Trails of Cold Steel III
Developed By : Falcom
Published By : NIS America
Category : RPG
Release Date : Jun 30, 2020
The Switch is becoming the perfect console for JRPG fans. Games like Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and Dragon Quest XI S are lengthy adventures that you can take on the go, and there’s now a good library overall when it comes to the genre on Switch. Trails of Cold Steel III joins this line-up, bringing the series back to portable consoles. It has the potential to be one of the best JRPGs for the system, but there’s one huge hurdle to overcome first.
Trails of Cold Steel III is a direct sequel to Cold Steel II, taking place over a year later. Rean Schwarzer, the protagonist of the previous two games, has finished his education, and is now a teacher at the Thors Academy Branch Campus. Here, he’s tasked with teaching the successor to his old class, Class VII. It’s a ragtag group made of up of kids from of all social standings. By teaching this class and exploring the world during numerous field exercises, Rean learns more about the current state of the Erebonian Empire after the events of Cold Steel II. As is usually the case for the unlucky protagonist, people working behind the scenes start to put their plans into motion, and he must be ready to fight these new threats.
Having the main character be a teacher leads to a unique dynamic between him and the rest of the cast. Sure, games like Fire Emblem: Three Houses have already featured teachers as protagonists, but it’s done so much better here. For those that played the previous games, it lets you see how much Rean has grown in a natural way. The Trails series is usually consistent when it comes to developing characters over multiple games, and this is probably one of the best example of this so far.
It’s not just Rean that is a likeable character. The entirety of Class VII, the rest of the students and teachers of the branch campus, and most of the supporting cast are memorable throughout the game’s lengthy story. Cold Steel III has a slow-burning narrative, giving you enough time to learn about its characters. It may be a little too slow for some, but amount of world building more than justifies the game’s length. In fact, with how much dialogue some minor NPCs get, they end up being more interesting that the protagonists of other RPGs.
So, let’s address the elephant in the room. Trails of Cold Steel III, as you may have guessed from the name, is the third Trails of Cold Steel game. And because of this, Switch owners thinking about trying out the series for the first time might be wondering if this is a good starting point. Short answer: No. This is actually the eighth entry in the Trails franchise, so you would be skipping over multiple arcs by starting here, rather than ‘just’ two games. Despite the summary of the previous Cold Steel games that is present in III, there are too many references and plot points related to earlier games to make it easy to follow for newcomers. Trails is, for better or worse, a series that absolutely requires knowledge of every game to get the most out of it.
Gameplay follows a similar pattern to the first Cold Steel, with some changes here and there. You’re usually free to explore a limited area each day, which depends on where you’re at in the story. During sections at Thors, you’re able to explore the campus, and nearby town Leeves, while the various field exercises send you to a bunch of places around the world. Exploration is much more restrictive than other RPGs, including some Trails games, but this is made up for by a wealth of sidequests and extra dialogue with NPCs. They’ll usually have something new to say after each main story event, so it’s fun just to walk around and chat to everyone.
When not roaming around talking to people, you’ll be adventuring through the countryside and dungeons, encountering many monsters along the way. Battles have changed little since Cold Steel II, offering up the same basic systems that you may be used to. Combat is turn-based, making use of positioning for AoE attacks and buffs. Party members can also use combat links to offer support such as follow-up attacks. AP and CP are still present as well, resources that are used for arts and craft respectively. Arts are essentially magic spells, and can be chosen by equipping characters with different quartz, items that can also offer stat boosts and other effects. CP meanwhile is built by attacking or taking damage, letting you use unique skills to that character, including a more powerful S-craft at 100 CP.
It’s an easy to grasp battle system that gives you many ways of customising your party. In fact, you may have a little too much choice, as it’s not too hard to make an overpowered team near the end of the game. Brave orders, a new mechanic to Cold Steel III, only serve to make battles even easier. They can give huge boosts to your attack, or remove casting times for arts entirely. These, combined with certain quartz, let you mow down enemies with little difficulty. Powerful builds have been a staple of the Cold Steel games so this doesn’t really come as a surprise, it’s just odd to see battles be even more unbalanced in some ways.
In regards to Cold Steel III’s move to the Switch, it’s a decent port for the most part. The most notable changes are to the game’s resolution and framerate. On PS4 it ran at 60fps, with drops here and there. On Switch this has been reduced to 30fps, and framerate drops still happen in the same areas. Crossbell, a city you visit partway through the game, is still one of the worst places for this. One section of the city is particularly bad, though it is at least an outlier compared to framerates elsewhere. These downgrades, especially the lower resolution, do make this a bad game for docked play, but it’s more than fine in handheld mode.
Despite the excellent story and characters… well, because of these, it’s hard to recommend Trails of Cold Steel III to people that have never touched the franchise before. You could feasibly enjoy the game even without playing the previous games, but with how the story is building up to Cold Steel IV, newcomers will be left in the dark even more than before. If you have played at least the first two Cold Steel games, then this is another great JRPG for you to enjoy.
*The Switch Effect was provided a code for these games*