The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 (PS5) Review – Heroes Assemble

Though at times threatening to buckle under its massive plot, The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel 4 offers a suitably satisfying conclusion to the saga.

Posted By | On 09th, Feb. 2024

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 (PS5) Review – Heroes Assemble

After everything I’ve said about Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series – from its niche presence, even among the more niche role-playing games, to the trials and tribulations of being a fan – it’s time to discuss one of its more “controversial” titles. Saying The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 is “controversial” is a bit overblown if you’re unfamiliar with the series, but it makes more sense when considering its situation.

It not only caps off the Erebonia saga, the longest-running arc in the series but unites heroes from three arcs (four, if we’re being honest). Estelle and Joshua from Trails in the Sky; Lloyd Bannings and the Special Support Section from Zero/Azure; the old Class 7 from Cold Steel 1 and 2; and the new Class 7 of Cold Steel 3 and 4. When you factor in the sheer number of Thors Military Academy graduates and current students, other Bracers, teachers, royal family members, secret societies, hidden covens, and mercenary units, it can get overwhelming.

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"Cold Steel 4 picks up a few weeks later. I won’t go into many details to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that Erebonia is in a bad way and ready to go to war with Calvard."

Trails in the Sky: The 3rd managed this by focusing on Kevin Graham and Ries Argent, with the rest of the cast serving as backup. It was a solid epilogue to an excellent duo of RPGs, and even then, it didn’t have as extensive a cast as Cold Steel 4. Trails of Cold Steel 4 is the Avengers: Endgame to a build-up that started in Zero/Azure, which is generous considering Ouroboros has had a role since Trails in the Sky FC.

Before we get to the plot, like with Cold Steel 3, the question remains: Is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 worth playing on PS5 when the improvements focus mainly on a higher frame rate and resolution with faster load times? If you’re a fan of the series, the answer is yes. If you’re diving in to see the end of this saga – even if it’s to follow the thunderous conclusion of Trails of Cold Steel 3 – then the answer is also yes, though it’s not perfect.

Cold Steel 4 picks up a few weeks later. I won’t go into many details to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that Erebonia is in a bad way and ready to go to war with Calvard. Old Class 7 is in shambles, but after new Class 7 finds its bearings, it embarks on a journey to locate its one true hope and fight back.

Epilogue teasing other characters aside, the first Act is pretty solid. Not only does new Class 7 need to reconnect, but prove itself against almost insurmountable odds, both from the world and within. Juna has to find it in herself to serve as a rock for her allies, continuing her growth in Cold Steel 3. Kurt is more confident but still has a ways to go in skill, and does whatever he can to support his friends.

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"Finally, there’s the ending – again, no spoilers, but some elements feel a bit off and wrapped up too conveniently. It also feels like there should have been an epilogue to help tie up the many loose strings."

Altina is closer to being human, but in flux as far as her emotions are concerned. There are also some strong character moments for the likes of Ash and Musse, and as the group acquires clues, works together with the old Class 7 and seeks out their Branch Campus mates, it’s a compelling journey rife with mystery.

Once you make it past the interlude, which is a cathartic moment and feels like the story will kick into high gear, Act 2 acts as a long plateau, as you’re involved with rescuing other key characters. The stakes don’t feel nearly as important (despite these characters being a big deal in the lore), and overall, it borders on unnecessary padding at times. Fortunately, things pick up again near the conclusion and heading into Act 3, it feels like we’re – to use a cliché – in the endgame.

There are plenty of other trials to look forward to en route to the finale, with fun dungeons and boss battles awaiting. If Act 2 were shorter or resolved more succinctly, it would have helped the pacing much more.

Finally, there’s the ending – again, no spoilers, but some elements feel a bit off and wrapped up too conveniently. It also feels like there should have been an epilogue to help tie up the many loose strings. Granted, Trails into Reverie offered that, but it doesn’t feel any less weird in Cold Steel 4. Overall, it’s a good ending – certainly not the best, and fans of Estelle, Joshua and Lloyd will no doubt be left wanting.

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 4 (5)

"Where Trails of Cold Steel 4 falters at times with the plot, it makes up for it in terms of sheer content. Vantage Masters and fishing return as activities, and many side quests await."

The overall characterization and dialogue remain strong, with Cold Steel 4 relying less on the annoying “defeat a boss, only to find they’re perfectly fine afterwards” trope somewhat. Some great moments abound, backed by some great voice acting once again (with a few noticeable rough spots here and there).

However, the script tends to rely a bit too much on the heroes stuck in what could be a hopeless position, only to be rescued again and again. It’s not a deal-breaker and certainly won’t annoy as much as characters using titles or unofficial names repeatedly, becoming all the more annoying when so many major heroes and villains gather together.

Where Trails of Cold Steel 4 falters at times with the plot, it makes up for it in terms of sheer content. Vantage Masters and fishing return as activities, and many side quests await. Many see the cast resolving conflicts that have arisen through Erebonia, reconnecting with old friends, and even hearing some familiar tunes.

There are also Bonding Events, which can range from heart-warming to awkward given the characters involved. There are also more mini-games, like Puyo Puyo-esque Pom! Pom! Party, which is playable on the go. The Horror Coaster also provides a shoot ’em-up activity, even if it’s only available much later. Lost Arts and Trial Chests from Cold Steel 2 also return, the former gated behind some tough optional boss fights, and the latter requiring specific party members to grant upgrades to Brave Orders.

"As for the visuals, some scenes are impressive with the sheer number of characters present, but they’re about the same quality as the previous game."

Speaking of which, Brave Orders received numerous balance changes, and while not as overwhelmingly broken as in Cold Steel 3, some are still very good and trivialize a good chunk of the content (looking at you, White Decoration). Other new features include an increased Battle Point cap, higher-level EX Orbs, etc. Bosses can also use Brave Orders to mix things up, and some of the mech battles are the saga’s best yet, providing a solid challenge.

It doesn’t hurt that the various dungeons are also good – they’re straightforward in terms of puzzles and layouts but paced relatively well and full of things to discover. Beware, though – this is the largest playable roster yet, which can be somewhat daunting the further you get along (though it pays off in a big way at the end).

The soundtrack is somewhat of a step down from Cold Steel 3. Composers Hayato Sonoda, Mitsuo Singa, Takahiro Unisuga and Yukihiro Jindo still deliver some good tracks, whether it’s battle themes like “Burning Throb” or “Deep Carnival” or the opening theme. Still, it feels like the weakest overall offering in the series, which, like Cold Steel 3, maybe more of a testament to how good the previous games are. If nothing else, it’s probably the least well-rounded in the series.

As for the visuals, some scenes are impressive with the sheer number of characters present, but they’re about the same quality as the previous game. Considering the budget and overall size of the development team, it’s somewhat understandable but temper your expectations accordingly. Still, if the PS5 port improved on a few other minor aspects, it would have been appreciated.

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"When I first completed the game on PS4, I recognized its issues, especially in the plot and technical limitations. Outright ignoring the former became tougher over time."

When I first completed the game on PS4, I recognized its issues, especially in the plot and technical limitations. Outright ignoring the former became tougher over time. They don’t ruin what is a pretty good role-playing game or even the Erebonia saga, which remains one of my favorites in the series, but you have to wonder what could have been.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 still offers a fun battle system, many well-written characters, a hefty amount of side content and mini-games, a good (but not great) soundtrack and an epic storyline that delivers in many ways while falling short in others. As mixed as the reception was back in the day, its many strengths are easier to appreciate after all these years.

This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Dozens of playable characters with impressive depth and plot threads that wrap up in a mostly satisfying manner. Fun dungeons and bosses, which extends to the Divine Knight battles. Combat system is still compelling, with several improvements and new additions to freshen it up. Extensive amount of content, including mini-games and returning Trial Chests.

THE BAD

Act 2 brings the pacing to a massive halt and feels insignificant in the long run. Soundtrack feels like a step down from Cold Steel 3, never mind previous entries. Not the most extensive PS5 port in terms of visual improvements.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 rises above some of its story and pacing issues to deliver a compelling end to the Erebonia saga.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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