From Nihom Falcom, acclaimed developer of the Ys JRPG series, comes The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3. Quite possibly the best JRPG series of recent years, the Trails of Cold Steel (TOCS) is a perfect mix of thrilling plot lines, rounded characters, and incredibly enjoyable combat mechanics.
While the third game in the series is rich with backstory and includes appearances of past characters, TOCS III is a great place to start for those who want to get into the series but don’t want to go back and play the first two games. There are information logs available in the in-game menu for those who want to brush up on some of the lore.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is available on the PS4.
The game is well-paced with cinematics and cutscenes placed perfectly throughout. The transitions from gameplay to cutscene were so smooth that at time it felt like a film I was able to control. Furthermore, there is good, light humor placed all throughout the game.
The previous two titles in the Trails of Cold Steel series followed a group of students at a military academy known as Class VII. All members of the class had incredibly different backgrounds and political points of view. As a result, the students started off hating each other, but learned to understand their differences and love each other for them. Together, in the midst of a civil war, Class VII fought together despite their differences and familial ties.
The Aftermath of War
Trails of Cold Steel 3 picks up after the end of the Erebonian Civil War. With the war now over, I questioned the need for a third title in the series and wondered how Falcom could ever match such an epic story. Focussing solely on the narrative, I realized that in some ways the period following a war is likely filled with just as much hardship as the war itself.
In the real world, WW1 and WW2 taught us that national turmoil left unaddressed can turn to anger and vengeance. Therefore, the aftermath of any war is a very delicate period. It can be a time of peace and healing, or it can be a calm before a second storm.
Surely, there is less immediate action and drama during a time of peace. However, exploring the characters affected by this war, both on the winning and losing sides of it, has led to an interesting story in it’s own right. The Trails of Cold Steel 3 follows Rean Schwarzer, who has now come full circle, finding himself as a teacher at the academy he graduated from not too long ago.
Rean is put in charge of the new Class VII, a group of misfits whose backgrounds send them clashing against each other from the get go. Will the embers left over from the civil war die out and allow the land to recover and be at peace or will they spark a fire larger than the last? Can Rean lead his class to greatness or will his inexperience prove too great an obstacle? All will be answered in the Trails of Cold Steel 3.
The best thing about the Trails of Cold Steel series is its gameplay. The relationship building and battle mechanics keep you constantly engaged in every aspect of the game. However, it must be said that there were occasional fetch quests, which proved to be more tedious than fun.
A truly great RPG is a combination of a story so interesting that it makes you want to push forward to the next cutscene and next bit of dialogue. At the same time, the battle mechanics should be so well-balanced that you never feel like you are grinding to get to the goal. The battles themselves should be desirable and the Trails of Cold Steel III has definitely delivered.
Luckily, we again have the convenient ability to fast travel to locations within buildings and areas within towns and settlements. Furthermore, the developers have included a high speed mode, where the entire game is set to three to four times the normal speed. This includes walking, running, spoken dialogue, text, and cutscenes.
What impresses me most about Falcom is that they somehow manage to improve upon the battle mechanics with each game in the series. In the Trails of Cold Steel I and II, you would choose an action by scrolling through a menu wheel. The menu was well-designed and easy to navigate. However, in TOCS 3 every action is mapped to a single button, taking advantage of both the directional pad and the action buttons.
One slightly clunky area of the gameplay in the previous two games was the engagement of enemies. In order to start the battle with an advantage, players would have to sneak up behind an enemy and hit them. Once the enemy was dazed, you would then have to run up to them and the battle would commence. Your party gets to act first in the battle. Furthermore, you receive stats bonuses, depending on the level of the advantage (single, double, or triple).
Luckily, this engagement mechanic has been changed and now you have the option to do a power strike. If the power strike hits the enemy in the back, you will automatically be thrown into battle with the highest possible advantage.
Graphics and Audio
I remember playing a demo for this game last year at Tokyo Game Show 2018. The graphics were incredibly stunning, polished, and fluid. Playing TOCS 3 on a standard PS4, I still felt like I was at a game show. I marveled at how clear and beautiful everything looked.
One graphics highlight would be the S-class crafts, which are the equivalent of limit breaks from the Final Fantasy games. The animations for the S-class crafts are well-animated, making you look forward to the next time you can unleash them.
Inverted Camera Bug
While this may just be a bug on the PS4, the camera vertical controls are mislabeled. There are two options: normal and inverted. However, they are flipped. Meaning when you Select “normal” pushing the thumbstick up will cause the camera to tilt downward. Reversely, pushing the thumbstick down will cause the camera to tilt upward. This is a very minor bug that may only exist on PS4 and can easily be worked around.
Voice Acting & Soundtrack
The sheer amount of voice acting done for the game is admirable. It truly gives it an extra polish, keeping you more engaged into every conversation. It definitely wasn’t necessary, but the fact that the developer went that extra mile shows their dedication to the series. Needless to say, the extra voice acting definitely paid off.
The soundtrack is well-composed and perhaps the best soundtrack out of the three games in the series. The background music and theme song are fast-paced. As a result, they make you feel like you’re a character in an anime, crafting each turn in the story with every battle you win and decision you make.
At the same time, the more mellow beats match the tone of the story perfectly. In the end, this helps create a fluid experience of the story.