The biggest question on the minds of Switch owners when it comes to Trails of Cold Steel 3 is whether or not it makes sense coming into a long running series so late in the story. The ongoing narrative began with the Trails in the Sky Trilogy that told the tale of a pair of Bracers, the story was further expanded upon in the Crossbell arc duo of titles that originally released on PSP, and finally the first two Cold Steel titles that are currently available on PC and PS4 lead up to this current offering but most or all of these titles likely will not be coming to Switch.
All of the stories have a connection so coming into Cold Steel 3 would be like starting off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The answer to the question though is this — Yes, Trails of Cold Steel 3 is an enjoyable game regardless of your level of knowledge with the series. The caveat is that without doing some research into the story beforehand, it’s really hard to understand and appreciate what exactly is happening and the context behind many of the plot reveals. The combat system on its own is worth your time, but with a little bit of research, Trails of Cold Steel 3 is one of the best games available on the Nintendo Switch.
Trails of Cold Steel 3 begins with a view of the future where the main antagonist group, Ouroboros, is in the middle of an assault on the Juno Naval Fortress. The opening gives us a preview of what is to come, and an introduction to the new Class VII of the Thors Military Academy Branch Campus. The instructor of the class is Rean Schwarzer, the former student of a previous Class VII who has become a national hero because of his exploits in wars during previous games. The Ashen Chevalier as he is referred to, is the focus of the Trails of Cold Steel storyline and pretty much everything going on seems to revolve around him. Almost everyone that is met in the game has some connection to Rean, whether they are old classmates that have moved on to new professions, old enemies that are now allies, or just ordinary citizens whose lives have been touched by Rean one way or another.
The structure of the story is broken down into a prologue, 4 chapters and then a finale. The chapters follow a similar pattern: Beginning with class activities on the campus, followed by some interactions with both the students and the townsfolk. The academy then retires to the dorms where a number of cutscenes between classmates and other relevant characters provides some context on story points. The academy then travels to a location in Erebonia for field exercises in which the students learn combat in a real setting. These field exercises are really just a pretense for the empire to have the Ashen Chevalier in the area in order for him to investigate the shadowy organization, Ouroboros.
For many, this may be the make or break point on whether jumping into the series is worth it. The organization of Ouroboros is the long running antagonist and even to this point, very little information including the exact members and their true motivations are unknown. The one thing we do know, Ouroboros is trying to locate ancient relics from long ago that can bestow great power. It’s not necessary to commit to 300 hours of playing the previous installments, none of which are available on Switch, but I do recommend spending a couple hours on the wikifan page in order to have a base understanding of the plot. Trails of Cold Steel 3 features an incredibly large cast of characters whose back stories span decades worth of games and to get a real understanding of the story, it’s going to take some homework.
Thankfully, the combat system of Trails of Cold Steel 3 is completely worth the time needed to do some homework into the series. During the prologue, you get a taste of the multiple layers that make up a battle. On top of your normal attacks, each character has a craft points gauge for specialized moves that can apply status effects to enemies, as well as deplete their break meter. Once an enemy has been broken, attacks do additional damage and the enemy needs to expend a turn in order to re-balance. Unbalancing an opponent also provides brave points, these are used in a couple of different ways. The first is that they can be expended to activate a group stat boost that could either increase attack or reduce the amount of damage taken. Brave points can also be used during attacks, if the enemy is unbalanced the points can be used to trigger a second attack from a teammate.
If that wasn’t enough, each character also has energy points which is basically the equivalent of magic. These points can be used towards healing spells, powerful attack spells and so on. These are all controlled through a device that resembles a very large cell phone called the Arcus II. This is really just the tip of the iceberg, each battle also can depend on positioning, whether you snuck up on the enemy, and a number of other different factors. It all seems very overwhelming but Trails of Cold Steel 3 does a terrific job of spreading out all of the different systems and really explaining each one well.
As overwhelming as the story or combat systems of Trails of Cold Steel 3 seem, the emotion that best describes both the game and the series as a whole is simply pure joy. The overall tone of the title is always jovial, whether it’s the Class VII students cracking wise during intense combat or old rivals reminiscing about previous battles. One of the Ashen Chevalier’s own students was an enemy in a previous title, having gone so far as to have kidnapped his sister. Very few characters actually seem like they are truly evil. Some may be motivated by combat, others by helping those that need assistance, but even the main enemies maintain an amount of respect for those they disagree with. No scene exemplifies this more than when agents of Ouroboros delay a battle so that Rean and his class can have the time they need to visit a gravestone of a mutual ally.
Finally, for those who are already fans of the series but would rather play on a handheld device instead of their PlayStation 4 or PC, you can rest easy that it looks and plays amazingly. Since the visuals have an anime look to them, the Switch is able to provide beautiful graphics whether in handheld or docked mode. Through 50+ hours of playthrough, mostly in docked mode, there was only one occasion where the game froze. I never noticed any slowdown or dropped frames, the only other time I noticed a hiccup was during a scene in which a cat was being held but disappeared from the screen.
In an age when developers often compete with each other on who can provide the darkest timeline, or those that put the heroes through what could often be considered torture, it’s a breath of fresh air to play a game as truly wholesome as Trails of Cold Steel 3. The complexity of the story leaves you hanging on every word, and each line of dialogue feels authentic and meaningful. My own personal experience with the Legend of Heroes series is limited to Trails in the Sky, an incredible title that I enjoyed from beginning to end. After finishing Trails of Cold Steel 3 and getting up to date with the story through wiki pages, I can say with certainty that based on my experience, when the localized version of Trails of Cold Steel 4 is released on PlayStation 4, it will be a day one purchase.
- Very detailed and engaging story
- Excellent combat mechanics
- Voice acting is terrific
- Short load times
- Beautiful soundtrack
- No autosave feature