Last year, NIS America localised The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III for PS4 and it remains the best JRPG of 2019. The wait for Trails of Cold Steel III was very long for some fans while others who got in through the PS4 releases could jump straight into Trails of Cold Steel III. Since then, it has been ported to PC and Nintendo Switch. Just like the first Trails of Cold Steel game, Trails of Cold Steel III had quite the cliffhanger of an ending and the wait for Trails of Cold Steel IV has been difficult. Thankfully, the conclusion to Trails of Cold Steel is finally here on PS4 and it has delivered in almost every way.
Without getting into any spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel IV, it picks up soon after the events of Trails of Cold Steel III. It is hard to believe that Trails of Cold Steel IV was supposed to be a part of Trails of Cold Steel III initially given how long it is and how much it manages to accomplish narrative wise. While I know many people played and enjoyed Trails of Cold Steel III without prior games, Trails of Cold Steel IV assumes you’re familiar with much more than just the Trails of Cold Steel games.
The in-game backstory doesn’t really cover everything you need to know. While I played it without having played every relevant Trails game, I can safely say that this story made me want to play prior games more than ever before but I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt without having played at least the three Trails of Cold Steel games before IV. The highlight here barring the various narrative arc payoffs is being able to see various older characters interact with newer ones and seeing some of Falcom’s best characters like Estelle and Joshua in a modern Trails game.The biggest annoyance when it comes to the story is how the second act has horrible pacing compared to the rest of the game.
In a lot of ways, Trails of Cold Steel IV feels just like Trails of Cold Steel II did for the game that came before it. Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel III are split up into chapters while Trails of Cold Steel II and IV are split up into acts when it comes to structure. Now that all four Trails of Cold Steel are out on PS4 it is best to consider the Trails of Cold Steel series as split up into the first major part that covers the first two games and the second chapter that concludes the story as Trails of Cold Steel III and IV. I imagine people who enjoyed Trails of Cold Steel more than Trails of Cold Steel II will likely do the same for this duo of games. I already thought Falcom did a fantastic job with the first two but they really delivered with Trails of Cold Steel III and IV when it comes to story, music, and gameplay.
When it comes to combat, Trails of Cold Steel III and IV are miles above the first two games. The reliance on face buttons, high-speed mode, and general fast-paced nature definitely make combat more enjoyable. I can’t imagine how much longer Trails of Cold Steel IV would’ve been for me without the high-speed mode especially in the middle portions of the game. The various skills are still a sight to behold and they look fantastic. The boss battles here are grand and I’m very curious to see how they will perform on Nintendo Switch in 2021.
Visually, Trails of Cold Steel IV is basically the same as Trails of Cold Steel III. There are obviously new areas and locations, but it very much feels like an extension (albeit a very long one) of the engine and visuals in Trails of Cold Steel III. While Trails of Cold Steel III had issues with the frame rate in some parts, Trails of Cold Steel IV is noticeably better in that regard. It holds up its 60fps target a lot better and feels more consistent. Falcom games aren’t really technical showcases but it is always great to have these games look crisp when played on PS4 and PS4 Pro.
When the music from Trails of Cold Steel IV initially started making its way on the internet through trailers and the original soundtrack, I liked what I heard. I already love the music in Trails of Cold Steel III and Trails of Cold Steel IV’s soundtrack has higher highs with its superlative battle themes and vocal songs. The dungeon songs are great but the final dungeon theme in particular is one of the more grandiose songs from Falcom in recent years.
The one area of the audio where I am disappointed is the voice acting but not because of the actors or direction but the audio levels. The original Trails of Cold Steel III issue with voice level for the English dub is present here again but it feels like different character voice levels are inconsistent. This has some sounding louder than others and you can’t really fix this in the settings. Hopefully NIS America can sort this out in future patches. This must have definitely been a massive undertaking for the company because of the sheer amount of characters and the fact that voice acting and production timelines in general have taken a hit because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Having played all four Trails of Cold Steel games, I like the duo of Trails of Cold Steel III and IV a lot more than the first two games now. The gameplay is a lot better and I definitely enjoy the characters more here. While the pacing in Trails of Cold Steel IV could’ve been better, I can’t help but marvel at how Falcom managed getting so many characters here even if some had less of a role to play than others in the grand scheme of things. The number of characters is definitely a blessing and a curse overall. I say curse because some scenes have too many characters trying to get their voice heard and it feels tacked on or just there to remind you of how many characters this game has.
Overall, Trails of Cold Steel IV reminds me a lot of Trails of Cold Steel II. It still feels like a part of Trails of Cold Steel III that was saved for a new release in many ways but also brings a lot to the table for character interactions and with intertwining stories from other Trails games. While I can’t imagine how my experience here would’ve gone had I already played the unlocalised Trails games and all three Trails in the Sky games, I can safely say that Trails of Cold Steel IV is a fantastic conclusion to the Trails of Cold Steel series and it makes me want to jump back to my playthrough of Trails in the Sky SC and hope that Ao no Kiseki and Zero no Kiseki finally get official English releases soon. In a lot of ways, Trails of Cold Steel IV feels like Falcom bit off way more than it can chew when it comes to the sheer vastness of the cast but I’m more than pleased with how everything played out in the end and I’m glad to have invested hundreds of hours into the series across all ports and releases.