Initial release date: September 28, 2017
Genre: Role-playing video game
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
Series: Trails – Erebonia Arc, The Legend of Heroes: Trails, The Legend of Heroes
Publishers: Nihon Falcom, Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America, NIS America, Inc.
Developers: Nihon Falcom, Engine Software, PH3 GmbH
Links to Purchase:
The Legend of Heroes series has a very long and storied history that has span the time of 2 and a half decades as of this review originating as a spin off of the Dragon Slayer series known as “Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes” and eventually evolving into it’s own IP and brand. The Trails or Kiseki series has been an on going storyline that’s run since 2003 and is in its 8th entry in Japan with a new entry around the corner whereas here in the west in October of 2019 we finally got the 7th Trails entry and the 3rd arc of the Trails of Cold Steel sub series on PlayStation 4. Fast forward a few months later and now we have that same entry making it’s debut on STEAM with a Nintendo Switch port being released later on in the year. There are 2 fundamental questions that I will tackle with this review; is Trails of Cold Steel III worth the purchase for those who have never played a Trails game before? And is the STEAM version both a superior entry over the PS4 release and is it the better way to play Cold Steel 3? Let’s find out
The story of Trails of Cold Steel III happens a year and a half after the cliff hanger ending of Cold Steel II’s civil war and follows the adventures of a new Class VII lead by it’s latest graduate; The Ashen Chevalier: Rean Schwarzer, following the establishment of Thors' Leeves Campus by Prince Olivert’s recommendation. Rean, now being the head of Class VII, has to not only make sure that his students (Kurt Vander, Juna Crawford, and Altina Orion) are properly trained and educated but also that he himself is up to the task of teaching them and being worthy of being their leader.
In the shadows of the Erebonian Civil War and the Crossbell and Nothern Campaigns; the secret society known as the “Ouroboros” has begun to manipulate the Republic and Jaeger Corps in an effort to recover the Phantasmal Blaze Plan.
To not spoil the story and any of the events that are to occur further, this is where we will leave this section.
The game plays like a standard Trails game does with it’s strong emphasis on not only the turn based formula of a JRPG but also focuses on a the placement of your characters in relation to the enemy that the series borrows from strategy games such as Fire Emblem and the Ogre Series. You have a plethora of selectable actions from attack, move, item, art, craft, and more all mapped to both your directional pad and the face buttons of your controller (or mapped to your keys on your keyboard and mouse). You are able to move freely about the battle arena when a character’s turn is available to select an action within a limited range which acts as one turn. You can do link attacks when two characters are bonded such as if you have Kurt and Juna bonded then they can do linked attacks if they stagger an enemy and their meter is filled. During battle you have a gauge known as CP which will grow as you do normal attacks as it allows you to use your Craft attacks which either do staggering damage to enemies or offer various buffs to your characters.
Outside of battle you can initiate battles and get certain advantages if you strike the enemy on the field from either the front or behind giving you extra turns in battle or damage to the enemies. In dungeons you’re able to explore various areas and if there are breakable items you are able to destroy them and move forward. Like all Nihon Falcom games there are plenty of mini games for you to sink your teeth into if you want to do side quests and take a break from the main story such as fishing and more.
In towns you can will be able to not only interact with the other students and faculty at Thors but also shop owners and more. You’ll primarily be going from point A to B but in between these points you’ll be able to build up your relationship with various characters based on the things.
There’s the orbal system which allows you to mix and match different orbments allowing you access to different stat boosts and buffs as well as different magics as well.
There is an addition to the STEAM version that allows you to speed up the game to make traversal and cut-scenes go by much faster which is exclusive to this port of the game. Other than that, this game plays out like a normal JRPG.
Graphically speaking, the game looks just as good on STEAM as it did on the PS4 if not better because you can go beyond 1080p 60FPS all the way up to 8K resolution and higher frame rate. It’s truly a beautiful looking game with detailed character models which are a noticeable step up from what we had in Cold Steel 1 & 2. The newer models for Rean and the returning party look sharp and the new characters of Kurt, Juna, and returning characters from Trails of Azure and Trails of Zero fit in perfectly with the new graphical style.
The animations for the characters flows from robotically stiff to amazingly fluid as when in battle the characters all animate in a natural way when performing attacks, getting attacked, performing magic and more yet when in cutscenes they are stiff and robotic which doesn’t bother me per se but it can be something that annoys people who are more used to more detailed games like God Of War and the like.
The sound of the game is phenomal as the characters are voiced superbly by the likes of Sean Chiplock who is the voice of Rean Schwarzer and Joe Zeija who voice Kurt Vander. These two and the rest of the voice cast do amazingly at capturing the range, inflection, and cadence to capture the moments and emotions that the characters are expressing and brought to life.
You also have the option of using the Japanese voices in this game which arguably sound a lot better than the English cast in many regards!
The soundtrack is as iconic of an OST as it gets and is clearly setting a new standard for Nihon Falcom. Every theme from the town theme, dungeon theme, and especially the many battle themes are all brought to life especially the battle theme of Brave Steel which kicks off with a thunderous drum beat and flows into a rock guitar riff that has that heroic feeling gearing you up for battle!
Being frank, there are only 2 downsides to this game and it’s something that you can either not find a problem with or it will put you off from this game and series and that’s the fact that this game has a steep barrier of entry and when I say that I don’t mean in the gameplay department but within the fact that while you can jump into Cold Steel 3 without having played 1 or 2 or even the previous 5 entries before the Cold Steel series; you will ultimately not be able to understand what all is truly going on as to understand the overall plot of the trails series requires you to dive deep into its world and honestly start with Trails in the Sky and not jump straight into Cold Steel 3.
There’s so much you will miss and not understand and characters that will appear in the game unexplained because the game and series as a whole expects you to have played previous entries to fully know whats going on and even though there is compendium to catch you up on the last two entries and the overall world and lore; you’re still not going to be able to just read all that and come into this entry knowing what is going on.
Now you can just jump in to this game and enjoy it’s deceptively seeming stand alone plot; you won’t realize that it is calling back to previous events beyond the Cold Steel series until much later in the game which will possibly have you scratching your head in confusion feeling like you got blind sided with not only the exposition dumps but eneimies and organisations that will seem as if they came from no where although they had been built up since Trails in the Sky.
Also side bar: the prologue chapter and intro are over 2 and a half hours long so………. that’s a heads up.
Trails of Cold Steel 3 is simply a game that gives you everything from an amazing combat system that harkens back to Grandia 2 with a touch of Fire Emblem thrown in and a superb cast of characters expertly voiced to an amazingly classic Nihon Falcom soundtrack that fires on all cylinders with a story that while needing a deep understanding of the backstory and world: is superbly worth investing in. Trails of Cold Steel 3 is one of if not the best JRPG of 2019 and is this port to STEAM with its revisions and additions allowing better graphical outputs, a speed up feature and more, make this long awaited port something that PC gamers MUST OWN so get it today!