One of the greatest Japanese role-playing series in recent years is rolling on with a third entry. Fans can prepare to rejoice—this is no doubt the best entry in the franchise to date. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is out right now for the PlayStation 4.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Details
Platform: PlayStation 4
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Modes: Single player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
An epic continuation of the Cold Steel saga
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is an extremely story-heavy game, even for a JRPG. This is not without good reason however. It’s the third entry in the narrative-rich Cold Steel series, and a direct continuation of the first two games.
The story depends heavily on the events of the previous Cold Steel titles, so if you haven’t played them, you’ll have some catching up to do. Of course I would highly recommend going back and playing these prior games if possible. Although originally releasing on PlayStation Vita, both The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II are also now available for PlayStation 4, and they are incredible!
That said, if you simply don’t have time or aren’t keen on playing them, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III does a great job of keeping you in the loop. The narrative itself often offers enough context of who recurring characters are to allow new players to follow along. Even better yet however, the menu screen features a lengthy section recapping all the events of the previous two games.
It’s a bit of reading to be sure, but you can easily use this resource to be fully up to speed on events so far. Even if you are familiar, it’s an excellent way to refresh your memory going into The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III as well!
A well-told tale
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III picks up with protagonist Rean Schwarzer—civil war hero and former student of Thors Military Academy. A new branch of Thors is opening up, tasked with handling the academy’s more “problematic’ students. And who is in charge of Class VII: Special Operations? None other than Schwarzer himself, graduating from a student role to that of a young professor.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III leaves no stone unturned when examining the relationships between its rich and diverse cast of characters. Where another game might jump from one event to another, Trails does not hesitate to show everything in between that connects them. You honestly might believe that the only events that don’t occur in real time are those that take place when you are sleeping.
The slow but rewarding pace
This could be a drag in most games, but the storytelling in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is just so masterfully done. You’ll truly feel a connection to this world and its characters through every story beat and interaction. The building of relationships is on par with that of series’ such as Persona, another JRPG franchise lauded for its ability to invest its players in its lovable cast.
The sheer immersion of this world means that the time between meaningful events can be drawn out however. If you want a steady dose of action without a lot of exposition in between, this might not be the game for you. Nonetheless, I would argue that the rich narrative is equally as well done as the game’s combat mechanics, and the largest part of what makes The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III so special.
Deep combat and thrilling encounters
The turn-based battle system in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is easily one of my favourites of any JRPG in recent years. It’s incredibly deep and complex, yet never feels confusing or overwhelming. Instead it offers a huge variety of strategies and options that never gets dull over the course of a very lengthy campaign.
There are so many possibilities to consider in battle. Players can exploit enemy weaknesses in a variety of ways, such as physical break attacks, elemental weaknesses, and more. Players have multiple expendable attack currencies to manage, making each move explore a wealth of options rather than simply repeating a standard attack choice. Special skills, link attacks, quick-time follow ups—the diversity is a strategic JRPG player’s dream.
This may sound overwhelming, but again, the deliberately slow pace of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III means that the game does an excellent job of taking its time, easing players into each new mechanic instead of overwhelming them with a dozen unique features all at once. Don’t be daunted by the vast scope of combat options that the game offers. There is rarely a “wrong” choice to be made—rather it’s just a matter of finding your favourite strategies over time, and it’s a joy the entire way.
The game within the game
It’s a relatively small piece of the overall breadth of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, but I must give a shout out to “Vantage Masters”—the fully playable CCG-style card game within Trails III. Vantage Masters borrows mechanics from games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. If you are familiar with these then the addictiveness of Vantage Masters will be no surprise.
Much like “Gwent” in The Witcher 3, Rean can challenge certain NPC’s to matches throughout the campaign. Decks are fully customizable, and simply playing will help you to unlock newer and better cards. Vantage Masters is such a fun feature that I can see myself booting up The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III just to enjoy a match.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is easily one of the best JRPGs of this generation
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is far and away one of the best JRPG’s I’ve played of late, and definitely up their with my favourite games of this year overall. Its continuing story is immersive, and the world it build upon is one that I can spend endless hours exploring. Its capacity to make you care for the characters that inhabit this tale rivals that of its most critically-acclaimed peers.
The deliberately slow pace may be a bit much for some, but I would challenge anyone feeling this way to stick out out and give The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III a chance to ultimately capture your attention. The payoff—both narratively and mechanically—is well worth the time investment.
+ Epic, sprawling narrative
+ Rich, complex battle system
+ Deep character relationships
+ Intriguing features such as Vantage Masters
+ Excellent resources for catching up on the story so far
– The slow pace may feel a bit drawn out for some
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF THE LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS OF COLD STEEL III
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5