The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Review
Developed by Nihon Falcom Published by NIS America Reviewed on PlayStation 4
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series has really captured my heart over the last year. Nihon Falcom has created a well thought out, well executed series that makes me want more as I play each game. I had the opportunity to play the second entry, and was almost instantly enamored with the game play, music, mechanics, and incredibly well thought out world. I was struck by how the characters seemed to have a lot of development, some very interesting designs, and that the group seems to go past the “starting trope.” I played my way through the majority of two, immediately bought a copy of the first game, and completed it. Playing through the second game again made me appreciate how much Thor’s Class VII really went through and how authentic their bonds are. We now have the third entry. I was curious if they could capture lightning in a bottle a third time.
The first Trails of Cold Steel had a very solid core and the sequel added some refinements and a new mechanic or two. The third go-round has even more enhancements. I will cover a bit about the story later as I mostly want to go over what has been changed as the core is more or less intact. The first thing you will notice are the upgraded visuals. Trails of Cold Steel III has a much smoother, softer look. The character models are much cleaner and feel closer to the anime style being emulated. The series has always had level design with plenty of details, but Nihon Falcom has definitely raised the bar for the series in its artistry. Nihon Falcom is also very well known for its excellent soundtracks. I still listen to the Ys VIII OST on a regular basis. After playing this series for nearly 200 hours, I can honestly say this is the best of the bunch so far. While the style is largely the same, the execution is a notch higher. The score is also not afraid to ease off the throttle a bit and play some soothing music in its quieter moments.
Exploration has a fairly linear flow and some very dialogue heavy story moments. It’s a flaw that is somewhat mitigated by clever writing and a strong voice cast to help carry even the longest segments. Progression in exploration is fairly linear, but it’s not a truly open world. But as is the case, each new area you visit is filled with details, hidden side quests, and beautiful scenery. Locations like Cross Bell and Ordis are especially striking. Character development has had some tweaks for better or worse. You no longer need to level up the slots of the Arcus System to use high level Quartz, the game’s equivalent to skill spheres. Here we have reverted back to using a multi-colored in game currency to open the slots to be able to equip Quartz. This can be frustrating early on as some of the characters have requirements that don’t yield the right type of material in decent rates until mid-game or so.
While having to open the slots for each character does feel tedious, I do feel that the overall combat system has been heavily improved. The brave point system now allows no only oink and party attacks, but gives access to “Brave Orders.” Using brave Points, you can issue a wide variety of team buffs, limited healing and more. While this does add another layer of resource management to combat, it satisfies you with very rewarding results with getting advantages or using it to turn the tide when things are dire. Which Orders you get access to depends on who is in you party. Your reserve characters count so you have a ton of options when you have a fuller party.
“Assault Attacks” in Trails of Cold Steel III was the only thing I am not fond of. It is used during exploration. Previously, to get the “Triple Advantage” you need only get behind an enemy on the map and attack them assuming they weren’t too high a level. Now, you can do so without getting behind, but you must hit them with an attack that is tied to a refillable gauge. To refill you can break crates and certain kind of rocks to refill, but they become scarce later so you must decide if you really want to gain the upper hand or if you can settle for a much smaller advantage at the start of combat. Overall though this is a minor gripe and the balance of everything is still fantastic overall. Trails of Cold Steel III can offer a decent challenge on lower difficulties set, and is satisfying on higher difficulty
The last pillar of any good RPG is of course, are the characters and story. Trails of Cold Steel III continues roughly two years after part II. Rean has grown to be a man and is now an instructor at Thor’s Military Academy’s New Branch Campus. He is in charge of handling a new Class VII. I was a little worried I wouldn’t like the new cast members, but after a couple of hours though my fear was assuaged. The new kids are all delightful, and there is plenty to learn about and watch as they begin to grow as people. You also get appearances form the old Class VII members and Rean’s other schoolmates. It made my heart flutter to see them all grown up and settling into professions worthy of their interests and personalities built over the last two games. Once again there is a tale of a world struggling to maintain peace and the heroes who rise up to meet the call. Trails of Cold Steel III is not the greatest starting point for getting into the series, but it is a strong contender for the best in the series.