It’s been a bit of a wait for loyal fans that don’t have the linguistic skill to dive into the Japanese version of the game, but Trails of Cold Steel IV has finally arrived. The western release is once again being brought to us by NIS America, and wraps up a saga that started almost five years ago. Time to dive in, with the PlayStation 4 version that we tested on a PS4 Pro.
When the first Trails of Cold Steel released, it was a release for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita, even though the PS4 had already been out for a while. The main reason was that the game had already launched in 2013 in Japan, and with part IV we’re seeing a similar pattern – it’s been out since 2018 in Asia and fans have gotten enhanced versions of the original games on the PS4 while they waited.
Trails of Cold Steel IV isn’t just the final game in the series, it’s also a game that provides a tremendous amount of fan service to fans of the developers who have been with them for many years. Although my heart firmly lies with this particular branch of the franchise, the game also contains cameos from characters that originally appeared in other series, like Trails in the Sky. The number of characters getting blended together was borderline overwhelming for me as a Cold Steel fan (while at the same time enticing me to play the other games), and I could see Trails of Cold Steel IV not being an ideal starting point for newcomers as a result.
Story beats don’t get thrown at you right away, but many characters gradually make an appearance over time – in fact, main hero Rean Schwarzer isn’t even around for a good portion of the game. It’s a journey of discovery and rediscovery that picks up right after part III left of, with the empire on the verge of war. But even though our main protagonist has gone missing, you don’t feel alone and powerless thanks to the huge cast of characters that you encounter as you explore the game world.
If you’ve played the previous games (and you should, to get the most out of this one), you won’t just see a lot of familiar faces but will also visit plenty of locations that you’ve seen before – which is both a blessing in terms of not getting overwhelmed and feeling right at home, but also a shame when it comes to exploring new corners of Erebonia.
Visually, Erebonia and its inhabitants still look quite similar to how they looked when we first met them on the Vita (and PS3). They’ve gotten older and this is reflected in their appearance, but Trails of Cold Steel IV certainly isn’t a looker on the PS4 – when you consider the most recent Final Fantasy VII remake it even looks rather dated by comparison. The game doesn’t break the trend that Nihon Falcom’s games excel through their storytelling rather than their audiovisual presentation, although the orchestral soundtrack is rather wonderful to listen to and dynamically shifts between dramatic and more upbeat tunes over the course of the adventure.
Those familiar with the gameplay in Trails of Cold Steel III will need little introduction here, as most of the core mechanics remain unchanged. Subtle tweaks to the combat include the ability to let combat play out automatically for you if you want to focus more on the story. If you decide to take matters into your our hands, you’ll find that Trails IV gives you the ability to use mechs while in battle and can conjure up additional magic attacks – though you’ll find that having giant mechs on the battlefield isn’t as impactful as it sounds. Away from the battlegrounds of Trails IV, new mini-games include familiar (in the sense of ‘not too inspired’) games like blackjack and poker – but luckily many of the existing mini-games from earlier entries also come back.
At the end of the day, coming into Trails of Cold Steel IV with some previous Trails experience is a big help, since many of the controls and combat strategies carry over to this one and you’ll also be more comfortable picking the right loadouts for your party because of this. In fact, the entirety of Trails IV feels very much like a wonderful reunion with friends or a warm bath – something you look forward to and enjoy immensely, while offering little in terms of things you’ve never experienced before.
It’s a must-play adventure for existing fans and a fitting end to a wonderful saga that has spanned two console generations. Looking forward to seeing what’s next for the franchise as we leap into another next month!