Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Switch, PC
Release Date: Available Now (PS4) April 9, 2021 (Switch) PC (2021)
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $89.95 AUD – Available Here
There have been many long running video game franchises throughout the years but most of these series change things up from time to time in the form of reboots, spin-offs, and numbered entries that tell an entirely new story with no relation to past events. When a series does try to tell a long-running narrative, it also tends to not be an RPG of all things and that is what makes The Legend of Heroes franchise something special, especially in regards to the Trails of Cold Steel set of games. Telling a grand story arc over the span of six years across four games that feature some story elements introduced over a decade ago, it will be a challenge to see if The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV manages to stick the landing with its current arc before the series continues in the future, so have they succeeded?
While it may be obvious, it is worth mentioning right out of the gate that Trails of Cold Steel IV is not friendly to newcomers in any form and any attempt to try and glean details from contents provided within the game will not be enough to understand most of the events happening in the game. In fact, thanks to the addition of older characters from outside the Trails of Cold Steel storyline, even those who have only played these releases will still feel a bit out of the loop when it comes to some interactions and references to events that have happened in earlier games.
Only two weeks have passed after the climactic battle at the end of Trails of Cold Steel III and now the new Class VII must not only deal with the fallout of these events but try and make a comeback by bringing everyone back together despite the significant loss that they’ve just endured. Since things quickly begin to enter spoiler territory given the immediate results that players will need to be dealing with, we’re going to refrain from mentioning specific details about the story and instead focus on the meat of what has always made the Trails of Cold Steel series great, the character development and the non-stop worldbuilding that has allowed the series to develop into such a massive tale.
Throughout the series players have seen numerous story threads woven together to reveal various twists and turns that have kept them guessing and while some of these plot threads have been solved before, it all comes to a head here in Trails of Cold Steel IV and we can thankfully state that the writers have managed to stick a fairly solid landing this time around as nearly every plot point comes together in one form or another as players progress through the game. Given the scale of the world building and the conflict that the characters find themselves embroiled in, there is a certain sense of excitement and dread at times that the story can easily convey whenever key story elements are revealed or characters make drastic decisions, especially for the longtime fans who have been with some of these characters for four roughly hundred hour long RPGs.
It is a bit unfortunate however that while the grand overarching storyline is handled exceptionally well, the pacing itself is a bit on the rough side and the game suffers a bit from having far too many characters to know how to handle them all. To begin with, while dealing with the initial fallout from what happened at the end of the previous game reveals new sides to the new members of Class VII as they step up to the plate and take on more responsibility and try to lead their comrades, this slowly ends up becoming a bit of a grind as players will find the plot boiling down to having to track down characters to add them to their cause or solve a simple problem that takes far longer than it should.
As mentioned before, another aspect that hinders Trails of Cold Steel IV a bit is the fact that it suffers from bloat. By trying to tell such a grand tale it also brings with it all of the available members of the new Class VII, the older members of the graduated Class VII, and even main characters from both the Crossbell and Trails in the Sky series as both playable and plot relevant characters. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue as a whole if it weren’t for the fact that all of these characters are meant to be interacting with one another all while an intricate storyline is being told in the background. As a result only some of these characters actually get a chance to shine, especially later when there are over ten characters all trying to chime in on a single conversation.
The writing team does try its best to try and balance interactions as much as they can but it quickly will become evident that most of the new Class VII members are given the focus here, even when it comes to interacting with those from Sky and Crossbell, meaning fans of the original cast of characters from the first two games will continue to be disappointed here. This large cast of characters is fitting given the fact that the story culminates here, but it does mean that those characters that don’t have proper development are left to be rather one-note in nature and simply go off of what players are expected to already know of them from past experiences.
That isn’t to say that the story is bad by any means since, as mentioned, the overarching storyline is an epic tale that has been built up to such a grand scale over the years with many characters that players have come to know so players will not want to miss out on this, despite the fact that character bloat hurts overall development and the pacing is a bit rough. It is also worth noting that players should be prepared for both a standard ending as well as a true ending that requires a bit of extra work that is fairly easy to unlock, but may catch players off guard at first.
Considering the fairly quick turn around for these lengthy RPGs, it isn’t much of a surprise that those who are familiar with the gameplay elements of Trails of Cold Steel III will find that Trails of Cold Steel IV has only seen some minor tweaking to the various mechanics as a whole. Some of these improvements involve an increase in maximum “Battle Points,” heavier reliance on Arts in combat, and Brave Orders playing key roles in combat with some of these orders now capable of being leveled up by completing various trials that players will encounter in the world. This means that while Trails of Cold Steel IV’s combat plays basically the same as the previous game, the minor tweaks are noticeable enough to smooth a few wrinkles that still existed plus the ridiculous number of playable characters that players can have access too at times can really spice up combat and offer plenty of variety for longtime fans.
Outside of the game’s combat system Trails of Cold Steel IV once again follows a fairly standard JRPG formula as players take on story driven missions, delve into dungeons to complete an objective, take on various side-missions, bonding with the numerous characters in the game through side-interactions, and even a number of mini-games both old, such as fishing and Vantage!, and new, such as Pom Pom Party!, to offer a bit of extra content for players to explore. It is also worth noting that player exploration is made much easier this time around as players will quickly gain access to an air-ship that allows for revisiting most areas once they are completed, allowing players to sometimes take on challenges, such as the aforementioned trials, that they may not have been able to beat upon finding them the first time.
Visuals & Audio
While the Trails of Cold Steel franchise has never really stood out as one of the best looking games from Falcom players can see that the developers have tried their best here to offer plenty of detailed character models and unique enemies for players to battle against and areas to explore. It is worth noting that, once again, players shouldn’t expect much of an improvement over the past game but it is a really nice touch to see so many old faces from the franchise return and make their high-definition debut so many years after their own games were released.
Players can choose to either have the original Japanese voice track or the new English cast who have returned to reprise their roles from the previous entry. The English cast handles their characters quite well though so most players will be pleased with their performances here. The soundtrack for the game once again proves to be outstanding as there are tracks that fit the most grandiose moments of the story as well as some amazing smaller tunes that work perfectly while exploring the world and interacting with the numerous characters and NPCs.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV manages to successfully pull off a highly pleasing conclusion to this long running saga by taking everything the series has built up over the years and delivering an epic tale that may drag at times but delivers nearly everything that fans could have hoped for. That being said, longtime fans may feel that Trails of Cold Steel IV is just a bit too “similar” to the previous entry in the franchise by offering very little in the way of gameplay improvements and character bloat, that while great for pleasing fans and offering variety, hinders the story development for most of the cast.
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