.I. make nonsensical decisions and seemingly declares war at random? All in all, these fans claimed, Civilization VI was a game that was wholly inferior to its predecessor.

Some fans, however, were hesitant to write off Civilization VI so quickly. Comparisons to Civilization V were a bit unfair, they said–with two expansion packs under its belt, its not surprising that it would have more content than a game that had just been released. Plus, vanilla Civilization V was even more barebones than VI, with systems such as trade routes, religion, espionage and great works for culture victories all added to Civilization V in expansions, but appearing in Civilization VI at launch. The foundation for a great Civilization game was here, these fans claimed, and with expansions it could easily surpass other entries in the series.

Colors vibrantly pop in Civilization VI.

So, more than half a year later, how is Civilization VI doing now?

Fansites such as and r/civ continue to be critical of Civilization VI’s flaws out of a desire to see the game reach its full potential. Chiefly, the game’s A.I. continues to be a point of contention. Patches have brought it up in line with Civilization V, however, that game wasn’t exactly praised for its intelligent A.I., either. Hardcore Civ fans continue to find Civilization VI easy on every difficulty except for Deity, and on all difficulties the A.I. has questionable reactions to the player’s actions. For example, if players are in an alliance with Theodore Roosevelt and declare war on an enemy civilization at war with America, Roosevelt’s A.I. may react with anger. Every leader in Civilization VI has “agendas” that they follow, which dictate what actions on the part of the player cause them to become friendly or hostile. Roosevelt’s agenda, “Big Stick Policy,” causes him to dislike civilizations that start wars on his home continent. So, even if players declare war in order to assist a losing Roosevelt, the A.I. may nonsensically become angered by the player’s assistance.

Civilization VI’s cartoonish art style has upset some fans of Civilization V’s more realistic look.

The new religious victory has also drawn some criticism. The amount of Great Prophets available in a game to create a religion is always less than the amount of civilizations in a match, and on higher difficulties it’s almost impossible to found a religion as a result. Even if the player does found a religion, organizing missionaries and engaging in religious warfare can become a micromanaging chore.

Other aspects of the game, however, have come to be acknowledged as improvements over previous Civs. The addition of districts has resulted in the most engaging city building in any Civilization game yet. Cities now have to be placed not only according their potential resource yield, but also according to the bonuses to certain districts the surrounding tiles will give. Pursuing a science victory? Make sure you build your cities near mountains, as science districts generate additional science according to how many mountains touch the tile that the district is built on. While warmonger penalties return from Civilization V much to the chagrin of fans, the system has been made more manageable in VI. The inclusion of Casus Belli means that players can reduce the warmonger penalty by declaring war for reasons such as retaliation for hostile religious conversion, liberating a conquered city, protecting a city-state, and so on. The addition of A.I. agendas also means that sometimes the A.I. may actually like a player that actively engages in war. The happiness system in Civilization V penalizes playing “wide”–or settling a lot of cities–in favor of playing “tall,” or settling a few cities. With the replacement of happiness with the amenities system in VI, the game promotes playing “wide” as long as the player has enough luxury resources or is willing to spend limited space on an entertainment district.

Rather than one tech tree based on science, a new civic tree grants new governments and policies that can be enacted for various benefits.

Rather than one tech tree based solely off of science, Civilization VI also features a second tree of “civics” based on culture output. The civic tree allows players to unlock new forms of government, as well as policy cards to further customize governments towards specific victory conditions and variables the player may encounter throughout the game. For example, policies may make military units cheaper to produce, or increase how quickly tourists come to visit for a culture victory. Each form of government not only affects which types of policies can be enacted but also give bonuses of their own–for example, autocracy can be adopted in the early game to assist with wonder production, while adopting communism in the late game can assist a player’s science victory by increasing production on a civilization-wide level. Each tech and civic also has “eureka” bonuses that reduces research time if certain requirements are met. Building walls in a city, for example, will give players a eureka boost to researching the engineering tech, while building six farms gives a boost to researching the feudalism civic. Because of eureka bonuses, Civilization VI is less focused on science output than V was.

All in all, while Civilization VI’s A.I. continues to face criticism, the game has the potential to become an amazing Civ entry in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions improved upon the vanilla experience. Civilization VI already trumps Civilization V as a base game, as VI includes systems that V didn’t add until its expansions. Districts add an additional layer of strategy and planning to city building, and although religious victories are rough around the edges, its issues are easily fixable with expansions in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions fixed issues with its science, diplomatic, and cultural victories. Fans in love with Civilization V as a complete package may not find VI’s improvements to be worth dealing with its current shortcomings, but given time, Civilization VI has the potential to become one of the best games in the series.


Why I Love: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

A look at Nihon Falcom’s lovely JRPG.

Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series established itself in Japan in the late 1980s with Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes, which initially released on the NEC PC 8801. However, although the series saw numerous Western releases including localizations of the PSP remakes of The Legend of Heroes III, IV, and V, the games did not gain a sizeable Western fan base. The series wouldn’t catch on in English speaking communities until XSEED localized the sixth game in the series, Trails in the Sky, for the PSP in 2011. Following a subsequent PC release of the English localization of Trails in the Sky, the game quickly became a cult classic among JRPG fans due to its heavy emphasis on its characters and world building. Four years after Trails in the Sky’s original English release, XSEED released Second Chapter, the sequel to Trails in the Sky that picks up right after the game’s cliffhanger ending.

Two months after the English release of Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter, XSEED released Trails of Cold Steel for the Playstation 3 and Vita. While Cold Steel isn’t a direct sequel to Trails in the Sky, it takes place 2 years after the events of Second Chapter, and moved the setting from the Liberl Kingdom to the neighboring Erebonian Empire. Players had encountered Erebonian nationals in Trails in the Sky, and a war between Liberl and Erebonia made up an important chunk of the game’s backstory. Trails in the Sky offered players a glimpse into the political conflicts brewing in Erebonia, however, much of the country itself remained an enigma. Trails of Cold Steel gave fans the opportunity to explore a fleshed out Erebonia with the same attention to detail that drew people to Trails in the Sky.

Trails of Cold Steel traded Trails in the Sky’s traditional trappings for a high school setting.

Players could be forgiven for thinking that they were in for a drastically different experience with Cold Steel than they had been with the Sky games. While Trails in the Sky opened with the quiet life of the main character Estelle, her father, and her adopted brother Joshua, Trails of Cold Steel begins with an en medias reis sequence that immediately thrusts players into combat with a full party. While the early hours of Trails in the Sky were framed by the low-key adventures of Estelle and Joshua as they worked to become Bracers—questing mercenaries in the Trails universe—Trails of Cold Steel was set in a high school with events seemingly pulled straight out of Persona. At face value, Cold Steel had thrown away many of the traditional JRPG trappings that had made Sky a cult favorite in favor of more contemporary mechanics.

Once Trails of Cold Steel fell into its rhythm, however, its Persona-inspired façade faded away to reveal a game that wasn’t too far removed from its predecessors. The basic structure of Cold Steel is the same as the Sky games: each chapter has a central hub with a main quest to follow, along with several side quests that the player can complete at his or her leisure. At the end of each chapter, the player is ranked by the amount of quests they completed, and given a final grade for the “assignment” if playing Cold Steel, or given a higher Bracer rank if playing the Sky games. While the beginning hours of Trails of Cold Steel gave the impression that school life would play heavily into the structure of the game, in practice it had no strong effect on gameplay. Rather, the school served the narrative function of providing a reason to bring together characters from diverse economic and social backgrounds, and the conflicts that arose between the party characters as a result were indicative of the larger socio-political issues at play in Erebonia. In-between major story hubs, the player can spend time with party members and important NPCs to learn more about them, however, the majority of backstory and character growth for most characters is found in the main story.

Combat, too, is similar to Trails in the Sky. Coming into contact with an enemy on the overworld triggers combat on a separate screen. Attacks, skills, and spells have ranges that require proper maneuvering and positioning to use. Each character has a special move that they can use to “steal” a turn at will once enough Craft Points have been built up through dealing and receiving damage, rewarding forethought as turns will sometimes give bonuses like guaranteed critical hits or health recovery. Where Trails of Cold Steel differentiates itself from Trails in the Sky is with its “linking” system. By linking party members, players can follow up attacks for bonus damage. Using a damage type an enemy is weak against increases the chance of a follow up attack, and after enough follow-up attacks, the player is given the option of using a group action similar to the all-out-attacks from Persona. Each character also has their own unique actions that they’ll use to help their linked partner, such as finishing off an enemy close to death or automatically healing their partner. As the story progresses and the party characters overcome their differences with one another, they gain the ability to form links.

Like its predecessors, Trails of Cold Steel goes deep into developing its characters.

The biggest draw of Trails in the Sky was the amount of detail it put into developing its setting and characters, and in that regard, Cold Steel doesn’t disappoint either. Persons, entities, and even side quests that were nothing more than flavor text for the world in Sky are fleshed out in Cold Steel, rewarding fans who enjoyed the history created for the continent of Zemuria in Trails in the Sky. Conversations between certain Cold Steel characters reference events of previous games without making knowledge of those events crucial to understanding the main story. Each region visited in Cold Steel is given lengthy explanations of its local government, economic strengths, and place in Erebonian society. Party members, too, are given large sections of the game’s main story in order to establish how the life they were born into in Erebonia contributed to their worldview and values, and how they resolve conflicts with other party members arising from their conflicting points of view is an important part of each of their story arcs. Although the main focus of character development in Cold Steel is on the party characters, numerous story important NPCs in the world are given development comparable to main characters from other RPGs. Even “generic” town NPCs are given more attention than your average JRPG, with dialogue that changes after every major story event and mini-storylines to follow throughout the game. Some “generic” NPCs even return from Trails in the Sky.

While Trails of Cold Steel portrays itself as a JRPG abandoning its traditional roots in favor of social mechanics popularized by Persona, in reality it’s a game that strongly retains the elements that drew people to the Trails series to begin with. This 70-hour game is filled with every bit as much world building, character development, and narrative focus that its predecessors were, which is great news for fans worried that Cold Steel’s school aesthetic came at the cost of what drew them to the series to begin with. Fans of the Sky games owe it to themselves to check out Trails of Cold Steel, and an upcoming PC release featuring additional voice acting will be the perfect accommodation for those who do not own a Playstation 3 or Vita.