The third entry in the Cold Steel sub-series of Falcom’s long-running The Legend of Heroes is finally here in the form of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III and boy is it an experience for JRPG fans. Read on to find out why we here at GearNuke love the franchise and why you should get into the series as soon as possible if you haven’t already.
Trails of Cold Steel III was released in Japan back in 2017 and series fans in the West have been waiting for the game to get localized for a long time. It was especially hard to wait since Trails games tend to end on pretty heavy cliffhangers that leave things unresolved, setting up a ton of hype for the next installment. NIS America took over the localization of the game over from XSEED, who previously did an excellent job of bringing forth the series to the West. Although fans were hesitant at first considering the whole YS VIII debacle, NISA put in considerable effort to make sure that it never happens again with them even bringing over localization staff from previous games to work on the project. With the game finally, here, all I can say is that even though the localization wasn’t at XSEED’s level, NISA actually did do a competent job considering the game’s script is larger than the Lord of the Rings series and all seven Harry Potter books.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III takes place around a year and a half after the concluding events of Cold Steel II with protagonist Rean Schwarzer now working as a professor at the newly opened Thors Military Academy Branch Campus located in Leeves, right outside Heimdallr the Imperial Capital. The new campus will feature some familiar as well as new faces as the faculty and students. Cold Steel III is similar to Sky SC and Azure in the sense that it brings forth many characters from previous games into the plot, which had been limited to mentions only in the previous two Cold Steel games. Without spoiling much, if you’ve played previous games in the series, then this will be carrying over many character stories and events.
This brings me to the discussion whether Cold Steel III is a good entry point for the series, which as a series veteran who has played all the games including Zero and Azure which haven’t been localized yet, I would never agree with. Trails of Cold Steel III is very plot-heavy and is by design a game to bring together the Sky and Crossbell games to work towards a much bigger overarching plot. It’s like Game of Thrones really, with Cold Steel III being one of the later seasons with the characters finally coming together for a final battle, which concludes in Cold Steel IV.
My only major complaint with the story this time around is that the pacing is very slow, as the various field studies slow down plot development to a crawl although to be fair it does deliver on some explore events on the last day. The game’s plot follows a simple structure, a couple of school event days followed field studies in cities across Erebonia which conclude with an explosive set of battles towards the end. I just wish the game had more of the faster development and bombastic events were seen at the end of the field studies rather than the almost mandatory sidequests and character events. However that’s just me, some people really like the world-building of Kiseki, me being one of them, however, I did feel Cold Steel III was slower than previous games in the series.
The battle system is a direct evolution from Cold Steel II, taking inspiration from Persona 5 in moving the commands to the PS4’s face buttons which makes the gameplay much faster, to be honest. The battle system features tweaks all around, nerfing Arts this time around and removing the Overdrive system. We do get a new Brave Order system, which allows characters to issue special orders using Brave Points that greatly influence the battle. Series fans will feel familiar with the battle system of course but thankfully it features enough improvements and tweaks to keep things fresh. The Divine Knight battles, however, this time around have been made too easy, unfortunately, and I was constantly cheesing my way through every single one of them. Overall I’m a huge fan and Cold Steel III’s battle system is the best so far, the addition of face and directional button shortcuts especially was genius.
Soundwise FST (Falcom Sound Team) has done a great job again with some amazing tracks popping up throughout the game. The final dungeon track and well as the final boss battle track are my favorites. I was really hoping for ‘Geofront’ from Zero to play when visiting a certain area in the game as its one of my favorite tracks from the whole series, but I was disappointed by the exclusion, maybe in Cold Steel IV eh? Voice Acting is pretty great too with Sean Chiplock as Rean delivering my favorite performance of him so far, however, voiced lines are pretty rare throughout the game and it honestly feels weird. Appallingly most of the time some of the characters would have voiced lines while others would be just mute which kills the immersion. Hopefully, Cold Steel IV has a bigger voice budget to remedy this.
The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel III delivers upon fans expectations with improvements across the board and numerous QOL upgrades. The storyline is ramping up for an explosive entry and we here honestly can’t wait for Cold Steel IV to drop.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Rean Schwarzer uncovers a dark plot that threatens his homeland. To face their enemies, he must prepare a new generation of heroes as an instructor at a new branch campus and guide them towards victory.
Final Score - 9/109/10
Trails of Cold Steel III is one of the best games of the year and a must-play for RPG fans everywhere.