On The Brink of All Out War…
Disclaimer: We will attempt to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but as it is the 4th installment in the Cold Steel Saga spoilers may be present from past titles.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 arrives on October 27th for the PlayStation 4. Let’s be upfront, this has been my most anticipated title of the year, and that’s saying something for a year that saw the release of Persona 5 The Royal. Even more so than the PlayStation 5 itself, but did it live up to all the hype I had? Let’s take a look (as spoiler free AND bias free as possible) and explore what it was all about.
Trails of Cold Steel 4 picks up where the third game left off. If you’ve been itching to dig in after finishing up Trails of Cold Steel 3 then buckle up, you are in for a treat. The story follows main protagonist Rean Schwarzer and both old and new Class VII. On the brink of a war a scale of which the world has never seen, the mysteries surrounding Erebonia come into the spotlight. It’s time to answer many of the questions we may have come up with on our journey through Trails of Cold Steel 1, 2, and 3.
Bringing us to one of our first points in this review, Trails of Cold Steel has been deeply rooted in both world and character building, how well executed is the story in this one? After putting 90 hours in, I can safely say the execution of the story was magnificent. There are some slower paced areas of the game, but relative to the Trails series there is less story building done here and much more progression. Which does make sense as this is the final installment of the Cold Steel Arc.
Moments that are meant to feel intense, feel that way. Moments that are supposed to hit you in the feels, do so. A truly rewarding experience for those who’ve seen this long journey all the way up until this point. You do have some of your typical “the power of friendship” type deals going on, but this game also brings out the dark tone of a world ready to go to war. The tolls of constant conflict begin to show, in both expected and unexpected ways. The way everything from the voice acting to the sound draws you into the moment is a part of makes this series so great.
While Trails of Cold Steel 4 isn’t an open world JRPG, the game does a good job of never making anything feel linear. You do have a degree of freedom to explore and enjoy the world around you. Similarly, to previous titles you have your main series quests, but one of the areas where this game shines is the sheer abundance of side quests available. These side quests and exploration go hand in hand into coming across not just more of the world but items that can really help you out in battle. You’ll also find more character development in these side quests as well as unlocking other combat abilities making it well worth your time to explore as much as possible. With every quest you complete you’ll gain AP that will raise your rank, you’ll also increase your Thors Unity Grade as well. Each increase in Rank will also be accompanied by items to help you along the way.
Lost Arts return and can only be obtained through defeating extremely powerful creatures called cryptids. These are incredibly powerful magic (arts) abilities that can be either offensive or supportive. You’ll typically use up most, if not all, of your EP but the change it can have on the battlefield makes these creatures worth seeking out.
Need a break from all that questing? Trails of Cold Steel 4 features multiple mini-game type activities you can use whenever you feel like you need a break. One of the newer features being Pom! Pom! Party! Which brings a lot of fun while giving some serious Tetris vibes with a twist. Vantage Masters also makes its return, and you can even find a way to get some blackjack in. The rest I’ll leave up to you to find.
The battle system largely remains intact from Trails of Cold Steel 3. However, there have been some changes made to Orders and Brave Points (BP) to balance them out a bit. “Breaking” foes has become a bit harder to accomplish and the BP gauge has moved from a max of 5 to a max of 7 points. To be frank, I’m happy there wasn’t a significant change in the battle system as I thought it already felt rewarding without being overcomplicated. Though that isn’t to say that you can’t dig deeper into it as you certainly can spend plenty of time optimizing everyone’s ARCUS units.
Strategy and when you use your orders will be important as you take on the many bosses thrown at you. The game can be as hard you like though with an option for everyone. If you feel like your strong enough for everything but are struggling with a certain battle the game will provide you the option to retry as is, or to weaken enemies and retry. So whether you want to dig in for every battle and/or grind out levels, or if you simply want to enjoy the story there’s an option for you. Divine Knight battles also return, and while still easier than your encounters on foot, there is a welcome increase in difficulty.
Perhaps one of the coolest features of Trails of Cold Steel 4 lies in the size of the cast it brings to the table. The game, while focusing on Rean and Class VII, is so much larger and incorporates many heroes and villains from as far back as Trails in the Sky. Not only do we get to see the likes of Estelle and Joshua Bright brought to life with modern graphics, we GET TO PLAY THEM TOO! The sense of scale that the Trails series brings is amazing and isn’t something that I imagine will be replicated any time soon.
To conclude, Trails of Cold Steel 4 lived up to the hype for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent on my first playthrough as I prepare for my second playthrough. NIS America has done an excellent job in bringing this game to the West. For everyone who has either played through or enjoys Trails of Cold Steel I couldn’t recommend this game more. If you haven’t played Trails of Cold Steel but enjoy RPG’s and JRPG’s then I would be more inclined to recommend the series to you. While this game is great and checked all the boxes for me, it’s worth stating that’s it’s not meant to be a starting point for the series if you are brand new.