Also available on Switch and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 04/07/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
After four games averaging about 60 hours each – and more for me since I took my time talking to everyone – I’ve finally finished the Trails of Cold Steel tetralogy. Like the Trails in the Sky trilogy before it, this series consistently achieved greatness, but it never did quite reach perfection.
The game picks up a month or so after Cold Steel III ended, and just like the beginning of Cold Steel II, the tension starts off at max. Truthfully, the tension starts off higher in IV than it did in II, and that works to the game’s benefit. While IV is just as derivative compared to II as III was compared to I, the fact that the tension starts off almost as high at the start of IV that it was at the end of III helps to shove the player into the drama first thing with very little in the way of necessary build-up. While Rean ends up being the main character again partway through the game, IV starts off with Juna as the “main” main character as she, Kurt, and Altina – with some help from Randy – try to find and reunite with Ash, Musse, and Rean who were separated from the rest of the class at the end of the third game. All of this they’re doing as the Empire marches rapidly towards the prospect of a truly apocalyptic war with the Calvard Republic that would undoubtedly engulf the entire continent of Zemuria.
One of the things that made Cold Steel IV really stand out to me even in the context of the Legend of Heroes series is that it really does tie up the entire IP. You’ve got three distinctive arcs in Zemuria up to this point – the Liberl trilogy (Trails in the Sky), the sadly untranslated Crossbell duology (Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure), and the Erebonia tetralogy (Trails of Cold Steel). Cold Steel IV brings all three of those strands together into one unified narrative rope by the second half of the game. Playing through III left me thinking, “Man, I really wish I had been able to play the Crossbell games,” but having played through IV, I *really* wish I’d been able to play those two games because a lot of the backstory bits they drop and characters in the game would be a lot more meaningful to me if I had those two games’ worth of context.
One thing I really have to mention that the other games lack is the inclusion of a regular ending and a true ending. If you don’t meet the right criteria, you get the regular ending which is a fine ending and keeps the door open for more games in this universe (which is good as there are a couple that have yet to leave Japan), but the true ending is a significantly better conclusion to the story and lets you face off against the true final boss. The regular ending is fine, but the resolution feels a bit rushed and ham-handed with that ending; the true ending is obviously the ending that the game’s writers always intended and definitely needs to be the ending you experience even if you have to reference a walkthrough to make sure you don’t miss it.
Mechanically, it’s just more Cold Steel III, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s great. It looks, sounds, plays, and feels pretty much the same. You get plenty of waifus to choose from, and the game even handles the inescapably creepy concept of choosing one of your students as your waifu as well as it can given that you’re picking a student as your waifu given that Rean is their teacher. Considering that I’m a teacher, that’s too much degeneracy even for me, so I restricted my waifu selection to old Class VII. Still, though, it’s an option, so if you’re a minor and not violently uncomfortable with the idea of a 16-year-old waifu, go for it.
Trails of Cold Steel IV isn’t quite perfect, but I’d definitely call it the best of the series, and for a series that has yet to miss in my opinion, that’s pretty high praise. You get some minor bonuses for having save data from the first three Cold Steel games that you obviously can’t get on Switch (unless they give the 1 and 2 ports a Western release), but the bonuses are minor enough that it’s really not worth worrying about. I have to admit that I was ready for the game to be over about halfway through, but I think that’s because I marathoned all three Liberl games and all four Erebonia games back to back to back; if I had just played the four Cold Steel games in a row, I doubt I would have been nearly as burnt out. I certainly didn’t feel the same “oh my god, please be over” fatigue at the end of IV that I felt at the end of II. It’s a solid game, and if you’ve played III, you’ll probably play it no matter what I say just to see how that awful cliffhanger plays out.