An End to a Saga
Over the great part of the last decade, Nihon Falcom consistently launched The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel saga – from the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4. For the past decade, the series felt almost unrivaled as far as narrative grandeur, and it quickly grew to become one of my all time favorites. With the bleak, brutal, and enticing ending of Trails of Cold Steel III, I was hooked for the finale of this piece of the Legend of Heroes ever-sprawling epic.
[Warning: Spoilers of Trails of Cold Steel III to follow]:
Cold Steel IV picks up shortly after the events that unfolded in the previous entry. Rean is captured and stuck in his Ogre form; Millium is dead, having sacrificed herself to save her friends; Prince Olivert and Toval were killed when The Courageous exploded; Alisa’s father is the head of the Gnomes and responsible for the current spread of darkness throughout the Erebonian Empire – alongside the Iron and Blood Chancellor Gilliath Osborne. It was intense, and it put the new and old members of Class VII in dire straits. Saved by the Witches, Class VII must find a way to right the wrongs of the Empire and save Rean in the process.
By now, the Trails of Cold Steel saga has grown into an epic tale. I remember purchasing the original Cold Steel title for my Vita (and, subsequently, my PS3 for a bit of cross play) and falling deeply into the wonderful characters, incredibly fleshed out lore and world, and a plot that, at the time, wasn’t focused on saving the planet – something too many RPGs mistakenly utilize as ‘the stakes’. What evolved from the intrigue and plot twists in the original led to a civil war, an assassination plot, and the spreading of a centuries old curse. All were pieces carefully set into motion in the Trails in the Sky saga that bled with ease into Cold Steel.
Fans of The Legend of Heroes games will find a lot and more to love here, as characters from the Trails in the Sky finally make their way to the main stage – all voiced by their original voice actors – to aid Class VII in the process. At points, the overload of exposition and characters is welcomed, yet at others, the overwhelming nature of such an enormous cast and narrative muddle together. In fact, Trails of Cold Steel IV could have been multiple games; to make matters worse, the entire Crossbell saga never made its way to the west, leaving us to rely on exposition to fill in the blanks. It’s not ideal, but, technically, it works, as the characters reminisce, sometimes vaguely, on past events in games we may not have had a chance to experience ourselves.
With all of this laid out, Trails of Cold Steel IV serves as a fitting and solid conclusion to the Erebonian arc of this story. While convoluted and bloated, the experience was enjoyable and mostly satisfying, and it left me wanting more. We know Rean and company will return again (with a nifty new engine and a new playstyle), so where we move from here should be interesting.
So how does it play? As with each prior entry, the Trails of Cold Steel saga has improved its base mechanics. Combat is still mostly reminiscent of Cold Steel III, but – and perhaps it was just me – it felt much more difficult. I put well over 100 hours into each of these games (and a bit more than that in III), and I had just finished a second playthrough of III days before receiving my review code for IV. Combat is still good, and, perhaps, even more challenging than before. Speed felt different, and even though my characters started the game at extremely high levels, nothing came easy. I still built my characters similarly to my Cold Steel III setup, which was mostly successful, but building a combo off of breaking enemies became a chore, and it wasn’t very rewarding, as most enemies got a turn immediately after I broke them – banishing all my efforts in a moment and swinging the momentum back in their own favor. While frustrating, this didn’t really hamper any of the experience. I simply strategized around my new surroundings.
Visually, Trails of Cold Steel IV is essentially the same as III with a bit of polish. Since I dedicate huge amounts of time to playing these games, I did make the switch to my PS5 in the process, while also moving back to my 4k 60hz TV over my really old 4k 30hz monitor. The switch from PS4 to PS5 was noticeable (as well as with the TV), and, while it won’t show up any games dedicated to presenting visual masterpieces, it wasn’t ugly; the colors were a nice contrast to most dull and desolate palettes.
On the sound front, the voice acting continued to be spot on, and the reprisal of characters from a decade ago was a real treat. Johnny Yong Bosch, a personal favorite of mine, returned as Joshua Bright, and having the Bright siblings return to the forefront was a welcomed breeze of nostalgia. The composition within Cold Steel IV, as usual with Nihon Falcom titles, was tremendous and built a palpable atmosphere to help carry the narrative.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV provides a satisfactory conclusion to the Erebonian arc of the Trails saga. It will easily provide you with 70+ hours of gameplay on your first runthrough, and can span into triple digits quickly. You’ll eke every penny out of this one – as with the previous titles – and you should know by now if you’re ready to invest your time into this game and series. It certainly fits a niche audience, and those of you who played through the first three should enjoy this one, too. While Cold Steel IV wasn’t my favorite in the saga, it still left me with the knowledge that The Legend of Heroes continues to produce quality JRPGs that are hard to rival.