Have you played through Trails of Cold Steel III? If not, take our advice and don’t even think about trying Trails of Cold Steel IV. Apparently, the two games were originally meant to be just one big instalment in Falcom’s long running The Legend of Heroes franchise — but the sheer scope of the saga forced them apart. Put simply, you won’t have a clue what’s happening in Cold Steel IV if you haven’t finished Cold Steel III. And that’s just for starters.
Cold Steel IV is a culmination of everything that’s happened over the entire Cold Steel quadrilogy. It even incorporates a bunch of characters and plot points from previous The Legend of Heroes games — some of which haven’t even been officially localised outside of Japan. For complete newcomers, this is a near impenetrable release. But it’s this density that makes Cold Steel so unique and engrossing. Like an anime that spans hundreds upon hundreds of episodes, Cold Steel IV rewards those who have stuck with the series.
The way in which Cold Steel IV brings everyone and everything together is, at times, masterful. We’re at a point where the series boasts one of the largest casts in all of gaming, and yet Falcom is, more often than not, able to keep the overarching story in view while also ensuring that all of your favourite characters get a few seconds to shine.
That said, there are times when the gigantic cast becomes a problem. Story scenes can start to feel bloated as each and every character gets at least one line of dialogue, and preparing a party of over 20 heroes — complete with their own equipment and abilities — can be overwhelming. But thankfully, these flashes of frustration are few and far between. For most of Cold Steel IV, Falcom does an admirable job of breaking things down into more manageable chunks.
Indeed, Cold Steel IV has some of the best, most inspired moments in the whole saga. Granted, it’s had three games’ worth of world building and character development to use as a springboard, but that doesn’t diminish the impact. As a conclusion to a tale that’s hundreds of hours in the making, Cold Steel IV delivers — and that’s really its greatest achievement.
But it’s not all smooth sailing. Without spoiling anything specific, fans will know that Cold Steel III ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. And while Cold Steel IV picks up the story almost exactly where it left off — beyond the prologue, at least — it does take a while to get back into the swing of things. The early hours are glacial as systems and mechanics are reintroduced, and it’s not until much later that the plot rediscovers its relentless momentum.
If you’ve come straight from Cold Steel III, the initial change in pacing can seem quite jarring, but it’s not a deal breaker. In fact, there’s a lot to admire about the opening act of Cold Steel IV in terms of structure. It’s arguably the most like a traditional JRPG that Cold Steel has ever been, as the party adventures from town to town, dungeon to dungeon. Again, it’s a slow start, but work past the pacing and there’s a surprisingly pleasant journey to enjoy here.
It’s with the game’s second chapter that the story starts to feel a little stretched. Locations are reused and some side quests are unbelievably tedious, to the point where you can’t help but wonder whether there’s some serious padding at play. Fortunately, this is also where the game opens up, which helps alleviate a lot of the chapter’s more annoying aspects. You’re free to travel between a number of locales, all while taking on optional bosses and powering up your ever-growing party. It’s addictive stuff, even if the narrative takes a backseat for a time.
As for combat, Cold Steel IV is identical to Cold Steel III on a system level — but the inner workings have been rebalanced. Simply put, Cold Steel III had some very abusable mechanics, and Falcom has clearly tried to scale them back a bit. For example, break damage has been dramatically reduced, meaning that you can’t just stagger enemies into submission over and over again like you could in the previous game. Likewise, Brave Orders — which grant party-wide buffs — have been toned down.
In general, battles feel more tactical because of these alterations. Although there are still ways to exploit certain abilities, it’s much harder to just steamroll your opponents with the brute force strategies that worked so well in Cold Steel III. We’re left with a slower, but arguably more involved combat system as a result, which leads to some tense, dramatic, and hugely rewarding boss fights. Overall, it’s a turn based system that still works incredibly well, and it’s bolstered by the in-depth character and party customisation that’s become a staple of the series.
On its own, Trails of Cold Steel IV is far from being the best game in the series, but as a conclusion to an epic story with characters that have long since won us over, it’s a fitting finale. Class VII remains one of the most endearing groups in gaming, and although they demand so much of your time across four whole games, both the journey and the eventual payoff has been worth it. When packaged together with Cold Steel I, II, and III, this is easily one of the most engrossing RPG sagas of our time.
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Robert’s been a dedicated PlayStation fan since the days of Tekken 2, and he still loves a good dust up. When he’s not practising combos, he’s usually getting lost in the latest 100-hour RPG, or, y’know, replaying The Witcher 3.
I don’t want to read this for fear of spoilers, but I was under the impression there would be more games beyond this one. Is that not the case?
But Cold Steel IV marks the end of the Class VII saga and this overall story arch. In that sense it’s a finale.
Great, thanks for letting me know. I’m a bit behind as I halted my second playthrough of 2 when I got the PS4, then had so much stopping me from getting back to it, yet wanted to do so before moving to 3. Might just bite the bullet and miss the plat on 2 to progress on. Being only on 3 is why I’m scared of spoilers lol
@ShogunRok RPGs require dedication and how you’re able to play all of them for reviews is impressive! Genshin Impact is GaaS but I’m sure you can manage a review although we all know it’s fantastic!
@TheArt Thanks! I’d love to but it’s just an incredibly busy time with the PS5 and so many games coming up. I barely managed to get this review done before the release date. But if we ever do find the time to go back to Genshin Impact, we will try to review it.
I will definitely get around to play these games. Glad they didn’t pull of a Mass Effect 3 ending of a great story.
I’m only 5 games away from this one! Almost finished Zero no Kiseki and then it’s just Ao and the 4 Cold Steel games 😂
Definitely excited for this. Looks like I’ll have to wait till tomorrow afternoon. My preorder hasn’t auto downloaded yet. Seems like theres an issue with Sony on that
@nessisonett wow that’s some dedication. I’ve only played (and platinumed…..flex) CS1-3. I do hope they port the other games to current gen systems some day. Especially the crossbell arc since that never has been officially ported to the west. But then again my backlog would not be happy for that addition as well.
@Jayslow Vita CFW is extremely useful for Trails! Played the Sky trilogy remasters and I’m playing the fan translations of the Crossbell games. I bought the JP cartridges so it’s all above board!
@ShogunRok Great review as always. Looking forward to seeing off Class 7. What a ride this series has been!
@nessisonett What do you think of Zero? Heard quite a few people saying the Crossbell games are the best in the entire franchise.
@ShogunRok Well… it suffers a bit from having to set up an entire new arc but the police procedural stuff is great and exploring one big city is quite a bit more interesting than the massive circle you move around in Sky. One major gripe is the lack of fast-forward in Zero, battles are insanely slow compared to Sky when you could speed up every battle by holding down X. I really like the cast though and the inclusion of Estelle, Joshua and Renne provide a solid link to the rest of the series.
@Rob_230 The series has become a huge part of my gaming life over the last few years. Already feels like something’s missing!
@nessisonett Interesting… Hopefully NISA decides to localise the recent PS4 remasters of Zero and Ao — would be amazing.
@ShogunRok The PS4 port adds a fast-forward button so my extremely low patience would jump at a Western release.
I stand by that RPGs should not go for straight up sequels ever. As I understand this series in particular does eventually get rid of the anime high school angle that the first coldsteel game had, but seeing as the story between all the games is connected I cannot just skip that one either, instead being forced to cope with the highschool if I want to get to the actual intriguing parts of it.
Even for this developer YS does it much better since the main plot between each installement is mostly always self-contained as I understand even if the main character is the same.
@ShogunRok good review, I hope to get round to playing this franchise at some point. I reckon you can sneak in another run through of Dragon Age Inquisition before PS5 drops, though.
@Expa0 I obviously really like this franchise, but I understand your point of view completely. On one hand, spreading such a huge story across so many games can give it a depth that a single release could never match. And that’s part of why it’s so good.
But on the other, having to play through at least four whole games in order to properly understand what’s going on is a very big ask. Some people simply don’t have the time, and others just can’t get into it for one reason or another.
i wouldn’t say its just 4 games as characters from trails in the sky make an appearance and also from trails to zero/azure
@johnny30 They do, but you don’t need prior knowledge of them to enjoy Cold Steel IV. It certainly helps, but if you’ve only played the Cold Steel games, I wouldn’t let that put you off.
For a lot of people, playing those older games just won’t be possible. Here’s hoping that we eventually get remasters!
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