Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Role-Player, Action, Adventure
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: March 19, 2020 (JP) / June 30, 2020 (EU & NA)
Price: $59.99 USD
Developed by Nihon Falcom, The Legend of Heroes is an IP that dates back to 1989 with its first-ever title, Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes. In the 31 years that have passed since, three spin-off games have been released, in addition to multiple main series titles.
Among the main series titles, is the Trails of Cold Steel series, of which there are four titles, with the newest one, Trails of Cold Steel IV set to have a western release on the Nintendo Switch, in 2021 whereas Trails of Cold Steel III, gets to enjoy a Switch release this very month and yes, it was worth waiting for.
Unlike the two Trails of Cold Steel titles that came before III, instead of being developed with the Vita in mind, having become widely aware of how much more popular the PlayStation 4 was and its wider audience, the dev team decided to make the PS4 their main platform going forwards and not just with The Legend of Heroes, but with the Ys series as well. Then in 2019, it was announced the third offering would get a western release, only for a one-month delay to occur.
Not everyone was on board with the idea of NIS America handling the localisation after they were criticised for their work with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, but everyone deserves a second chance, and NIS America has been on the up and up since then, knocking it out with stellar releases and (Spoiler Alert!) they have done a great job with the upcoming Switch release of Trails of Cold Steel III.
As par the course with Trails of Cold Steel, our main protagonist is Rean Schwarzer and this time around, a year and a half has passed since the events of Trails of Cold Steel II concluded and things have changed.
For starters, Rean is no longer a student, but an instructor who has just taken on a new position at Thors Branch Campus, a newly opened school where the rules are slightly different. Don’t worry though, Rean will be bumping into a lot of old friends from previous titles, including the likes of Tita and Agate from the Trails in the Sky series of games.
One such friend is none other than Towa Herschel, former council president, who is also a teacher at Thors Branch Campus, along with a few others. As for the class Rean must teach, he is tasked with teaching a new breed of Class VII, which originally starts with Juna Crawford, Kurt Vander and Altina Orion, but later joined by Ash Carbide and Musse Egret.
Not all of Rean’s students are happy with him being their teacher, but in time he will soon win them over as the Special Operations class must embark on a series of dangerous missions, with each one proving more deadly than the one before it. It’s only a matter of time before war goes from being taught in a classroom, to being taught on a battlefield.
Having been tried and tested, Trails of Steel III utilises the same kind of gameplay as seen in its prequel, just slightly more refined. As an RPG, general gameplay is mostly comprised of exploration, assisting NPCs, and turn-based battles.
For exploring, players are free to switch party leader, consult the message log, display items, expand their minimap and use the likes of the ZR button to challenge NPCs to a card game battle, or attack a monster, use R and the left analog stick for dashing and the direction you want your character to go in and then you have A doing the usual, being used for interacting and the Y button for the quick travel menu.
With regards to the actual battle mechanics, each player has an attack range that is dependant on their weapon, but if the player presses A on an enemy outside of the area, the current character will move closer to the enemy. Of course, you can always press B and then use the left stick to move where ever you wish.
As for the actual attacking, players can use the likes of Crafts and Arts, time taking techniques that consume EP, with Attack Arts dealing damage to your enemy and Support Arts helping to heal characters, activates buffs, and augment allies.
Crafts and special combat skills, however, are unique to each character, with more being available as you level up. They do cost Craft Points to use, but more CP can be obtained by receiving and dealing damage. Then, of course, there are S-Crafts.
When unlocked, these are more powerful crafts that can be used at any time during battles but be warned, they cost 100 CP to use, but will be boosted should you use them when you have 200 CP.
Because you can use them at any time, you don’t have to wait until it is the turn of your preferred character. Instead, you can simply press R and then push in the direction of character you wish to see unleash their S-Craft.
Other battle aspects include the obvious, using items, switching party members, in the case of Juna, pressing ZR to change her mode during conflicts, (Striker mode and Gunner mode,) which changes her weapon type and her target area. You can also issue Brave Orders. Costing Brave Points, these orders can help issue value buffs to your teammates, without costing you a turn.
Then we come to Combat Links. This “phenomenon” that connects users of the ARCUS II to each other. It allis you to pair up your allies, so when fighting together, they can earn Link EXP, thus helping to raise their Link level and help your favorite duos become even deadlier, as they learn new attacks.
Something else that helps with new abilities is Master Quartz, a very special type of quartz that are stronger than the standard variety that can also level up, allowing you to learn new abilities, provided they are set in each characters’ ARCUS II battle orbments.
Even after all of the above though, there’s still plenty more to get to grip with when it comes to gameplay and gameplay mechanics, but thankfully they are all explained in an easy to understand manner, so as you do play, instead of being overloaded with too much, too soon, there’s just enough time to learn what you need to, before moving on with the next lesson and talking of moving on, it’s time to do just that.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
In addition to a ton of worthwhile DLC that gifts players various clothing items and the means of changing the hair colour of party characters, Trails of Cold Steel III is a mammoth RPG filled with content
There is plenty of time spent inside the classroom and exploring the Thors Branch Campus, but there’s battlefield galore, tons of varying locations to run around in, tons of side quests, with some even being time-sensitive, but even then, I’ve just lightly touched upon the surface.
Other in-game pursuits players can seek to accomplish are bonding, fishing and a card game by the name of Vantage Masters and I absolutely love the latter. Think of it like Yu-Gi-Oh!, only Vantage Master is a real series developed by Nihon Falcom and the in-game Vantage Masters content, is based on the series and plays in a very similar fashion to it, in the sense of Masters, Natials that have the Earth, Water, Fire and Heaven attributes.
It offers a nice amount of side content that’s just as pleasing to do as most side quests and, if you do take the time to win every match, as a reward you will earn one of the best Master Quartz and for what it is worth, there are 34 cards to collect and battling your students is always fun.
Like with certain side quests, however, some matches can be missed, in their respective chapters, but there are rematches available and, in some cases, the reward you could have earned for winning if you missed a battle, can be purchased from a bargain bin.
Just in case a bit more needs to be said with regards to the content though, in terms of how long to beat the main story, you’re looking at around 58-64 hours and trying to do, see and collect everything, don’t be surprised if you end up spending at least 100 hours with Trails of Cold Steel III.
Whilst the battle sound effects are exactly what you want to be, I would have to say throughout Trails of Cold Steel III, there are instances where it does deliver in terms of audio perfection and being literal music on the ears, and there are other times where it falls flat and one such aspect, is with regards to the voice acting.
Most of the characters you meet in Trails of Cold Steel III are wonderfully written and there is charm all throughout the game, but there are a number of instances where it felt like the voice talent didn’t convey every emotion as well as they could have done.
That’s not to say there aren’t any scenes appropriately acting, just that there are other scenes that come across as being over the top and then scenes that were could have done with more gusto. In any case, none of it is game-breaking and takes away from the action.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The big question, did NIS America do Trails of Cold Steel III more justice than Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana? Yes. Framerates seem far more consistent, the anime art style of the characters and the world around them is what fans have come to expect and appreciate from Nihon Falcom and the fighting sequences aren’t bad either.
Some might find the graphics a little lacking here and there when compared to more recent RPGs, but with such a rich world to see and explore, there’s bound to be more things that catch your eye in a good way, rather than a bad one.
While there is some enjoyable combat to be found, like a lot of large RPG games, Trails of Cold Steel III can seem to be very slow to start, especially in the first five hours of gameplay. Should you endure the slower beginning and all the reading that comes with it, thanks to tutorials, Trails of Cold Steel III could just go on to surprise you yet and if it’s not Rean you’re rooting for, maybe one of his students Will become one of your beloved heroes instead.
At the end of the day though, Trails of Cold Steel III is a fantastic RPG and it is a series worth getting into, especially where there is such a large story at play. It’s just a shame that it is better to start at the beginning and get to know everything. You wouldn’t watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi without starting with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, would you?
On a positive note, Trails of Cold Steel III does make an effort to fill players in with its Back Story feature. With it, players can read up on the summary of both previous games, character profiles and world introduction. So, if you have questions and you’re not in the mood for googling it, you can always settle for a good spot of extensive reading.
Lastly, since Trails of Cold Steel III does have a demo available on the eShop, anyone keen on giving it a go, can download the demo today and play though the offered content. Then should you like what you saw, when you purchase the full game, you can actually continue where the demo left off.
If you enjoyed Fire Emblem: Three Heroes and are eager to sink your teeth into another fine RPG series that offers hours of content for you to play through, you can’t go wrong with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III. It has a nice cast of characters, engaging action and a worthy follow-up to last month’s Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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