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The Legend Of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2020 (US), Nov. 3, 2020 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 2, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The Legend Of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is an RPG where the heroes of Class VII find themselves against the full force of the Empire in an attempt to stop its path of total domination.

Buy The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV opens up right where Trails of Cold Steel III's painful cliffhanger left off. Series protagonist Rean has accidentally unleashed the Great Twilight, an ancient curse that causes the Erebonian people to go into violent rages and start a deadly war. With the entire nation mobilizing for war, Rean missing in action, and everyone scattered to the winds, all hope seems lost. The only people who can stand against the tide are the members of the Thor's Academy Class VII. Together, they must rescue Rean and find a way to stop the curse before it plunges the world into a hellish battle.

Trails of Cold Steel IV is the epic conclusion to hundreds of hours of plot, but it has some significant problems that blunt its enjoyment. The subseries has become increasingly intertwined with other games in the franchise. Early on, there were some references, but by ToCS4, there are so many allusions, cameos, names, and plot details that only make sense if you've played the other games. This is a problem, since they're all JRPGs that run at least 40 hours, and a couple of titles have never been translated into English. You can usually puzzle out plot details from the context, but the issue isn't figuring out what's going on; it's about having an emotional connection to it.

Trails of Cold Steel IV is sort of an Avengers style thing where it relies heavily on you having an emotional connection to the characters based on previous games. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately the game tends to use this nostalgia as a shortcut to cover up the game's somewhat thin plot and characterization. If you're in the audience and get excited at seeing Estelle Bright pop in to beat up a giant robot then it'll work fine, but if you came to the series with Cold Steel you're going to be spending a lot of time with characters you know nothing about.

This leads to another of ToCS4's problems: cast bloat. There are an absurd number of characters in the game, and even if you focus on the people who are important to the main plot, there are still a ridiculous number of characters. This ends up making the characters feel underdeveloped because they're fighting for screen time with literally dozens of other characters. Often, the game takes significant shortcuts to get people where they belong, either via random teleportation or the Great Twilight curse, which makes people act evil because the plot says so.

This is made very clear by Act 1, which is the high point of ToCS4. By temporarily benching the protagonist Rean, Academy Class VII gets time to shine. They get more focus and development in this first chapter than in the entirety of the previous title, ToCS3. With the focus on Academy Class VII and the occasional cameo, it gives characters room to develop and concentrates on their plots. Once Rean rejoins, it becomes all about him again, the cast expands exponentially, and few get the time to shine. When I was playing Act 1, ToCS4 was becoming one of my favorite games in the franchise. Once Act 2 began, it felt like an obligation to reach the conclusion after I'd poured several hundred hours of time into the series.

As far as the payoff goes, I am not sure it was worth the wait, but it is an enjoyable spectacle. It has a fun mashup of characters fighting increasingly ridiculous villains where everyone has a teleporting giant robot and your levels go over a hundred. It's nice to see things come to a close — although a next sequel that features many of the same cast members has already announced. I feel that you could have made a more condensed ToCS1 and ToCS2 and had basically the same impact while cutting out a lot of the meaningless fluff.

I'm focusing a lot on the story because the gameplay in ToCS4 is almost identical to the previous game in every way. You'll fight similar enemies, unlock similar quartzes, recruit similar characters, and fight similar bosses. To the game's credit, it starts with your characters at level 50 and with a somewhat higher difficulty level to compensate for the fact that by the fourth game in the series, you should know how to play it. You know exactly what you're getting here, only with more characters.

The game attempts to balance some of the more overpowered parts of the combat system. Brave Orders begin in a significantly weakened form from the previous game and only reach their full power after you complete optional challenges. Certain techniques have been tweaked to be more useful or less overpowered. Defensive and offensive status effects seem to have gotten more significant to the point where equipping anti-status items becomes more useful than expected.

ToCS4 is also a remarkably long game with a ton to do. In some ways, it feels heavily padded because you'll revisit the same towns multiple times — something that other games in the series have tried to avoid. Despite the padding, there is a fair amount to do. There are side-quests, hidden bosses, secret plots, and so on that you can discover as you poke around the world. There are even two separate minigames, Vantage Masters (returning from ToCS3) and a delightfully enjoyable Puyo-Puyo clone that focuses on the franchise's little Pom monsters. You're absolutely getting your money's worth with ToCS4 in terms of content, and if you're someone who likes challenging the game's punishing Nightmare mode, it certainly doesn't hold back.

Visually, ToCS4 is almost identical to ToCS3 too. There's a little more ambition in some of the cut scenes, but a lot has been recycled from previous games, so you know what to expect. The voice acting is quite good. Some cast members seem to have been recast, but their performances generally seem good enough. Rean's voice actor does a great job with some tough scenes, but sometimes, he seems to be trying too hard to have a grim voice. There were a lot of noticeable graphical glitches with the translation, including text going outside of the boxes, glaring typos, and situations where the translation did not correctly identify characters from previous games (defeating the point of being a self-referencing series). It isn't enough to sour the experience, but ToCS4 does feel less polished than the previous games did.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is a rather bloated blockbuster crossover event that's shaped like a JRPG. If you're a die-hard Trails fan with a deep love of the franchise, then seeing your favorite characters interact will probably make up for the somewhat disappointing story. Anyone else should stay far away until they've played the first three Trails of Cold Steel main games in the series, and looking up the other games in the franchise couldn't hurt. I had fun with ToCS4, but it's a bit of a mess, and your enjoyment will depend on how much that mess appeals to you. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the series, but I can only hope the next game is more focused than this offering.

Score: 7.0/10

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