Trails of Cold Steel III / 英雄伝説 閃の軌跡Ⅲ
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Release: June 30th 2020 NA/EU / July 7th 2020 ANZ
The story of class VII continues… well, sort of. In this, the third instalment of the Trails of Cold Steel series Rean Schwarzer is back to school and back to class VII, however this time around, he is not a student anymore, instead, he is the new instructor of a newly formed class VII.
For the uninitiated, Trails of Cold Steel III is a part of the Legend of Heroes Series, a series spanning over 20 years with the first game being released all the back in 1989. The Cold Steel series follows on from the Trails in the Sky series and is technically the 13th game in the overall series. The Cold Steel series revolves around Rean Schwarzer, a genuinely nice guy whom by this third instalment is known throughout the Erobonia, the game’s setting, as a hero dubbed the Ashen Chevalier due to his previous exploits.
Now if all this seems a little confusing the game does address this very problem by having a rather lengthy and substantial recap of the series lore and story progression thus far but will be honest with you, that is a LOT of reading. This is the first game in the Trails of Cold Steel series I have played personally, and I wish I had known just how many references and callbacks to the past game there was going to be. It wasn’t enough to put me off the game or hinder the story, but occasionally there would be a flashback or a brief glimpse of a character that would have been much more impactful to me if I had played the first two games in the series. If you can I recommend playing the first two games before picking up Trails of Cold Steel III.
Rean Schwarzer or instructor Schwarzer as her is known through much of Trails of Cold Steel III is tasked with mentoring class VII: Special Operations and starts with the whole class pretty much disliking him.
Throughout the game Rean shows off his leadership abilities, all-around nice guy personality and determination to do the right thing by his class which in turn begins to earn the respect of his students.
The students are the true stars of this story and throughout the game, you get to know them incredibly well, at first you may think they are all slight Anime clichés but this feeling soon dissipates as you get to know them and in turn care for them as any good instructor would.
Occasionally during the story, you are temporarily joined by members of the old Class VII, serving up yet more fan service for series veterans while showing a glimpse of just how good they are in combat.
While teaching Class VII the fundamentals of battle, equipping orbs and character links etc you soon realize that Rean is not only teaching Class VII but is also, in fact, teaching us, the player on how to do these things I find this an effective way of tying tutorials and story together in an organic way.
One thing I should mention quickly is pacing, In my opinion, the story has some major pacing issues, especially during the first 3 hours or so of the game, but this quickly remedies itself and Like I have said before, this probably would have not been the case if I had played the previous games in the Cold Steel series.
At its heart, Trails of Cold Steel III is a turn-based RPG. As you’d expect from a traditional RPG your characters have stats to manage, items to equip etc, but what keeps Trails of Cold Steel III fresh is the ability to move your characters around the battle area. It’s worth noting that battles take place on the same map which you are exploring which is a nice change and can provide some interesting layouts depending on when and where you decide to initiate combat.
It’s the ability to move around during battle which makes Trails of Cold Steel III’s battles such a thrill to play. All of your attacks, arts and magic have different areas of effect, meaning some will hit all enemies depending on the type of attack and how you line them up. This makes for some interesting tactical choices, for example, you may want to send one character to the other side of the area to line up a straight-line attack through all the enemies on screen, however, knowing this will put them out of reach of any healing abilities your other characters have.
In later parts of the Trails of Cold Steel III, some of the enemies can be quite tough and working out the correct combination of character placement felt very rewarding.
Character abilities are mapped to the D-pad and face buttons of the Switch, much like how Persona 5 battle system works. With one press of a button, you are immediately taken into the appropriate menu which is quite refreshing coming from a recent playthrough of Final Fantasy 7, where I spent the majority of the time pressing buttons going through screen after screen just to select a ‘Fire 2’ attack.
I won’t go into too much detail here, mainly because there is so much to cover, but the battle system has a lot of subsystems, there’s a Break system that makes enemies unable to move once you’ve done enough damage, any additional attacks will cause the enemies to become unbalanced allowing for your attacking character to start a Link attack. You get to choose which characters link together, which with use levels up allowing for even more powerful attacks. There’s also the order system worth mentioning, which allows for mass buffs for your team for a set amount turns, these orders include upping your damage output, reflecting attacks to enemies and some that can increase the amount of break damage class VII deals out.
Performance and Presentation
How does Trails of Cold Steel III Run of The Switch?
The good news is Trails of Cold steel III runs great on the Switch, staying at constant 30fps in docked mode as far as I could tell and there were no noticeable stutters or slowdown in handheld mode. In fact, the game really looks nice in Handheld mode, apart from a few of the earlier game tutorials having the screen text just a tiny bit smaller than I would have liked.
Graphically, Trails of Cold Steel III is the best in series thus far, the ‘Anime’ style character designs fit well with characters personalities, but just don’t go expecting Final Fantasy 7 Remake levels of graphical fidelity. Trails of Cold Steel III feels like a mid-tier PS3 game, but I mean that lovingly! Areas in the game are varied, as are the enemies. My only real gripe here is some of the dungeons can be a little repetitive visually and some of the menus feel a little lacklustre in design.
The soundtrack is very good and quite varied, which is to be expected with the games, four composers. The excellent team JDK provide a great soundtrack that sticks in your head well after completing the game.
Localization seems to be very good this time around, and I know some fans of the series were somewhat worried after the poor reception of Ys VII’s end product. Character dialogue is well-acted and fits most scenes, the only thing I found a little jarring here is the constant switching between text boxes and spoken dialogue which occasional felt a little inorganic, but I can understand why as there is a lot of dialogue to get across and would have been unfeasible to voice act every single line.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is a game I would highly recommend. Over the 80+ hours, you will, come to learn and love the battle system, become invested in the characters and if you are a returning veteran to series you will get a lot of fan services with flashbacks, returning characters etc. If you really want to get the most out of the game I would recommend playing through at least the first two entries in the Trails of Cold Steel series, I was still able to keep up with the story, but it would have been much more impactful if I had the previous knowledge.