The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV

 

Review by · June 1, 2021

It has been a slightly longer wait for the Nintendo Switch port of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, which picks up shortly after the third game’s finale. The Great Twilight, a curse that intensifies hatred and malice, has been let loose upon the Erebonian Empire; its shadow grows ever larger as war threatens to envelop the entire continent. Class VII and their allies have been scattered to the winds as the fabled Ashen Chevalier Rean Schwarzer has been taken prisoner. It is up to Rean’s students, the new Class VII, to pick up the remaining pieces and bring everyone back together in a desperate bid to save their teacher and hopefully stop needless bloodshed.

To say much more on the storyline of the final game in vaunted and lore-heavy JRPG series would be to spoil quite a few interesting twists and turns. This game has the rather appropriate subtitle in Japan of “the end of saga,” so it should come as no surprise that it does exactly that: closes out Rean’s journey and most of the Erebonian story arc while also resolving loose plot threads throughout the other The Legend of Heroes: Trails… arcs. In many respects, this game is a culmination of hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of extensive lore and world-building. Does it succeed flawlessly in that regard? Not exactly, though the journey still ultimately proves well worth taking, if only for its destination.

The formula for the Trails of Cold Steel series hasn’t really altered all that much four games in. You progress through dungeon areas, see a rather lengthy story scene afterward, get some free reign to explore towns and other areas to your heart’s content while partaking in sidequests that are somewhat necessary to continue advancing the main storyline. And then the cycle repeats. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with such a predictable system in theory, though it makes for a rather unevenly paced story experience at this point in the narrative juncture. Think about it: war is threatening to break out at any second. You have to find old friends and recruit new allies while dealing with shadowy organizations and underhanded government agencies, so is this an ideal time for a leisurely stroll around a peaceful village? The hallmark relaxed pace of the Trails of… series seems extremely out of place with the sheer intensity of Trails of Cold Steel IV’s dramatic opening sequence. In a lot of respects, many portions of the game feel more like filler than vitally necessary story components, almost as if they were exist solely to pad out and unnecessarily lengthen the playtime.

For example, say you need to get to Dungeon A to progress the story. Guess what?  For no real discernible reason, a block will appear in your way. That means you have to go through Dungeon B first. This process will repeat quite often as you try to advance, to an eye-rolling degree. Wondering where that missing teammate is? You’ll have to find clues to their whereabouts then go through a lengthy dungeon to prove yourself before reuniting with them. This happens repeatedly. Areas can take hours to progress through, whether exploring towns, checking world map areas to see what has changed since the last major plot developments, or simply going through a dungeon mandated by the story. I found myself getting exhausted at times merely traversing the various new and returning locales, and there were certain points in the game where I thought areas had overstayed their welcome. Perhaps the most damning instance being the final dungeon itself, which seemed to drag on a lot more than needed. Being a fan of this series, I’m quite used to the LoH: Trails… games having slower pacing, though this was the first time I truly felt frustrated by it.

Trails of Cold Steel IV screenshot featuring Altina telling it like it is.
This series’ fantastic dialogue continues.

Even when Trails of Cold Steel IV’s story does pick up, there’s a lack of punch in the narration compared to similar scenes from other games in the series. At times, I just wanted to move on from the portion of the game I was currently involved with, which is an odd thing to say about a series that tends to excite me at most twists and turns! That isn’t to say the storyline isn’t without its moments. They just seem to come in fewer and more sporadic bursts than previous Trails of Cold Steel games. The True Ending alone, accessed after completing a specific quest in the game’s final chapter and viewing the rather abrupt Normal Ending, brought a smile to my face. I thought it was well worth the price of admission. Also, there were little story moments to witness throughout, such as those involving Renne and a family from Crossbell or a certain doomed village, that were phenomenally handled.

As explained in Caitlin Argyros’ excellent review of the PS4 port, Trails of Cold Steel IV proves to be at its strongest when delving into the lore of the Trails… games and resolving their various plot points. As such, this is definitely not a game any newcomer to the series should attempt as their first Trails… experience. At the very least, a Switch owner should go and play Trails of Cold Steel III before attempting IV if Switch is your only avenue for the games! Even then, it’s easy to find yourself at a loss when plot elements and characters from the first two Trails of Cold Steel games are referenced, even more so with details from Trails in the Sky trilogy and the Crossbell duology start getting tossed into the mix. Another reason to go through the third game in the series before this one is the useful carryover data between the two titles. Any cosmetic Switch DLC from the third game that you want also transfers, which explains the abundance of rainbow hair in my screens for this review. If you’re new to the series and have only been playing it on the Switch, you might be at a disadvantage plot-wise but, on the plus side, your new Class VII can look as stylish as you want!

While one could make a valid argument that the third Cold Steel game could serve as a branching point to newcomers, it is impossible to say that about Trails of Cold Steel IV given how much emphasis on plot resolution it has for the entire series thus far. That interconnectivity has always been the series’ greatest strength and its biggest weakness, and no game further emphasizes that point than this closing act of an expansive story arc. Numerous characters come and go and your roster of playable characters will bloat to well over twenty by the final portion of the game. Some returning faces feel like glorified brief cameos in story scenes, though even those small appearances and mentions are sure to have seasoned players feeling all the more giddy at their inclusion when combined with more fleshed-out appearances from returning characters. There is quite a bit of well-done nostalgic-tinged story “fanservice” throughout the game that series fans will be sure to appreciate.

Jusis comments on the cast's large size.
Stating the obvious. The cast is huge!

…Though “fanservice” of another entirely different nature unfortunately rears its head at times in problematic returning tropes from previous Trails of Cold Steel games. Though it was disappointing to see so often when the cast of female characters in the game is otherwise quite strong, I usually found it easy to eye roll and move on. However, there is one early instance during a hot springs scene that is quite uncomfortable. When a fanservice trope borders on sexual assault, it might not be the best idea to keep adding repeated scenes featuring it, especially when the character in said scene is also still technically a minor. Hopefully, that particular fanservice element will be toned down in future Trails… games.

Speaking of characters, because the cast is so large, many rely heavily on a player’s previous knowledge to get a better sense of who they are. Still, there are a few characters who have quite a bit of development throughout the main story all the same, such as Duvalie. For many of the current Class VII and their allies, much of their character development is relegated to optional bonding events. While these events are quite fun to uncover and offer greater insight into the characters (culminating in a special scene if you max out a bond), the fact you can select a few at once is something of a mixed bag given how likable all the characters tend to be. Also, every female character pretty much falling head over heels in love with Rean is a bit of a head-scratcher. Don’t get me wrong! I like him as a main character just fine, but I was definitely getting tired of seeing almost every single female character predictably develop romantic feelings for him. My favorite bonding events ultimately ended up being Elliot’s, Celine’s, Crow’s, and Ash’s, but they were all insightful. I wish there were a way to access them all instead of having to pick and choose if you aren’t planning on keeping multiple saves or replaying what is already an extremely lengthy game.

Juna performs a Brave Order.
Brave Orders have been tweaked in this game.

Fighting-wise, Trails of Cold Steel IV plays quite similarly to the third game. Since I loved the level of action and strategy implemented there, I found the battle system quite enjoyable. A party of four, often with support characters you can switch out as needed, can move across a battlefield to get away from area attacks or move into better positions to land their own blows. Each character has access to equipped magic and character-specific abilities for fights. Characters can link attacks together to bring about powerful combo moves if specific criteria are met, with the goal to “break” the enemy down to land devastating attacks and score extra hits. You can also call upon support and status-boosting moves called Brave Orders if you have enough points.

Some quality of life improvements have been made to the overall makeup of fights in this title, such as a “broken” enemy recovering faster, so battles require a bit more finesse and strategy. You can now equip any Master Quartz you like in the secondary slot for as many characters as you want and create some truly impressive builds. Brave Orders have been tweaked so they are slightly less powerful than they were in the third game, though some, like Tita’s Blast Force, are truly brutal. Truthfully, the fighting system is easy enough to pick up if you recall fights from previous Trails of Cold Steel games. I simply consider the fight system in Cold Steel IV to be polished to an even finer sheen.

The localization is excellent once again, though I did notice some odd hiccups here and there with occasional typos or text flowing out of speech boxes. Some strings of Japanese text still show up at points in the game, most notably during a battle against a certain character where it is really obvious because their partner’s skills for the fight are correctly translated. Particular skill descriptions also go untranslated for Vantage Master cards when playing that minigame. However, given the sheer scope of the script, it is an impressive translation overall, with excellent and memorable dialogue throughout the game. Voice acting is hit or miss depending on the character, and it’s odd to note when certain voice actors play multiple roles or when voices had to be switched from the previous game, though the new voice actors did admirable work in trying to sound like their predecessors. The soundtrack for Trails of Cold Steel IV is something of an improvement from the third game, though I do admit it never quite reaches the same stellar musical notes as other Trails… titles. I did find that a few dungeon and boss tracks were quite memorable.

As far as the Switch port itself fares, I would say the game competently presents itself on the console. The button controls are easy to learn and pick up, and I’m happy to report that the “soft lock glitches” that were issues in more congested areas such as Crossbell and Ordis in Trails of Cold Steel III did not occur, even when visiting those recurring areas. That didn’t stop me from having a small bit of panic every time a hectic or busy scene occurred and the game would stutter, but fortunately nothing major came from it. That isn’t to say that the fourth game’s Switch port is without issues, however. There were graphical texture overlays and some hiccups during more intense or action-packed portions of the game, which could be offputting. The UI is quite small too, particularly when playing the game in handheld mode. I lost count of how many times I didn’t notice a status effect or when someone needed healing!

Altina explains about Trial Chests.
The Switch port has a frustrating glitch involving the Trial Chests.

Perhaps the biggest con to the Switch port specifically is that lengthy story scenes and dungeon progressions are often broken up by noticeably long “Now Loading” screens. I don’t know how many minutes I spent staring at that black loading screen. Since it would occur during the heat of chained battles or story scenes that were meant to flow fluidly from one to the next, it took me right out of the game’s immersion whenever they occurred. There was also a Switch-only glitch involving the Trial Chests. These are special chests players can open only if they have the required specific characters in order to fight a special battle to upgrade certain Brave Orders. In the Switch port, the part of the text box listing the names of the required combatants is annoyingly blank, making it impossible to rely on anything but lucky guessing if you don’t happen to follow an online guide.

Overall, I spent well over one hundred twenty hours playing the Switch port of Trails of Cold Steel IV. While I certainly felt that the game dragged at times,  it was ultimately still a solid JRPG experience. At times, “the end of saga” might have felt like it was going out with more of a whimper than a roar, but the conclusion of the True Ending more than makes up for the game’s pacing struggles. I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience the ending of the Erebonian story arc, and even with some Switch-specific flaws, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is yet another truly solid addition to the console’s JRPG lineup. If you picked up the Switch’s port of Trails of Cold Steel III, then the fourth game is certainly worth playing on that system as well.


Pros

The conclusion to a memorable saga, polished gameplay, colorful cast of characters, excellent dialogue.

Cons

Uneven and tedious story pacing, certain scenes on the Switch have graphical hiccups and stuttering, Trial Chest glitches, Switch port also has a lot of "now loading” screens.

Bottom Line

Despite some flaws, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV port on Switch is another solid JRPG addition for Nintendo’s console.

Graphics
82
Sound
87
Gameplay
88
Control
97
Story
80
Overall Score 83
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Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling is a reviewer for RPGFan. She is a lover of RPGs, Visual Novels, and Fighting Games. Once she gets onto a subject she truly feels strongly about, like her favorite games, she can ramble on and on endlessly. Coffee helps keep her world going round.