It’s hardly a secret that the SmashPad Staff is full of supporters of Falcom’s Trails series. The series represents everything we want from a modern JRPG, and the latest entry in the series to come out on our side of the world is no exception. As great as this game is, though, it’s tough to call this game a good starting point.
What Is It?
Trails of Cold Steel III takes place roughly a year and a half after the Erebonian Civil War that kicked off as the last game ended. Fresh out of graduation from Thors Military Academy, the “Ashen Chevalier” Rean Schwarzer is back as the main character as an instructor himself at the newly established Thors branch campus.
War has made its fair share of change to Erebonia, seemingly for the benefit of the Empire. The region of North Ambria has been merged into the Erebonian Empire and Crossbell State suffered the same fate after failed attempts by the Special Support Section or SSS (thanks to Schwarzer’s missions setup by the Empire) allowed the state to become an Erebonian province controlled by Rufus Albarea–the older brother of a former member of Rean’s graduating class, Class VII.
In addition to being an instructor, Rean is an essential pawn for the Empire. Seeing the struggle of his home country’s citizens with newly acquired territories partly because of his forced contribution begins to take its toll with all his newfound responsibilities. Can Rean’s new Class VII make things better?
Why Should I Care?
If you didn’t get any of that, there’s really no other way to flesh it out. The Trails series, especially with Trails of Cold Steel, is one of the most politically dense franchises in the genre. You’ll just, at the very least, have to play Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II, which just received definitive releases on the PS4 a few months ago. While you’re at it, you really should also play the Trails in the Sky trilogy (most would argue you should actually play these games first) on Steam to get an even deeper understanding of the goings on in Zemuria. The Trails series is a huge undertaking with all sorts of political turmoil happening throughout Zemuria, and it’s simply amazing how engaging its been since the first game.
If you did get all of that, you’ll feel right at home. Though the main character is now a teacher instead of a student, the game definitely feels like it goes back to its roots in the original Trails of Cold Steel by going back to a scheduled, Persona-like progression system tied around how their school days worked. There’ll be days to teach and apply what Class VII learned as well as free days to patrol and get to bond with with fellow staff, the students, and others. There will also be sidequests and the field studies that bring the students to new places outside their comfort zone as they learn the ins and outs about the military’s expectations of the Empire. Like other games in the series before it, Rean will come across both characters new and old, and none of them are any less interesting than anybody else Rean meets in the journey.
Fans of the series should immediately feel a connection to each of the members in the new Class VII. First there’s Kurt Vander, an adopted member of the Vander family that once looked after the Royal family. Kurt is mature beyond his years, and like his ancestors before him is a skilled dual-weidling swordsman. Then there’s Juna Crawford, a former member of the Crossbell police academy attending Thors with a bit of a prejudice for all things Erebonian while also being a huge fan and ally to the SSS (the protagonists from the unreleased Crossbell games). And finally, there’s Altina Orion—an emotionless girl who actually played an antagonist in the previous Cold Steel games while also assisting Rean on his missions for the Empire when he became known as the Ashen Chevalier.
Each of the new characters play and act totally differently without any single one of them spoiling their welcome. In addition to the new characters, Rean’s old Thors classmates and even the original Class VII make appearances in the game, and none of these moments are wasted. It all makes Trails of Cold Steel III feel like a much-appreciated homecoming, which is all the more welcome considering the amount of time North American fans have waited, having no idea if the game would ever come. Seeing what all of Rean’s classmates are doing after graduation is a rewarding feeling, especially after playing the previous games, but it’s also something that newcomers will find overly done.
As stated earlier, the game takes a lot from the first Trails of Cold Steel game as far as its pacing, as the story will guide you through the likes of significant cities in Erebonia and even brings you to Crossbell, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as each of the cities you’ll come across are the hometowns to the various members of your new party. There’s even a new card game you can play to pass the time with students and even enemies of yours, giving the game some fresh variety.
Now if you’re a veteran of the series looking for something fresh with the battle system, don’t expect much deviation here. With the exception of a new feature on top of a UI overhaul, the battle system in Trails of Cold Steel III is largely what it’s always been in both the Liberl and Erebonia arcs. The one new feature is in Brave Orders, which allow you to give your characters specific buffs or put them in situations to get out of trouble (if there is any). One of my nitpicks with the previous Cold Steel game was with how easy it was to “break the system” with your S-Breaks, your characters’ devastating signature moves that are tied around the CP you’ve amassed in battle. While spamming your big moves is still a common strategy, Trails of Cold Steel III has mostly rebalanced it enough where you can’t just use them on your first turn to end boss battles. I personally am not a huge fan of it, but you can see why the battle system required such balance. Turn-based mech battles also make a return in Trails of Cold Steel III featuring the ability to use a party of them rather than just one–again, not much of a change, but still something worth noting.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is an extremely enjoyable trip back to Zemuria and is a game that’s set to deliver on all fronts for anybody that’s followed the series.
It would be nice if the game looked a little better. While the character models look nice and lively, a lot of the environments look dated and kind of give the vibe of a newer PS3 game. With that, perhaps the game would be better served on the Vita or the Switch, because I wouldn’t look for all that much fidelity on a handheld system. Unfortunately, there aren’t any plans to have the game released on either platform, so those with a Vita should probably stick to Remote Play.
Perhaps the biggest bit of controversy with the game’s initial announcement for release in the west was the fact that the game would be published by NIS America, who received quite a bit of flack for a rather poor translation of Ys VIII. If it’s any indication–though it is worth noting I did come across my fair share of grammatical errors and copy that needs to be edited–the translation for Cold Steel III is absolutely fine and there’s nothing to worry about.
Much of the original translation staff in addition to the original voice cast thankfully make their return in Trails of Cold Steel III, once again making it feel like a homecoming. It is also worth noting though that like the previous two games on their initial release, not every line from Rean is voiced, so it gets pretty awkward seeing cutscenes that are just partly voiced. I don’t know if the day one patch coming addresses this, but it’s weird that this is a problem considering the localization team that did the definitive versions of Cold Steel I and III this year added more spoken dialog.
All this said, as great as Trails of Cold Steel III is, if you haven’t played a Trails game before, this definitely is not a good place to start. This review is really catered towards those that have at least played first two Trails of Cold Steel games, and while the game features a number of codexes and summaries for the events that happened in the last couple games, there’s really nothing like priming yourself by playing the previous entries. They’re long (all of them including this one are over 60 hours each), but the experience to be had is more than rewarding.
As stated earlier in the review, the Trails series is quite possibly the best modern JRPG series we have today, and Trails of Cold Steel III finally gives us some more, and more is exactly what we needed.