OnlySP had the opportunity to play The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III at PAX West 2019. Cold Steel III is a direct sequel to the previous two games, taking place a year and a half after the events of Cold Steel II. Rean Schwarzer returns as the main protagonist, who is now a military professor, as he leads his students, the new Class VII, and joins up with the rest of his friends from the old Class VII from the prior two entries. At the PAX booth, NISA allowed attendees to play an existing save file, but I decided to start a brand new game, which placed me right in the middle of the action.
In addition to the Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare difficulty settings from previous games, Cold Steel III adds a Very Easy option for players who want to just enjoy the story. I played the first Trails of Cold Steel game on Hard mode on my first playthrough, and I regretted it during some hard boss fights. To easily explore the new mechanics that Cold Steel III offered, I chose to play this demo on Very Easy.
The game starts with a flash-forward to a later chapter in the story. Those who have played the previous two games will recognize several names, including the Jaeger Corp, Stahlritter, and Ouroboros. These factions have invaded the Juno Navel Fortress, and the new Class VII has arrived to face off against them. I was thrust into the area, and groups of enemies were littered throughout the battlefield, from monsters to robots. Whenever the player approaches an enemy, it would chase after them to begin a battle, so they could either try to outmaneuver them or attack them to initiate a battle advantage.
Similarly to previous Cold Steel games, players can attack enemies in the overworld to gain a preemptive advantage at the beginning of a battle. However, this time, players can press R2 to use a long-range “Assault Attack” to initiate battle from afar and gain the upper hand. This move can only be achieved a few times, as indicated by a “charge” meter, forcing players to use it only when they need to guarantee an advantage.
The UI has been overhauled from past entries. Whereas in previous games the battle commands were arranged on a wheel, the commands are now split between the DualShock 4’s D-pad and face buttons. The four directional buttons correspond to non-attacking functions: Item, Order, Swap, and Run. The face buttons have combat commands: Arts, Crafts, Movement, and Attack.
Anyone who has played the previous games will be familiar with the battle system, as the combat fundamentals remain the same. The top right of the screen displays Brave Points. Brave Points can be accrued by “unbalancing” enemies (using an attack-type that the enemy is weak against). A successful unbalance will net players one Brave Point, as well as allow players to use existing accumulated Brave Points for Assist, Rush, and Burst follow up attacks. Each of these follow up attacks costs an ascending amount of Brave Points to execute (zero, two, and five, respectively). However, Brave Points now have an additional function: Brave Orders.
Brave Orders function similarly to the Orders in Valkyria Chronicles. Each character has a specific Brave Order that can provide the party with various buffs. Some of these include Altina’s Ebon Crest, which reflects enemy attacks and restores 10% of HP and EP (Cold Steel’s version of MP) for the party for four turns, and Juna’s Sledgehammer, which increases Break Damage by 300% for four turns.
Another new mechanic is the Break Gauge. A blue bar underneath the enemy’s HP indicates its Break Gauge. As the player deals more damage, this gauge will deplete. Players can use Crafts with high Break ratings or Arts that hit the enemy’s elemental weaknesses to reduce the Break Gauge even faster. When the gauge is broken, enemies enter a Break State: they will then take more damage, lose status buffs, guarantee item drops, and have unbalanced attacks.
As I continued through the area, I finally came across a save point. I knew a boss battle was coming, and I was greeted by the Stahlritter group. Given that I was playing on the easiest difficulty, I had no issues keeping my HP up and I was dishing out plenty of damage against the dual bosses. Interestingly enough, the battle automatically ended after several turns, despite only defeating one of the bosses, indicating that this particular boss battle was supposed to be one of attrition and that players only needed to survive. This idea fits well thematically in the story as the new Class VII is inexperienced compared to even only two members of the seasoned Stahlritter group. The prologue chapter ended with Rean and a few members of the old Class VII taking over the fight, and the members of the new Class VII thanking their instructor as they made their way further into the fortress.
That Cold Steel III is a PlayStation 4 exclusive and the lack of PlayStation Vita version still perplexes and disappoints me. While the graphics are better this time than previous entries on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, the jump is not as big as I had hoped. The redesigned UI works well with the DualShock 4’s layout, but it could be translated to the Vita. I did not notice any use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad either. The game does utilize R2 and L2 for some commands, which the Vita lacks, but that should be transferable to the Vita’s back touchscreen.
Trails of Cold Steel III should be on everyone’s JRPG list. The mature and politically seeped plot of the series continues in this third installment and the characters in the new Class VII are shaping up to be wonderful. The core mechanics remain rock solid and the addition of Brave Orders and the Break Gauge add further dimensions to the already layered turn-based battles—and this is just the battle portion of the game.
The school simulation aspect and bonding events from the previous games are an entirely different experience and one that the prologue demo did not touch on at all. For those who love games such as Persona 5 and the recently released Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the Trails of Cold Steel series will be right up your alley (but I highly recommend you play the first two before this one).
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III will release on October 22, 2019 on PlayStation 4 for Western audiences.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I and II are available on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3. An enhanced version of Cold Steel I, dubbed the “Decisive Edition”, is available now on PlayStation 4 with dual audio and previously released DLC, while an enhanced version of Cold Steel II, subtitled the “Relentless Edition”, features the same bells and whistles as the enhanced version of its predecessor is also now available.