The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Northern War Episode 1 Review & Breakdown

I never thought I’d be reviewing an anime, but I suppose with our coverage of Japanese video games and manga, it was bound to happen at some point.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Northern War is an anime occurring within Nihon Falcom’s JRPG Trails series, specifically set between The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III. I intend on reviewing each of the twelve episodes as they launch, providing insight as a diehard fan of the franchise.

However, there are a few notes I should mention and emphasize before diving into my review of the first episode, proper. Firstly, as someone who has not watched any anime for years, these reviews will not be critical or professional like our site’s video game coverage. My assessments will solely originate from my personal feelings as a fan. Therefore, potential issues regarding presentation will likely not be noticed by me.

Secondly, the views stated throughout these reviews will only be mine alone. Other staff members have significantly different opinions on the series than I do. For instance, the Crossbell arc is my least favorite segment of Trails, while someone else sees it as one of the high points. If you’re familiar with Trails, you probably know how divisive and mixed fan reception is across basically every game, so just keep that in mind.

Lastly, due to this anime’s aforementioned chronology placement, spoilers for the Sky, Crosbell, and first two Cold Steel games will be stated without warning. Further, events from Trails of Cold Steel III will also be said if relevant, so if you’re not caught up with these games and would like to avoid spoilers, then I highly advise avoiding these articles.

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Now, with all that being said, let’s begin my review and breakdown of the first episode of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel – Northern War, “Appears He…the Hero in Twilight.” I think it’s meant to say “He Appears” instead of “Appears He,” but whatever.

The episode begins with a flashback sequence of an expansive wheat field as a young blonde girl enthusiastically runs toward her grandpa. The song playing during this scene sounds like “A Cat Relaxing in the Sun” from Trails in the Sky FC, yet as an altered arrangement, not entirely sure. We come to know that this girl is the protagonist Lavian Winslet. Then, the memory ends as the field is consumed by flames, with an older Lavian viewing it with a veiled expression.

It’s already abundantly evident that Lavian possesses a traumatic backstory, as evidenced by this scene and her reserved, quiet nature seen throughout the episode. The scene then shifts to North Ambria State, specifically 850 selge southeast of the capital, Haliask. For those unaware of the Zemurian continent’s measurement systems, one selge is roughly equivalent to 100 meters. A group of armored mercenaries quickly self-identified as the Northern Jaegers, the continent’s largest jaeger corps numbering over 10,000, is seen battling familiar monsters from the series, such as the Nix Cryon from Trails of Cold Steel II.

We learn that the corps is working on delivering citizenry relief supplies for Haliask via some not-so-subtle exposition by talkative members. I wish the conversation here introduced these elements a tad more naturally, but it’s not a major gripe. A shot from inside a tank shows some odd machinery, though, so perhaps not everything is as it seems. The two talking Jaegers here, Ivano and Tak, eventually discuss an entirely quiet Jaeger marching nearby, revealing that despite only being with them for half a year, they were selected for this escort excursion. This youth doesn’t speak or display their face for a good chunk of the episode, but they’re Lavian.

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The two noisy Jaegers compare her immense growth to the Purple Lightning, albeit mockingly. That moniker, of course, belongs to prominent Trails of Cold Steel character Sara Valestein, the instructor of the original Class VII. Further, the founder of the Nothern Jaegers became her adoptive father following the Salt Pale devastating North Ambria. Those times are behind her, but based on promotional screenshots, we’ll likely at least see flashbacks of her days on the battlefield.

This scene becomes unexpectedly endearing because, based on the attitude of Ivano and Tak, I thought they’d be coldly admonishing Lavian out of jealousy or such. However, it turns out it’s moreso friendly nudging as the three participate in a hardcore snowball fight. Suddenly though, a monster spawns, about to attack the group, before Lavian shoots it down astonishingly quickly, letting the march continue.

Lavian’s skill here and in later parts of the episode is emphasized as especially prodigious, with that Purple Lightning comparison not seeming too far off the mark. One of the leading members, Dren, is also briefly introduced within a tank. He doesn’t get much screen time, but he’s depicted as reliable and likely more competent despite having joined at the same time as Ivano and Tak around eight years ago.

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The amount of security for this mission is questioned since the material is supposedly just aid, but the recent political climate is assumed to be the justification. After all, between the conflict between Calvard and Erebonia, as well as Crossbell’s annexation, there’s likely a good deal of hoops everyone has to jump through. Due to the timeskip between Cold Steel II and III, we didn’t see too many of the immediate ramifications of these issues, so seeing it addressed here excites me.

Another section of the Northern Jaegaers, the group performing recon, is discussed next, as their leader is a radical named Rogan, who we’ll see later. He’s labeled as “The Aurora Phenomenon” due to his efforts at ridding all facets of life in his vicinity. He also wields the most influence in the corps as a whole. Moreover, the Northern Jaegers top leader, Glark, is briefly mentioned. Following some more joking banter by Ivano and Tak, Lavian spots multiple craters in the ground, causing her to track them to a village they overlooked, being assaulted by monsters. While not stated by a character, we learn the village is called Zemala based on a detail seen later in the episode.

The rest of the corps follows Lavian’s lead, saving various townspeople from Dromes, familiar monsters from the games. Granted, they’re weak to magic in there, while here, they’re somehow taken down by guns. So, that’s a tad weird. Regardless, the monsters are defeated, and the remaining ones flee, leading to a collective assessment of the damages, which appear minor, save for two poisoned individuals. After concluding that the injured require treatment at Haliask, the troop decides to move out before another, even more, ferocious monster invades, appearing too much for the Jaegers to handle.

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However, Lavian radiates protagonist energy, grabbing a nearby blade and defeating the foe with assistance from Ivano, Tak, and the others. At this point, her helmet finally falls off, revealing her face before the opening plays. Afterward, the group finally arrives at Haliask, delivering supplies, such as Wheat, before the scene cuts to the main cast at the Legislative Palace’s entrance. Unfortunately, Lavian had to file a report for misconduct as she did stray from the assignment, regardless of good intent. The punishment is three months of docked pay, which seems overly harsh, but that’s life, I suppose.

Interestingly, there is a ton of English text throughout this episode, on walls, and even the entirety of this misconduct report. I’ve written it out in full below. It actually contains significant details.

Report of Misconduct

I hereby report my misconduct during a logistical mission, in which I violated a retreat order and engaged in battle with a horde of monsters in Zemala village. The said battle has caused material harm for the village as well as my unit, including damage of my gun and helmet, and partial destruction of several civilian homes.

I am aware that this violation is a serious disciplinary incident that cannot be justified in any way, endangering fellow members of my unit and the Zemala village residents. I take full responsibility for my actions and submit myself to any ruling for punishment or reprimand.

Administrated by:

  • Glark Gronmash, Chieftain
  • Jayna Storm, Vice Chieftain
  • Dren Dann, Commander, Dren Unit

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We get Drann’s and Glark’s full names, as well as one we have not seen, Jayna Storm. While seen in promotional material, I’ll refrain from discussing her until she appears in the episodes. Moreover, the top right of the report shows a date, Septian Calendar 1205, February 27. When considering the timeline, this is roughly a month prior to the Divertissement and Epilogue of Trails of Cold Steel II. Additionally, February 1205 marks the month Rean saves Juna Crawford and her siblings in Crossbell.

Some unidentified politicians angrily enter the palace, prompting Ivano and Tak to express disdain about how it’s only due to their efforts that the people up top can live comfortably. Nothing new here. The two Jaegers then demand northern borscht from Lavian as compensation for their cut payment, albeit in a friendly manner. The dynamic these three have, for as brief as it is so far, is pretty entertaining and wholesome.

As the trio heads out, Dren speaks to Lavian, simply telling her to be careful as Ivano and Tak are gluttons. Based on the tenseness and framing of Drenns’ call, it’s likely he’s hiding something, but we know too little to infer anything substantial. The center of the capital, Liberation Square, is shown off via a montage, described as akin in size to the square in Heimdallar at Erebonia.

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As the three enjoy some borscht, townspeople demand more combative, financial, and material aid from the Jaegers as the rising costs, harsh weather, and monster attacks are worsening, especially in the countryside. Governmental ineptitude is not something they can willfully rely on. These concerns aren’t acknowledged, though, as the trio spots the mother and daughter of those poisoned back in Zemala. They escape the crowd and walk with the aforementioned individuals to a grand memorial statue, conversing about the state of Haliask and North Ambria’s history.

The text for the memorial is entirely in English, similar to Lavian’s report. I’ve quoted the passages below:

Built jointly by the Provincial Parliament, the Northern Jaegers, and the City of Haliask in S.1179 to celebrate the founding of the Autonomous Province of Northumbria (likely meant to be North Ambria).

May we never forget the heroes of the revolution and our countrymen who gave their lives in the crusade and shall pass on the saga for generations to come. We vow to continue their fight until the day we win back the glory of our people.

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27 years ago, the older woman from Zemala explains, North Ambria boasted a prosperous shipping industry. It was quite a profitable locale before the iconic Salt Pale Incident occurred, also known as the North Ambrian Disaster. As its name implies, a literal pale of salt erupted, turning the vicinity and people into salt, ruining the livelihood of those who lived nearby. Those familiar with the games should be aware of this event.

Intense political strife took place, with the prince fleeing as countless riots and coups raged. However, “heroes” arrived, starting a revolution and founding the State of North Ambria. It’s worth noting that Lavian’s eyes narrow at the praise these heroes receive. Those same heroes were also the core that formed the Northern Jaegers, with Ivano’s, Tak’s, and Lavian’s boss, Glark, being one.

Lavian, who was playing with the little girl, Miju, receives a gift from her, a mini figure ornament of a Northern Jaeger. This interaction shows that Lavian isn’t all cold, as she’s at least receptive and kindhearted to kids. Although soon after, two tanks roll up, containing Jaegers of the Pheonomon Squad, including their leader, Rogan. He begins marching up to the memorial as the crowd of both townspeople and Jaegers chants his name.

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Interestingly, he speaks to Lavian, who still resides at the top of the steps, remarking upon how it’s almost time for wheat-treading season, noting that the crop ripens later than the norm due to its nativity to mountains. These statements shock Lavian as Rogan reveals that not only does he know about the village where she grew up, but he also knows about her grandfather, Vlad Winslet, the hero who apparently abandoned North Ambria.

Following those words, Rogan begins addressing the entire populace, stating it’s now time for a new revolution as the previous heroes have passed on. The annexation of Crossbell and Calvard’s loss to Erebonia were thanks to the effort of one hero, the man, the myth, the legend himself, Rean Schwarzer. We see a shot of him within Valimar, who Rogan calls a Soldat. Nice little attention to text detail there.

Still, the shocked reactions to Calvard’s and Crossbell’s current states are somewhat weird. I guess it’s possible that these events are not public knowledge, but even Ivano and Tak mention the annexation of Crossbell near the start of the episode. I could simply be overlooking something, though.

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And with that, the episode concludes. Honestly, this was far better than I expected from an initial outing. I’m glad there was a primary focus on the original cast for now since they should be firmly established before fan favorites jump into the fray. Additionally, Lavian’s character is handled excellently here, with her past, temperament, and sources of strife all displayed without being needlessly overbearing or over-explained. There’s a subtly here still making her mysteriously compelling.

I’m looking forward to seeing more episodes in the coming weeks. If I had to rate this particular one, I’d give an 8.5/10. The first half dragged at points with weak exposition, but it got the job done. I didn’t feel any emotional impact, hence why the score isn’t higher.

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is now available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via the Epic Games StoreGOG, and Steam.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie will launch for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC on July 7, 2023.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is releasing for Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via the Epic Games Store, GOG, and Steam at the following times:

  • March 14, 2023 – North America
  • March 17, 2023 – Europe
  • March 24, 2023 – Australia, New Zealand

Additional coverage for the game is listed below:

The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is coming to PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2023.

The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam in Japan.

The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki II Crimson Sin is now available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 in Japan. Check out our latest coverage, which also acts as an avenue for previous extensive instances of doing so.

 


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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual. Fan of JRPGs, Action, Platformers, Rhythm, and Adventure titles.