The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (PlayStation 4) Review

By Renan Fontes 15.10.2019

Review for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on PlayStation 4

Trails of Cold Steel III is in quite the awkward position in terms of localization. It's not just the third entry in its sub-series, it's the eighth instalment overall in the overarching Trails franchise - a continuity-heavy and narratively-driven RPG series, where the entire second story arc is unavailable officially in English. Not just that, Cold Steel III is being localized by a NIS fresh off the trail of Ys VIII's poorly handled localization. At the same time, NIS' dedicated marketing for the title only inspires hope, as did Ys VIII's long awaited, but well handled, English rewrite. Trails of Cold Steel III may not be the best introduction to the series, but NIS has done a good job in ensuring that it's an acceptable one.

It's important to recognize the difference in marketing NIS has made as far as Falcom's game-ography in the west is concerned. While Xseed Games did a phenomenal job localizing Falcom's catalogue between 2010 and 2018, the titles were never marketed all that well, and localization often took quite a long time - albeit long enough to ensure quality.

With NIS in charge, Trails of Cold Steel III features more involved marketing than Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana; a Falcom title that NIS managed to market rather well even in spite of the shoddy initial script (and a terrible PC port). Thankfully, NIS clearly listened to fan criticism, and taken it to heart. Not only is the script quality leagues above that of Ys VIII's, some of the team that translated the first two entries of the Erebonia arc has returned for the third instalment. While they may not have necessarily worked on the bulk of the translation, the fact remains that NIS has preserved the script's voice across the arc.

This is an important aspect that'll help veterans of the series better ease into NIS localization. Had NIS' script strayed too much from the first two instalments, the story's voice would be lost in the process. It's important for a tale not only to be told well, but to be told consistently as well. The writing has matured, of course, with the story itself tackling heavier subject matter and the translators themselves being more experienced, but there's a textual cohesion between all three entries that really does help keep things consistent between entries.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on PlayStation 4

Another necessary detail to pull off considering the scope of the story this time around, the Erebonia arc does tell one complete story across four games, but it also splits itself into pairs of sorts. Trails of Cold Steel plays into Trails of Cold Steel II, and III does the same for IV, with both odd-numbered games going so far as to end on cliff-hangers in need of a sequel's resolution. While cliff-hangers are seldom all that beneficial in the grand scheme of things, it's built up to well narratively, allowing the plot to close with an incredible amount of intensity.

More significantly, the start of the third entry picks up a year and a half after the end of ToCS II. With the October Campaign having reached its end and the Erebonian Civil War resolved, the story's board has been more or less wiped clean. This is still a very continuity heavy script and those who haven't played previous entries in the Erebonia arc, let alone the Liberl and Crosbell arcs, will undeniably miss relevant references. All the same, protagonist Rean is instructing his own class of students this time around, meaning that there are plenty of new characters in need of context.

Yes, the eighth entry in a franchise that actively builds up storylines and brings back characters is going to have a difficult to understand story at times, but not an impossible one. Trails of Cold Steel III may be a deep sequel - deeper than others in the series - but it's also its own RPG with its own story. IV will absolutely need context from III to be enjoyable (and honestly, probably from the rest of the franchise given how the story ends up progressing in ToCS III), but III's initial premise is friendly enough that any newcomers can just ease into the role of any out of the loop students.

Narratively, however, Trails of Cold Steel III is the darkest English entry to date. It may not initially begin so, but it manages to build up a more oppressive tone than earlier entries over the course of its story. It ends up paying off spectacularly and gives the series even more depth, but the impact of the darker story is lost without previous build up. When it comes down to it, it's on the onus of the audience to ensure they understand whatever references are in play which is ultimately for the better. A series should be friendly, but shouldn't cater to newcomers eight entries in.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on PlayStation 4

Regardless, most players will be able to enjoy the gameplay independent of the story. While the meat of the franchise really is in the epic scope of its story (and the general high quality writing and world building), its combat system continues to be one of the most engaging turn-based battle systems active at the moment. Especially this time around, where Rean's party can be made up of the old members of Class VIII from the previous two instalments, along with the new. While the first three chapters do tend to keep the party scripted, this doesn't mean there's plenty of party variety available most of the time.

Not just that, party composition is only bolstered by how much players can pull off in combat. Any given turn offers 12 consistent options between all party members. On the D-pad: Down flees; Right swaps out party members; Left lets players use their items; and Up allows the use of Brave Orders - actions that take up BP instead of using up the party member's turn, a feature that ends up playing into some real strategy on higher difficulties.

As far as face buttons are concerned: Cross is the standard attack; Circle allows party members to move on the battlefield; Square lets party members use Attack and Support Arts, which basically function as skills and magic respectively at the cost of EP; and Triangle lets characters use their unique skills through Craft, a system where dealing and taking damage increases the CP necessary to use Crafts. Similarly, R1 features S-Crafts while L1 lets characters tactically link up in battle for combat bonuses. L2 provides further info on-screen and the touch pad serves as a handy Auto battle tool.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on PlayStation 4

Taking turn order into account, and when characters can use certain skills, battles have far more depth than their deceptively simple introduction might convey. Even then, however, with so much combat variety at play, the first few fights can seem a bit overwhelming. Newcomers might find themselves struggling to find the right way to approach combat at first. There's an insane amount of options to choose from, and battles aren't exactly fast. They're not slow either, though, and that wouldn't be a problem even if they were.

This is a slow burn RPG; the kind that'll soak up upwards to 100 hours in a single play-through - unrushed. Anyone looking to just burn through it realistically isn't going to have a good time. It's a title that demands one's attention, and, frankly, adhering to this request results in one of the most captivating RPGs this generation. In typical Trails fashion, there's a truly mind boggling amount of unique dialogue present for virtually every single NPC. They genuinely react to the world around them, at realistic intervals as well. New story beats end up influencing the world in subtle, but distinct ways. Wherever the player is, there's always the sense that their actions are having real consequences.

The story itself is also generally well-paced, and gradually builds itself up to a bombastic finale that might not resolve itself, but leaves a hell of an impact. Even the non-combat and non-story elements stand out. The soundtrack is top notch (which is saying something, considering Falcom's legendary discography for their releases), dungeons are well designed per usual, and the series' aesthetic still manages to look great if perhaps a generation behind technically. Regardless if one's getting into the series for the first time or returning yet again, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is well worth your time.

Screenshot for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Trails of Cold Steel III is an important title for both Falcom and NIS. For Falcom, it's the penultimate entry in a story arc half a decade in the making - and an incredibly engrossing one, at that. For NIS, it's a step in the right direction after Ys VIII, and proof that The Legend of Heroes' localization is still in good hands moving forward. This is a continuity-heavy RPG with 13 years of video game history, and seven titles building up to it, but the combat and world are strong enough where even newcomers can enjoy the ride. Trails of Cold Steel III is the Erebonia arc at its best.

Also known as

Trails of Cold Steel III

Developer

Falcom

Publisher

NIS America

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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