The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 Review – The Best JRPG Series Delivers Yet Again
Nearly a year and a half have passed since the Erebonian civil war, and much has changed since then. Now graduated from Thors Military Academy, Rean Schwarzer has become an instructor at the Thors Branch Campus, a newly-opened academy that is quickly thrusted onto the national stage. It is here that he takes the lead of a brand new Class VII, and must guide a new generation of heroes into an unknown future.
+ Enthralling storyline
+ Colourful and endearing cast of characters
+ Chock full of content
+ Good replayability
+ Deep combat system
+ Game eases you into the combat system
+ Mech battles are more fleshed out
- Way too many playable characters to juggle
- Combat may seem too convoluted for new players
- English voice actors can feel a bit awkward
- Ends on a cliffhanger
What is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 About?
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is a direct sequel to the previous two games, taking place one a half years after the second entry in the Cold Steel subseries. Rean Schwarzer reprises his role as the protagonist but this time, he’s a military professor at Thors Branch Campus in Leeves.
There is a brand new Class VII, initially consisting of three characters; Altina Orion, Juna Crawford, and Kurt Vander. Later on, they are joined by Ash Carbide and Musse Egret. Aside from teaching, Rean is also tasked by the Imperial government to resolve numerous conflicts arising all over Erebonia, with some unexpected help from old friends.
In the midst of grooming the new Class VII as well as Thors Branch Campus as a whole, the students and professors are inevitably caught in yet another conflict. It seems both Chancellor Gilliath Osborne, the Gnomes, and Ouroboros are lurking in the darkness, with the mysterious “Phastasmal Blaze Plan” resuming once more. It’s up to Rean and the entirety of Class VII to save the day.
Continuing Where We Left Off
The biggest change compared to the previous two entries is that now, you are a professor instead of a student. However, the game still works quite similarly to before. You walk around the area, Leeves, doing a number of things including fishing, shopping, helping people out, and more.
Thors Branch Campus at Leeves is different from the main campus but the layout is very similar. You have a variety of shops at Leeves, Radio Trista, a church, and the school campus itself. While it may be limited at first, you will slowly unlock more places as you progress through the game.
Interestingly, you will bump into familiar faces in the new branch campus. One character I can say without spoiling the story is Towa Herschel, who works as an instructor alongside Rean. These people, along with “newer additions” later in the game, aren’t there just for cameo appearances as they will serve a role in the game, either by story or function such as new shops.
The game will progress by calendar dates, with each day being different than the other. Some days you will have missions that you have to undertake as part of the Thors curriculum, and other days you have a free day where you can freely do quests and attend bonding events with certain characters.
Bonding events will lead to cutscenes with that specific characters that can lead to a special final event with them. Some characters, like Claire Rieveldt, will yield powerful equipment when you’ve maxed out your bonding points. As bonding points are limited, you will have to plan out who you’d rather spend time with.
Towards the 2nd half of each chapter, you will have field studies, where you will be going to various areas in Erebonia to further the story. It’s similar to previous games, where you will have to help solve the problems at the area and beat the boss to end it.
The scary part here is that there is usually a few things that can be easily missed out on. From collectibles to optional side quests, it’s worth exploring every bit of the area as the rewards are usually worth it. It may be tedious but if you’re a seasoned JRPG veteran, it should be fairly obvious what you can do. It’s worth noting that the map will also clue you in on side quests and collectibles.
Addictive Combat System for Perfectionists
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 uses a turn-based combat system. Like previous entries however, it’s not as simple as selecting the command and it will automatically execute it. The area plays a major role on attacks for both allies and enemies.
Each character will be allowed to move within a certain range in a radius. If you choose attack and the enemy is within range, the character will move in to attack. If the enemy is too far but you still select attack, the character will move as close as possible to the enemy with the bonus of having their next turn pop up earlier than usual. The same concept applies to Crafts, which are special skills unique to each character.
Each attack has the potential to “Unbalance” an enemy, which can deal bonus damage and allow a linked character to perform a secondary attack. Each enemy is susceptible to specific types of attack, so it’s best to take advantage of this in order to maximize damage. With enough Brave Points, you can execute special Linked Attacks which can deal even more damage and cause the target’s Break gauge to decrease even lower.
When an opponent’s Break gauge is low, the next attack will put them in a Break state. This will result in them taking more damage, drop all of their items, lose all status buffs, and every attack will Unbalance them. While the physical attack aspect may seem heavy, it will become second nature to you very quickly as you play the game.
In the case of magic, you just have to make sure that enemies are within the given radius or line when it’s finally casted. The size of the radius / line will differ depending on which magic spell is being used. The caster will sacrifice the current turn and will only unleash the spell in their next turn.
To make things interesting, some turns may have a special effect added on and it will be shown on the Character Turn Indicator. This could be free heals, zero time casting, and even status effects. This makes the game less predictable and adds another layer of challenge to combat.
What’s new in the game is the Brave Order system. In each turn, players can execute Brave Orders which yield positive effects to the party, including strength buffs, healing, and more. This will consume Brave Points, which is shared for Linked Attacks so players will have to choose carefully on what to use it for.
Mech Battles are more fleshed out in this entry. Not only will you play as Valimar here, the other Class VII students will gain a mech of their own, such as the Spiegel for Kurt and Drakkhen for Juna. The concept is similar to regular battles but with a few exceptions.
Unbalancing the enemy mech will be dependent on which body part you attack. Furthermore, you will have support characters tied to your chosen mechs that can help heal, buff, and cast magic. While character choice for Mech Battles are limited, it’s understandable as it’s highly tied to the storyline. Moreover, it makes sense as only Rean and the new Class VII have experience piloting mechs.
Once again, equipment plays an integral role in combat. While the standard equipment menu is straightforward, the Quartz system can be daunting. The regular Quartz will determine what skills and magic spells the character will have but some of the rarer Quartz will have bonus parameter boosts. It’s important to make use of this to either cover the character’s weakness or boost their strong points even further. For example, Rean will benefit more from Strength and Speed but Altina will need HP and Defense bonuses as she’s very fragile.
Then we have the Master Quartz, where each one will have its own set of spells and unique abilities. It works exactly like in previous games but this time, you can equip a secondary Master Quartz for each character albeit at the cost of limited capabilities. It’s best to pick the primary and secondary Master Quartz that can complement each other. For example, I have Kurt as an evasive tank with Sirius and Tempest to maximize evasion, counterattack damage, and critical hit. There is no true best way, it’s fully dependent on your playstyle.
Taking everything into account, the game may seem very heavy and convoluted but from my own experience, the game does a great job at easing you into it. In early parts of the game, you won’t have access to everything immediately. Only when certain cutscenes have been activated will the game give you the option, along with the appropriate tutorial.
There is one thing I would like to complain, and that’s the sheer number of playable characters. While guest characters are fine, you will have way too many characters to deal with. You will have to ensure their equipment and Quartz are in tip-top condition, which is when the game may get a bit too grindy.
Guest characters do not have this issue as they have preset equipment and Quartz that can’t be changed (except secondary Master Quartz). While you can use the stock equipment / Quartz given to each character, they will end up being underwhelming. It will be more complex as Trails of Cold Steel 4 will have even more playable characters.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 Verdict
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is one of the best JRPGs in recent times. You have an enthralling storyline, an endearing cast of characters, and chock full of content to enjoy. In fact, it took me close to 100 hours to complete it.
You can always replay the game with bonus settings for additional challenge or for a simpler playthough so you can watch all the cutscenes you may have missed in the initial run.
Aside from the complaints that I have mentioned prior, all of which aren’t a dealbreaker, the English voice actors can sound a bit awkward. However, you can always use switch to Japanese voices with English subtitles if you wish. There’s also the issue of the game ending on a cliffhanger but the feeling towards this is subjective.
With that, I award The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 3 with our coveted Gold Pokdeward.
The game is currently only available for the PlayStation 4 but the PC version has been confirmed for 23rd March 2020 on Steam.