At last, the third instalment of the popular ‘Trails of Cold Steel’ series is here, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III. After working my way through the remasters of the first two games a few months ago (Here and Here), thanks to Marvelous, words can’t describe how excited I was to finally get my hands on this game. Rather than being a port from any other system, this is the first game in the series which was built with the PlayStation 4 in mind, allowing the developer, Nihon Falcom, to enhance the overall experience from the get-go.
Although the game has a comprehensive ‘catch-up’ segment in the main menu, as we see in the Yakuza games, prior knowledge of the previous two games is highly recommended. Sure, you can read about all the events that happened in both titles, find out key plot points and information about every returning key character, and discover crucial details about the world, but… I’d suggest you play through and experience the games yourself before diving into this game.
Think of it this way, imagine going to see the latest Avengers movie without having seen any of the previous films in the MCU, the fans will be getting more and more immersed and excited as returning characters pop up, yet you’d be sat there hoping they all introduce themselves and offer backstory just so you know what role they played previously.
Just like the previous title, Trails of Cold Steel III is a direct sequel to the previous game although this time it’s set just over a year and a half after Class VII disbanded and went their separate ways. Once again, the main focus of the game is Rean Schwarzer, the key protagonist from the prior titles, only this time he’s the teacher rather than the student. That’s right, Rean has been appointed to a new Thors Academy and placed in charge of a brand new Class VII, a class which this time is only made up of three students, rather than nine. Towa, from the Student Council previously, has also been appointed along with two other familiar faces.
Initially, once you first take charge of your students, this new Academy feels a lot like a case of deja vu. The school is laid out in a similar fashion, there’s a town just outside with a bunch of useful shops, the students all have a striking resemblance to your old colleagues (with one being a very familiar face if you’ve played those games), and there’s even an underground training hall which works just like the old school building. Hell, the comedic interactions between the original Class VII are almost perfectly reenacted with the new class unintentionally.
However, this isn’t a reboot of the original game, with Rean taking the place of Sara, you and your class are about to venture to a new set of locations as you embark on Field Exercises filled with action, adventure and excitement. Although if you’ve played the previous games, you’ll know exactly how smoothly these excursions go… You’ll get pulled into local troubles, engage with political and secret operations, clear up some unanswered questions from the previous games, and almost every field exercise involves dealing with multiple big, well-detailed bosses and formidable foes – some of which are from previous Legend of Heroes titles (so I’ve heard).
For me personally, Trails of Cold Steel III had the best story so far. Aside from growing fond of the new characters introduced within this title in the franchise, we’re reunited with characters we grew to love previously, seeing how they now live their lives and what they’ve achieved after Class VII. It’s almost like a school reunion at times, only with more monsters and political threats. This is the biggest adventure so far…
The gangs all here
I’m not going to lie, Trails of Cold Steel III may have caused water to involuntary seep from my eye ducts at various moments within the narrative. One such moment was the reunion of the original Class VII. This isn’t a new event as the second game saw Rean travel across the country as he seeks out and got the gang back together for the final showdown. However, every reunion within this game is so much more emotional and impactful as they’ve not seen each other for over a year, so bumping into each other mid-mission often turns into a rebonding session.
Just like any of the previous games, bonding with the team is very important if you’re going for the good endings (and trophies). As such, choosing who you decide to bond with during your free time, buying and sending gifts to your colleagues, taking them with you in the Valimar fights, and taking baths with them will boost your relationships. What’s that? Taking baths with them? That’s right, fighting is a dirty process, everyone needs to bathe and have someone scrub their back, right?! Okay, this is based on Japanese baths, so it’s basically a mini-swimming pool that has been segregated to men and women, but you can still chat to each other as you submerge yourself in the warm soothing water…
So, not only will you primarily take control of Rean and the three new Class VII members, but you’ll also team up with around sixteen more playable characters throughout the game – maybe more. Each one with their own weapons, skills, abilities and fighting style – this really is the biggest game so far, both in terms of the character roster and the game itself, clocking in at around 150 hours to get the platinum for me.
As expected, Trails of Cold Steel III follows in the footsteps of the previous games when it comes to the gameplay mechanics. You’ll be spending time in and around the school grounds, choosing who you wish to spend your ‘free time’ with, investigating new towns and fulfilling the various missions you’re given, and participating in lots of side activities and battles. Would you expect any less from a Nihon Falcom game? One downside, maybe this is because the game is published by NIS America and not Xseed/Marvelous like the previous two, you can’t import a save file from the second game. This means nothing filters through and there’s no additional content for having a previous save – which is a shame.
Before we take a look at the improvement and enhancements within the combat and the beautiful world, what new additions do we have in terms of side activities and pastimes? Fans of the first two games will be happy to hear (and not in the least bit surprised) that you can once again fish to your heart’s content as you try to become the fishing master! However, the fishing has been simplified from tapping buttons in a DDR-style setup to simply holding down a single button. That’s right – you can now fish with a single finger, should you choose to do so! Also, just to make things even easier, even though all the fishing spots have multiple fish, the first one you catch is always a predefined one. This means if you fish in every spot, and catch the first fish, you’re guaranteed to have caught all the fish by the end of the game! Amazing.
The impossible has happened – we have been given a new card game that is even more addictive than Blade! At first, I was disappointed that Blade was removed from the game, but then I fell in love with Vantage Masters. This game, unlike Blade, is more akin to Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, the Pokemon Trading Card Game etc… It’s all about placing down cards and using both the attack power and skills of each one to take out the opponents cards and leader card. What’s great about this game is you can, in a similar fashion to the card game in Final Fantasy 8, challenge a whole host of people on the street and in buildings to a battle and if you win you get to keep one of their cards.
Nihon Falcom – I would very much like a standalone game that features both Blade and Vantage Masters – Thanks!
In regards to new side activities, you get to take part in a great number of giant mech battles, send photos of Vistas to an old colleague, find stories for the local radio show, and seek out Black Books and get them translated. There’s always something to do when you’re not exploring or fighting evil creatures. Speaking of which…
Although Trails of Cold Steel III has been built specifically for the PS4, the visuals look very similar to the remastered games from earlier this year. That isn’t a bad thing, as the game is most likely using the same engine and some of the same assets, but it’s not a night and day transformation. Also, it fits the style and art direction the series is known for, just like how Crackdown 3 was a similar style to the first two games. Similarly, I believe there is PS4 Pro support, as my Pro makes quite a bit of noise when the action kicks in, but the game originally came out in Japan around the launch of the unit. As such, I imagine it’s just a resolution boost, at best, over the base PS4.
That said, the towns and cities you visit in Trails of Cold Steel III are much more detailed and full of character than previous games. You’ll see real-time reflections on shiny floor surfaces, neon lights of the casino shining brightly, most towns seem much higher and crammed with accessible places to visit, and even a few locations from the previous game have been remade and touched up. Unlike the second game, which clearly used the same assets and textures as the first game, this one seems like a lot of the visuals have been redone as travelling to previous locations feels new and fresh, even though it’s technically not.
Now, as the game is almost an imitation of the first game, in terms of you being back at the school and going on field trips with Class VII, another ‘feature’ has been copied – a more linear story. I praised the second game for being linear up until a point, then letting us backtrack and re-enter certain towns and fields so we can find the chests we missed and enemies we forgot to scan for trophies. Trails of Cold Steel III doesn’t do this. It sticks to its routine and moves you forward with no option to ever go back and collect anything you missed. So, although the pacing of the actual game is perfect and I never once felt like it was dragging, going too fast or forcing me to do things before I wanted to, you do have to be rather cautious if you’re going for the platinum.
So, side activities are almost the same, bar a few, and the world looks similar but has more bells and whistles – so what are the big improvements in Trails of Cold Steel III? For me, it was the combat mechanics.
Just like the previous games, battles are initiated on the battlefield by running up to the visible enemies and either bumping into them or hitting them with your weapon (if you want to get an advantage by attacking them from behind). Battles are your standard JRPG turn-based tactical events, wait for your turn, pick an action, choose an enemy, watch as you wait for your next character to have a turn, etc… However, there’s been a number of new mechanics brought in, attacks and features which, for me at least, dramatically changed the gameplay, these are:
Multiple Quartz! Now you can give everyone a secondary Quartz to further increase your passive and active abilities. For those who don’t know, Quartz are stones that you assign to each character – there’s only one of each of these master Quartz but it comes in over 20 flavours. Each one grants some sort of boost or ability such as increasing your attacks, allowing you to syphon health as you attack, or allowing you to hit a critical attack more often. As you win fights, with one equipt, its level increases – further enhancing it. Now you can attach a secondary one that doesn’t give you all of its benefits, but it grants you a few of them.
Some characters have weapons that double up as multiple weapon types, allowing you to switch between long-range guns and close-range melee on the fly. This allows you to be more strategic about the fight – do you run close to deal more damage but risk being countered, or do you stay back but deal less?
The biggest new addition though is the Brave Order. In previous games, you obtained Brave Points (BP) as you attacked an enemy whilst they were stunned. You could use these to perform a double or quad ‘link attack’ as either your partner or all four of you piled on the enemies and beat the crap out of them. These two options are still here, along with their respective trophies, but there’s now a third use for the BP, Brave Orders. Each character has their own order which can be issued, ranging from reducing all damage by 80% for X amount of rounds to reflecting attacks or restoring health. The further into the game you get, and the higher you increase your level, the more advanced Brave Orders you unlock.
For the fun of it
Just like the previous games, Trails of Cold Steel III doesn’t take itself too seriously. One minute you’ll be discussing secret orders and political affairs, then you’ll be taking part in a swimming competition against the principal of the school. Speaking of the principal, at one point you’re making your way through an air-vent (a new mechanic this time around) and she bluntly lets you know the vent is too tight because of the size of her boobs and demands you blow the wall open instead… There’s a lot of comedic moments throughout the game but also some rather dark moments which I won’t spoil for you.
Now, in previous games, I loved the amount of DLC we got for free (as they were remastered ports). You got all the previously available costume and accessories as part of the base game. Because Trails of Cold Steel III is a new game, you don’t get anything for free – unless some come out post-launch? Either way, one thing I love doing is dressing up the characters so they look really silly throughout the game, making the cutscenes look bizarre and a little strange. In Trails of Cold Steel II, for example, the vast majority of my game was spent with Rean wearing a fake nose and moustache and everyone else had bunny ears. I was sad to see that nothing similar could be found in the default items you get within this game…
However, two things made me happy again. First of all, you can find and buy various hair dyes, allowing you to dye the hair of certain characters. As such, I don’t think anyone on my team had drapes matching the carpet once I hit my second run. The second amusing customisation was the costumes. Sure, there’s not a lot of them, even after finishing the game and unlocking various ones with the New Game+ costume option. But, one stood out – the swimsuits… Not everyone gets one, but thank god the Principle did! Basically, the self-acclaimed “big-breasted” Principle, who said we should blast down a wall because her boobs were too big for the air vent, is now wearing a two-piece bathing suit for the entire game (after you gain control of her).
Serious cutscenes, about the war and how we all need to band together to overcome the evil threats, just didn’t seem that serious when the spokesperson is a large chested female wearing a skimpy outfit leaving little to the imagination! It was glorious. To be honest, some of the other females had ‘perky particulars’ as well, so I ended up just putting all the girls in their swimming costumes – why not. Oh, and I gave Rean a cat tail and ears in my first playthrough and my second had him wearing nothing but a towel around his waist for the entire journey – that was fun!
With each review I’ve done, I’ve told you how grindy the game is and what it was like obtaining the platinum. In my personal opinion, Trails of Cold Steel III didn’t feel grindy at all. Maybe it’s because I’m now accustomed to the ways of Nihon Falcom and I instinctively know I have to do certain things within their games, or maybe it’s because I was really immersed within the game – considering I platinumed it in just over a week? Who knows. Either way, if you’ve platinumed, or at least nearly platinumed, the previous games and/or games such as Tokyo Xanadu eX+ and Ys VIII, you’ll know what to expect…
A fan-favourite grind has returned, the long and tedious task of talking to every single person you meet, multiple times, in order to cross them off in your little black book as you take notes about their personality and situation. This is usually a pain for me as I end up missing people but I didn’t have an issue in Trails of Cold Steel III, I was too absorbed into the game and instinctively talked to everyone without even realising what I was doing. Similarly, collecting and reading books is another returning task – it’s like stamp collecting, only with books.
The other part of the grind was completing the fishing diary, which is much easier now (as I explained above), collecting every chest, and all the battle notes, which I didn’t have too many issues with. Just like previously, just fighting with someone isn’t enough, you have to scan every person you fight against. I had to finish this on my second playthrough because I didn’t realise you had to scan each ‘stage’ of a boss, so I missed scanning one of the final boss stages.
All in all, it wasn’t as bad as the previous games. Sure, you can’t go back and collect things you’ve missed, like chests and enemy notes, but as long as you equip the right ‘Orb’ which shows you all the chests on the map, it shouldn’t be an issue. Also, obtaining all of the endings was so much easier, I managed to get them all (bar a handful) on my first playthrough – you don’t even have to keep replaying a long stretch in between obtaining each one. Thankfully this time, NG+ lets you carry over almost everything, no point limitations like on previous games. You can carry levels, items, money, gems, all your battle, food and fishing notes, etc… So, completing the game on the hardest difficulty is a doddle!
Also, my second playthrough (by skipping pretty much every cutscene and forwarding every dialogue in the game) took me about 15 hours or so to complete on the hardest difficulty. The first took over 120 hours as I was making sure I found and completed everything whilst on normal difficulty.
I just wanted to give my brief opinion of the voice acting within the third instalment.
Although the voice actors may not be the same as we saw in the remasters/PS3 originals (as some of them sound a little different), they all do a great job of bringing the characters to life. As usual, you can play the entire game in both English or Japanese with about 85-90% of all written dialogue being spoken – the rest is simply on screen for you to read.
Also, one thing I forgot to mention – Nihon Falcom have decided to implement the hyper mode within this version as well. It took me a while to find it (tapping the left side of the touchpad) but this is probably the best mechanic in a game like this. Without it on, the game feels very slow and sluggish at times, especially in battles. With it on though, everything moves nice and fast.
I honestly doubted that Trails of Cold Steel III could beat the incredible experience I had with the previous two games, oh how I was wrong. Taking everything which made the first two games great, Nihon Falcom has created a more advanced and enhanced version of the game we all know and love. There’s little to fault when a game manages to keep me invested and hooked for over 120 hours on my first playthrough, sat on the edge of my seat with each and every revelation and event, both cheering and getting emotional along with the characters. JRPG fans have to buy this game, it’s mandatory if you’ve played the previous two and enjoyed them as you’re guaranteed to simply love this game without any doubt.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III far exceeded any and all expectations I had for the third instalment, it’s simply the best JRPG I’ve played this generation and I eagerly await the arrival of part four so that I can join Rean and friends on their next adventure…
Check out our PS4 reviews (by clicking on the names) for Trails of Cold Steel I, Trails of Cold Steel II, and Trails of Cold Steel IV – I’ve also re-reviewed the Nintendo Switch edition of Trails of Cold Steel III.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III£44.99
- - Brilliant story with great voice acting and overall narrative
- - Perfect combination of humorous and serious situations
- - New mechanics in the battles to bring new life into it as well as a multitude of characters to play as throughout the story
- - The new card game is really good and addictive
- - There's so much to do and see as you explore the massive world the developers have created. My advice, play the previous games first if you want to get the most out of this game
- - More linear than the second game, with no travel mechanic like last time
- - The visuals are a little dated but I understand why, it's the style of the game. However, some people may think it's a little basic for a PS4 game that isn't a port
- - Not as many silly costumes and accessories. Although, the game isn't technically out yet so these could arrive as DLC