*Update 6-26-20: Review has been updated with a section devoted Switch-specific details*
Over the course of 2019, I have spent close to 200 hours with my friends and classmates of Class VII at Thors Military Academy. I’ve witnessed the barriers of prejudice being torn down. I’ve seen friends lost to the tragedy of war. I’ve experienced plot twists that left my mouth agape as I had to reel my emotions back in before pressing onward. Now, with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3, it’s time to return to Erebonia and once more enter the flames of war.
A year and a half has passed since we last left Rean and the other members of Class VII. The region of Crossbell, on the border between Calvard and Erebonia, has been absorbed and has been under the rule of Governor Rufus Albarea for some time now. Ouroboros has been relatively quiet since their failure of the Phantasmal Blaze Plan at the conclusion of the previous game, and on a happier note, our hero Rean has at last graduated from Thors! Rean has decided to continue on and become an instructor at the newly established Thors Branch Campus in the town of Leeves, in charge of none other than the next generation of Class VII.
From there, Rean and the new students of Class VII, Juna, Kurt, Altina, Musse, and Ash will contend with all manners of danger as the work to get to the bottom and discover the latest plans put into action by Ouroboros, The Blood and Iron Chancellor and more. This new class won’t be alone, however. In the convening a year and a half, the original Class VII hasn’t been standing idly by and have become strong important figures that will have to lend their blades, staves, and guns to Rean, coming together again to finish what began years ago.
Cold Steel 3 is designed as a continuation of the series in addition to being a new jumping-off point for players exploring Erebonia for the first time. As such, this third title is structured almost identically to the first, with some of the same criticisms, unfortunately.
The game is separated into chapters, each of which follows the same basic course of events. You’re given time to explore and interact with NPCs and your party members, completing available side quests and the like. This block will lead to a dungeon exploration segment, which will let you get some levels, which will then be followed up with more time to explore and complete side quests. Continue this road map and you will wind up at the end of a chapter where you will be hit with rewarding and shocking plot development, starting the cycle all over.
For those players returning to the series after playing through the previous Cold Steel games, I don’t think that this will bother you as much since you are more invested in the characters. This is how I found myself feeling while playing through. I have a feeling that new players will feel similarly to how I did during my first playthrough of Cold Steel 1 earlier this year, so I will let Past-Me handle this. This formulaic structure can be a tough barrier for newcomers to get past, which doesn’t yet have a connection to the characters or story, which can make the early chapters feel like a slog. I promise you though, push through any hesitation you may feel, it’s so worth it, and you’ll be rewarded for your perseverance.
Combat remains a turn-based affair, with the action now taking place in an arena around where you encountered the enemy. Positioning will be key, as you move your characters out of the way of incoming special attacks or arts (magic) from the enemies. Party members will have to pair up and use battle points in order to take advantage of combination attacks, partner attacks, and bonuses. New to this game is the Orders mechanic, where each character is able to call out party-wide orders that bestow specific bonuses. These can range from increasing the party’s speed and strength to allowing your arts to cast instantly. These saved my butt more often than I had expected them to and are a great addition.
Another new addition to combat is the ability to “Break” enemies. After dealing enough damage enemies will be put into a stunned state, causing them to take additional damage, attacks always crit-ing, and dropping items that they are holding. Taking advantage of this, and planning your use of S-Crafts and heaviest attacks until the enemy is broken, will be paramount with the numerous difficult bosses you’ll be encountering.
Large robot-scale battles have been expanded as well this time around. Valimar, Rean’s Divine Knight, will no longer have to fight alone, as he can now be joined in combat by two additional mechs, piloted by other characters. Each will have their own support character with specific stat buffs and abilities that come with them. Adding in additional combatants, make these rare encounters to be more intense and strategic in nature than in the previous one. In some situations, the Soldat’s and Valimar are the small kids in town.
The systems to equip and outfit your characters were also returned to a similar state as they were in the CS1 days. Adopting a similar system to another immensely popular turn-based RPG, your characters will gain arts, stats, and various buffs and status effects by equipping small color orbs, called Quartz, into their Arcus II unit. At the beginning of the game, you will be restricted in how many you will be able to equip, as most of the nodes will be locked and have to be opened, prior to being able to equip a Quartz into those slots. Unlocking them is done via spending Sepith, small elemental crystals that are dropped by enemies fished, or found in treasure chests. A new system has been introduced, however, allowing you to set a second Master Quartz into each character’s Arcus unit, giving the character the chance to utilize the arts, spells, and enhancements of both. Master Quartz bestows certain benefits while equipped, such as increasing resource points each round, adding debuffs to your physical attacks, or a free full-revive once a battle. Each of which can be leveled up to seven this time around, instead of the previous level cap of five.
Now is when I have to address the biggest issue present in CS3, but it is also a call to NIS America. Cold Steel 3 gives a lot of nods and mentions numerous characters from the Trails series past. Much of this, I love and simply push me more to finally get through the Trails in the Sky series of titles that occur about four years prior to the first Cold Steel title. In this new game though, is where we really start seeing, interacting, and hearing about the characters from the Sky games. These games are available to be played by English speakers, via Steam. However, big portions, including one of the new Class VIIs is tied to the story, of two games that have never been localized, Trails to Zero and Trails of Azure. The only experience that western players have had with any of the characters is restricted to the small epilogue episode from CS2 where you play as Lloyd. I appreciate the inclusion of recaps for the first two Cold Steel games for new players, but the omission of any information regarding two titles that have never been officially localized is a large oversight. In a series that so heavily leans on the strength of the bonds between characters, the lack of information hurts players’ abilities to understand and feel the struggles and motivations of those in even the main cast. It isn’t English-speaking players fault we haven’t played these Crossbell games. Hopefully, NIS will put some sort of recap together to post on the game’s official page that helps us out. There are unofficial fan translations of the Crossbell games that people can play, but this option won’t be available for every player.
Switch Port Specifics
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III remains one of the best JRPGs I’ve played this generation, and the fact that I can now replay it wherever I go is great. This port of the game contains the same stellar story, characters, and soundtrack that can be found in the previous releases, but the lower specs of the Switch have had an effect on the visuals. Luckily, the performance and stability aren’t areas that are affected, running just fine at 720p and 30 FPS, in both docked and handheld mode.
The main victim of the lower specs is the visuals while in docked mode. While playing on the TV, Trails of Cold Steel III has a noticeable anti-aliasing and shimmer issue on the edges of the characters and the portraits in the menu screen. With the lower resolution this port runs at, some textures appear a bit blurrier in this port when compared to the PS4 version. I have not played or own the PC version so I can’t speak to that one.
Luckily these visual issues are far less noticeable when playing in handheld mode. The smaller screen makes many of the issues, especially the jagged edges and shimmering on characters, seem to almost disappear. Even docked though, the game is clear enough to be playable and may only stick out more to those who have played the game previously on other platforms.
Another large predicament that faces this port is that you are jumping into the third game of a series which is connected through its narrative and with no way to play the previous two games of the arc. This is a problem outside of NIS America’s control but it is still worth mentioning, as the localization rights are held by a different publisher. On the plus side though, it has already been confirmed that the final fourth entry will be coming to Switch as well next year, so you will be able to have these two games available, which are far more directly connected with one another than the second and this third game is.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is a fantastic adventure that all fans of the JRPG genre should play, but at the end of the day, I’m not entirely sure who this game is marketed towards. Outside of those that only have a Switch and don’t have a PC that can really handle games, it’s hard to recommend this version over the PC or PS4 ports. The visuals may be a downgrade, it is still very much playable, it is still enough of a difference that playing either of the other options is preferred.
Regardless, Trails of Cold Steel III is a fantastic entry to the already impressive RPG library on the Switch. This is a long game, so the fact that you can now take the game with you on the go is very nice, and the best selling point for games on the Switch. Everything that is great about the other versions of the game, the story, characters, and world, is still present here, and I would highly recommend it for people who aren’t able to play it on the other available platforms.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 has further solidified this series and world as one of my favorite RPG series of all time. Having spent so much time this year with this arc of the series, I am constantly enamored with the deep lore, rich, intriguing storylines, and the memorable characters I have been treated with each installment. I’ve fallen in love with the new members of Class VII, and every chance I got in this latest game to team up with the old class, are some of the highest-highs of the game. Seeing the ties to previous games really rising to the top here in this third Cold Steel entry has only fueled my desire to know more about these games while rubbing salt in the wound left by the knowledge that there are games not currently officially localized. If there is one series that deserves the critical acclaim similar to that of Final Fantasy, Tales, or Dragon Quest, The Legend of Heroes is it. Fans of traditional JRPGs owe it to themselves to experience this story, and Trails of Cold Steel 3 is a strong jumping in point. Old fans will rejoice at the opportunity to once more venture out with their classmates from Thors while crossing paths with new foes. New fans will get to experience a whole world filled with teases of past adventures, ripe to be explored. Now we just have to hope that we get an announcement soon that Cold Steel 4 is getting a localization so we know how this story ends.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system and Nintendo Switch with review codes provided by the publisher