Review | The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
In a world where JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Persona have separate stories between titles, one JRPG has boldly kept a continuous story for years. Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series has been going for over three decades. As one ongoing story, it’s quite the endeavor to take the entire lore in. Luckily, the story does get broken down into arcs, including the more recent Trails of Cold Steel arc. Now, after seven years, that arc has come to a conclusion with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV. It’s a pretty big ending, but it will still take you a long time to reach it. There’s a lot of big plot elements, so for this review, we’ll do our best to avoid spoiling things.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV takes place right after the events of the previous game. Even though this is the fourth entry, Trails of Cold Steel IV really feels like an extension of Trails of Cold Steel III. The story throws you right into the thick of things, letting players see the start of a war. After a tragic event, citizens are being called to arms and drafted to fight in a war that could be devastating for everyone. As for how the Trails of Cold Steel III ending effects our protagonists… well they’re sort of in shambles. The Trails saga features dozens of key characters, and some of them are in better shape than others.
Perhaps the most worst off is the Trails of Cold Steel hero, Rean Schwarzer, who is now captured while fighting a curse inside him. While battling his demons puts him in immense torment for a good portion of the game, players will get to play as the Ashen Chevalier again. They’ll just have to earn it by getting through an extensive amount of plot to rescue him. The Trails of Cold Steel games are not short, and Trails of Cold Steel IV is no exception with over 80 hours of content. If you’ve started from the first game and made it all the way here, this should be no surprise for you. With that in mind, we really don’t recommend starting with Trails of Cold Steel IV.
While we once said that Trails of Cold Steel III is fine for newcomers, it becomes very clear that this isn’t the case for the finale. While the game provides an extensive backstory log to read, it doesn’t seem to be enough this time. This becomes very apparent right from the start when you’re given control of heroes from Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki, also known as the Crossbell arc, two entries of the franchise that never got an official localization. These characters bately get any mention in the backstory log, which makes it feel somewhat incomplete. So while it’s nice to have the highlights of the plot and characters, there’s still some missing information without having experienced the stories yourself.
Despite this being the conclusion of a tetralogy, Trails of Cold Steel IV treats every character like you’re meeting them for the first time, much like the previous game. It’s an interesting presentation to maintain at this point, and characters often reference events from previous games. This sometimes brings up short flashback images and even nostalgic dialogue. While it helps to refresh our memories, it does make things a bit redundant. Just the amount of exposition in the game itself is a bit alarming. Right from the start, it took roughly half an hour of exposition just to finally gain control of a character. It sort of starts the pacing off on a sour note, especially when some of the dialogue asks for player input. Luckily, there’s an option to automatically advance it.
Getting to the gameplay, not much has really changed from Trails of Cold Steel III. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, as the combat was already a huge step up from Trails of Cold Steel II. Players will attack enemies on an overworld map and battle in turn-based combat. The commands map themselves to the D-pad and face buttons, with special commands using the shoulder buttons. Characters can attack in a variety of ways, including their standard attack, crafts, and orbal arts. Crafts will use craft points that players earn by attacking and taking damage while orbal arts use energy points. If a character has more than 100 craft points, they can also use the flashy yet powerful S-crafts.
Orders also return in Trails of Cold Steel IV, utilizing brave points to grant their team bonuses. This can often give strength or defense boosts, higher critical attack chances, and even reflected damage. Orders are crucial to do well in the combat, which can get tough, even on the lower difficulties. Combat Links also return, giving characters additional attacks, that can earn or use brave points. Those who take the time to understand the strategy behind the combat will be rewarded with constant Rush and Burst attacks. For those that don’t want to think, there’s the useful auto-battle feature that makes the more common battles less work. Returning from Trails of Cold Steel II, players will also have the ability to earn Lost Arts. You can only use these powerful attacks once in battle, and it will use all of a characters energy points.
One feature from the previous game gets a bit of a remix this time around. You can now summon Panzer Soldats, the series mechs, during fights to bring some extra power to battles. They can only be summoned by certain characters, so some can be more valuable than others. This makes things a lot more interesting than having separate Panzer Soldat battles and adds an extra layer to combat. Given the ARCUS and bond system on top of that, and you have some incredibly deep JRPG combat. Thankfully my experience with the previous title made the combat system less overwhelming. Even so, you’ll still have a lot of tutorial windows to read before you can fully get into the experience.
Another immensely strong element of the game is the music. The series has some excellent music, some returning from the previous game on top of some new tunes. It’s also great to hear the excellent voice cast return, with a handful of exceptions lowering the bar. While the majority of the voice work is solid, I still have issues with the inconsistent presentation. Scenes continue to play out and switch between voice acting and standard text dialogue. By this point in the series, I’m used to it, but I can’t think of too many other games that handle dialogue this way. Paired with the recycled and often stiff animation, this is where the game shows most of its faults.
One thing we feel that’s worth noting is the ending, though again, we won’t spoil it for you. Consider this more of helpful advice to prepare you for the later section of the game. Fans will want to complete all side quests in the final chapter if they wish to see the true ending. The normal ending will feel way too anticlimactic for a series of this scale, so you’ll really want to see it through. Viewing the true ending makes it all worth it and brings some closure to fans of the long running series. To tell the truth, I do still like the emotional ending of Trails of Cold Steel III better. Maybe it was just the way the original presentation was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Trails of Cold Steel IV’s ending.
While The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV brings an epic conclusion to the saga, it’s not without faults. The fantastic newer elements from the third entry return while this entry refines it into an ultimately better system. It also continues the use of a lot of strange presentation choices that feel almost archaic in 2020. Despite this, players will have an extremely large cast of heroes to work with in a fun setting. It’s sort of like the Avengers: Endgame of JRPGs. The challenging combat is still rewarding, keeping the dozens of hours engaging almost all throughout. If you’ve been there since the beginning, then completing this one should feel like a major accomplishment. For those that are still green to the franchise, we definitely recommend starting from the beginning of this amazing series.
Final Score: 8 out of 10