Review: Trails of Cold Steel IV

rails of Cold Steel IV is the fourth and final installment in the Cold Steel Saga. Cold Steel is the direct sequel to the previous Saga's Trails in the Sky and Zero/Azure and will now come to an epic conclusion.

Cold Steel IV thus forms the ninth part in the trails series. In addition to each release continuing the story, it also improves elements such as the gear system, the battles and the world.
All in all it's an impressively long-running series, but will the fourth part be enough when it has to fill such a big shoe? Find out with us in our review.

Class VII Special Operations move out!

Cold Steel IV picks up where part three left off. Class VII is defeated. The main character Rean Schwarzer has lost control of his powers and is taken prisoner by the enemy. The bigbad of the saga Gilliath Osborne realizes his plan and releases the curse of Erebonia on the whole world. The curse makes people more likely to give in to their negative emotions. Osborne uses the curse and other methods to incite and mobilize the inhabitants of Erebonia to wage war.
Now it's up to Class VII to find Rean and stop Gilliath Osborne's plans.

What Trails games are mostly known for is how detailed the story and the world is. For the fan and enthusiast this is nothing short of great, but for someone who jumps right into the middle of the story without any previous knowledge it can be very confusing. To alleviate some of that confusion for newcomers, the games come with built-in flashbacks that briefly explain the story of the previous releases. However, the world of Trails is so deep and vast that the summary doesn't really help a newcomer. Rather, it is a reminder for returning players.

The Trails games are therefore an enormous investment of time and energy and that is not surprising. On average, a Trails game lasts 70-90 hours per release. Sometimes the game will feel like you're reading a book, because it's common for a cutscene to last 15 to 30 minutes. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with this. In fact as a person with a little more free time this is great, but someone with little time will hardly make any progress in this series.

Arise, O youth, and become the foundation of the world

The Trails games are JRPGs that use the same combat system with every release. Each new release brought an increasingly streamlined experience with new features and capabilities. Cold Steel IV takes the gameplay to a new high. It is the very highest level of gameplay of what you can expect from a turn based RPG. This brings us to the most important part next to the story, namely the combat.

In combat, characters have Health points(HP), Energy points (EP), Craft points(CP) and Brave Points(BP). EP can be compared to mana from other RPGs. In Trails, magic is called "Orbal Arts". Orbal Arts can be divided into seven different elements (Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, Space, Mirage, Time)
each character has an affinity with one or two elements. However, it is possible to use all elements.

Where it gets interesting are the Craft and Brave points. Crafts are abilities that truly reflect a character's playstyle. Brave points allow a player to give Orders that give a certain buff for a few turns, such as dealing 20% more damage or 40% damage reduction. Crafts and Orders are thus essential to win battles. On higher levels of difficulty, they are so essential that a mistake means game over.
Another important mechanic is the Combat Links. A Combat Link is the representation of how well-matched characters are in combat. The more often you use the same characters, the better these characters interact with each other.

Cold Steel IV has rebalanced the entire combat system. Crafts and Orders are weakened, because in part III it is very easy to get overpowered early with the right setup. Crafts and Orders are now upgradable and slowly regain their power throughout the story.

Erebonia is your oister

Outside of combat, you navigate the land of Erebonia as you are used to from an RPG. You control a character of your choice, explore the world around you, talk to different people and start a fight by running into a monster. Simple but effective. You don't want any complicated tricks while exploring either. The game does have a high speed mode, with which everything goes three times as fast. This can be useful if you're re-trapping areas or battles aren't moving fast enough.

Graphically, Cold Steel IV may not be a masterpiece, but it does have a unique charm. It is the way in which the world and the characters are designed that the graphics come into their own. Combine this with music that any anime fan can appreciate and you get an experience that will blow your socks off.

Verdict

Cold Steel IV epitomizes the JRPG genre and takes it to a new high. The extensive story, the in-depth combat and the widely explorable world together form a great whole. At least if you are already familiar with the story. A newcomer will run around like a headless chicken and will miss the deeper themes and nuances. That's why I advise newcomers to start with Cold Steel I. Don't be discouraged by this, those who persevere will experience a story that puts other recent RPGs to shame. All in all, Cold Steel IV is an explosive end to a great saga.

 

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