Ever since Trails in the Sky finally received an English release, Nihon Falcom's The Legend of Heroes series has stood above all others in the storytelling department. With Trails in the Sky SC and Trails of Cold Steel taking home first and second place in this category last year, it's no surprise to see Trails of Cold Steel II continue the run.
Picking up where its predecessor left off, Cold Steel II does a fantastic job continuing the tale as Erebonia falls into an internal conflict. The series once again successfully combines all the political intrigue with personal stories from not only the major characters, but all the various inhabitants of the nation, as well as revealing fascinating aspects of the underlying history of its setting. When it comes to creating a memorable cast, Falcom can't be beaten. As well as the returning cast, who have far from finished their own development, Cold Steel II somehow manages to add even more memorable characters, such as McBurn and Duvalie, to the proceedings.
Things are helped by the fantastic work XSEED Games has once again done with the localisation, going above the call of duty to ensure that the very best of Falcom's charm shines through once again. Excellent English voice-acting also serves to convey a deep, twisting story full of intrigue. Sadly, its likely going to be a bit of a wait until we can get the third part in the trilogy, but at least we have Trails in the Sky the 3rd to tide us over for a bit this year.
Great stories do not always have to span the course of sixty-plus hours. Sometimes great tales can be told in the span of an hour or two, as in Stories: Path of Destinies. Stories features a choose your own adventure type of progression where the player is able to decide which task to undertake next. These choices not only impact the immediate story but also determine subsequent choice availability. Do you save an old friend or kidnap the enemy princess? Do you retrieve a legendary weapon now or instead pursue an ancient (and rapidly deteriorating) arcane artifact? Some paths give the player a chance to come back later while others are gone forever. The ultimate outcomes all help to unlock knowledge that the main character, Reynardo, retains. All of this is reflected in the near constant narration that is very similar, though more comical, than the very similar Bastion. Story choices, past path completions, and even the order in which the different locations are visited all contribute to the narrative in a way that is rarely seen in games, making it one of the best stories of 2016.
The lore that drives Final Fantasy XV's story is impressive in its scope. Its delivery less so. To fully comprehend the continuity quagmire that is the Final Fantasy XV universe you need to consume a number of pieces of multimedia content including, but not limited to, Brotherhood Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy XV Prologue - Parting Ways, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, etc., and of course Final Fantasy XV itself.
For those who do indulge, this expanded universe offers a complex history which fills the voids that the game proper's lopsided plot left behind. Want to know what the deal is with Ravus? The events that lead the antagonist to take such a drastic turn? The reason why Noct has three back-up singers? It's all in the expanded content. For completionists such as myself that is a huge gift, though I recognize that Final Fantasy XV would have been a much better game had players not had to look for answers elsewhere. Perhaps future patches and DLC will create a more comprehensive narrative, but as obtuse as the game can be, Final Fantasy XV's conclusion is the best the franchise has seen in some time. The story here is a worthy one if you are willing to invest your time and ask the right questions.
by Alex Fuller, Ken Staples, Trent Seely