When a fanbase follows a series for many years they become worried about any small changes that may come their way and with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III more than a few big changes were on the way. Not only was there a three year wait instead of the usual one year to see the game be released in the West for the first time on the PlayStation 4, but it also was coming at the hands of a completely different publisher. It wasn’t just changes outside of the game that fans had to worry about as The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III comes off of a major story arc’s conclusion in the previous game and now features more than a few adjustments as a result. With so much change to contend with, is Nihon Falcom’s deft hand at development still as strong as ever?
Being the third game in a series that itself takes place in a larger franchise gives The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III a fairly high barrier to entry but perhaps due to its nature of being the first entry developed for the PlayStation 4 the game also happens to feature an extensive “story so far” that covers not only the events that took place over the course of the first two games but also character biographies and explanations about various pieces of world history. That being said, even with this fairly in-depth effort to keep new players from being lost at entry this recap mostly works best as a refresher course for longtime fans than anything else and even then those who haven’t played other games in The Legend of Heroes franchise will still be missing out on a few elements so be wary of that.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III takes place a year and a half after the events of the previous game that saw the land immersed in a civil war that finally came to a conclusion. While the rest of Class VII chose to graduate from Thors Military Academy early and chase after their own goals, Rean Schwarzer not only stayed through as a student but has now begun working as a teacher at the newly established Thors Military Academy Branch Campus. As a teacher Rean begins instructing a brand new Class VII featuring an almost entirely new cast of characters with only one familiar face being among his pupils. All is not well however as political unrest continues and although the flames of war have faded the embers are ready to reignite across the land.
Since so much worldbuilding has taken place over the course of the first two entries in the series The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III doesn’t take its time getting the narrative rolling and this quick start works quite well with the fact that the writers continue to show their mastery over crafting an engrossing storyline that will keep players wanting to push forward to see what happens next, though fans should be prepared for a storyline that is darker in nature even compared to the events of the second game. It is also worth noting that another certain aspect from the first game, alongside the school-life aesthetic, in the series has returned in this story and it happens to be the fact that a massive cliffhanger awaits those who reach the lengthy storyline and although the fourth entry has already been released in Japan, fans will be left waiting until the localization to see just how things play out this time.
Now it is worth noting that Nihon Falcom took a fairly large risk here as swapping out familiar characters that fans have grown attached to over the course of the last two games is quite jarring, it speaks volumes about the writers’ skill that the new members of Class VII quickly fall into place and feel like characters we’ve known for quite some time. This is partially thanks to the fact that the class itself is smaller and allows for each member of the class to get a little extra time to shine but also thanks to how well they integrate with the story as a whole while rarely overshadowing important reunions with old members of Class VII and various other interactions with returning characters, creating an organic introduction of quite a few new characters that is rare when a series is already on its third entry.
It is interesting to note that the skill of the original Japanese writers only shines through thanks to how adept the localization team at NIS America has been with this translation. Generally this wouldn’t even be worth mentioning unless there were grammatical errors or rampant misspellings but given the fact that the series has transitioned publishers and translators midway through, it is easy to say that fans of the series should not be concerned about the new localization team as the dialogue still retains the same feeling as the original two games.
In an interesting fashion The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III manages to recapture a bit of what the first game in the series had as it places players once again in a school campus. Here players will find very similar gameplay elements that see them interacting with their Class VII students, traveling around campus and having free time while also being able to venture into a dungeon to train. Even the field exercises aspect to drive the story makes a return making the game feel very familiar to the first but considering the new cast, this works well as a core structure.
For the most part combat in the game remains very similar to before as players will have four party members battling against enemies in a turn based system. The most immediate change that fans will notice is that the various battle commands now make use of the D-pad and face buttons for quicker access. These include regular attacks, using an item, moving around the battlefield for positioning, and of course the returning Arts, which is magic that takes time to cast, and Crafts that are immediate but vary depending on what the unit has equipped, as well as the new Brave Order system.
Brave Orders make use of “Brave Points,” that are also used to perform linked attacks, to issue status boosting buffs that vary depending on the character issuing the order. These range from defense boosts to immediate spell casting and can play a large role in how some more difficult fights play out. Players also can now inflict “Break” status to enemies by repeatedly attacking them with everything they have with broken enemies receiving higher damage for a time.
Another nice little tweak comes in the form of the Divine Knight and Panzer Soldat mech battles. While these fights primarily only featured single unit fights players will now find that they will be having at least two giant mechs fighting on their side at any time. This helps make these already intense looking battles even better. For those who want things a bit speedier, there is also a “turbo” mechanic that will speed up the pace of combat and cutscenes that play when a character uses a special move are also skippable. Along those same lines the game also features five different difficulty options to keep it accessible to those who may be rusty or unfamiliar with the game’s mechanics as they range from being incredibly easy to incredibly hard, though longtime fans will likely want to begin on hard as normal plays a bit too easy.
Outside of the standard story progression players will find that The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III still has plenty of various side tasks that they can sink time into. This includes a deck-building card game called Vantage Masters that allows players to challenge most NPCs to card battles, a number of other smaller mini-games, and of course plenty of side quests that can offer some surprisingly enjoyable story developments as well as worthwhile rewards.
Visuals & Audio
With The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III marking the first entry in the series developed solely for the PlayStation 4 the game has seen a solid jump in presentation and ends up looking fairly good as a whole. There is some solid variety in the places that players will be traveling with most of these areas also appearing larger in size compared to previous entries and the various character models are more impressive looking than before, especially when it comes to some of the flashy moves that can be performed in battle. That being said, don’t expect too much of a significant jump here compared to other JRPGs that have made their way to the console.
NIS America has put quite a bit of effort in making sure that nearly all of the original English voice actors have reprised their roles in the series and they continue to impress in their roles here though if players choose, there is the original Japanese voice track as an option. As far as the soundtrack goes, the series continues to be impressive as there are a number of great pieces of background music that vary throughout the game while exploring and entering combat.
Fans of the series were likely a bit worried about just how The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III would turn out thanks to the numerous changes within the game and publisher but thankfully those worries can be put to rest. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III‘s English release lives up to the series’ quality so far and excels in telling a lengthy gripping storyline filled with plenty of side-content and a slightly more refined combat system. It may not make the most of its transition to the PlayStation 4 and the wait until the fourth game is released may be long, but this third entry in the series does not disappoint.