When I was provided with a review copy for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV a few weeks ago, I had the same dilemma as I did with Yakuza 6 – I really want to play the game, as I’ve been waiting a long time for it, but I don’t want the story to end so I didn’t want to play it. However, I knew I had to bring the story to an end one day so I buckled up and over the course of 133 hours (within seven days) I had played the entire game twice, got the platinum, and became emotional a number of times! Today it’s time to bring the saga to a close (kinda) and talk about how much I love this series.
Developed by Nihon Falcom, the Gods of JRPG games, and published once again by NIS America, Trails of Cold Steel IV is the continuation of the previous game, bringing the story to a close and answering a lot of questions which were left unanswered. As such, as I’ve said within my last few reviews, if you’ve not played the previous games then you’re at a disadvantage – it’s not impossible to play this without playing those due to the comprehensive ‘catch up’ segment in the menu, but those who have experienced the previous events will enjoy this title much more.
So, after downloading the game, grabbing a drink, and preparing myself to possibly join Rean and Class VII on their final adventure, did it end up being a great conclusion or did it leave me wanting more? Let’s find out…
Trails of Cold Steel IV takes place two weeks after the exciting finale of Trails of Cold Steel III, meaning this review will contain some minor spoilers to the end of the third game.
Unlike previous entries, it’s going to be a long time before you get a chance to take control of Rean as he’s been captured by his father and locked away in an unknown dungeon along with Celine. Instead, you take control of the new Class VII which we were introduced to in the last game, Juna, Kurt and Altina. With the help of Rean’s original classmates and a few returning characters we saw during the finale of the previous game, the entire first act is dedicated to working out Rean’s whereabouts and planning a rescue mission.
Whilst this is going on, the entire world has seemingly gone to war with military officers deployed at every location you travel to within your search, as well as a mysterious force taking over people and their minds in conjunction with the Great Twilight. People aren’t fully in control of their thoughts and actions, not even those you once considered friends and family. There’s a lot more to the events than a simple war brewing, something much more significant and devastating is forming, something your team needs Rean to help you face and resolve.
Once you finally have Rean in your party, after around 15-20 hours, this is where the game opens up and things get serious! Just like previous games, the world is massive and full of things to do, see, find, and slaughter, only this time it’s much prettier and some of the mechanics have been redefined and adjusted for an even better gaming experience. Over the course of the game you’ll be joined by almost everyone you’ve played as in the previous titles plus a few new people – I can’t remember the exact number but I think it’s around 24 characters – easily making this the biggest roster and selection we’ve had so far in the series.
As the story develops, you’ll learn new things about the events prior, the reasoning behind what’s going on, and the backstory of characters which weren’t fully explained previously. This is a great bookend to the series as I wasn’t left with any questions or unanswered thoughts by the time the second ending passed, this is an essential purchase for fans of the series.
Trails of Cold Steel IV is just like the previous games, it’s a turn-based JRPG with a big emphasis on exploration, completing quests, and taking note of every person you meet, enemies you kill, and fish you catch. However, unlike the previous games, you’re not actually based in a school this time around as the facility has been taken over by those in favour of the war rather than those looking to learn. So, the class is on the road for this adventure, taking quests and missions from the locals for most of the game until you board an airship and get given mandatory missions as we saw in previous titles.
What this means is that the game is quite relaxed and less strict on what you want to do, allowing you to freely explore and investigate a number of locations once you have access to them, rather than pushing you down a linear path. Don’t get me wrong though, the game is as linear as the second game, but if you avoid the mandatory progression pathways, you can return to most areas if you feel you may have missed something (bar one or two one-off locations). What I love about this series is how you constantly return to places you’ve visited previously, like the Yakuza series, making each new entry a little nostalgiac.
Unlike Trails of Cold Steel III, despite this and that game being published by NIS America and not Marvelous like the first two, the game initially checks to see if you have any saves from all three previous games. You’ll get a generic set of consumables if it spots a save from any or all of the previous three games on your PS4 and it’ll also import your ‘clear save’ from Trails of Cold Steel III. The imported save grants you one of three bonuses based on what your reputation was like within that save, with the best reward giving you an accessory which isn’t even in Trails of Cold Steel IV by any other means, the Champion Medallion!
Now, as usual, let’s take a deeper look into the world of Trails of Cold Steel IV and what’s on offer in this 100+ hour adventure…
I’m very, very happy to say that Vantage Masters is back! If you’ve not played the third game, Vantage Masters replaced Blade as one of the main mini-games which you can play with key members in order to increase your relationship with them. The game is almost a lite version of games such as The Pokemon Card game and Hearthstone, requiring you to build a deck then draw cards and place them in order to combat the cards your opponent places as well as their main Master card. It’s a very addictive game and I lost literally hours in this as I tried to beat everyone.
A new mini-game, which you can play with 16 people as the game progresses, is Pom! Pom! Party – it’s basically Puyo Puyo only you can’t rotate the two-blob falling block, only swap the two colours around. This is yet another super addictive game in which you’re playing head-to-head with a CPU opponent which can frustrate you a lot more than you’ll initially anticipate! Seriously, some of the NPCs you play against are very, very good at the game, building up massive combos then using them against you so that your side rises up and forces you to lose. As with Vantage Masters, I spent hours playing this.
We see the return of a few other activities such as fishing, taking photos of landmarks, and cooking.
Fishing is the same as the last game – you simply hold down one button, releasing it when the fish struggles, then hold it again. It’s a simple mechanic which is fun and easy to perform and almost always will result in success. The photos are a fun distraction and let you explore the vast areas you travel to, rewarding you with some rather questionable candid snapshots of the female members of Class VII as a reward – including the Principle in her swimsuit! Cooking is as you’d expect, find the recipe, buy or find ingredients, then get various members to cook it to find all four variations of each dish.
Thankfully, Trails of Cold Steel IV has gone back to what we saw in Trails of Cold Steel II rather than Trails of Cold Steel III – the game is much more open than the linear structure we saw in the third and first game. When you begin your adventure you’ll only be able to access a few areas as you’re currently within a hidden village recovering from the events of the third game, but you’ll soon gain access to an airship that takes you to various places. As you progress, you’ll be able to return to a number of locations and the new map even highlights every location which has something new to experience.
I found this very helpful as there are a lot of collectables and people to talk to but you don’t want to tread on old-ground for no reason. So, having the game simply state ‘New’ next to a location, to let you know something or someone new is there, was great. We also see the return of Battle Chests, chests which only certain people can open if they’re in your team, pitting you against a strong enemy which gives you a good reward if you beat them.
Once again, Nihon Falcom has created Trails of Cold Steel IV to look and feel just like the previous games in the series, like an enhanced PS Vita title. As I’ve said previously – this isn’t a bad thing, they’ve just kept the same style throughout the series, it’s almost a visual style that is instantly recognisable as a Nihon Falcom game. We saw the same in titles like Ys VIII and Tokyo Xanadu eX+. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice any differences between this game and previous titles in the series – this one looks much cleaner on a 4K TV and everything felt more detailed and colourful. I’m not sure if there are PS4 Pro enhancements but I’d say it seemed like it was above a 1080p resolution.
I loved re-visiting places I’ve been previously and seeing how they’re doing and meeting up with old friends.
I honestly don’t have much to say about the combat if you’ve played the third game as the whole process is pretty much a copy/paste job! Now, don’t take that as a negative, the mechanics all worked perfectly so there was little need to change anything about it, but I would have liked a little more diversity just to differentiate it from the previous title. however, for those new to the series, here’s the gist of it…
Trails of Cold Steel IV is a JRPG with a turn-based combat system. To initiate a battle you either run into an enemy which is wandering around the overworld or you can attack them in order to gain an advantage pre-battle or even simply kill them on the field without fighting if you’re a much higher level.
Once you initiate combat, you play as four team members who can take an action based on their speed compared to the enemies, so you may interweave and alternate attacks with your foes. Your action can be either attacking, using an item, performing a magical ‘art’ or ‘craft’, or moving around the battlefield to get closer or further away from your target.
Arts are abilities you gain by equipping various ‘orbs’ to your character pre-battle – almost like Materia in Final Fantasy 7 – some are unique spells which you’ll learn as the game goes on. Crafts are special attacks which are unique to each person – as well as summoning giant mechs to perform a heavy attack once you gain access to them – and you have up to two S-Crafts which are much more powerful and resource-depleting attacks you can initiate.
Once you’re a few hours in, you’ll also have some support members as well as your active members who simply sit ‘on the bench’ so that you can swap between at any point within the battle – proving your not dead.
We also see the return of LINK, the ability to tie two characters together so that when you have enough Battle Points (BP), you can have your partner join in with the fun and smack the enemy after you, or you can all jump in and perform a four-way attack.
As your LINK bond increases, your partner will start doing automatic support throughout the battle as well, such as auto-healing you, countering the enemy, or providing a killing blow if you’ve reduced the enemies health low enough. It’s a really cool system that simply gets better without you having to do anything other than assigning people to one another.
Also, unlike previous games, if you are linked and one of the two people dies and is resurrected, they finally auto-LINK back to one another. Previous games didn’t do this and I always forgot to re-LINK them
BP can also be used to activate unique ‘orders’, again, just like in the third game. These are timed boosts or effects such as increasing your attacks for four turns or removing all positive enhancements on your foes. Although I barely touched these in the previous game, or in this one when playing on the easiest difficulty, it was essential to use them during my Nightmare playthrough!
No costume DLC for me!
I love having the opportunity to review these games pre-release, but it’s so annoying when I know that if I wait a few more weeks until it’s released, then I’ll be able to play the game with some silly costume DLCs! I loved the first two games as they came with all of the previous DLC due to them being remasters of the PS3 editions, yet Trails of Cold Steel III didn’t come with any on the PS4 as it was new, but the Switch edition once again came packed with a bunch of free decorative DLC to play with. As far as I’m aware, there will be day one DLC to expand your dressing up options and the Digital Deluxe edition comes with some as well (over 70 pieces).
So, knowing I was going to play the game for a long time without being able to dress up, I was on the lookout for something new to buy in every shop I came across, surely something will stand out as looking silly and perfect for my Class VII uniform! I didn’t find anything too exciting, as I couldn’t find the funny glasses with a fake nose as I wore in Trails of Cold Steel II, but I did find a few of those mini people who cling to your arm – sold! You also get a few costumes and variants as you play through the game – including spa bathrobes for anyone you take into the spa with you and swimwear – but you don’t seem to get as many ‘lewd’ costumes as previously – at least not in the base game.
However, once you complete the game and you get a long list of things you can carry over, you have the option for alternative costumes. Two of which stood out, Rean and Emma’s Astral Forms. These are basically the two characters stark naked (with no reproductive organs) but with a few glowing tattoos on their bodies. Clearly, these became my outfits of choice for the second playthrough! Disappointingly, there’s a lack of costumes for the old class VII and new characters other than maybe removing a hat or glasses. I imagine the majority of their new get-ups will be in the form of paid DLC.
As with the previous game, you’ll also find many new hair colours for your team in chests and shops around the world, allowing you to change the hair colour into whatever you want it to be. I found it quite funny as the team constantly question Rean’s hair colour (for reasons I won’t say), yet I turned it back to the normal colour almost as soon as I found him due to finding his original hair somewhere.
One thing I loved about the ‘New Game Plus’ options though was the ability to dress up all the characters before you even meet them! As soon as you have control in the first act, you can literally apply all the unlocked costumes and accessories to everyone you’re about to meet that become part of your team. This may sound pointless but it means the first cutscenes you see these characters in will be whilst they’re all dressed up how you want them to be, rather than having to wait until they’re in your team. So yeah, I put the principle in her two-piece swimsuit as soon as possible! No reason…
One of my biggest highlights for the last three games was the very energetic and lovable Millium, who we sadly lost at the end of the third game when she transformed into a sword which Valimar used in combat. However, with her sad departure from the game, does this mean that the tone has got more serious and the lewd behaviour has been stripped out of the narrative – hell no! You have the option to bathe with whoever you want throughout the game and bathing with certain people will initiate special events – some of which get quite risque and naughty. At one point, as you can see above, Roselia (Emma’s grandmother with a child-like appearance) starts talking about Juna’s big boobs and then proceeds to grabbing her from behind and fondling them!
There is quite a lot of bathing moments like that where the girls will be talking about their boobs or hinting at sexual thoughts with the guys who are also there. The game never gets too lewd or shows anything though, it’s just harmless fun which has been present within all the games so far in the series – just now it’s minus the crazy Millium 🙁
The whole tone of the game is also very similar to what we’ve seen before, it’s a serious underlined story but there are some comic relief characters that are very funny and changes the mood instantly. Some of the things they come out with are comedy gold and had me laughing for a while. However, the opposite is similar as there are a number of emotional moments and surprises which will shock and tug on your heartstrings. The writing is really well-done and I loved every second of the game, even when it got very, very difficult in later battles…
As with the previous games, I played Trails of Cold Steel IV on the easiest difficulty at first, as I knew there was going to be at least two playthroughs for the platinum trophy. This was quite easy as I was taking out enemies without too much trouble. It also helped that the new level cap for this game is 200, although I think I only got to around 120 by the end of my first playthrough. My ‘issues’ started when I began New Game Plus as I was expecting the game to be just as easy on the hardest difficulty as I now had the best gear and weapons in the game.
The first half of the game went as easily as the first playthrough, but then something strange happened – the game got hard. I actually found myself struggling on the Nightmare difficulty and I honestly nearly gave up as I couldn’t beat a certain boss. She was able to regenerate over 15k health each turn and had over 350k health, but my characters were only taking off around 3-5k with each hit. It was a constant struggle for hours. I then realised if I did a certain spell or attack, it reduced her health regen to only 3k, meaning I could slowly chip away at her – finally. This was the start of more rather difficult battles.
I know ‘Nightmare’ implies it’s gonna be hard, but this is the first time I’ve had issues in any of the games in the series, as well as Tokyo Xanadu eX+, during NG+. It was actually quite refreshing and forced me to think about what I was doing more.
What kinda annoyed me was that my Nightmare run was basically ‘make a B-line to the goal and progress without fighting’. That’s not a good stance, as I found out. NG+ started me off on around level 145-150 (I don’t recall ever being that high but I’m not complaining). However, I ended the Platinum run on level 152 – I went up two levels in some cases – and that’s after forcing myself to grind later on in the game.
So, either the experience you get on Nightmare is tiny, balanced out with the massive increase to the enemies health, or the XP level requirements is increased to a stupidly high number when you’re at level 150+.
Oh Nihon Falcom, you just love making us work for the platinum don’t you – it’s not hard work, but it’s certainly long and tedious sometimes! If you’ve played their games before, it’s more of the same – you have to catch all the fish (although it’s easier like in the third game as each fishing spot initially gives you a set fish), talk to all the NPCs to complete your little black diary, find all the books and pages, obtain all Quartz (so you have to beat everyone at Pom! Pom!), obtain all Vantage Master cards, open all chests, document all enemies, etc… It’s a very, very big checklist of things to do.
Most of the checklists are fine as you can carry the stats over, such as what cooking recipes you’ve unlocked and cooked, which people you’ve spoken too (which is much easier this time around as you really only talk to people in a few chapters), the books you’ve collected, and what fish you’ve found. The enemy list is a bit more time consuming and tricky as you have to scan every single enemy before you kill them, otherwise it doesn’t count. The one that operated differently this time around was the bonding sessions with your team for the various endings.
As usual, you have to bond with specific people to see their ending, then reload and pick someone else. On your first run, it’s impossible to get everyone because you don’t have enough options to bond with people. In NG+ you can have maximum bonding points, allowing you to max out almost everyone before the final choice. The ‘issue’ is that in Trails of Cold Steel IV, the game DOESN’T carry over your bond levels. So, you can max out your bonding points but you have to re-bond with everyone from scratch, which is strange as the previous games all carried over how the others felt about you. It’s not a problem as I got all of them in two playthroughs, but it’s a slight inconvenience I guess.
The one thing I hate is opening the chests – if you miss a single one then you have to collect every single chest on your next playthrough as no stats carry over. I admit that for this I used a Japanese guide that just told me how many I should have opened at the end of each act – this allowed me to ensure I had every one of them up to that point. I don’t like using guides for games but sometimes you just have to!
Just like all of the previous games, you have the option to speed things up – which is awesome. Touch the left side of the touchpad and you turn on ‘High-Speed mode’, this makes your walking, attacking, and all animations to move at about 2-4 times the normal speed. I had this turned on all the time – turning it off made the game feel like I was playing in slow motion. I get that some people will like playing really slow, but I can’t emphasis enough how much this one simple option enhances the overall gameplay – every JRPG should have this option!
Trails of Cold Steel IV looks so colourful, clear, defined, and more detailed than previous games in the series. As I said earlier, they’ve kept the visual design the same as prior titles, so it does look like an enhanced Vita game, but that just means the Switch edition next year will most likely run perfectly, just like Trails of Cold Steel III did a few months back. The special attacks, powerful abilities, and unique moves all look great with their particle and light-heavy visuals – I just wished the game had some sort of HDR usage as it would have really popped if it did.
In terms of voices, I believe the English cast is the same as what we saw in the third game but some characters sounded different. I know all the main characters are the same, but some of the minor and original Class VII team sounded strange – but I’ve not played the older games for a while so it could just be me. Speaking of the vocal work, I played the entire game in English and loved every second of it – the voice actors did a great job and I highly recommend people play it in English. that’s not dissing the Japanese vocals (which you can also select), as they’re good too, I just like that a Japanese game has a brilliant English dub (well, maybe not the repetitive one-liners the characters say over and over again if you go idle).
In regards to the rest of the audio, the music is phenomenal. I heard some recognisable and memorable tunes which I’ve heard in previous entries, but I also heard some new tracks which pull you into the game and fully immerse you with the events which are going on. I don’t know if they will but I really want NIS America to put the soundtracks on PSN. Although, with the way the PSN Store is changing (for the worse), I have no idea what’s going to happen to the soundtracks option!
I have no idea what the performance or resolution numbers are, I’m not going to lie. However, in 133 hours the game didn’t crash once, the gameplay was super smooth (like 60fps or 30fps with motion blur), and the game looked really clear on my 4K TV. I would love it if all four of the games got some form of PS5 upgrade but I know the first two are 4K at 60fps, so maybe the latter two just need a little bump?
* I’ve just looked on the PSN Store and it doesn’t indicate that there are any PS4 Pro enhancements – so it ‘could’ just be 1080p – then again, Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t state PS4 Pro enhanced either and that certainly does use the extra power *
The Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV delivers the perfect conclusion to the epic saga of Class VII. All our questions are answered, we get to reunite with every character we’ve bonded with over the years, and it all comes together into a spectacular finale which won’t disappoint fans of the series. There’s so much to see, do, interact with, and ‘collect’, the world is massive and the game actively encourages you to explore and investigate every location as if it’s your last chance to do so – providing addictive mini-games and funny events to keep you occupied between slaughtering enemies.
If you’ve played any of the previous games and you liked them, this game is an essential purchase. If you’ve not played the games then I recommend you play them in order but you can read the thorough ‘catch up’ documentation within the game as it’ll tell you everything that happened in each game – I read this to remind myself as it’s been a while since I played them.
I’m sad to see the book close on the Trails of Cold Steel arc, but seeing as a new game in the long-running franchise has just come out in Japan, I can’t wait to see what Nihon Falcom gives us next! Apparently, the latest game, The Legend of Heroes: Hajimari no Kiseki, features Lloyd, Rean, Class VII and other returning characters as it continues the Great Twilight events and what happened after this game – it also seems to have PSVR support for some reason. So, although The Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is technically the final instalment in this particular series, the new game links all the prior ‘Trails’ games together.
Also, I’ve just found out that both The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure (both Japanese only PSP and Vita games) are being remastered as HD 60fps PS4 titles over in Japan – based on the PSP version, not the Vita one, but with modernised features. So, all being well, we may actually get three new Legends of Heroes games announced as coming to the West in the next 12 months!
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
- - Perfect conclusion to a brilliant saga
- - Although playing a lot like the third game, there's a number of improvements and new mechanics which enhance the experience
- - Emotional and exciting finale to the series
- - Great voice acting and music
- - Will eaisly take you over 100 hours to complete and platinum
- - There doesn't appear to be any PS4 Pro enhancements, I hope the next game has PS5 upgrades
- - Now I have to wait for the next games to announce a release date!