Though it treads familiar ground in terms of gameplay, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is a fantastic farewell to the saga and its cast of characters
I’m not gonna lie, things are looking bad for Class VII. During the conclusion of Trails of Cold Steel III, we saw them confront Chancellor Osbourne and his Gnome cronies in the mystical Graal. Rean got a bit rageful and killed the Holy Beast, unleashing the apocalyptic Great Twilight across the empire, infecting citizens with the curse and causing them to start fighting each other.
Now, two weeks later, Erebonia is getting ready for Operation Jormungandr, an assault on the neighbouring Republic of Calvard. Martial law is in effect, citizens are being drafted into the army, and new tanks, airships, and Soldats – basically mechs – are being produced at an alarming rate. Anyone who questions the empire’s road to war is infected by the curse, meaning a world-consuming conflict between the two superpowers seems inevitable, and that’s exactly what Chancellor Osbourne, Ouroborus, and the Gnomes want.
To make matters worse, Rean has completely lost control of himself and is being held captive in the Gnome’s mysterious HQ: the Black Workshop. You’re outgunned, outmanned, and things are honestly looking more dire than ever before. We’re entering the endgame, but as is always the case in Trails of Cold Steel, things have to get worse before they can get better.
Both the old and new Class VII find themselves in the hidden village of Eryn, home to the witches of the Hexen clan. With the help of Emma and Crimson Roselia, they set out to find and free instructor Rean by investigating mystical anomalies all across the empire. These excursions help to give you a picture of the country’s overall situation, as you effectively play as a resistance movement, gathering together your allies and the other separated Thors Academy students.
Just as the second instalment in the saga revisits the first game’s characters and locations, so too does Trails of Cold Steel IV follow up on what was established in game three’s Branch Campus narrative arc. Though there are a few new areas, you revisit a lot of locations from the previous game and meet many returning characters, including most of Ouroboros, the Gnomes, the Ironbloods, and the noble faction. Trails of Cold Steel IV does introduce some new characters too, including more members of the Bracer Guild and Crossbell’s SSS. I was actually super pleased to see Crossbell further fleshed out and to meet more of the Special Support Section, since it’s always been one of my favourite locations.
Expanding on characters from Liberl and Crossbell – nations that were annexed by the empire – also fits very well with the fact that you are now fighting against the Erebonian government. One of the most impressive things about Trails of Cold Steel IV is how it handles its massive cast of characters. Four games’ worth of familiar faces are packed into this final instalment, but in spite of that, it feels like every character we’ve met along the way has an opportunity to contribute and make an appearance.
In terms of gameplay, Trails of Cold Steel IV mostly retreads old ground. Your missions out into the world are still interspersed with rest days, though these are initially in Eryn, and just as with the other games, you also have a dungeon to train in at first – this time called the Saint-Graal Labyrinth. There are still plenty of side-quests that reward you with academic points, and all of the side activities, including the card game, fishing, and cooking, also return, though there is now a Tetris-style minigame you can play on your ARCUS unit.
Combat is also the same as in Trails of Cold Steel III: you fight turn-based party battles using Arts and Crafts (magic and special abilities) to beat your opponents. Trails of Cold Steel’s signature Combat Links return too, letting you follow up on allied attacks and accumulate Battle Points to enact Brave Orders – combat formations that provide powerful buffs. As with previous instalments, you also use Quartz to alter your stats and which Arts you want to use.
I’m really happy that the combat is pretty much untouched, as I think Trails of Cold Steel III really hit the sweet spot with the introduction of Brave Orders. The only real difference is that you can now call in Panzer Soldats or Divine Knights for one-off attacks, though they are surprisingly weak for giant fighting robots. But don’t worry, there are plenty of separate Divine Knight and Soldat battles spread throughout the game.
Trails of Cold Steel IV also offers us a fun perspective in the form of Juna, Kurt, Altina, Ash, and Musse. For the first time in the saga, we don’t play as Rean for a significant period, and the game does a great job of making his absence felt. That said, I did really enjoy Juna further stepping into the shoes of the lead character. There’s one great scene in particular where she basically cracks and tells an Ouroboros enforcer to shut the hell up, which is extremely satisfying to watch. But, on the whole, the amount of character development that Trails of Cold Steel IV juggles is extremely impressive, and many fans will get to see their favourites reach well-earned conclusions.
Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV isn’t the ideal point to start the saga. If you want to get the most out of four, I’d suggest playing three first, or even starting at one if you’re in it for the long haul. Saying that, this is a great instalment packed with plenty of narrative twists and turns, character development, and climactic moments – the end of Act I is so dramatic it literally feels like the end of the game. It also benefits from carrying over the third game’s combat system, which I consider to be the series’ peak.
Most of all, it just feels like more of the Trails of Cold Steel that we know and love. A great deal of the gameplay draws from the previous games, but as this is the final instalment I see no problem with a victory lap, or in finishing things the way we started them. It’s been fun, Class VII. Thanks for the memories!