The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 Review (PS5) – The Trails franchise has been around for a good while, with Trails of Cold Steel truly breaking the franchise into the mainstream. These epic games bring a lot to the table, but tying everything together proves tricky after a few entries. Thankfully, the folks behind The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 maintain that standard with the franchise’s third installment.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3 Review (PS5) – An Epic RPG Entry That Both Rewards Invested Players and Welcomes New Players
Things have changed a bit for series hero, Rean Schwarzer. Just a year and a half ago, he was a student as well as the hero of the civil war. Now, he’s an educator at a new Thors military academy, training the new Class VII. However, the more things change, the more things stay the same. This new academy once again acts as a development location and fast track route for soldiers instead of a high school.
I say this not as a negative to the game, because the story here both expands the existing narrative beautifully as well as keeping your perspective easy to process. Still, 60 hours is a lot of time for many people. With four main line entries in this series as well as tie-in games, anything that helps move things along improves the overall experience.
The second game did this a little bit, but CS3 manages to sprinkle in quick, little reminiscences that help detail events from previous games. This occurs naturally simply because so many new characters appear in this game that also don’t know what happened back then.
For people new to the franchise, CS3 serves as a decent place to start, even if some of the finer and more personal details from previous games don’t come through as well. For fans, the story posed in CH3 starts to make significant connections to the franchise’s overarching universe that expands into Trails of Azure and Trails In The Sky.
Leading With Fan Service
With that said, CS3 does a lot more of what irritated me in the previous games: unsolicited statements about how attractive Rean is. As I progressed, these statements spread out more and more, but I likely wouldn’t have paid too much attention to them in the first place if the opening hours had not had six or seven different women making these statements several times. It’s a borderline anime harem trope.
Sure, a couple characters could show characterization with this, but making so many do it lessens the otherwise universally solid development of each character. Though, there is one scene in a public bath where another male teacher makes a lot of comments directly to Rean about how fit he is. This helped a bit to emphasize just how physically appealing Rean must be to everyone around him.
Equally so, even if I always enjoy same-sex appreciation and not-so-subtle undertones, this perpetuated the narrow approach to characterization in the early goings, making it harder to hold interest. Either way, once the narrative starts moving, this anime trope backs off.
Pacing takes a bit of a hit. There are lengthy stretches of time where very little is happening or so many side events and quests take the foreground that the main events get forgotten for a while. Conversely, when the main events ramp up, the side events stop popping up for a while. There are ups and downs in the pace, but all in all the varying pace matches the tone along the way.
Much like the previous two games, the use of voice work is peculiar. Again, voice work when utilized sounds great, delivering each character’s style and substance nicely. However, there are far too many instances where one person receives voiced dialogue while others in the same conversation only get text bubbles.
This took place on the previous games, both of which appeared on the PS Vita, somewhat justifying decisions like that. Now, though, the budget likely explains it. More strategic voice work would have made the spoken points more impactful instead of piecemealed.
That said, one significant difference between the last two games is the visual quality. The same aesthetic stays, but CS3 adds some welcome details to characters and environments. Characters also get a bit more flexibility with facial animations, which allow them to emote better than they did before. Granted, this still emotes on the same level as PS2 games, but this still looks better than the last two games.
Speed and Strategy
One addition to Cold Steel 3 (CS3) is a High Speed option that doubles the speed of all gameplay. Considering the length of these games and the animations involved in combat as well as running around the maps and interacting with people, a speed boost cuts down on the game’s use of your free time. Plus, this togglable speed boost lets you change the speed on the fly. So, you can skim through the more laid back parts, if you wish, and then slow things down for the more suspenseful ones (or vice versa).
Apart from the speed boost to the entire game, the biggest change to combat is how you manage your Bravery Points. You still can use them for damaging attacks, but each character also has a Brave Order that places ailments on enemies.
For example, you can cast reflecting skills on your party or increase the amount of damage your enemies take. This plays into the new Break meters that allow you to stagger your opponents and delay their actions. Fans of Final Fantasy XIII and Honkai Star Rail will be right at home with this meter.
When an enemy’s break meter diminishes, that enemy cannot take action for a turn. Messing with break is fun on normal difficulty or lower, but breaking enemies on Nightmare difficulty is paramount to success. With that said, the added depth to combat helps freshen up the formula without drastically changing the variables.
Apart from these changes, the flow of combat stays relatively the same: Follow a turn system that runs down the side of the screen, strategize your attacks and skills to maximize your chances of success, and move around the field to take advantage of enemy positioning. It’s a good formula that doesn’t need much changing, but these additions help make a good formula even better. Even the Panzer Soldat fights are more enjoyable with the speed increase.
The other major change comes with button input. Instead of cycling through options with the D-Pad, important commands are pinned to face buttons. The saved time per interaction is miniscule, but spreading that time across a 60-hour game sure adds up.
Welcome Change Without Overstepping
Fans will absolutely dive face first into The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 3, as the story continues to unfold and bring together everything that happened so far. Thankfully for new players, there’s enough organic subtext shown along the way that this makes for a good starting point if you wish.
With that said, pacing continues an up-and-down path that the previous two games walked, leaving significant chunks of time dedicated to side events or story tangents. Combine that with spontaneous use of voice work and the occasional anime trope, and even the most renowned games can lose its fans that way. Thankfully, CH3 provides a speed boost to gameplay that lets you choose how quickly you play the game, and combat brings some nice tactical factors as well. It’s not perfect, but all RPG fans need to play these games, especially CH3. The payoff for taking the journey truly rewards you.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is due out on February 16, 2024 for PS5.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.