Game Info:

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
Developed By: Nihon Falcom
Published By: NIS America
Release Date: October 22, 2019
Available On: PS4 (PC likely coming, but not announced)
ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
Genre: RPG
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $56.89
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Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest (in the West; Cold Steel IV is available in Japan) release in Falcom's long-running Legend of Heroes: Trails series. This series has been releasing games since 2011 here, and 2004(!) in Japan. Thankfully, XSEED Games worked really hard to bring those earlier entries to English, and now NIS America has done a wonderful job taking the mantle from them to bring this latest, and possibly longest game yet.

The Trails series consists of eight (ignoring Cold Steel IV) games in the long-running series, all of which are connected and take place in the same world. The Trails in the Sky trilogy takes place in Liberl, during years 1202 and 1203 in the Septian calendar. The Crossbell game duo, which are the only ones not currently available officially in English (there are fan translations), take place simultaneously with Trails of Cold Steel I & II during years 1204 and part of 1205. Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest entry, and takes place in 1205.

SPOILER WARNING: From here on, it is assumed that you have already played at least Trails of Cold Steel I & II, though really you should play the entire series (as much as is available in your region) before playing this game. While I will try to avoid spoilers for the previous games as best as I can, it's impossible to avoid them all. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! This is a tightly-connected series of games. Play them in order!

And really, this game, far more than any other entry, relies on the other Trails games more intricately than any I have played to date. Well, except for 3rd. That game would make zero sense if you hadn’t met the characters before. Regardless, it saddens me that I couldn’t play Zero or Azure (the tentative English titles of the Crossbell games) since there is an entire chapter dedicated to Crossbell, where you get to meet some of the cast from those games. A few characters from the Sky trilogy are present, and several events discussed there are discussed in great detail. For goodness sake, do NOT play Cold Steel III as your first game – and play the entire Sky trilogy, along with Cold Steel I & II first if you can. (If you are able/willing to use fan translations, I would advise playing Zero/Azure first, also. I know I missed important details by not having done so myself.)

With that out of the way, I hope this means you are reading from this point on because you have already played five+ other games and you just want to know if this one lives up to the standards of the previous entries. And to that I say yes – very much yes.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

Strong Points: Continues the excellent world building, characters, storyline, writing, and music that the Trails series is known for; excellent localization and voice acting; fun battle system, that is even more streamlined than before; extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
Weak Points: Occasional frame rate drops; extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments, as well as more occult-like magic used by witches; alcohol and tobacco use, including by the main character once he is of legal age (he turns an opportunity down before his birthday); conversations include sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); 'girl talk' about breast sizes; several females wear extremely revealing clothing; foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger; it appears to be socially acceptable that an adopted son and daughter would be allowed to be a couple; at least one lesbian character, who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness; a woman puts her hand under another woman's armor and grabs her breasts against her will; a male student tells a women he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to her face; an older pervy grandpa is present, calling out how cute the girls are; one student keeps flirting and trying to sexually hit on her instructor, persistently enough that his friends ask if he's fooling around; several girls’ preferred reading material involves homosexual boys; swimsuit magazines are shown at a distance, and several students prize their collections, along with an instructor; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional ancient religions are discussed, like animism; gambling

Shortly after the events of Cold Steel II, Rean has graduated from Thors and, rather than going into the military and allowing his exceptional powers and skills to be used by the same government he has reservations about, he instead chooses to become an instructor at Thors’ newly established branch campus. While the main campus was realigned to have far more focus on military pursuits, the branch campus’ activities far more closely align to the values and mission that Thors’ main campus had during Rean’s time as a student. As a result, the focus on student autonomy and club activities remains.

The school’s staff is bare bones at best, and many of the students were main campus rejects, or simply didn’t have the standing to get into the highly competitive main campus. Others chose to avoid the main campus for personal or other reasons. Regardless, Rean is chosen to lead the newly formed Class VII: Special Operations, and he is given a rather small roster of three students to start with, that are uniquely gifted in skills, leadership, or combat experience.

At first, I didn’t feel much connection with the new Class VII, as I had already gotten to know the old ones through two games and much adventure. And I suppose it’s fair to say I still prefer them, though I have had to make room for the new kids, and I did end up warming up to them after all. That just makes the roller coaster that would be the last few chapters all that much more intense.

The story starts off slow, with what feels like a bit if a rehashing of Cold Steel I, though thankfully the focus is a bit different. Rean is a teacher rather than a student, and the central conflict is different. In place of the pre-civil war noble and commoner conflict, this time there is a different, almost more spiritual undercurrent to what is going on in Erebonia. To say much more would veer far into spoiler territory.

What I will say is that if you have been keeping up with the games, and following all that is happening, you will be more than rewarded playing through Cold Steel III. The culmination of the characters, lore, secret societies, and many conspiracies that comes to light in this game is a sight to behold. It gets as seemingly crazy as an Alex Jones documentary. I found myself wondering a few times if the parallels between this fiction and real life were coincidental or intentional.

From a gameplay perspective, it takes the already streamlined turn-based battles that Cold Steel II had and makes it even better. You now have a second use for Brave Points, called Orders. Rather than just more powerful link combos, you can choose to spend the points to issue Orders that can significantly alter the flow of battle. For example, one order increases damage by 20% for the whole party. Another halves damage taken, which can be critical to use to survive some boss encounters. This additional set of tools makes a big difference. They also improved the break system; enemies (and players) can be worn down in battle, and once stunned, your team has nearly guaranteed criticals and do massively more damage until the enemy has the power to recover. The impact of this new system is huge, and can really turn the tide in almost any battle.

Additionally, they streamlined the control system to have each command be only a button press away, rather than the menu-based method of issuing commands from previous games. This is one of those changes I didn’t know I wanted until I got it. It makes the already quick battle system from Cold Steel even quicker. If that wasn’t enough, they added a ‘High-Speed Mode’ that was a popular addition that the PC releases of Cold Steel pioneered, and so now it seems likely that all future Cold Steel games will have to have it. It makes grinding, walking about the large towns and forests, and rewatching cutscenes for various achievements far more tolerable. (You can skip cutscenes with a button press, but sometimes it skips too much.) Every little bit helps, too, because this game is massive – one of the longest I've ever played. It took me over 160 hours(!) to complete, though if I hadn’t made effort to complete every quest and see every bit of expertly-localized dialog I could, it might have gone a bit more quickly.

While Cold Steel II had Divine Knight battles, and they were quite enjoyable in their own right, they really upped their game here to include Panzer Soldat (mechanized suit) battles. Not only can you fight alone in Valimar, other members of Class VII can pilot their own Soldats. This can lead to some pretty intense three by three mech battles. I really like the tweaks they made to the battle system all around, especially when it comes to the mechanized robot fighting.

At the end of the day, if you have played any of the Cold Steel games, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's still a 3D-rendered anime-style game world, with real-time map movement through mostly linear levels, with turn-based battles. The attacks (physical), crafts (special attacks), and arts (magic) are all still there. There are other additional tweaks like the sub master quartz system, and probably several others I've forgotten, but if you've already enjoyed Cold Steel, then there is more of that here. And in my opinion, that's a good thing.

Everything else that makes these games great, like the music and voice acting, is as great as always. Conversely, the graphics are still nothing special, but they do the job of telling the story and facilitating the gameplay just fine. Strangely enough, despite the graphics being good but not great, there are still occasional frame rate drops. I primarily found this to be an issue during a few particularly busy scenes in town, where there are lots of NPCs everywhere. The game also lacks anti-aliasing as best as I can tell.

As much as I enjoyed this game, and I look forward to the next one, it has to be said that the moral issues abound - just as they do in previous entries. If it's an issue with Cold Steel I or II, there are few surprises here. The main issue I can think of that's new is that instead of a teacher hitting on you, a student, you are getting hit on by a female student, as an instructor. Another is that swimsuit magazines were introduced in this entry, and apparently some guys collect them. One scene has a girl borderline sexually assaulting another girl by grabbing her breasts against her will, and the last that comes to mind is how evil is willing to sacrifice human lives to further their goals. But, for the sake of completeness, let's list it all out.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 95%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 50%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

There is fantasy violence, as expected in RPG games, along with occasional blood, in certain cut scenes in particular. There is PG-13 level language, with examples like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger. I wouldn't say foul language is particularly common, but it's there.

Magic and spells are still present, though most come in the form of the quasi-scientific power called orbments, that powers both modern conveniences like cars and motorcycles, as well as magical effects. There is a larger presence of witchcraft-style magic, as a prominent character can cast spells through magical sayings. Some spells show hexagrams prominently displayed.

Religion is still primarily the Catholic-like Septian Church, where they worship a monotheistic goddess named Aidios. They also feature local animist religions, as well as delve deep into lore relating to the early of the church, and many of the mysteries therein. This is part of the reason why lore junkies will absolutely love Cold Steel III. Spiritual forces, curses, and more, play a large part in the story. Like in CS2, a Celtic cross plays prominently in animism symbolism.

As in previous titles, most appropriateness issues revolve around sexual ones. As already mentioned, a student hitting on a teacher is a recurring gag. Early in the game, one of the enemies grabs another enemy ladies' breasts rather aggressively; I felt like it was basically sexual assault, as it was clearly unwanted. Along those lines, a male student says he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to a woman's face, and she gets rather red after hearing that. A pervy grandpa is present in another scene, and he still approves if you were to choose to make moves on his granddaughter. (Rean is a gentleman - almost too much so, as he has several women who clearly like him, and he is made fun of for his obliviousness to it all.)

As mentioned before, girly magazines are a new 'feature' of this game, though you can't read them as the player. Several girls still love to read and share stories about budding romances between homosexual boys. Angelica still is clearly lesbian, and it goes so far as to have a married woman blush and get flustered when she receives a compliment from her. Her husband notices, and gets understandably angry...

Women still sometimes show off significant cleavage, and some wear ridiculous outfits that show off tons of skin. A few of the women really 'grew up' and wear outfits that show how they have been blessed, if you get my drift. Short skirts are as short as they can get in a 'family friendly' game, if you catch my drift.

Sexual innuendo is present reasonably often, particularly with that student being around as much as she is. Despite this, no actual sex takes place, on or off camera. There is 'girl talk' though, about things like breast sizes and such. Other issues to note is that Rean becomes legal drinking age, and as such, he has his first drinks in-game, as well as partakes in gambling on horses for the first time. He is always responsible. Another character smokes tobacco.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is another truly excellent entry in the Legends of Heroes: Trails series, and a very welcome one at that. The final chapter is truly incredible, and has one of the worst cliffhangers possible in the known universe. Cold Steel IV cannot get here fast enough. If you are already a Trails fan, you probably don't need me to tell you to get this game; if you are on the fence for any reason, don't be - unless you want to wait for its release on you preferred platform, or even possibly wait for CS IV so the painful wait inbetween entries is shorter. That I can understand. As before, this game series is not for children, so please game responsibly. If you are already invested in this series, I see no reason not to continue. Just realize that you absolutely should not, under any circumstances, start the Trails series with this game. That would be just silly.


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