Trails of Cold Steel III – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – Developed by Nihon Falcom and published by NIS America, Trails of Cold Steel III hits the Nintendo Switch. This JRPG focuses on strategy and tactical thinking, with challenging turn-based battles and dungeon crawling style gameplay. Taking place in a vibrant world of magic and machines, featuring a cast of charming and diverse characters, all wrapped in beautiful anime style visuals. This title is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. If you want to check this game out for yourself, links to purchase the game will be at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank NIS America for providing the copy of Trails of Cold Steel III and the DLC used for this article. The provision of this title has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now, with the introductions out of the way, let’s jump into the review of Trails of Cold Steel III, starting with the story.

Story – Trails of Cold Steel III takes place a year and a half after the events of the previous game, focusing primarily on Rean Schwarzer, the man known as the Ashen Chevalier. Rean has been called to the city of Leeves, taking a job as an instructor at the newly opened branch campus of Thors Military Academy. After reuniting with figures from his past, Rean is put in charge of Class VII, the same class that he was a part of during his time as a student at the main campus of the academy, leading his students through the many challenges that they face during their enrollment.

Gameplay – Trails of Cold Steel III, features a mixture of traditional roaming JRPG style gameplay, strategic party management and quests/interactions with characters in the games world. Taking control of Rean, the player can explore the parts of the land of Erebonia, the city of Leeves and the facilities of the Thors Military Academy branch campus. During the exploration and questing, the player will interact with the inhabitants of the games world while the story progresses.

During the various missions and story segments that the player experiences, their party will roam through dungeon styled structures, open plains and more, battling monsters, obtaining loot and leveling up. When encountering enemies during exploration, turn based combat will occur and advantages can be applied at the beginning depending on various factors. If the player hits an enemy in the overworld with a standard or assault attack, an advantage will be applied, however, if an enemy touches the player from behind they will get the advantage to strike first.

Additionally, there are chain battles and large scale boss battles that can occur. A chain battle will occur when two or more overworld enemies are within close proximity to each other, when this happens, additional battles will take place. The boss battles happen during preset segments in the story, usually consisting of a single unique unit of immense power, which will push the player into a corner. Before big battles, players can find pedestals to heal and manage resources before taking on the enemy.

There are several resources that players must manage and keep track of in and out of the battles, featuring the RPG standards of HP, Mana for magic/arts (called Energy Points abbreviated to EP) and consumables. There are resources that are exclusive to this title and the franchise in general. The exclusive mechanics are CP(Craft Points), that allow the player to use character specific skills, Quartz which give the player boosts and new magic, and Brave Points, shortened to BP, which allow players to give party wide buffs and activate special link abilities.

When planning out strategy and party management, link abilities and link levels come into play. Links are connections between party members that provide benefits during battle, these benefits include special attacks, support skills and more. Another benefit of the link system is the special break attacks, when a player hits a critical attack with a special quality, the player can call their link partner to perform special actions for addition damage. The break actions will grant BP or consume BP based on the choice made by the player.

I will be breaking the combat options down into a list that gives enough detail, without spoiling any surprises that the game holds for the player. Players can make one move per turn, with the outlier being the activation of orders and some special actions during combat. The options in battle are as follows;

  • Move – change position on the battle field in order to reach enemies that are out of attack reach or to retreat from harm.
  • Attack – attack enemies with basic attacks, will also move the character to reach them to get into attack range.
  • Arts – use magic to attack enemies or aid the party, using EP to charge attacks that will be activated later in turn order.
  • Crafts – character specific skills that will attack enemies or aid the party, use CP to utilize these instant skills and earn more by performing actions during turns.
  • Item – use items to aid the party, revive fallen team members, heal damage taken, restore EP and give other buffs.
  • Order – give an order to the party, applying effects that last for a specific number of turns until they are either rescinded for another or simply run out.
  • Swap – switch out active party members with reserve members, useful when there are specific enemies that require a single type of attack or to boost defensive capabilities.
  • Run – self-explanatory, run away from the current battle and get away from the enemies.

There are some battle mechanics that I wish to keep as a surprise, so I will be jumping back into other gameplay mechanics.

When enemies are defeated in battle, they may drop loot for the player to collect while also granting experience. When all enemies are defeated, the dropped loot will be collected, including items, gear and additional quartz resources. Players will also gain experience for character leveling and link leveling, increasing their stats, unlocking new abilities and gaining new special link skills that can be used in combat.

Outside of the various roaming segments and enemy battles, the player can interact with the world around them, shopping at the many stores in the games world. In the stores the player can buy and sell items, exchange resources for new power-ups and learn recipes for crafting specific items. The player can also take on side quests, helping various people to increase their relationships, get rewards and push the story further.

The last thing I want to talk about is a card game called Vantage Masters, this game is a competitive card duel, where the objective is to deplete the opponents health points first. The game is similar to magic the gathering, where players place cards on the game board by using Mana, then if allowed they can attack the players master to deal damage. When the master has taken enough damage, the player who holds that master loses the match, there are also spells that can boost other cards. When the player wins, they will be rewarded with card packs and additional special cards are available in shops.

Now with all the elements of gameplay that I want to discuss covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game experience, starting with the difficulty.

Difficulty – at the start of the game, players can choose from 5 difficulty levels, each difficulty setting provides a different level of challenge to fit all experience levels and play styles, making for a fair gameplay experience for all. The lowest difficulties are for players to easily pass through the game, this allows the story to be experienced little difficulty. The higher levels of difficulty will ramp up the challenge, really hitting players hard and leaving little room for error in all combat encounters, meaning a single mistake can cause death.

Controls – the controls for Trails of Cold Steel III are balanced perfectly, with simple yet intuitive movement controls, easy to navigate menus and selection options on the face buttons and d-pad. The ease of use with the controls works across all three play styles, when using the Joy-Cons and Pro-Controller there is no input lag or timing issues, making the overall experience very satisfying. I played the game for many hours in both docked and undocked mode, with seamless transition of controls.

Presentation – Trails of Cold Steel III uses an anime style to the visuals, with beautiful character designs that show off their personality, vibrant worlds that are pouring with charm and stunning animations used in cutscenes. The performance of the game in the visual department does have some small flaws, although they aren’t a deal breaker. The minor problems are occasional slow down and graphical stuttering, which happen at different times, but don’t impact gameplay much if at all.

The sound for this title is wonderfully crafted, the soundtrack features a mix of jazz/rock fusion, combined with orchestral sounds and delicate musical cues. The soundtrack also features musical tracks that have powerful vocals, enhancing the scenes that feature them and add a sense of grandeur to these moments. Alongside the excellent soundtrack is the dubbed voices used through the game, featuring the voice talents of Sean Chiplock (Re:ZERO), Erika Harlacher (Persona 5) and Alexis Tipton (Ace Attorney). Although the dub isn’t persistent, the quality of it when used is excellent.

Final Thoughts – I really enjoyed my time playing Trails of Cold Steel III, the storytelling, game world and characters are charming, the sound delightful and the gameplay engaging. I spent a lot of time exploring the world, learning about the various characters and I really got into the Vantage Masters card game. The additional DLC that NIS America provided was a wonderful touch, making the Extracurricular version worth purchasing as it provides a character flair that allows some personalization to the player experience.

I can happily recommend Trails of Cold Steel III, I will admit that I am not the most experienced with JRPGs, however, I got pulled into this game, finding the depth of the combat and strategy to be very rewarding. Both the main story and side quests offer a lot of longevity to this game, along with the multiple difficulty options that offer an increased challenge with additional playthroughs. If you are a longtime fan or relatively new to the JRPG genre, this game is worth the time and effort required to enjoy it.

In the end, I give Trails of Cold Steel III a score of 5/5. The depth of the strategic combat, the storylines and game world are immersive, with the overall experience being rewarding to play. The DLC adding an additional flair to the title with both paid for and free content for players to enjoy. If you want to pick this game up for yourself, links to the game will be below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)                        

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

Link to G.O.G version (HERE)

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