E3 2019: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Preview
Class VII finally returns to the West!
06.13.19 - 3:09 PM
Editor's Note: This preview may contain light spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel I and II
The long wait is almost over. A lot has changed for Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel over the last year, but we're months away from the game's release, and with the reins being handed to NIS America, fans are anxious to see how they handle the next game in the Erebonia Arc. After sitting down and spending time with the game, Cold Steel III feels just as good as the first two, retaining the mood, humour and lore that the series has been long known and celebrated for.
While the Cold Steel series is a tetralogy, Cold Steel III starts a new chapter in the Erebonia Arc, with new characters, different settings and brand new opportunities. The demo starts off in Einhel Keep, a huge indoor training facility at the newest branch of Thors Military Academy, the Leeves II Campus. Think the Old Schoolhouse from the first game and you're not far off. A year and a half on from his ordeals during the end of the Erebonian Civil War, Rean Schwarzer is now an instructor at the academy and guides a group of new students around for their first adventure in the keep. These new students make up the New Class VII, and they fit right into the Cold Steel mix perfectly. Most of the cast from the first two games make a return, but this demo was my chance to get acquainted with the new team.
First up is Kurt Vander, a noble who'll be familiar to series veterans as Mueller Vander's younger brother. He trained in the Vander School and specialises in dual-wielding swords, but he occasionally comes across as rude because he has a complex where he thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Then there's Juna Crawford, a former Police Academy member from Crossbell who's easily worked up by others, especially in anything that involves her beloved home country's invasion. The last character in the New Class VII is Altina Orion, who fans will remember from the last game. She's a mature young girl whose true nature is revealed at the end of the Erebonian Civil War.
I fell in love with them very quickly, each of them complimenting their personalities excellently, and I'm excited to see where Cold Steel III takes this new class. There's a fantastic blend of the series' familiar themes, and all of the new classmates embody familiar tropes that fans have come to adore, but I expect them to subvert and surpass these tropes during the course of the game, just as many other characters in the series have come to do so. This initial party of four had great chemistry together, and it didn't take long for me to get acquainted with my new classmates.
Cold Steel III marks the first game in the series to be developed for the PS4, and it really shows. The character models look sharper and more defined, and the movement on screen is much more fluid and natural. This version even includes the Turbo function, introduced in the PS4 ports of I and II, and the UI has also been vastly improved and stylised. The battle menus are designed to resemble gun barrels, which makes everything look a little cleaner and means there is less scrolling to do.
Some of the biggest changes to the series have come with the combat. While Cold Steel III largely follows the Orbment and turn-based system of the previous two games, some new tweaks and abilities have been introduced to add even more variety to your arsenal. The first thing I noticed was that each action is assigned to a button or the D-pad; so for example, you select the Item menu by pressing the Left button, or you can use crafts by pressing Triangle. Think Persona 5's battle menus and you're pretty much there.
One character in particular has a special skill that none of the others have. Juna uses "gunbreakers," which are two tonfa that can also be used as guns, and at any point in battle you can swap between Gunner and Striker. As a Gunner, Juna specialises in ranged attacks and can attack groups of enemies at once, but as a Striker, she's much stronger against big enemies, and her defense, attack and movement speed increase.
In terms of skills, Arts, Crafts, Rush and Combat Links are all still here, but two new abilities are available to New Class VII. A Brave Order allows your characters to buff the party in various different ways, such as boosting speed, attack or defense. Then there's the Break System; each enemy has a blue bar under their health, and if you reduce this to zero, you break the enemy's guard, rendering them more vulnerable to attacks and also giving you a chance to get rarer loot.
And new to your ARCUS, which is where you equip your Quartz to cast spells, you can equip a second Master Quartz, rather than just one. This means you can gain the effects and stat boosts from both, allowing for greater customisation. The combat has always been really solid in this series, but Cold Steel III's additions make it even greater, and with its large roster of party members, there's an endless amount of possibilities for party combinations and character builds.
After weeks of new character trailers, and some fan scepticism, it's fantastic to play Cold Steel III and have any doubts washed away. The character interactions and world feel faithful to the rest of the series, and all of the voice actors, both new and returning, have done a great job in their roles. While I've only got a flavour of the beginning of the story, I can't wait to return to Erebonia and experience yet another epic adventure with Rean and friends. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III releases on PS4 on September 24th, but with NIS America frequently updating fans on their progress, please check back with RPGFan regularly for all of your Cold Steel needs!