Overview – developed by Nihon Falcom and published by NIS America, Trails of Cold Steel IV is the latest entry in the Cold Steel series and the Legend of Heroes franchise overall to come to the west. This is a traditional JRPG featuring tactical turn-based combat, dungeon crawling and a diverse cast of characters. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia and Windows PC, links to each version of 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 IV that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
I have previously covered the third entry in the Cold Steel series, you can find my review of the game (HERE) so if you haven’t seen it already, please check it out. So with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story. Please note, I will be calling the game Cold Steel IV for brevity.
Story – taking place shortly after the events of Cold Steel III, the Erebonian Empire is on the brink of all-out war. The heroes of Class VII find themselves against the full force if the empire in an attempt to stop its path of total dominantion. Further, the hero of the Erebonian Civil War and Class VII’s instructor, Rean Schwarzer, has gone missing. Now, the students of Class VII, both old and new must unite and work together with heroes from across the continent to save the world from total destruction.
Gameplay – Cold Steel IV is a Traditional JRPG experience, where the player controls a party of characters, exploring dungeons and completing quests. The areas that the player can roam include a magical forest with a village in it, a huge facility filled with robotic enemies and picturesque towns filled with people to speak to. This free flowing nature to exploration adds some freedom to the way the game can be approached, but there are some things to be aware of when in dungeons.
Dungeons can be made up of a single floor, open areas connected with gates and multi stage challenges. There are gates to unlock, secret rooms and treasure chests that are scattered throughout, alongside destructible objects that the player can attack to open paths and charge up the special field attacks. These areas each have their own theme, allowing the game to build an atmosphere very effectively both in and out of the dungeon segments.
Inside the dungeons, players will encounter enemies roaming out in the open at various points. If an enemy is in sight the player has a few options, each one potentially changing the outcome of battle. The player can engage with the enemy using a standard or special field attack, an advantage will be given to the party for that battle. However, if the player runs directly into the enemy, no advantage is given but if the enemy makes contact with the player from behind they get to attack first.
The combat itself is made up of traditional turn based combat where the party members face off with enemy forces, with the combat order being dependent on the speed of each unit. Players can make one move per turn with the exception of some features, here is a breakdown of the different choices a player can make;
- Attack – the unit can target an enemy and move in to attack, if the enemy is out of range, the attack will not go through.
- Crafts – a special skill that uses a resource called craft points. These abilities are instant and can be used to deal damage, buff the party and even weaken the enemy. The craft points can be replenished by attacking enemies with standard attacks.
- Arts – magical attacks that use energy points to activate. Arts abilities are activated on a delay for all skills, with the only way to delay them being to eliminate the target or disable them.
- Move – this allows units to move around the battlefield in a predetermined range, giving the chance to move into a more advantageous position for the next turn.
- Swap – change out units on the field with reserve party members, saving those who may not fare as well against the enemy.
- Order – use Brave Points (a resource often earned by succeeding with critical break attacks mentioned below) to grant party wide buffs for a predetermined number of turns. These include attack boosts, shields that reduce the damage taken and improving chances of critical breaks.
- Item – select items from the party inventory, letting the player heal, remove status effects and even escape from battle.
- Run – try to escape battle, with a percentage for standard escape attempts or guaranteed success if using an item.
Alongside the standard actions that players can use, there are special combat events that can occur when certain conditions are met. When using attacks and crafts, a special critical break can occur prompting the player to input a button that will provide an additional attack if used in time, these events can grant brave points as well as use them. These special attacks are dependent on a feature called combat links, a party based feature that connects two units together, granting special abilities and more combat flexibility.
There is a very special skill that can be used by depleting all craft points that a player has. This is called an S-craft and has a minimum threshold of 100CP all the way to the limit of 200CP for maximum power. The special S-craft skills can ignore the turn order, interrupting enemies and giving the party an opportunity to gain an early advantage or turn the tide of battle, especially useful during boss/event battles that occur during the story.
At the end of a combat encounter the party members will gain experience, resources that can be exchanged with merchants and player rewards. At specific experience milestones, party members will level up not only their character level but also their link level, making them stronger both individually and when paired with others. Be warned however, If a party member is defeated in battle, they will not gain any experience at the end of a battle.
With the basic details of combat and dungeons covered, I want to move to some other parts of the gameplay making sure to prevent spoilers of some of the more unique features.
Outside combat and dungeons, the player is able to alter their party composition and change the appearance of the characters they use. One of the most important features that players have access to here is the ARCUS II, a system that gives the player full control over the upgrades and skills players can use. The ARCUS II uses Master Quartz and skill Quartz which can be moved between players to grant flexibility to the player in the skill set they want each character to use.
Quartz can be strengthened by using terminals that are located in some dungeon locations, as well as by talking to specific NPC characters in the safe areas of the game. By improving the loadout for party members, combat in tougher areas can be a little easier and can make it easier for players to build skill sets that fit their personal style. To improve Quartz items, other orbs must be created from raw materials (or purchased from stores/collected as rewards) and then combined with other materials in the upgrade menu.
Character customization consists of outfit changes, hair colors and up to three accessories from the inventory. These changes will be reflected in the majority of cutscenes, but in some cases story specific outfits will be applied to the character overriding the chosen cosmetic items. Many cosmetic items, full costumes and other items can be obtained by purchasing DLC, alongside items that can be obtained through regular play and story progression.
Players can go to several towns and residential areas in the game, which feature general stores, quest giving NPCs and even mini games that allow a break between story/dungeon segments. There is a variety of activities that the player can undertake including fishing, card games and side quests involving the many residents of the towns in the game. These are a fun distraction from the combat heavy dungeons, which can get a little repetitive and tiring if that’s not your thing.
The balance between combat and exploration is pretty good during extended play sessions. The interactions with NPC characters give more life to the world of Cold Steel IV, providing details about the workings of different places and the stories of the residents. You can even cook food and learn different recipes by dining in the different restaurants scattered throughout the game. These little touches and so much more add to the overall immersion of this release, using characters and world building that make the experience that much more engaging.
Now, I feel that I have given enough detail about the gameplay for Trails of Cold Steel IV without providing spoilers. I will now be moving onto the other elements of this title, starting with the difficulty.
Difficulty – there is a total of five difficulty settings available to players, ranging from Very Easy to Nightmare. The lower difficulty options modify combat to appeal to those who want to focus more so on the story, rather than the combat elements. The higher settings will ramp up the challenge with the Nightmare setting being the toughest level available. During play, the setting can be raised or lowered freely, except for the Nightmare option which is an almost impossible all or nothing challenge.
Controls – Cold Steel IV uses a unique set up when it comes to controls. The combat options are mapped to the face and D-pad buttons, with the shoulder buttons for special inputs which makes the flow of battle very smooth. Movement and camera controls are handled by the thumbsticks, allowing for smooth maneuvering and ease of use. All controls in game work well when using both the Joy-Cons and pro controllers, having zero lag or inconsistency with inputs.
Presentation – the visual style for this release is very pleasing, with anime style visuals and high quality graphics for the technical limitations of the Nintendo Switch hardware. The overall performance during gameplay is very good, with minimal problems with framerate when pushing the system at maximum load. The rendering distance is limited and the resolution isn’t as high as other versions of the game, but this title has been optimized effectively for the console to be played in both docked and handheld modes.
The sound for Cold Steel IV is a delight to listen to, featuring grand fantasy styled compositions and rock styled tracks that contrast well together. All music tracks thematically fit their setting and add more depth to the games world. There is a significant amount of voice lines in this game with the option for English and Japanese audio tracks. The English voice cast is excellent and features voice actors from anime and video games, including Johnny Yong Bosch (Trigun), Erika Harlacher (Persona) and Alexis Tipton (My Hero Academia).
Final Thoughts – I had a great time playing Trails of Cold Steel IV. The combat, storytelling and overall world building is engaging, pulling me into the game while making each twist and turn in the story exciting. The action is balanced well for a smooth experience for players of all skill levels, giving the player greater control of how they want their time with the game to unfold. If you haven’t played the other games in the series, I recommend that you at least check out the previous Switch release of Cold Steel III.
However, if you have played the previous games or just want to play this entry, there is an in-depth backstory section that tells the entire story of the series. This feature offers character backgrounds, summaries of the previous games and more to give players as much detail as possible. I would happily recommend this to JRPG fans and those who have an interest in the genre. This is an excellent game and I would like to see more from the Legend of Heroes franchise on the Nintendo Switch.
In the end, I give Trails of Cold Steel IV a final score of 5/5. This is an excellent JRPG experience with an immersive world, challenging yet balanced combat and a story that really pulls you in. Another hit from developer Nihon Falcom and the team at NIS America, I look forward to spending even more time with this game. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can find links to each version of the game below (unfortunately I could not locate a Stadia version link).
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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