If you’re interested in this game, you’re either someone that has played all of the games up to this point and want to see the finale or you have absolutely no idea what this series is and want to know more about it. If you fall into the former, you probably don’t even need to read any reviews to know that it is worth a buy, but I’m going to be reviewing it anyways – and I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible.
So, to put this monster of a series in perspective, Cold Steel 4 is not only the fourth and final entry in the Cold Steel tetralogy, but the ninth game in the Trails saga, which itself is part of the larger Legend of Heroes franchise that has been running since the late 80s, but that’s beyond the scope of this review. Basically, this is the finale to a nine-game saga, starting with Trails in the Sky back in 2004, so yeah, there is quite a bit to catch up if you are unfamiliar with it. I jumped into the series with Cold Steel 1 and have yet to play the arcs before it – so that is the perspective I will be reviewing from.
Let’s start with the story, because I believe I might have actually spent more time reading dialogue and watching cutscenes this time around than actually engaging in combat and exploration. That’s not even a complaint either – the story in Cold Steel 4 may have its ups and downs, but the overall package is pretty good. It goes all out on what started in Cold Steel 3, with a huge emphasis on politics and character relations. There’s massive military operations, betrayal, romance, and returning characters popping up everywhere – a lot of them even playable for the first time.
In fact, it kinda pulls a Smash Ultimate with the EVERYONE IS HERE thing. It’s like they took the character roster of the entire saga and threw it into one package – making for quite the epic finale. And while Cold Steel 1 and 2 (and to a certain extent, 3) did not really require knowledge from the previous arcs – 4 featured the characters from them much more prominently, so the story will resonate more with those that have played all eight previous games.
And for those wondering if they can start the series with this game… no. Just don’t. Like, that’s one of the worst things you could. At a minimum you should play the previous three Cold Steel games (as I did and still had a good time with this one), but of course the best experience would be earned by playing all of them. Granted, two of them – Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure – still are not officially available in English and require fan patches – so it’s understandable if you just want to play the Cold Steel games.
That said, the story in Cold Steel 4 is not perfect. It still has its fair share of pacing issues (particularly the slow first act) and writing gimmicks that have unfortunately become a staple for the series. Plot armor, for example, has never been more present than in Cold Steel 4 and it also continues the series trend of becoming more structured with each new game. This is more of a gameplay and story combo issue than the story itself, but if you played Cold Steel 3 and were not a fan of how “structured” it felt like I was, well, Cold Steel 4 is a lot worse in that regard.
It is an insanely structured game, with entire acts designed around completing this small loop until completion. Act 1, for example, has you repeatedly going through this sequence of “arrive at new town, talk with NPCs to advance story, travel to place and fight boss, and then travel to next town and repeat.” You basically do this until all of the game world has opened up and it leads to the experience feeling a bit repetitive, as there are no twists, no surprises, just a process to go through.
Even the second act does this, separating major story events with side quests that you’re required to complete at least one of before getting back to the main story – the actual meat of the game. Granted, the side quests are more enjoyable here than in 3, but I couldn’t escape this feeling that I was playing through filler at times. The game as a whole felt less like a grand adventure and more like a checklist I was going through – like the devs wanted players to hit all of the spots from the past games for the sake of it rather than to create something engaging.
Something the devs did improve on though was combat – with Cold Steel 4 not only having my favorite combat of the series, but being one of my favorite systems in the entire genre. It takes the already fantastic combat from 3 and basically adds some minor changes to that while adjusting the overall balance. You’re now able to hold more brave points, you can now summon mechs mid-fight, and the lost arts from Cold Steel 2 make a return as well. And while there are still a few broken strategies, I found the overall balance and difficulty to be better off than in 3 – it’s much more challenging if anything.
When you’re not in combat though, you’ll be traveling around and exploring the game world or going through dungeons. This aspect of the game is mostly the same, with the actual world design being fantastic and full of cool cities, towns, and other landmarks to explore. After the first act, you’re able to explore almost all of it – it’s more open-world in a way compared to the past three. The dungeon design is a bit more iffy, not quite as inspired as the overworld and even outright blocky at times. This was also a problem with the third game, so no surprise there.
As for the how much content there is, well, no worries there. Cold Steel 4 is by far the most content-packed of the four and took me ten hours longer than 3 to clear – and I’m still missing half the achievements. Just for the main story, you can expect anywhere from 50-70 hours and easily double that if you go the completionist route.
And on the topic of graphics and music – not much to complain about there. The game was originally released for the PS4 – just like Cold Steel 3 – so it looks practically identical to it. Not the best-looking JRPG, but good enough for what it is. The music on the other hand is an absolute bop. Better than what we got with 3 and an all-around fantastic soundtrack. This is Falcom we’re talking about, so that’s to be expected, but they really nailed it here. Energetic battle tracks, comfy town themes, powerful story pieces, there’s a lot there and it’s definitely a soundtrack I will be returning to outside of the game.
And to close out this review, I’ll discuss the port. As with the past three games, I still firmly believe that this series is one of the best examples of how to do a proper JRPG PC port. Uncapped framerate, high-resolution support, multiple graphical options with explanations of each, and configurable controls and button prompts for a wide variety of controllers. You can swap between Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and even Stadia button prompts here and the entire thing is rebindable, with keyboard and mouse controls allowing multiple bindings per action on top of that.
It is also an incredibly well-optimized port and I had no issues with frame drops, crashes, freezes, or any sort of bugs, an improvement over the port with 3 that I had a few issues with. And of course, the port also has turbo mode, allowing you to speed up the game up to 6x both in battle and on the field. An absolute godsend for a longer game like this and one I really wish other JRPG ports would include.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 may not be the best in the series, but it is still a solid send-off for it. The story brings back the entire roster and goes all out on what Cold Steel 3 started, providing a finale that definitely doesn’t disappoint, even if it comes with some problems – most notably with regards to its use of cheap writing gimmicks and overall structured storytelling. It is actually for that reason that it’s my least favorite of the four, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad JRPG – it’s actually far from it. It’s easily one of the better JRPGs to come out this year and now I’m just holding out hope that we eventually get Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure in some capacity.
Quote: Trails of Cold Steel 4 may not be the best in the series, but it is still a solid send-off for it, bringing back the entire roster and providing a finale that definitely doesn’t disappoint.
You can buy The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 on Steam here. It retails for $60 USD and is also available through GOG and on PS4 and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.