Trails of Cold Steel III Review – A Legendary RPG Series Continues

    Title: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Developer: Falcom
    Release Date: October 22, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: NISA
    Genre: JRPG

By now, The Legend of Heroes series needs little introduction. Most RPG fans have heard of it at one point or another, and it continues to grow its history of the fictional continent of Zumuria. Long-time fans who are deep into the lore could sit you down and explain this history as if it were their own. This loyalty is a testament to just how well planned and detailed this world truly is.

It’s this history that makes fans so stern on proper localization, and they’ll be the first to call out any deviations from the Japanese script. When it comes to the Falcom’s newest entry in the series, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, western publisher NISA decided to try their hand at localizing this beast of a game. Everything is here that Trails of Cold Steel fans love. However, it does rely heavily on its history and is structured similar to the previous entries.

Trails of Cold Steel III begins by introducing a new class of students. Much like the beats of the previous entries. Players get a chance to see a future event and then experience how the story led up to this by going back a couple of months. What we learn is that there’s now a new Thor’s Academy branch for students not accepted at the main campus. Interestingly enough, the main protagonist of the series, Rean, is beginning his first day of teaching at the school and learns that he will also be the instructor of a new Class VII, made up of three characters, Altina, Juna, and Kurt.

In many ways, Trails of Cold Steel III is a lot like Trails of Cold Steel. However, this time around, you get to see the perspective of the teacher instead of just being the “confused student.” Sadly, that doesn’t mean you’ll be in the loop with everything that is going on because the developers seem to love huge reveals. Rean isn’t Sara, and he tries to bring his style of teaching to his new position. The other staff members at the school are people from Rean’s past, which makes for some pleasant reunions as well as awkward situations. Following the introduction, the students head out on field exercises, and those who are familiar with the series will feel right at home with the layout of completing tasks and exploring.

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The story of Trails of Cold Steel III, while it seems to bowers from Trails of Cold Steel, presents it in a way that doesn’t make it feel too repetitive. Rean isn’t as good at keeping secrets as Sara was and tries to be with the students as much as possible. The game also acts as an in-between arc where each new city visited has at least one person from Rean’s past. Whether it be an old classmate or just someone from the military, Rean is still the most famous person in this world. It does get rather annoying how “perfect” the writing for Rean is. He is exceptionally naive when it comes to everyone hitting on him and is still just the most polite and understanding person. Sure he gets raddled sometimes, but it’s tough to see faults in a guy this humble and modest, which makes it tough to relate to him.

What balances this out are the other characters. Altina, Juna, and Kurt are each trying to grow in this world and have characteristics that define them, but could use some growth. Experiencing that growth was beautiful to see and helped move this incredibly long story along because you want to see them succeed. Given that the school is so small, it’s easy to understand and spend time with each of the students as you learn about them. Side stories and side missions are now a little more personal because you care about each student.

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Trails of Cold Steel III’s writing is continually trying to hold information from the player, but at the same time, tease them for upcoming reveals. It’s a weird way to tell a story when its the third entry of it. I mean, the game opens up as if you don’t know Rean’s name. The argument might be that it’s for people who haven’t played the previous titles, but if that’s the case, then you will significantly be confused while playing through this game.

Trails of Cold Steel III is not kind to anyone who hasn’t played Trails in the Sky and the previous Trails of Cold Steel entries. What also makes for some harsh story elements to follow are the constant references to the Crossbell Arc, a series that we haven’t received in the west. Trails of Cold Steel III isn’t a game that can be jumped straight into without knowledge of these previous stories, and the game rarely sits you down to explain everything. Luckily, there is an option on the main menu that lets you read summaries of the previous titles, but they don’t include everything.

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During field exorcizes, players can take on requests and explore the towns. The game is semi-linear in that you aren’t allowed to poke your head in places that you aren’t supposed to. Every pivotal event or area of interest is on the map, and theirs some various side-activities that you can take on. Players who wish to get everything from this world can do so by talking to every NPC, multiple times, and completing every quest.

Trails of Cold Steel III is an extremely long game. The game can take over 100 hours to finish or more, depending on how much time you spend talking to characters and completing quests. There are fewer Chapters in this entry, but their is so much more happening in each that you’ll get to the end of Chapter Three and realize you are 55 hours into the game. Expect a slow reveal of information in this title as you are continually learning new things, and you find yourself on the frontline of a brewing war.

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The battle system may look like previous entries in the series, but it has some new features that make it perhaps one of the best iterations so far. Players have many options to make the tougher battles more manageable such as orders that give a stat boost to characters along with a new Arcus II that lets you link characters for added effects. Additionally, the animations for the special attacks are each wonderful to view.

There’s also the return of battles using Panzer Soldat where players can get into some mech action. These battles switch the mechanics of enough to add a new layer of strategy to fights. Encounters in this game never feel repetitive with the constant new stream of guest characters and unique enemy types. The entire experience for me was positive, and I commend the developer for making such an intuitive and addictive turn-based battle system.

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Environments have good and bad qualities about them. The good is that the series has never looked better. The developer puts a lot of detail into making this world unique. It’s difficult not to want to explore each house, dungeon, and setting. The bad is that this world still looks dated, even the character animations during cutscenes are pretty lacking in the graphical department. Still, the game does manage to be beautiful where it counts, and the character’s walk animations and designs are the best they’ve ever been.

The music in the game isn’t as memorable as previous entries, but each track is decent. When it comes to the English voiced audio, many actors reprised their roles, and they each did a great job. I played the game through parts using the Japanese audio and English audio options, and the only difference is that the Japanese audio is significantly lower in volume than the English audio. When it comes to the localization, I though NISA did an excellent job and making this world make sense, and the issues that I did see will all be addressed in a day one patch.

One feature that I enjoyed is the speed up option, which significantly increases the speed of the game. Speeding up time makes level grinding much easier if you’re having trouble with bosses and want to become a little stronger. It also speeds up moving from point A to point B and the slowness of some of the camera work. The dialog can also be fast-forwarded through and skipped, which was great because I got stuck in a glitch at one point and had to load a save file from an hour before. Thankfully, most of that hour was characters talking, so I just skipped right through it.

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III has a story that series fans will love. The conclusion is a build-up to one of the greatest moments of storytelling, and yet it’s still a cliffhanger. I enjoyed everything about this game, but only because I’ve put time into the previous entries, which I’m afraid alienates anyone looking to make this their first entry in the series, even with the optional story summary. Every moment of this game feels like a reunion, and expertly presents the passage of time in this world.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is a fantastic game, simple as that. It’s attention to detail, whether it be in the updated systems, world-building, or character growth, each plays a role in making this one of the best JRPG of this generation, with graphics that belong in the last generation. I’m fully immersed in this world, and the story that it’s telling, all I want is talk about it with others. Now, if only I can keep myself from reading ahead to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV until it releases in the west.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.