Falcom’s long-running JRPG series has its first PS4 exclusive entry but is it too late to get into the story if you’re not already a fan?
Having played through Disco Elysium recently, we’re beginning to think that the greatest obstacle to more people enjoying role-playing games is simply their length. It takes the average person just under 47 hours to read War And Peace, but that’s nothing compared to many Japanese role-players. It’s only video games that commonly think they have a story that can stretch to that sort of length and yet Trails Of Cold Steel III is only one chapter amongst many.
As it happens, Trails Of Cold Steel III is at least 10 hours longer than War And Peace, which is nowhere close to a record for the genre, although the storytelling is unusually dense compared to many of its peers. Trails Of Cold Steel started on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita in 2013 but the first and second entries were recently ported to the PlayStation 4, with the fourth and final game out in Japan already and expected to be released in the West next year.
Trails Of Cold Steel is also part of the wider The Legend Of Heroes franchise, whose history stretches back all the way to 1989. The games are the creation of veteran Japanese studio Falcom and we recently had a chance to speak to president Toshihiro Kondo about the company’s approach to storytelling and the reasons for its longevity. The answer to the latter is relatively simple though: they give fans what they want, while always looking for a way to add at least a little innovation in the margins.
While this is the first entry made solely for the PlayStation 4 it is still part three of a four part series and that means one of the biggest questions is how accessible it is for newcomers. The fact that the first two games have already been ported to the PlayStation 4 speaks volumes as to how Falcom themselves view that question, although the basics of the story are relatively straightforward. Which is to say that some elements are wearingly similar to a number of other Japanese games.
Protagonist Rean Schwarzer is now a professor at a military school, following the end of the civil war from the last game. As the new story begins the country of Erebonia is trying to put all that behind it and Rean finds himself at a new campus for problem students. That means you still get to engage in lots of Persona style social activities between lessons, except now, at the grand old age of 20, you’re the uncool teach who’s trying to get down with the kids.
Like any Japanese game featuring a military academy you’re immediately set out on highly dangerous missions of vital political importance, which makes absolutely no sense but we’re willing to let slide because you get to go out on your field trips in a giant armoured train instead of a school bus. All of this is largely the same as the last game and unfortunately so is the languid pace of the storytelling. The script is wordy but well-translated, and characters that have actual arcs and aren’t just a collection of anime clichés, but as ever for the series everything seems to take an unnecessarily long time to happen.
For no obvious reason Trails Of Cold Steel III is also much more linear than the last game and more like the first, in that you can’t go back to visit previous locations unless there’s a story reason for it. There are also a lot more references and cameos from the Japanese-only games Zero No Kiseki and Ao No Kiseki, which means that even if you have played the two previous games you still won’t know who everyone is or get all the little references.
The basic storytelling in Trails Of Cold Steel III is good, but it would really benefit from some judicious editing, as the story sections back at the academy being to feel literally like taking a boring lesson before you can go out to play and have some fun. As with everything else the combat is largely the same as it’s always been, but although at heart it’s a fairly traditional turn-based system there’s a lot of unique features, as you field multiple party members at once and move them around to avoid attacks and set up combos.
There’s a pleasingly complex set of weaknesses and strengths for each character, where guns, swords, and magic all have their own specific uses and individual weapons are better suited to certain types of enemies. Opponents also now have a break gauge that has to be whittled down so you can do them real damage, requiring some careful coordination of attacks between your party.
There are also more combo options for mech combat, which continues to be a highlight, and quality of life additions such as a fast forward button for when you’re grinding or otherwise want to get a battle over with quickly. As such, the combat has been honed to near perfection and is arguably the best of any current turn-based system.
The story elements are harder to praise, not because they’re not created with the same care and attention to detail, but simply because they’re so hard to appreciate in their totality. Especially when you know that you’re missing two important parts of the puzzle that will likely never be available to UK fans.
But Falcom has lasted for getting on 40 years by always making sure their priority is their core audience in Japan and, for better and for worse, the problems of Trails Of Cold Steel III are exactly what you’d expect from such a focus.
The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel III review summary
In Short: A few unfortunate backsteps make the first native PlayStation 4 entry something of a disappointment, but Trails Of Cold Steel is still one of the best old school JRPGs around.
Pros: Despite its very traditional roots the turn-based combat is nuanced and exciting throughout the whole game. Good character work and a genuinely interesting game world and history.
Cons: Slow story pacing made worse by linear progression and long periods without any action. Multiple references to games not released outside of Japan. No major new ideas. Too long.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: 22nd October 2019
Age Rating: 16
Email [email protected], leave a comment below, and follow us on Twitter
Source: Read Full Article