For the past 15 years, Nihon Falcom has slowly and methodically constructed one of the most captivating stories ever seen in a video game series. Beginning with Trails in the Sky, the Japanese developer continues to expand the story with each new entry, while simultaneously improving the overall experience with subtle yet remarkable additions to the battle system. Trails of Cold Steel IV is the final title in the latest Legend of Heroes series, providing a final conclusion to not only the Erebonian story arc, but also tying in the stories from both Liberl and Crossbell. Bringing about a conclusion to a story that spans nine different titles is a daunting task, but one that Nihon Falcom is ultimately able to rise above. Trails of Cold Steel IV is a masterful showcase of superior storytelling and a combat system that is second to none, providing a wonderful finale to the tale of Class VII while also providing excitement as to the future of the franchise.
The story begins two weeks after the final events of Trails of Cold Steel III in which the members of Class VII are left in disarray following the commencement of the Great Twilight. Three members of the new Class VII awaken in a strange village after the disappearance of their instructor with little to hope for as Erebonia prepares for an all out war on the continent. Instead of giving into despair, Juna Crawford rallies not only her classmates, but the old Class VII as well in a bid to find Rean Schwarzer and fight back against the forces that would bring about the end of the world. The structure of the story follows its predecessor very closely in that each section begins with an initial period of preparation in a home base of sorts, followed by exploration of an area of Erebonia.
The pace is the usual model of consistency; rarely is there a prolonged period of time without progression, and Cold Steel IV certainly has numerous amounts of high emotional points. I lost count of the number of times I felt goosebumps when a change in music signalled the appearance of a character about to save the moment or an event that had me leaping out of my chair. Knowledge of the cast of characters spanning all the way back to Trails in the Sky isn’t necessary to understand the emotional impact, but it certainly increases the enjoyment, especially in cases where those characters become playable. The pool of available characters that can be in the party is quite large and at times can feel daunting. Fortunately, Trails of Cold Steel IV does a terrific job of creating situations in which specific characters are required so that none are permanently relegated to the bench.
A number of side-quests are available throughout the game, and the ranking system makes a return to provide incentives to complete them beyond story progression. In the spirit of avoiding spoilers, I’ll simply highly encourage completion of the side-quests, especially the final ones available very late in the game. A few can feel a bit fetchy, but the majority add backstory to the overall lore and also shine a spotlight on characters that don’t see a whole lot of screen time. The bonding system also returns, providing beautiful cutscenes between characters and expanding the relationships between them.
Experiencing the wonderful story of The Legend of Heroes franchise would be reason enough to get into this series but on top of that, Trails of Cold Steel may just have the best turn-based combat system ever designed. The battle mechanics of combining magic arts and craft points from Cold Steel III carries over and gets expanded upon in Cold Steel IV. As characters level up, new movesets are added and existing abilities are upgraded. Between the large cast of characters available to choose from and the vast variety of enemies to encounter, the combat never feels stale. Enemies can still be avoided in dungeons if you choose to simply run around them, and at no point is grinding ever required. A delightful inclusion in this entry are hidden trial chests that provide a unique challenge with bonafide rewards. The trial chests are scattered throughout the continent and each one has its own party requirement and level of difficulty. Successful completion of a chest provides a boost to the battle orders of the character involved, providing a decent incentive to seek them out.
One of the big questions with this particular title is between purchasing the PlayStation 4 version now, or waiting until some unconfirmed time in 2021 for the release on Nintendo Switch. Having played Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch, I can easily recommend the PlayStation 4 version to anyone who doesn’t find the lack of mobility a dealbreaker. Loading times on the PS4 version are almost non-existent, allowing for quick fast-travel between locations, which is something that happens a lot during Cold Steel IV. The Nintendo Switch version could be just as wonderful when it launches early next year, and the portability will be an advantage considering that the amount of content could easily go over a hundred hours. My experience between the two versions however is that the visuals on PlayStation are much more clear and vibrant, and the music sounded spectacular on a good set of surround sound speakers.
Rarely does an RPG this expansive, still leaving me wanting more even after fully completing all of the main story and optional quests. I could easily replay the last 70-80 hours all over again with a focus on different characters and not experience fatigue with the title. The Legend of Heroes franchise may not share the same popularity in the West as something developed by Atlus or Square Enix, but the quality of these Nihon Falcom games is on par with their peers, and in many ways surpasses them. Few titles exist that feature one of the best combat systems ever created with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Trails of Cold Steel IV is quite frankly one of the best RPGs I have ever played, and I cannot wait to see what the future of the franchise has in store.
- Incredible and well developed story
- Second to none combat system
- Outstanding soundtrack
- No performance issues
- One small frustration near the end (Spoiler)