Note: Due to the nature of the ending of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III and the events of Trails of Cold Steel IV, there will be plenty of spoilers for the two ahead.
Picking up two weeks after The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Trails of Cold Steel IV starts off with a slow burn showing various points of view from across the country of Erobonia on the eve of war with the neighboring Republic of Calvard. With Rean’s fate currently left unknown, heroes from Trails in the Sky and Trails from Zero / of Azure take up the torch until everything comes together for this damn near epic conclusion.
Having literally just re-finished Trails of Cold Steel III mere weeks before starting the finale, my emotions were already high after the conclusion of the third. Class VII, both old and new, fought their hardest against those that would see the world end and during the final fight lost friends and family alike. From longtime characters of the series like Prince Olivert to newcomers like Millium, it was heartbreaking to see them die (in a series that no one ever does) all while series protagonist Rean loses in the final moments to both his birth father and his Ogre power that finally, and truly, got out of his control. Having closed the curtain on the unleashing of The Great Twilight, the curtain now rises and things are rather grim for those that call the Erebonian Empire home.
There is so, so, much to say in regards to this final entry in the series. Starting off with perhaps the smallest item of note however, and unlike the jump from Trails of Cold Steel I to Trails of Cold Steel II and then Trails of Cold Steel III, Cold Steel IV has perhaps the least amount of mechanical upgrades from the previous three entries which makes some sense as it’s come out the fastest on the back of its predecessors. For the most part, the systems have remained the same except for maybe now having more Bravery Points for orders, Rush and Unity Attacks. Honestly? I was actually rather happy about this fact as it made for a much easier transition instead of needing to re-learn everything from the ground up especially when you know you’re going to be at it for at the very least, 60+ hours for a normal ending and maybe half the quests as there a fair amount that you have to uncover yourself.
As a system recap for anyone joining us now though, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I, II, III and IV are turned based RPGs with some oomph to them adding in various strategic elements into the initiative based order that it uses. In order of whoever is the fastest, every participant will have the chance to use normal attacks, arts (that are like magic), crafts (personal special abilities), items, orders (special commands to change various aspects such as attack or defense power).
Where things can get either interesting or frustrating is that arts can be cancelled by crafts, orders can make your party faster to move ahead of the enemies a few times, or new this time, enemies can also use orders making you slower or making your arts and crafts cost 150-200% more for a few turns. There’s strategy involved there as well as the timeline itself which has modifiers allowing for healing, critical hits, deathblows, restoring points for arts and crafts, and loads more.
Trails of Cold Steel IV, as much as I loved it as it wraps up a series, is that it’s far from perfect. A lot was tried to be piled on in order to bring everything to a conclusion and because of this, unlike Trails of Cold Steel III that was dungeon crawling heavy, Trails of Cold Steel IV is boss battle heavy. And I mean HEAVY as I felt at times that I spent as much time fighting bosses as I did I’m cut scenes leading up to them. There’s nothing wrong with a good boss battle, but, having them back to back to back with no respite and that in each you’re not even supposed to win but hold out or at least lower an enemy a certain amount? It gets a bit old especially in a turned based RPG when you were clearly winning it and then get stripped of all of your bonuses just to restart at nothing two seconds later.
Where a lot of effort was put in though was into the storytelling aspects of Trails of Cold Steel IV. Being the end of the saga there are a lot of loose ends to tie up and with how much of an emotional bang Trails of Cold Steel III left on? With how much it hinted at over its own 80+ hours for just getting to the end? It has a lot to explain and tie off if there was going to be any sense of closure which is why for the first twenty hours, New and Old Class VII spend their time in an actual JRPG format and not the quest and task based style that has been carried over from the beginning.
From the slow burn of Erobonia’s people to the fast paced dungeon brawl (yes brawl) of Estelle and Joshua from Sky and Lloyd and Elie from Zero / Azure, you’re soon set into the hands of new class VII’s Juna, Kurt and Altina. Knowing what they want to do, they marshal Old Class VII back into emotional fighting shape after their own loss of Rean and head off to find their instructor, our dear series protagonist. Split into several chapters over the course of the first Act, it was refreshing to have a new style of adventure while also keeping a good familiarity with the peoples and places that are being visited. Quests, like any good RPG are still present, but they aren’t mandatory to move on. Instead, they have that “feel good” feeling that you get for helping someone out even if the world is on the brink of destruction.
Being an overarching long running series of its own having started back in 1989, the world, the characters and their stories have come a long way and Trails of Cold Steel IV is a prime example of this. Again to cite the previous entries, Trails of Cold Steel I and Trails of Cold Steel II were rather self contained only hinting at other nations and characters without going much further into it as they simply didn’t fit into the narratives of school life and then the civil war between the noble factions and the empire itself. Moving into the third though and the stage not only began to become larger but also extended a hand to long time characters who were either outright or massively hinted at which made their appearance into the final chapter a logical approach and not simply a massive curve-ball that you didn’t see coming. Now, Trails of Cold Steel IV has some of those massive curve-balls but those you’ll have to discover for yourself.
Now, promotional trailers aside that do showcase this, before the start of the second of three acts you do get the chance to get Rean back. Handing the lead back to our leading swordsman, Rean takes the lead of the adventure with fellow members of Class VII both new and old in order to prepare for the imminent war that is about to begin which is where Trails of Cold Steel IV takes a turn back into the well known format of requiring to complete various importance before moving onto the main act.
Another aspect that is brought back are the limited amounts of bonding points that you can receive in order to get closer to those that have chosen to fight alongside you. These bonding points are given out at the beginning of each chapter and more can be acquired by meeting certain objectives. You don’t HAVE to use them but by doing so would don’t you both a lot of addition story as well as stay boosts to characters and some pretty nifty equipment.
While bonding points themselves could lead you to a more emotional connection with someone, Alisa was my choice from the start with Rean going back to Trails of Cold Steel I, there’s now a chance to truly have a moment with someone else. There are several factors involved, but it leads our leading man to decide who he truly wants to be with, if anyone, while also not breaking anyone’s hearts as the rest are well aware they aren’t the only ones vying for his love. It felt a bit odd at first especially since Alisa and Rean were a thing due to imported choices, but it could be a nice distraction between all of the boss fights and explorations while setting up for the main event.
Finally, I also want to give a huge shout out for the continued amazing work of the Falcon Sound Team. From new and amazing high beat entries such as “To the Future” and “Synchronicity” that I’ve literally had on repeat to the softer and more emotional “Lyrical Amber”, there was never a moment that didn’t have an appropriate musical accompaniment. Only making it more perfect was the return of possibly my favorite musical arrangement “The Atrocious Raid” which made me fall in love with this series before even knowing who the original Class VII were.
Compared to the music though, there was one aspect that did fall short at times and it was the voice overs. The voice acting itself is just as on point as it has been with the ever growing cast, but there were some moments that I felt could fall short due to the fact that one character was vocally speaking while another would respond in text only. A good part of me understands this as the sheer amount of dialog within the various styles of cut scenes and exploration is freaking huge which is why we had almost not gotten Trails in the Sky Chapter 2 in the first place. Adding to my understanding is that as good as they are, NIS / NISA aren’t the largest of studios, but I felt like if the voice could all be together and then the text only parts all be together, it could have connected things that much better.