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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: Oct. 22, 2019 (US), Oct. 29, 2019 (EU)

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PS4 Preview - 'The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III'

by Thomas Wilde on June 14, 2019 @ 8:30 a.m. PDT

When it seems as if peace has finally settled over the empire of Erebonia, the embers of war stir anew just a mere year-and-a-half later in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III.

Pre-order The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

I was initially cautious when I saw The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III in action, as the E3 floor demo made it look like it had yielded to market forces. The Legend of Heroes series, for the last few years, has carved out a modest reputation for being proper-style Japanese RPGs in a market where most of the old similar franchises in that genre have evolved out of it or faded away.

Trails of Cold Steel III, thankfully, continues that particular trend. Legend of Heroes hasn't turned into an action-RPG, it doesn't play itself while you watch, it isn't in real time, and it isn't some kind of weird wedding between a single-player game and an MMO. It's a JRPG, dammit, the way we used to understand them. You're going to get unironic character tropes, high school students charged with the fate of the world, and the kind of wildly dissonant level of technology that has three guys with swords and spears fighting against full suits of powered armor and winning.


All that's really changed here is the perspective. It's still a turn-based, movement-focused tactical RPG, with a few extra systems layered on top of it. I found myself instantly on familiar ground, although I didn't quite get the hang of some of the other features that are now in play.

Cold Steel III ships with a summary of the events of the last couple of games in the main menu, but it's generally meant to serve as a solid jumping-on point for the franchise in general. The only returning character from past games is Rean Schwartzer, the protagonist of II. It's been 18 months since the events of the previous game, and Rean has semi-retired to a position on the frontier as a teacher at a military academy.

The majority of the cast of Cold Steel III are brand-new characters, many of whom are Rean's students. The game is set in a part of the Trails universe that's been mentioned before now, but never seen in-game, in the eastern Ereborian Empire. When Rean's academy gets suddenly invaded, it's up to his class to pull together and push them back.


Cold Steel III feels instantly familiar to anyone with any experience with the series. Fights are turn-based, once again, and set on a grid, so your characters' movements play a big role in what actions they can take. Arts are used to throw out elemental ranged attacks, delivering big damage at the cost of a short windup time before they fire, while your characters' actions and incoming damage gradually generate points that can be spent on big, hard-hitting Crafts.

The big new feature in Cold Steel III is the addition of what's basically weaponized teenage drama. Each character in your party can track their relationships with one another, which can improve over time, based upon your actions and decisions. You can maintain links in combat and switch them around without burning a turn on it, and characters with a high level of support for one another are likely to back each other up when they act. That puts a lot of free damage on the table and can lead to a devastating follow-up move.

If you can use a linked attack to successfully stun an opponent, that generates Brave Points. Those, in turn, can be used to throw out cheap, powerful linked attacks for each character, or spent in a big number in order to throw out a Brave Order: a big buff that temporarily powers up your entire party.


It sounds like a lot to juggle, but in practice, it adds a little resource management and a lot of extra features to even a throwaway random encounter. Other past features, like S-Crafts, also make a return here, so Cold Steel III's combat is basically a big, flashy procession of lots of things happening on every turn. It deals with the usual problem of the traditional JRPG — most of the throwaway fights boiling down to taping a heavy rock over the "attack" button and going to do something else for a couple of minutes — by giving you a lot to keep track of, so you can do your best to exploit several systems at once.

Even the guy giving me a demo did admit that Cold Steel III's cast is basically a bunch of anime tropes jammed together, but at this point, much like Legend of Heroes itself, that has its own weird charm. There's always room for a couple of decent throwback games like this, and from what I saw, Cold Steel III is an update to a previously solid formula that adds features and elements without trying to reinvent the wheel.



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