I Finished Trails of Cold Steel III

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Bowl-of-Lentils

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Edited By Bowl-of-Lentils

After playing the game for 130 hours over the course of 8 months, I finally managed to finish Cold Steel III. I was very excited to play this game not only because I love Cold Steel I & II but also because there was so much anticipation for this title. I finished Cold Steel II when III was getting ready to be released in Japan but it would take two years for the game to finally reach western shores. Two years of listening to fans that played the Japanese version proclaiming that the game was the best entry in the Cold Steel story arc if not the best Trails title in general. No game can stand up to that kind of hype so it might not be that surprising that my feelings on Cold Steel III are a bit mixed.

Really enjoyed meeting Towa's family with the new Class VII.
Really enjoyed meeting Towa's family with the new Class VII.

First off there is a lot I like about Cold Steel III. The story has some great moments and I really enjoyed how certain returning characters got more development such as Altina. There were even a few times where I got surprisingly emotional during small character moments like when you meet Towa’s family and share a meal with her and your students. On a technical level Cold Steel III is also a huge improvement over my experience playing the first two Cold Steel games on the Vita. Battles load up instantly and the graphics are far more detailed, being more in line with modern Falcom titles like Ys VIII. The part where the game starts to come apart a bit for me is how momentous and repetitive the story often feels.

The past games in the Cold Steel series are certainly very structured, often having chapters start at school followed by the students going on a trip, discovering a conflict and solving that conflict. When I played through the first chapter or so of Cold Steel III this structure felt comforting, like slipping back into an old routine. However after those initial hours the preceding chapters followed the same story beats almost exactly. I’m not trying to say that there isn’t any variety in the events that happen in each chapter. However there are definitely moments where it feels like Falcom copied and pasted certain scenes into each chapter and just filled in the blanks with different locations and characters. For example the middle of almost every chapter has you reunite with an old member of Class VII after fighting a boss with the scene playing out the same way almost every time. Monster materializes out of nowhere. The team fights it. They think they’ve won the battle but, “oh no,” the monster is still alive. Then, off screen, one of the members of Class VII says something along the lines of: “Not on my watch!” And they jump down from a high place to save the group. It gets to the point that you can literally time your watch to when certain story beats are going to happen.

Laura is still cool.
Laura is still cool.

Another disappointing aspect of the story is the old members of Class VII themselves. I love the new VII members, they are all pretty fun in their own way, but when I first started the game I was the most excited to see what my old classmates had been up to since Cold Steel II. The game even does a great job of hyping up the arrival of an old character, teasing who you are about to meet while you visit certain towns. The thing is that once they appear they don’t really have much to do. Sure they have a role to play in the story but they don’t have a lot going on in terms of anything else. All the old Class VII members feel like they had all their development in the first two games and now they are well established which honestly makes them less interesting to have around. Sure they have new jobs and such but their personalities feel a bit dull since most of them don’t have any more room for growth. It also doesn’t help that you pretty much never have a moment where you can just hang out with the old Class VII. You are almost always talking business whenever they are around. Even during the part of the game where all the old Class VII members meet up for a big party they just end up spending the whole scene talking about how they are going to fight the bad guys. Characters like Millium and Sara are some of the few exceptions since you learn more about their pasts and you get to hang out with them more compared to the other OG classmates (or at least it felt that way to me).

There are also a lot of story moments that feel like retreads of scenes from past games but they don’t work as well as they did in the previous titles. The prime example of this is the Summer Festival near the end of the game which plays out similarly to the School Festival at the end of Cold Steel I (or even the part where you visit Mishelam Wonderland in Ao no Kiseki) . However, the School Festival saw the characters preparing for the festival over a long period of time before the event happens and the school totally transforms when it does, creating a great feeling of setup and payoff. When you go on dates with people during the festival, the whole school is updated and every NPC is now doing something different and has something new to say, making the festival feel alive. The Summer Festival near the end of Cold Steel III works the same way but takes place in a city you haven’t spent that much time in so the characters don’t feel as involved in the event. The location itself doesn’t change that much once the festival starts either nor do the NPCs change after dates, making the event feel far less exciting.

Wasn't the biggest fan of the retcons happening in ToCS III.
Wasn't the biggest fan of the retcons happening in ToCS III.

The overall story was also a bit weak in my eyes. While I loved a lot of the story’s smaller moments, especially when they focused on Rean and his new class, the larger story about all the different villains and secret organizations was a bit underwhelming. This isn’t because there aren’t some cool twists and big moments but because a lot of that story is delivered by characters standing around and dumping a bunch of exposition on the player. The game is the longest entry in the entire Trails franchise, with one of the longest scripts as well, yet it feels like most of that is padding and the overall plot doesn’t really start to have any momentum until the very end where it just sits the player down for long storytimes. The story is front and back loaded with almost nothing happening in the middle of the game. I’ve heard that Cold Steel III and IV were originally going to be a single game but got split into two titles during development and I can really feel that in the pacing. It’s like the middle of the game is stalling for time and feeding you a bunch of filler to replace all the story that would have happened there previously. Cold Steel I and II are certainly guilty of the same crime (and even the Trails in the Sky duology) but it feels far more egregious in Cold Steel III. Also the reveal at the very end of the game retcons a bunch of events from past games in a way that takes responsibility away from the villains and makes the whole conflict feel far less interesting.

All that being said, I’m still gonna play Cold Steel IV.

After all those complaints about the game as a whole, I still really enjoyed my time with Cold Steel III on a moment to moment level. I liked how the Branch Campus in Cold Steel III is smaller compared to the school from Cold Steel I/II because it makes the group feel more like an underdog and allows you to get more connected to each student. I liked watching the new Class VII grow and how they also helped Rean grow as a character. I found Rean to be more interesting in this game in general because watching him try to adjust to his new job as an unsure 20-something was far more relatable to me personally.

Finally seeing this town after hearing about it in ToCS I was real fun.
Finally seeing this town after hearing about it in ToCS I was real fun.

The battle system is so much snapper compared to the old games and it was really cool to explore parts of Erobonia that were mentioned in past entries but you never saw in person. There was even a weirdly melancholy moment I had while going on a date with Laura where I realized that I didn’t think Rean and her should be in a relationship anymore. So I purposely didn’t have him pursue a romantic event with Laura during their final date even though I had them date each other in previous two games. It was weirdly emotional to basically watch my characters “break up” after spending so much time with them throughout the series. That is a very personal moment that doesn't really apply to anyone else but it speaks to the larger strength of the Trails series. The games do a great job of building their world and relationships throughout multiple titles both in the canonical text and in the headcanon of the players. And that brings me to my final point, I just really like this world and the people who inhabit it. Even if the larger story isn’t going in a direction I’m super happy with, I am so invested in the people involved with this story that I want to see how these events will affect them. This series is so big that the overall plot and conflict is just one of many stories going on in its huge world.

So in the end I still enjoyed this game and I still love the Trails series but I certainly think Cold Steel III falls short in a lot of ways compared to the previous two games. Depending on what you want out of a sequel you might feel the same or you might think it’s the best thing ever. However, if you are playing this game at all, which requires playing almost 7 other super long RPGs, then you are a passenger aboard the crazy train and are most likely never getting off.

Just like Altina with these pancakes, I'm gonna keep on eating up these Trails games.
Just like Altina with these pancakes, I'm gonna keep on eating up these Trails games.
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MindBullet

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I've been struggling with ToCS3 for a while now, and honestly I'm not sure when I'm going to get around to finishing it. I think a lot of what bothers me about it are the same issues you're bringing up here.

For example the middle of almost every chapter has you reunite with an old member of Class VII after fighting a boss with the scene playing out the same way almost every time. Monster materializes out of nowhere. The team fights it. They think they’ve won the battle but, “oh no,” the monster is still alive. Then, off screen, one of the members of Class VII says something along the lines of: “Not on my watch!” And they jump down from a high place to save the group. It gets to the point that you can literally time your watch to when certain story beats are going to happen.

This was something I started to notice in Cold Steel 2, and bothered me even then. ToCS3, perhaps because of the size of it's cast, takes that and runs it into the ground so hard it leaves the plot looking like it's been turned into a fine paste. You pretty much KNOW going into a plot point exactly what is going to happen after a boss battle, it plays out exactly how you'd expect, and then it keeps happening. I found it intensely frustrating, and sucked out almost all of the tension and drama from a huge portion of the game.

Another disappointing aspect of the story is the old members of Class VII themselves. I love the new VII members, they are all pretty fun in their own way, but when I first started the game I was the most excited to see what my old classmates had been up to since Cold Steel II... All the old Class VII members feel like they had all their development in the first two games and now they are well established which honestly makes them less interesting to have around. Sure they have new jobs and such but their personalities feel a bit dull since most of them don’t have any more room for growth. ...Characters like Millium and Sara are some of the few expectations since you learn more about their pasts and you get to hang out with them more compared to the other OG classmates (or at least it felt that way to me).

I genuinely would have preferred if CS3 had either focused entirely on the New Class VII, or on Old Class VII. Cramming a section of each chapter with a part where you have to abandon the new characters to relive your glory days with the old characters just felt... Forced. It also doesn't really help build your new characters up if you're constantly leaving them behind to showcase the characters people actually care about.

I also kind of hate what they did to Sara here, but I guess getting her backstory is SOMETHING.

There are also a lot of story moments that feel like retreads of scenes from past games but they don’t work as well as they did in the previous titles.

This also bothered me more as time went on. Honestly, at a certain point I was convinced they were intentionally going for an MGS2 sort of thing. You know, the whole 'recreating the events of the previous game on purpose' thing. It started to feel like characters, locations, and plot points were included simply because hey, they worked in those other games people liked.

The battle system is so much snapper compared to the old games and it was really cool to explore parts of Erobonia that were mentioned in past entries but you never saw in person.

This is true, and I did enjoy fleshing out Erebonia, but... The battle system, while snappier, is legit broken. I can't even tell if it's on purpose since it feels like the encounters are designed to push you into breaking the game. It's kind of satisfying to steam roll everything, but it's all style and no substance.

I'll probably get around to finishing it, if only so I can move on to Cold Steel IV and finish the series, but man... This game has me so bummed.

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Arcitee

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I think it might actually be my favorite of the series so far. I like the narrative structure of CS2 better but I like the battle system of CS3 better. I platinumed both CS2 and CS3 so they are close in my mind.

A couple other notes: some of the music is awesome especially the boss music for Arianrhod and McBurn.

The moments when old class 7 would show up were always cool but by the end I only ever wanted a party of new class 7 since dodge tank Juna and Mage Musse are so powerful.

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Bowl-of-Lentils

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#4  Edited By Bowl-of-Lentils

@mindbullet: Yeah, I really felt that the best parts of the game were when it was only focusing on Rean and the new Class VII. A lot of the problems with the game retreading old ground and copy/paste story moments happen almost exclusively with the old Class VII. I've sadly heard that Cold Steel IV is even worse in this regard since they introduce even more old characters (although I still want to play it and find out for myself). I think there is still a lot ToCS III does well, which I wrote about, but it is also bogged down in a lot of cruft.

Where are you currently in the game? I stopped playing after I arrived at Ordis and didn't get back to it for a while.

Edit:

@arcitee: Out of the Cold Steel games I think I like II the best but that might just be because it is the conclusion of that duology. Also I was similar, my team near the end of the game always had Juna.

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Efesell

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I enjoyed III a whole lot but I can see the issues around the old characters too.

I will say... IV is an entire Legend of Heroes class reunion.

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MindBullet

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@bowl-of-lentils: I made it to the Dark Dragon Nest. I think when I realized it's basically redoing the Infernal Castle from CS2 I felt I had to put the game down and go do something else for a while.

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Bowl-of-Lentils

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@mindbullet: Yeah that section can be a little slow. You are actually pretty close to the end though so if you ever feel like finishing it you don't have much further to go.

@efesell said:

I enjoyed III a whole lot but I can see the issues around the old characters too.

I will say... IV is an entire Legend of Heroes class reunion.

Even with my issues with III I am looking forward to playing IV. Finishing Ao right now in preparation.

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cloudymusic

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For example the middle of almost every chapter has you reunite with an old member of Class VII after fighting a boss with the scene playing out the same way almost every time. Monster materializes out of nowhere. The team fights it. They think they’ve won the battle but, “oh no,” the monster is still alive. Then, off screen, one of the members of Class VII says something along the lines of: “Not on my watch!” And they jump down from a high place to save the group. It gets to the point that you can literally time your watch to when certain story beats are going to happen.

This is the one thing bugged me about Persona 4, also. When the plot repeats the same general pattern of events over and over in each "chapter," it sucks out a lot of my interest extremely quickly.

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Efesell

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#9  Edited By Efesell

I think with the old class VII I would have appreciated a longer time skip for the backdrop to this game. I think so many things would sit a lot better if it had been longer than like.. One Year.

@bowl-of-lentils: Finishing outstanding games is a good idea. IV is finally the point in this series where I feel I can no longer say "Eh you don't have to play all of the other games.."

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Aristotled

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@efesell: I played IV in Japanese without playing the Crossbell games and it was fine? I don't know if playing that arc would make me care more about a few villains and a few characters that really could just not be there for this story

The cast bloat in that game is a real problem

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Efesell

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@aristotled: Hm, mileages may vary then I guess. I definitely felt those blind spots in III and IV and it seems going forward from previews that they're going to continue operating under an assumption that players know the score now.

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Arcitee

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@efesell: I played Trails in the Sky 1 way back when on the PSP and watched a YouTube edited playthrough of The Crossbell games (Lady Virgilia has a great series) I think that covered me pretty well.

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Genessee

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#13  Edited By Genessee

I found it as dense and rapid as the best in the series myself. No wasted scenes or conversations to the point that it felt it was bursting with information and great lines.

Now, you got some character-busting creepy stuff slipping in (does one writer WANT killed by Erica?!?)

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Efesell

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#14  Edited By Efesell

I try very hard to not focus on Tita and Agate.

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Arcitee

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@efesell: lol this isn't a Persona game where things get naughty, but even if it was they would be legal in pretty much every country except USA.

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Efesell

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@arcitee: Tita is a teenager and Agate is like 30 or something it is a weird subplot given the full scope of the series but minor enough to put it off in its little corner to not worry about.

Please do not well actually this with age of consent laws, I know.