AX 2019: Trails of Cold Steel III Hands-on

One of the most-watched and anticipated JRPGs of the year was at Anime Expo? So, what’s the current status of Trails of Cold Steel III? Benny delves into the demo to find out.

Trails of Cold Steel III | Featured

It’s been a long wait, but Trails of Cold Steel III is almost here.

Trails of Cold Steel III. Just the name alone brings thoughts and feelings to the surface for many people. This is the most anticipated JRPG coming out this fall for many. And, it’s also the most scrutinized game. Heck, I even used The Princess Guide as a litmus test of NIS America’s localization process in order to try and gauge if things had improved since Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. I can’t stress how important this game is not only to NIS America but to Falcom fans around the world. Which is exactly why I made it point to stop by NIS America’s booth to try the demo of Trails of Cold Steel III they had brought to the show.

Let me start this off by saying, I am no expert on Falcom games. In fact, I’ve still yet to play one. Ironically enough, this is despite having written hands-on preview pieces for Trails of Cold Steel II and Ys VIII. So, I really probably should. However, as I’ve also stated in my hands-on for Luminous Avenger iX a good demo should be self-explanatory and demonstrative. A lack of previous series knowledge shouldn’t be a hurdle to someone playing a demo. But, why mention this you may ask?

I bring this up because I know many of you out there care about the accuracy of the localization. Sadly, I’m not going to be able to shed any light on that. I am however a stickler for text formatting and grammar as you many know from both The Princess Guide and Death end re;Quest. So, while I might not be able to comment on the consistency of terms, I can comment on the consistency of the text itself and the gameplay. So, with that prelude out of the way let’s talk about Trails of Cold Steel itself.

The JRPG Franchise that Takes Worldbuilding to an Encyclopedic Level

Trails of Cold Steel III | A Living World

The Trails franchise takes the idea of a living world and cranks it past 11. The amount of narrative detail placed in these games is staggering.

Trails of Cold Steel III is the third title in the Trails of Cold Steel sub-franchise of the Trails or Kiseki franchise by Nihon Falcom. Going into the full history of the franchise is beyond the scope of this piece, but in short, the Trails franchise essentially what happens when someone thinks Bandai Namco’s Tales of series doesn’t have enough lore or detail.

These games and their world are so detailed that according to XSEED Games the script for Trails in the Sky Second Chapter clocks in at over 710,000 words. For comparison, the King James’ version of the Bible is around 780,000 words. Yes, these games are gargantuan. Still, don’t let that stop you from jumping in with Trails of Cold Steel III. This game has a library function to help get you caught up.

Good games should be self-contained. Sure, we always want to see the next part of the story, but a player should be able to jump in at the start of any title and be able to enjoy that title. The Trails franchise has a ton of backstory and lore, but thankfully the developers had the foresight to include a library function to help get people up to speed with the events of Cold Steel I & II. It’s a good idea since if someone plays Cold Steel III first and enjoys it, they’ll probably want to go back and see what made these characters the people are in Cold Steel III. But, what is Colds Steel III? Well, let’s briefly go over that.

Welcome to Thors Military Academy, Cadet

Trails of Cold Steel III | Rean Has a Question

Uh, Rean, you’re the instructor. You should be the one answering questions, not asking them.

Trails of Cold Steel III takes place a year and a half after the events of Cold Steel II. Rean Schwarzer is a professor at the Thors Military Academy. The demo I played has him leading a group of students through a training dungeon. I won’t spoil anything plot-related, but Rean makes a good impression here. He genuinely seems to care about his students but also knows he needs to push them a bit. Never letting them get in over their heads but knowing that they need some sort of challenge to grow. It’s in this dungeon where gameplay begins, and we can start to talk about that.

Trails of Cold Steel III is very much a classic JRPG. There’s no focus on real-time mechanics here. Instead, the focus is on tactics and character positioning. Character’s need to be within certain ranges in order to utilize different attacks. In addition, some characters can have different modes of attack that can be swapped between at the start of their action. It makes for a very deep system with a lot of tactical options for the player to consider. If you like you’re a lover of slower-paced JRPGs where you can stop to consider your actions, you’ve come to the right game! However, all these systems also work against the demo as well. Namely, the amount of time allotted for it.

Time: The Eternal Enemy of Every Demo

Trails of Cold Steel III | Combat

As intriguing as the combat in the demo was, there wasn’t a lot of time to enjoy it. The amount of dialogue and text from tutorials made this a very text-heavy experience. Also, note that the demo was in English. These screenshots are just from an early developmental build

Here’s the thing about the Trails of Cold Steel III demo. It is a good demo. It does take the time to explain its systems and even if you skip most of the tutorial and dialogue you don’t feel lost. The problem here was that NIS America was only giving people ten minutes with the game. I was fortunate enough to be given 20-minutes to experience the demo and even then, I barely made it to the dungeon boss and beat it. This easily could have been a half-hour demo. But that presents a different problem: logistics.

Remember, this is at a major convention and people were going to be interested in trying this demo. Obviously, everyone couldn’t take half-an-hour. Even with the six stations, NIS America had set up, the line could never be cleared. So, they chose to enforce a 10-minute time limit. The main issue though is that the beginning of the demo is really text-heavy. So, if you played the demo and didn’t get to experience much, I feel you there. But thankfully NIS America will be releasing a demo of the game later this year.

Indeed, a demo for Trails of Cold Steel III will be available on the PlayStation Store for anyone to download and try out. And I suggest you do. Give it a try and see for yourself if this game looks interesting to you. Back to the topic at hand though, this puts me in a tricky situation. How do I grade a demo that not everyone got to make their way through, yet I did due to an extra allotment of time? Well, let’s break this down in two parts. The game itself first and then the demo.

Sometimes an Experience Can Be Too Rich

Trails of Cold Steel III | Military Mecha

Sadly, I didn’t run into any military mecha during my playthrough. However, you can bet that I want to know if I can get my hands on these during gameplay.

As a game, Trails of Cold Steel III looks to be a good title. There’s nothing that jumped out at me as boring, broken, or wrong with the text or gameplay. The localization made sense and even in my speedy playthrough, nothing jumped out at me as wrong. NIS America knows they need to get this one right and I’m certain they are devoting every manhour they have on this project. The real problem comes from the experience of the demo, namely that time limit.

I deeply appreciate the extra time NIS America gave to me at Anime Expo. It let me take a closer look at the game itself. However, for people who either aren’t fast readers, aren’t familiar with JRPGs, or want to take their time, this demo was probably not the best thing. It failed to be concise.

I realize I’m saying that about the JRPG series that is known for being anything but concise, but this is a demo at a show. You need to get your point across quickly. And, I worry that those people who only got ten minutes may not have left with a solid impression of what this game can do. There’s not really an elegant solution to this, but it is something for NIS America to consider with future demos. For a point of direct comparison, the Ys VIII demo from 2017 felt like it had a better balance between gameplay and story/tutorials. Something along those lines is what I think would work better. Anyway, let’s wrap this up.

Trails of Cold Steel III Is on Its Way to a Passing Grade

Trails of Cold Steel III | Hurray!

Huzzah! Though, to be honest, it’d be more surprising if there were problems with the demo. NIS America is taking the localization of Trails of Cold Steel III extremely seriously. It’s fine to be skeptical, but just be willing to give them the chance to prove that.

Trails of Cold Steel III is a game I know we’re all looking forward to for various reason. However, despite the trepidation some people may be feeling, I remain hopeful that this title will be amazing. Yes, NIS America certainly deserves the scrutiny it’s currently under, but they also deserve a chance to show that they’ve learned from Ys VIII. After all, people tend to forget that they also released games such as Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk and Danganronpa V3. They do know how to localize and QA titles. And they are putting a lot of effort into Trails of Cold Steel III.

A good example of this is the little pre-demo video that NIS America produced for people to watch while they were waiting to play the demo at their booth. It’s short, but it has Rean, in character, giving a brief overview of the game and even mentioning the library system. It’s a small thing, but it one of those extra things that NIS America did to try and immerse and inform people about this game. And that is commendable. But, don’t just take it from me. Try the demo yourself when it comes out later this year.

Trails of Cold Steel III will be available on October 22 for the PlayStation 4. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more NIS America goodness check out our reviews of Lapis x Labyrinth, Neo Atlas 1469, and The Caligula Effect: Overdose. Or if you’re curious about the other Cold Steel games, take a look at our reviews of Trails of Cold SteelTrails of Cold Steel II.

Benny Carrillo
A gamer since the days of the NES and SNES and a reporter since 2015. This hat-wearing otaku loves niche Japanese games, but has a soft spot for visual novels, Super Robot Wars, Mega Man, yuri, and Nepgear. Benny has covered E3 and Anime Expo since 2015 and served as Operation Rainfall’s Visual Novel Manager. Now, this seasoned reporter spends his days trying to clear his epic backlog in between writing analytical articles and reviews.

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