Preface: This review is geared towards those that have played at least the third entry in the Trails of Cold Steel series. If you haven’t played it yet, please play through that first as big spoilers from the end are briefly touched upon and you owe it to yourself to experience it yourself. In fact, play all these games, Trails in the Sky, and the fan translations for Trails from Zero and Azure too! This is a magical series and worth your time. I promise!
Note: This review won’t feature heavy story spoilers, but will address some areas in the abstract as to avoid ruining the game for you. If you are trying to go in completely blind then just know this game is very good, and you are in for a wild ride.
Over the past two years, I have journeyed across the world of Zemuria, exploring the lands of Liberl, Erebonia, and Crossbell. I have become the best of friends with princes and assassins, priests and mercenaries, and bore witness to students growing up and becoming legends that teach the next generation of heroes. All of this has led me to this moment and this game, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4, and with all of it now behind me, was it worth it? Completely and unequivocally, yes.
Picking up days after the tragic end of Trails of Cold Steel 3, Class VII new and old are tending to their wounds while coming to grips with the losses they’ve suffered. The sweet Millium was cut down in front of them and became the Sword of the End and seeing the heart and soul of Class VII, Rean Schwarzer, the Ashen Chevalier, losing control. To make matters worse Chancellor Osborne has taken control of the Ebon Knight, Ishmelga. As a result, the Great Twilight has begun spreading the curse of Erebonia across the land as the country begins to prepare for war against the neighboring Republic of Calvard.
In order to avoid spoiling as much of this game as I can, what follows are four acts and interludes that send Class VII and returning allies around Erebonia to not only try to rescue Rean, but also find a way to stop the Great Twilight and prevent the end of the world. It’s a wild ride and the twist-turns, ups-and-downs are some of the best I’ve experienced in a game, in a long time. The payoff by the end of the game, is fantastic and it’s a story I won’t soon forget.
Gameplay in Trails of Cold Steel 4 remains nearly identical to the previous entry, with only slight tweaks done to balance and a couple of additions to the combat. The materia-like Quartz system returns, along with Links, Battle Orders, and the super-sized Soldat/Divine Knight battles. The Master Quartz system has received a slight upgrade allowing you to put use a Master Quartz as a secondary for as many characters as you want. Previously, the secondary slots behaved similarly to the primary slot where only a single character could have a particular Master Quartz equipped. This update provides you many more options to build out your team, but due to the large roster of characters you can have in a party, it was a necessary change.
The second update is that certain characters can now summon their Soldats into combat as one-off attacks, basically, as a summon, for a large amount of EP. While I personally never really used these summons much outside of simply seeing what they look like, they are nice inclusions to have, because more giant robots is always a good thing.
When it comes to the story, and I will be very careful to avoid spoiling anything, it is the wildest of rides, that only gets crazier the more Zemuria games you have played. The sheer amount of callbacks to events, characters (even random NPCs that gave you quests), and lore will make any longtime fan drool. Playing through, I was constantly amazed by all the surprising places these easter eggs popped up. For years, developers have tried to create game worlds that are as sprawling or as connected as Falcom has done with Zemuria. The care taken by Falcom reminds me a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this game is Avengers: Endgame. Strands of story and lore going all the way back to Trails in the Sky FC have spun together and woven into a beautiful tapestry here in Trails of Cold Steel 4. I proudly admit that there were moments where everything came together so perfectly that I was left with tears in my eyes.
If you ever feel a bit drained from the intensity of the main story and want to take a break from the story proper, there are plenty of options open to you. The Trails series have long had side-quests that are a mix of more mundane “fetch planets for the priest” sort of quests and lore-enriching world-expanding quests. Trails of Cold Steel 4 continues the tradition, and more so than earlier Cold Steel games, you are rewarded by exploring. By visiting and revisiting locations, you will more-often-than-not find a new point of interest somewhere in the fields and cities. These can range from conversations that shed some light on things, new quests, or even unlock new skills for your party. I was particularly touched by some side quests involving the characters from Liberl and Crossbell’s SSS. They were just so good.
Old activities like fishing and relaxing with Vantage Masters are back, along with some fresh new mini-games. The “big” new mini-game is an app on your ARCUS called Pom Pom party. Pom Pom is a match-three in a similar vein as Puyo Puyo or Super Puzzle Fighter. As you progress in the main game, you will get the friend codes for your teammates allowing you to challenge them. Winning nets you Thor Unity points and U-material. A fun little diversion, but as I’ve never been too good at those sorts of games, I stuck with Vantage Masters most of the time.
Fishing continues to be a great relaxing way to grind for items and easily gain some Sepith while you’re at it. There are 30 new fish to find, and mechanically, the system is identical to the third game. I’m not sure what it is, but I find the fishing minigame to be especially relaxing and I always made a point to check out new fishing spots as I came across them.
As much as I love this game, there is one large issue that hinders it though. The Cold Steel series specifically, adopted a bonding system similar to another popular Japanese RPG series, and it returns here. Eventually, you do get the series’ hero, Rean Schwarzer, back in your party and you can spend time with your friends. For most characters, especially those in the old Class VII, there is no issue and they are fun and touching moments. Where it gets unsettling though is with the new Class VII students, specifically Musse and Juna.
Mind you these two students of yours are teenagers, but as you spend time with them they will profess their love for Rean. One such event sees Rean alone on a beach with his student who is wearing a very revealing bikini. It’s a situation that even Rean’s inner monologue deems as a no-no. Both of these students passionately kiss him as they tell him how they love him. Instead of shutting things down right then and there, drawing a very distinct line in the sand the game simply has Rean “consider his feelings”, leaving the choice until the night before the final conflict where you choose who he has picked as his romantic interest.
The final night manages to slightly side-step the worst-case scenario here, that of Rean spending the final night with a chosen student, but only barely. Instead of saying clearly that it’s wrong, it opts for “You’re still my student, we can’t now, but once your graduate…”. I realize that the onus on situations like this is less on the NIS America and their localization and more that this is a trope in school-based animes. However, it is still one that handles the power dynamic between teacher and student incredibly poorly. It shouldn’t be there in the first place, only made worse when you realize Rean has only been their instructor for a couple of months at that point. The only saving point is that these situations are optional (only to an extent, though, as trophies are tied to them), but I hope we can all agree tropes like this one should be retired and never used.
The impact of events and how much you get from this game will fluctuate wildly on how many of The Legend of Heroes: Trails games you have played. This game will be a treasure-trove of easter eggs and callbacks for those who began this journey with Estelle and Joshua in Liberl, and if you started with the first Cold Steel, there are still a bunch of great nods and call-backs to the first two games, but some of the big cameos or mentions won’t have the same impact. And lastly, for those that first met Class VII in the previous game, this game will tie up and nicely conclude the story, but a lot of terms and things that get discussed will leave you scratching your head, so expect to do some research. The worst disservice you could do though is starting with this game without playing any of the others.
After spending 500+ hours in the world of Zemuria, I felt a mix of joy and sorrow as the credits rolled on Trails of Cold Steel 4. I was filled with joy that I was able to follow these individuals and see them grow up, overcoming trials, and horrors that would make most people crumble. On the other hand, I’m sad that I won’t be able to experience this story for the first time again. That said though, the series will continue to expand with the sequel, Hajimari no Kiseki, already released in Japan with a brand new saga in development. With the hints and teases at the larger mysteries in the world, I can’t wait to see what comes next, because I have a feeling it’s going to be a doozy.
There are few games in my 30+ years of gaming history that have given me so many goosebumps, cause my jaw to drop to the floor as much, or left me amazed at the world I was playing in as Trails of Cold Steel 4. This adventure I’ve gone on the past two years has elevated The Legend of Heroes series up to the same monolithic heights of greatness that other titans like Final Fantasy and the Tales of series reside at. I love this world, these characters, and there will be a void left in my soul that will only be filled if/when an announcement of localization of the next game happens. Until that day comes, I will strive to do my best to get more people to experience these games, because they deserve and are owed the admiration of anyone who enjoys Japanese RPGs.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system with a review code provided by the game’s publisher.