Title (JP): Eiyuu Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki IV -THE END OF SAGA- (英雄伝説 閃の軌跡IV -THE END OF SAGA-)
Title (NA): The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nihon Falcom (JP), NIS America (WW)
Release date: 27 Sep 2018 (JP/PS4), 27 Oct 2020 (NA, EU/PS4), 6 Nov 2020 (AU/PS4), 2021 (Switch, PC)
As this game is a sequel, the review may contain spoilers for previous instalments in the series.
Trails of Cold Steel IV is the fourth and final game in the Trails of Cold Steel series, and the latest game in Nihon Falcolm’s long-running The Legend of Heroes/Trails series.
The Legend of Heroes has long-running roots, beginning with Dragon Slayer: Eiyuu Densetsu for PC-8800 home computers in 1988, which was itself the sixth installment in the Dragon Slayer series. The setting used in Cold Steel IV, however, was first introduced in The Legend of Heroes VI: Trails in the Sky (later retroactively subtitled “FC”, for “First Chapter”, as it was the first of two parts) for the PC in 2004. VI spanned three titles – Trails in the Sky FC, Trails in the Sky SC, and Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Which were initially released on PC then subsequently ported to multiple platforms, and were eventually released in English by Xseed Games.
This trilogy was followed up by a duology – Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki (though initially promoted as Eiyuu Densetsu VII, the numbering of titles was later dropped) for the PSP, later ported to the Vita – and then by Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II for the PS3 and Trails of Cold Steel III for the PS4.
Excluding spinoffs like the online browser game Akatsuki no Kiseki, this makes Trails of Cold Steel IV the fourteenth instalment in the Legend of Heroes series, the ninth instalment in the Trails series, and the fourth instalment in the Cold Steel series.
While the older Legend of Heroes games are entirely disconnected from the Trails series’ world, the Trails series’ games’ stories are all deeply connected, and while Cold Steel IV does come with a recap of the previous three games, it would not be an overstatement to say that this is mainly to help players of the three previous games to recall what had happened before, and not for new players to catch up; New players to the series would be far better off starting at Sky FC or perhaps Cold Steel 1.
It should also be noted that due to the chronology of the series, Cold Steel IV massive spoilers for all of the previous games in the series, including for Zero and Ao, which as of yet have not been officially released in English.
Cold Steel IV continues immediately after III’s cliffhanger ending, with series protagonist Rean Schwarzer in captivity. The first chapter of the game- Which takes up an entire quarter of the total playtime- Thus follows Rean’s students, members of the new Class VII introduced in III, as they traverse the Erebonian empire looking for a way to find and rescue Rean. While several older characters do join the party for limited times during this part of the game, the story is clearly centered around the new Class VII, which is a welcome and refreshing change.
The remainder of the game should feel familiar to series fans: Cold Steel IV is to III what II was to the first game- The player is given an airship with which they are free to explore the areas introduced in the previous game, slowly unlocked as the story progresses. Though the capital city of Heimdall is, like in II, again left unvisited, IV also introduces new areas such as parts of the city of Crossbell from Zero/Ao which were not seen in III, or the village of Ulster, which had previously appeared in a manga taking place between Sky 3rd and Zero, and in a drama CD taking place during Cold Steel II.
Cold Steel IV sees the returning appearances of a massive amount of characters from previous games- Not just from Cold Steel, but also from Zero/Ao and Sky, including a few unexpected faces. Fans of Zero/Ao might be left slightly disappointed, however, due to several characters not appearing despite the player being able to go to Crossbell. The exclusion of Zero/Ao’s Sergei from the game is especially unfortunate, due to his voice actor, Ishizuka Unshou, passing away just a month before Cold Steel IV’s release, making this the last chance for the character to have had a voiced appearance by him.
The game’s battle system is mostly identical to Cold Steel III’s, but several changes were made to balance the Order and Break systems. Many character’s Orders are now far weaker than they were before, and must be upgraded by finding treasure chests throughout the world which give the player a “trial”, or tough battle where only fixed party members can be used. Enemies now seem to require far more break damage before break can be inflicted on them, and most bosses now fully restore their break gauge after their HP is reduced to a certain point, making it far harder for the player to abuse Break to make it so that bosses cannot even move through a battle.
The game does ultimately have ways with which the player can min-max to ridiculous degrees and do things such as defeat bosses before they can even move, and in the later parts of the game is actually even worse with this because of how the player is allowed to freely craft some of the tools they need to break the game, but it should be noted that the Cold Steel IV is noticeably stingier in handing out these tools in the early game; As a result some of the earlier parts IV are significantly more difficult than most of all three previous games, especially if the player is aiming to meet the requirements for bonus AP.
The giant robot battles have also been again rebalanced, with the use of items seemingly being essential this time, and they unfortunately do not feel as good as they did in III.
Cold Steel IV’s soundtrack is noticeably far better than III’s, with many more memorable and catchy tracks, and also includes the return of two familiar tunes that each only shows up once very late in the game, which are bound to please long-time fans.
The most divisive element of Cold Steel IV would be- Ironically, due to its position as the conclusion to the Cold Steel sub-series- Its conclusion. The ending is similar to that of the base version of another Falcom game, Tokyo Xanadu, where the player first sees a “normal” ending before they are able to unlock, if they have met the requirements, a “true” ending which includes the actual final boss to the game, but unfortunately, both endings fall short of the impressiveness or catharsis of those of Sky SC or Ao.
Additionally, while the game does have a large amount of guest party members, including returning characters from previous games, it does not give the player much chance to freely play around with them, with the true ending’s final boss battle being pretty much the only part in the entire game where the player is allowed to make a party where they can choose freely from all of the playable characters. Additionally, several characters who were playable in previous Cold Steel games are now not playable. Finally, defeating the final boss leads straight into the ending, and there is no epilogue where the player is free to explore a town and speak to the various NPCs, which might disappoint players who are fond of them; this, however, may be alleviated by the release of Hajimari no Kiseki, scheduled for an August 2020 in Japan, which is seemingly an entire game serving as an epilogue to the Cold Steel series.
Despite the game being over 100 hours long, certain aspects of the story feel rushed, either with too much crammed into too little time or with elements missing; At times it feels like it may have been better if it had been split into two games.
Though it does have its shortcomings, Cold Steel IV is nevertheless a great sendoff for the Cold Steel series, and is filled with fan service for fans who have been sticking with the Trails series since the beginning as well. Also: Do not forget to load your save and see the ending again after clearing the game’s true ending once to see a hidden scene.
The Good: Concludes the series in a satisfying manner, weaving together plot threads that have been dangling for as long as 7-8 games ago. Many returning characters from previous games, some unexpected. The Vantage Master minigame has been further improved and is incredibly addictive.
The Bad: Some balancing done to the battle system seems questionable, with break damage being made far less useful, and the giant robot fights now being more tedious. The final dungeon and ending are also somewhat weak compared to previous titles’.
Conclusion: The Trails series is a pinnacle of modern Japanese RPGs, and Cold Steel IV does not fail to live up to the series’ legacy.
Also see: Trails Series 15th Anniversary: Falcom’s President Discusses Past and Future of the Series
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game and originally published on 29 October 2018, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions or in later updates.