Review: Trails of Cold Steel 3

We were a litt­le appre­hen­si­ve going into Trails of Cold Steel 3. It had a lot to live up, being a chan­ce to impro­ve upon its some­what disap­poin­ting pre­de­ces­sor while also nee­ding to start tying mul­ti­ple long-run­ning plot threads tog­e­ther. Thank­ful­ly, Trails of Cold Steel 3 is a return to form for the series, offe­ring up an incredi­b­ly leng­thy sto­ry that will still lea­ve you wan­ting more.

As this is a sequel to Cold Steel 2, we would recom­men­ded not play­ing Cold Steel 3 (or rea­ding fur­ther into this review) if you have not play­ed the pre­vious games. 

A year and a half after the dra­ma­tic events of Cold Steel 2, citi­zens of the Ere­bo­ni­an Empi­re are star­ting to reco­ver from the civil war that took place. Ere­bo­nia is now the lar­gest coun­try in Zemu­ria, and the Impe­ri­al government get to work increa­sing their influ­ence over the many noble fami­lies that fought against them. Having been deeply invol­ved in the civil war and the events that fol­lo­wed, retur­ning prot­ago­nist Rean Schwar­zer is final­ly able to gra­dua­te from Thors Mili­ta­ry Aca­de­my. He is quick­ly thrust into a tea­ching role at the Academy’s branch cam­pus, fin­ding him­s­elf lea­ding the suc­ces­sor to his old class, Class VII. 

While the set­ting may initi­al­ly seem fami­li­ar, the branch cam­pus ends up having a dif­fe­rent tone com­pa­red to the first game. Ins­tead of the more light-hear­ted tone Cold Steel 1 had for much of the game, Cold Steel 3 ends up being a litt­le more groun­ded. That’s not to say every moment is over­ly serious, but there’s defi­ni­te­ly more of a focus on the ‘Mili­ta­ry’ part of Thors Mili­ta­ry Aca­de­my. The branch cam­pus is made up of stu­dents who likely wouldn’t be accep­ted to the main aca­de­my, eit­her due to their back­ground or abi­li­ty, lea­ding to a much more varie­ty set of stu­dents. As is the Trails way, the­re are a lot of named cha­rac­ters that you can talk to and, once again, many of the stu­dent from other clas­ses end up being more inte­res­ting that the main cast from other RPGs. 

The new Class VII is also a varied bunch, fol­lo­wing the spi­rit of the ori­gi­nal class by brin­ging tog­e­ther stu­dents from various walks of life. Asi­de from Rean and Alti­na, the rest of the class are com­ple­te­ly new to the series, though they do have links to other fami­li­ar faces. To balan­ce out the cra­zy amount of cha­rac­ters that the game intro­du­ces, this Class VII is noti­ce­ab­ly smal­ler even with the stu­dents that join over the year. This is far from a bad thing, as too many new cha­rac­ters at this point would make the sto­ry less focu­sed. 

Retur­ning to a more line­ar sto­ry with a simi­lar lay­out to the first game defi­ni­te­ly worked out in the end, and there’s never a point whe­re you’re left bored by what is hap­pe­ning. You tra­vel to many dif­fe­rent are­as during the sto­ry, each one giving you more infor­ma­ti­on on the cur­rent sta­te of the world. It may be a litt­le too line­ar for tho­se used to more open ended JRPGs, but Cold Steel 3 does an excel­lent job of kee­ping you invested even in its quie­ter moments. Important sto­ry sce­nes also fea­ture some fan­tastic voice acting from the main cast in both Eng­lish and Japa­ne­se, though it can be jar­ring to only have some cha­rac­ters being voi­ced in cer­tain sce­nes. 

A spe­cial men­ti­on has to be made for the qua­li­ty of the loca­li­sa­ti­on. The­re were some doubts that NISA would match the qua­li­ty of XSEED’s work, though it’s clear that this isn’t a repeat of what hap­pen­ed with Ys VIII. The vast majo­ri­ty of Cold Steel 3 is up to par with the pre­vious games, and most of the Eng­lish voice­over cast makes their return. The game could have done with a litt­le more time for proofrea­ding howe­ver, as gram­ma­ti­cal mista­kes beco­me more noti­ce­ab­le as the game goes on. Not­hing over­ly pro­ble­ma­tic, but noti­ce­ab­le enough to be worth men­tio­ning. 

It’s not just the set­ting that fol­lows a fami­li­ar pat­tern, most game­play sys­tems are car­ri­ed over from the pre­vious 2 games as well. During Rean’s free time at the cam­pus or during one of the many field trips, you can walk around gathe­ring infor­ma­ti­on and picking up side-quests. Fast tra­vel is avail­ab­le once again, and you have access to fas­ter modes of trans­port most of the time when not in dun­ge­ons. Explo­ra­ti­on is incen­ti­vi­sed through side-quests and ches­ts, but it’s easy to ful­ly explo­re each map with litt­le effort. 

Batt­les are most­ly unch­an­ged too, though they do feel a litt­le fas­ter in com­pa­ri­son to ear­lier games. Arts, crafts and s-crafts, and com­bat links all work as they did pre­vious­ly, so it takes no time at all to get back into the swing of things. Repla­cing the over­dri­ve mecha­nic from Cold Steel 2 are bra­ve orders, various buffs that affect the ent­i­re par­ty for a cer­tain amount of turns. This ends up being extre­me­ly over­powe­red, as buil­ding up the bra­ve points nee­ded for bra­ve orders is far easier than using over­dri­ve. 

While the Cold Steel games have gene­ral­ly been on the easier side, bra­ve orders com­bi­ned with the stron­ger arts makes batt­les even easier than befo­re. You can at least increa­se the dif­fi­cul­ty at any time, but at this point is seems like the batt­le sys­tem Cold Steel uses will never be balan­ced. Mech batt­les at the very least saw some major impro­ve­ments, if only becau­se they’re more than one on one fights now, though they’re still not too dif­fi­cult. 

One area that is a clear impro­ve­ment is the over­all pre­sen­ta­ti­on, as Cold Steel 3 is the first game in the series sole­ly made for a HD con­so­le. Cha­rac­ter models defi­ni­te­ly bene­fit from this, being far more detail­ed and doing a bet­ter job at matching their respec­tive 2D art­work. Envi­ron­ments have also been impro­ved, though the­se don’t look qui­te as nice as the cha­rac­ter models. Tex­tures are detail­ed for the most part, and each town has a dis­tinc­tive the­me, but a lot of the are­as in-bet­ween do look a litt­le dated. Some are­as also suf­fer from frame­ra­te issu­es, though this is not very com­mon. 


Despi­te some grie­van­ces with the game’s balan­cing, Trails of Cold Steel 3 is a return to form for the series. Brin­ging tog­e­ther various plot points and cha­rac­ters from 7 pre­vious games is not an easy task, and they defi­ni­te­ly suc­cee­ded here. It makes the wait for Trails of Cold Steel 4 even more unbe­ara­ble, so hope­ful­ly we won’t have to wait ano­t­her 2 years. 

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