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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel


The Trails of Cold Steel series had finally reached its conclusion with the release of the fourth and final installment, Trails of Cold Steel IV – The End of Saga. Trails of Cold Steel IV was released in Japan for the PlayStation 4 on 27 September 2018. With the highly anticipated completion of this game, I figured it would be a good time to write a review of this amazing series.






I was first introduced to Trails of Cold Steel back in 2017 through a close gamer friend. He mentioned that this is his favourite turn-based JRPG of all time and highly recommended me to give it a shot. Prior to this, I had never played a turn-based Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) before and was excited to try it out. That proved to be one of the best decisions I had ever made. The Trails of Cold Steel series tells an enchanting story, has beautiful graphics, great music and a turn-based system that is loads of fun. Without a shred of doubt, Trails of Cold Steel is my favourite JRPG and Tokyo Xanadu is a close second.





Game: Trails of Cold Steel (CS) series
Genre: Turn-based JRPG
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Year Released in Japan: CS I (2013), CS II (2014), CS III (2017), CS IV (2018)
Platforms: CS I & II – PS 3, PS 4, PS Vita, Microsoft Windows
                 CS III & IV – PS 4 exclusive
Difficulty levels you can choose from: Easy, Normal, Hard, Nightmare


The Trails of Cold Steel series is developed by Nihon Falcom, the company which developed many notable RPGs such as the Ys Series, Legend of Heroes series and Tokyo Xanadu. The amount of effort that Nihon Falcom put into the Trails of Cold Steel series is more than just praiseworthy. There is so much content that you can easily get over 100 hours of gameplay in each version of Trails of Cold Steel.


*FAQ: 

Do I need to play the Trails of Cold Steel series in ascending order from I to IV?


- Preferably Yes. The story is a continuation from where it last left off, hence you might not understand certain events if you skipped one version. It is highly recommended you start with Trails of Cold Steel I and play the series in ascending order.


What difficulty should I start with?



- For the first playthrough, it is recommended that you start with normal. After you have beat the game once, it is recommended you play on nightmare because you can carry over your levels, equipment and orbments.


Trails of Cold Steel I Opening 




Trails of Cold Steel II Opening



Trails of Cold Steel III Opening



Trails of Cold Steel IV Opening





Plot Summary:



*Note: There is way too much content in the plot and this is only a very brief overview of the entire Cold Steel Saga. There are some minor spoilers ahead. You will need to play the game yourself to experience the interconnected events which build up into one of the best stories in a JRPG. 


The story is set in the Erebonian Empire and details the adventure of Rean Schwarzer, who has just enrolled in Thors Military Academy. Rean is placed into class VII, a newly formed class still in its testing phase. Previously, Thors only had 5 classes, 2 of which consisted of only nobles while the remaining 3 consisted of only commoners. There was a clear distinction and segregation of social class. Class VII is the only class with both nobles and commoners. 


Class VII members: Character design in Trails of Cold Steel II


In Trails of Cold Steel I and II, the members of class VII go on field trips and expeditions around the empire as part of their learning journey. They get caught up in many sticky situations such as civil wars and enemies who threaten the peace of Erebonia. Class VII graduates at the end of Trails of Cold Steel II. 


Original class VII members: Character design in Trails of Cold Steel III


New class VII members and Rean in Trails of Cold Steel III


Character Design in Trails of Cold Steel IV


In Trails of Cold Steel III and IV, the members of Class VII go their separate ways after graduation. Most notably, Rean becomes an instructor (teacher) of the new class VII. Rean will also encounter his former class VII classmates again, teaming up with them to tackle dangerous situations as the events continue to unfold. 



Class VII Characters:


*Note: There are way too many characters in the game to list, as such I will only be highlighting the class VII members. 



Rean Schwarzer




The main protagonist in the Trails of Cold Steel series. A kind, helpful and reliable character who calmly assesses situations and gives appropriate commands to his comrades. Rean is well-liked by his classmates and is regarded as their leader. He is the adopted son of Baron Schwarzer and technically considered a noble. Rean wields a longsword known as a tachi in battle and had trained in the Eight Leaves One Blade style of swordsmanship. He is also the Awakener of the Divine Knight known as Valimar, a mechanical combat knight that holds significant importance due to mecha battles in certain parts of the game. Rean became known as the Ashen Chevalier in Trails of Cold Steel II, the hero who ended the Erebonian Civil War. He eventually becomes an instructor of the new class VII upon graduation.


Pro Tip:

You should build Rean as either a turn delayer (preferably) or a damage dealer. 


Alisa Reinford 




Alisa is the daughter of the Reinford Group’s president and eventually takes over as its successor. The Reinford Group is the largest heavy industry company in Erebonia and produces weapons, vehicles and orbments. Alisa wields an orbal bow in battle. 



Pro Tip:
You should build Alisa as a healer or supporter.



Laura Arseid




Laura is the daughter of Victor Arseid, the Viscount of Legram. Victor Arseid is known as the Radiant Blademaster and is widely regarded as one of the best swordsmen in the Erebonian empire. Laura is exceptionally skilled with the sword as well, having trained from a young age. Laura wields a great sword in battle with great ease. 


Pro Tip:
You should build Laura as a damage dealer. 


Fie Claussell




Fie was part of an elite mercenary group known as Zephyr before enrolling in Thors Academy. She is swift, agile and has plenty of combat experience. Fie wields twin gunswords in battle. 


Pro Tip:
You should build Fie as an evasion tank due to her high speed and base avoidability. 


Gauis Worzel





Gauis is a foreign exchange student from the Nordic Highlands. He is exceptionally adept in horseback riding and has an affinity with wildlife. Gauis wields a cross spear in battle. 


Pro Tip:

You should build Gauis as an evasion tank.


Emma Millstein




Emma is soft spoken, helpful and a great spellcaster, my favourite character in class VII. Emma is the class president of class VII and enrolled in Thors on a scholarship, scoring the highest in terms of academics. She is part of the witch clan known as the Hexen Clan. Emma wields an orbal staff in battle. 


Pro Tip:
You should build Emma as a mage/spellcaster due to her high base Energy Points (EP). 


Elliot Craig




Elliot is the first classmate and friend that Rean met at the school orientation, quickly becoming close friends. He is a great musician who plays the violin. Elliot’s father is Olaf Craig, also known as Craig the Red, who is a lieutenant general and 4th Division Commander of the Imperial Army. Elliot wields an orbal staff in battle. 


Pro Tip:
You should build Elliot as a mage/spellcaster due to his high base EP. 


Millium Orion




A cheerful and energetic girl who was the last member to join class VII. Millium first joined class VII in Trails of Cold Steel I after one of class VII’s field trips. She is a spy for the Imperial Army’s intelligence division. Millium wields a puppet called Airgetlam in battle which she nicknamed Lammy.


Pro Tip:
You should build Millium as a damage dealer. 


Jusis Albarea




Jusis is the son of Duke Albarea from the Albarea house, one of the four great noble houses in Erebonia. Jusis enrolled in Thors in order to escape from the pressures associated with his noble lineage. He is always at loggerheads with Machias at the start of the series. Jusis wields a knight sword in battle and uses the court fencing technique.


Pro Tip:
You can build Jusis in many ways and it is entirely up to you. I prefer to build him as a tanky support due to his high defences and buff skills.


Machias Regnitz




Machias is the vice class president of Class VII and very studious, often competing with Emma in terms of grades. Machias is the son of the imperial governor Carl Regnitz, a commoner who worked his way up to his position. As such Machias grew up as and is technically a commoner which is the reason he bears a grudge against nobles and their attitudes towards commoners. Machias wields an orbal shotgun in battle. 


Pro tip:
Similar to Jusis, you can build Machias in any way you like. I build him as a support because he has an ability to let the fastest member of your team have another turn.




Gameplay



1.1 Turn-Based System


The gameplay of the Trails of Cold Steel series mainly revolves around this system. You will be encountering plenty of monsters throughout the game and will engage in a turn-based battle with them. The turn-based battle begins when your character touches the monster. Upon encountering a monster, always sneak up behind them and attack them before touching because this will give you turn advantages. You can do a sneak attack up to a maximum of 3 times to gain a triple advantage. Sneak attacks are crucial before commencing battle because they give you extra turns against the monsters. Do note that you are unable to use sneak attacks on certain large monsters and all bosses. 




The turn order is displayed on the left-hand side of the screen. As depicted in the picture above, Fie goes first, followed by Rean, Jusis and Emma. The turn order is dependent on your characters speed, the faster the character the higher their turn order. With reference to the picture above, if you did not do the sneak attack, the monsters will have its turn to attack you after Emma. But with the single/double/triple (depending on how many times you sneak attacked) advantage you gained, you will have additional turns before the monsters get their turn. 



1.2 Pre-setting formation/positioning 






Before starting battles, it is important that you pre-set your team formation in the tactics section of the in-game Menu as shown above. This is especially essential for boss battles because having a bad formation can easily lead to your entire team being wiped out. You will usually have 4 members in your party most of the time in Trails of Cold Steel. However, there are times where you may have less or more depending on specific parts of the game. 


Pro Tip:

You should always try to bring one evasion tank (Fie/Gauis), one or two damage dealers (Rean/Laura/Millium), one mage (Emma/Elliot) and an optional support (Alisa) in your party if you can. You will be able to select your party members most of the time in the game, again depending on specific parts of the game. Formation wise, set the evasion tanks to the front, damage dealers in the middle and lastly the mage or support at the back. 



1.3 What you can do during your turn (important)




This section details the 6 possible moves you can do during your turn in actual combat as shown above. Before we discuss the moves, do take note of the yellow Health Points (HP) bar, blue Energy Points (EP) bar and green Craft Points (CP) bar of each member above. When the HP bar of a member reaches 0, that member faints and is unable to continue the battle. When all members in your party faints, it is game over and you need to reload your last saved file, therefore it is very important to save the game regularly especially before boss battles. 


Here are the 6 possible moves you can do during your turn:

  • Attack – This is just a basic or normal attack common in RPGs. Attacking deals damage to the monster and increases your CP. Note that each member has a max CP of 200. 

  • Crafts – This is your character’s skills, it consumes a certain amount of CP. There are both damaging and supportive crafts. To unlock more crafts, you need to level your character through having the character in your party and defeating monsters to gain experience points.

  • Arts – This is your character’s spells that are gained through the orbment system. Arts consumes a certain amount of EP. There are also both damaging and supportive arts. Arts are mainly used by mages such as Emma and Elliot because they have high base EP. 

  • Move – Move to another location, basically skipping that member’s turn. Useful if you need to increase the CP of a member in your party by skipping another member’s turn in order to attack and restore some CP. 

  • Run – Flee from battle. You can only escape the battle with a certain % chance. If you are unsuccessful, you can try escaping again. Each failed attempt at escaping raises the escape chance by 10%. You cannot run during boss battles.

  • Item – Use an item on any member in your party. There are many items in the game such as damage boosters, CP and EP restores. You can also revive members who fainted. Items can be bought from shops or found in treasure chests in the game.



1.4 Ultimate ability (S-Craft)




There is a seventh move you can use in battle that was not discussed in the above section. This seventh move is your ultimate ability known in the Trails of Cold Steel Series as S-Craft. Each member in your party has their own unique S-Crafts which are usually very cool and flashy. Shown above is Rean’s S-Craft from Trails of Cold Steel II. You can only use a member’s S-Craft when that member’s CP bar is at least 100. The higher the CP the more damage the S-Craft will deal. Therefore, a good tip would be to have 200 CP on party members before boss fights so that you can unleash immense damage on them. Do not waste your S-Craft on cannon fodder monsters, use basic attacks or crafts and arts instead. 



1.5 Some of the bosses in the series


The blazing demon McBurn



Final boss in Trails of Cold Steel I, Loa


Final boss in Trails of Cold Steel III, Zoro-Agruga



1.6 Mecha Battles


Rean and the Divine Knight - Valimar




As mentioned earlier, Rean is the Awakener of the Divine Knight Valimar. During certain parts of the game there will be mecha battles where you play as Valimar. You can also use skills or normal basic attacks each turn. 



2. Quests (Known as tasks in Trails of Cold Steel series)




There are two kinds of quests in the Trails of Cold Steel series. In each chapter, there will be required quests and optional hidden quests. Required quests must be completed in order to progress the game but hidden quests do not. Each quest is unique and can involve doing a wide range of activities such as killing certain monsters or simply talking to certain characters.




After the end of each chapter, you will receive AP for all the quests you completed. In order to earn an S Grade, you will usually need to complete the hidden quests as well. You should always try to complete the hidden quests if you can. But if you are just a casual player not aiming for trophies then it is not necessary. 



3. Bonding Events




In each chapter, there will usually be bonding events. You are given a limited amount of bonding points each chapter. Choose the characters you want to bond with carefully. After selecting a character to bond with, a short event scene will play out. Bonding events raise the link levels of the characters you chose. All the female characters you can bond with are potential love interests of Rean. Therefore, always bond with your best girl or characters with link levels you want to raise.


*Note: Depending on who you choose to bond with, certain story dialogues in the game may pan out differently. 





4. Fishing




You are also able to fish in the Trails of Cold Steel series. From Trails of Cold Steel I to IV, there are many different varieties of fishes to catch. You can earn valuable items from fishing as well.




You are able to catch the boss fish after you have caught all the other species. Once you have caught all the species of fish including the boss fish, you will earn a fishing trophy. 



5. Mini Games


There are different mini games in each version of Trails of Cold Steel. The mini games are really lots of fun and a good break from the main gameplay.


Trails of Cold Steel I – Blade card game




Trails of Cold Steel II – Blade card game, Snowboarding




Trails of Cold Steel III – Vantage Masters card game




Trails of Cold Steel IV – Vantage Masters card game, Poker & Blackjack, POMtto!, Horror Coaster


POMtto!



Pros (+) of Trails of Cold Steel:


  • Well written story with good build-up of events leading to the climax.
  • A huge amount of game content to enjoy.
  • Excellent graphics and music/soundtrack.
  • Great turn based system with the ability to position characters before battle.
  • Requires you to plan your moves strategically in battle.
  • Versatility in character builds due to the orbment system.
  • Fancy S-Craft (Ultimate) abilities.
  • Mini games that make the game more vibrant.



Cons (-) of Trails of Cold Steel:


  • Lots of dialogue.
  • The story is heavy on politics. If you do not like fictional politics then it would be best to skip this game. 
  • Needs more than one playthrough to get the platinum trophy or to fight optional boss. Only perfectionists will need to beat the game at least twice. If you are a casual player, this will not be an issue.







Overall Rating: 5/5


Ever since I started playing Trails of Cold Steel, I became a fan of turn-based RPGs. I have played other turn-based games such as Summon Night 6 and Cosmic Star Heroine but none of them come close to Trails of Cold Steel. The Trails of Cold Steel series is a long ride but once you start Trails of Cold Steel I, you will definitely be hooked into completing the entire series. The enthralling story and turn-based system in the Trails of Cold Steel series is top tier. Give this series a try, I guarantee you will have an enjoyable experience!


Written by Kou



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