Thanks to NIS AMERICA for the review code
Title: Trails of Cold Steel III
Release Date: 10/22/2019
In a new arc of the Trails series, Rean Schawrtzer goes from student to teacher as he teaches a new class of students. In the aftermath of the fierce war and some stunning revelations, Rean soon realizes not everything is as it seems, and thus the new Class VII must set out to take care of the new threat that could involve the whole continent…
Like other games in this franchise, Cold Steel III is definitely one that benefits from added context from the prior games, so if you can, playing those first is a good idea. However, unlike Cold Steel II or Trails SC, which were the ones I started the series with for review, I found Cold Steel III to be a more approachable entry point, since you’re not in the middle of an arc, and the recaps from CSII return with more in-depth explanations than ever behind major characters and returning cast members, so even newcomers who play this first on the Switch or because they got this for a good deal won’t be as terribly lost as if they played II, save for some key plot elements and a location that rely on a pair of PSP games that aren’t included in the recaps. (though some of their major characters are)
Of course, you should absolutely at least start from the first Cold Steel if possible, but if you can’t, this at least helps and makes the game stand out better alone than the other entries I’ve covered, and the recap helps to make starting here feel more like watching Digimon Adventure 02 before the original, in that you still have a new story and new characters that are independent and enjoyable, but knowing how the older Class VII has grown since the events of the original two games will enrich the experience and make returning characters feel all the more special.
Trails of Cold Steel III marks a big visual upgrade from the original versions of Cold Steel I and II, using the same art style, but with much better visual detail, expressions, framerate, and a bigger scope overall, so if you’re used to how the older games played, then this should feel right at home, and a lot smoother.
Speaking of smoothness, Cold Steel III uses the power of the PS4 to add a new mode to the game that impacts the entire presentation, and it’s the high-speed mode. When toggled on, everything in the game moves at around triple speed, which can make battles and exploration a breeze! Cutscenes move faster too, but the voice acting will still play as normal, unless you try to skip the cutscene, which will simply mute it. Still, this is a fantastic quality of life tweak, and it was backported into the PS4 Kai versions of Cold Steel I and II.
The musical score in Cold Steel III follows up on the fantastic soundtrack from II, and I definitely liked a lot of the songs in III a lot more, mainly the battle and boss themes, along with several town themes that I felt eclipsed those from II. In the end, it’s pretty much standard Falcom quality, meaning that this OST is pretty darn godlike, and there’s not a bad track in the list. The english voice acting is also still really good, and even manages to bring back quite a few of the original voice actors, despite the change in publisher. They also managed to include the Japanese cast as an option this time around, too, which is neat.
Trails of Cold Steel III continues the same fun gameplay mechanics that the Trails series has to offer, including the Orbment, Quartz, sidequests, and combat links that you’ve all gotten used to if you’ve played any of the previous games, including the ones I’ve reviewed, and while this game is a generational leap, the experience is still familiar in a lot of aspects. Combat is still enjoyable, and the new Hi-Speed mode makes battles faster than they’ve been before, making the overall experience a lot more enjoyable as a result.
Like before, you gain arts by equipping quartz, which are elemental orbs that can be obtained from chests or enemies, or synthesized from materials. Placing them in your ARCUS and opening up slots for them can lead to your characters gaining their skills or linking to your Master Quarts, prompting a lot of strategies for which arts are available. Likewise, Crafts are also back, and the devastating S-Craft can still be unleashed in a pinch to deal massive damage.
Rean and his new Class VII are in the fray now, meaning that even if you have data from CSII, you’ll be starting from zero, so thus, your link skills will have to be built up again! Like before, these can be used to improve your bonds between party members, increase the chance of assist attacks, and allow for party members to come to their partner’s aid in a time of need. It feels natural enough, and further cements the “second arc” nature of this game, while also feeling familiar to veterans.
Of course, being on the PS4 now, the environments are a lot bigger and better, meaning that your field missions take place in more robust environments, and the hi-speed mode affects foot travel as well, meaning that combined with the dash button and handy map, speeding through dungeons and areas are a breeze now, and even when on campus to take on sidequests and story missions, the game feels a lot faster overall, despite how lengthy this game is.
Also like Cold Steel II, there are occasional battles where Rean or his classmate will pilot a mech, whether it’s Rean’s Ashen Knight, or one of the ones that the academy has built for students. These battles are few and far between like before, but they’re also just as memorable and fun, and offer a good pace-breaker in combat that doesn’t feel like a detractor. There’s also a card minigame to play with NPCs here, though it isn’t really anything special, and is more of a fun side activity to mess around with. Overall, the game just feels more polished than last time, and the extra speed goes a long way.
In conclusion, Trails of Cold Steel III was a very fun RPG, containing all the good parts from II which I loved, with better pacing thanks to the Turbo Mode, and a story that sets up the next entry rather well. The story’s the main draw for returning fans, and newcomers are better off starting from Cold Steel I, but if you can only join in on this entry due to the Switch exclusivity, then you will still be able to get tons of fun from this game. Just be absolute sure to beat this before starting Cold Steel IV, as that’s definitely not a game to make your first under any circumstance, recaps be dammed. Thankfully, Cold Steel III is well worth a full playthrough, even if it’ll take you quite a bit to do so.
I give Trails of Cold Steel III a 9 out of 10.