Talk about a franchise like that of The Legend of Heroes it is not at all simple, especially seeing how it is divided into various story arcs which include over thirty years of videogame history. The series created and developed by the Japanese team Nihon Falcom is a real point of reference for the most avid fans of JRPG and, in this increasingly chaotic 2020, the fourth chapter has arrived of the Erboria saga. We are talking about The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, a title originally released in 2018 in Japan and that, thanks to the localization created by NIS America, will see released in the western market on October 27 2020. The date is currently valid for the version only PlayStation 4 of the work, the one we used for the following review, but a future release of the work on PC and Nintendo Switch in an unspecified period of 2021.
A journey from generation to generation
When fans cheerfully talk about this fourth and last chapter of Trails of Cold Steel, not ironically they define it as "The Avengers of Falcom". This is because in the work we find ourselves living not only the new misadventures of the old and the new class VII, but even the historical video game characters of the caliber of that Trails in the Sky of 2004. This certainly can be confusing for someone who decides to approach the series for the first time with this game but, to tell the truth, it can be considered as a flaw in any episode of the saga. Probably the developers are aware of these difficulties in terms of accessibility and, in fact, in the main menu it is possible to see some summaries of the main events of each game that is part of the narrative arc of Erboria. It should also be noted that, to refresh our memory, the details of the previous ones are explained to us in the work, inserting them both how flashback visuals and through some dialogues between the characters. This partly ruins the narrative, but it greatly helps the gamer who may have forgotten a few details here and there.
In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV they have passed two weeks after the cliffhanger of the third chapter e Juna, Kurt and Altina they awaken from an apparent coma. The three boys discover that, after the tough battle at the end of last game, they have lost most of their power. Their task will therefore be to train to regain the lost strength so as to be able to save the instructor Rean Schwarzer from the bad guys on duty. In all this, there is also the complex situation in which their nation finds itself, that is the empire of Erboria, more and more about to face a bloody one war against the republic of Liberl. Unfortunately, we cannot address the plot devised by Hisayoshi Takeiri, but be aware that it has one good script as per the franchise tradition. The way it is told is certainly not the most spectacular, presenting gods static movies reminiscent of the work of a mid-budget production of the 128-bit generation. This, however, has always been a problem of the series itself, but an evolution at the end of the PlayStation 4 would certainly not have spoiled, since we find ourselves in situations where we observe dialogues lasting over thirty minutes. To conclude the speech, however, it must be pointed out that there is a adaptation in English only, albeit characterized by an easy to understand vocabulary.
A varied but familiar gameplay
The Trails of Cold Steel is not only known for good writing of both the story and the characters, but also for its owning a playful structure that draws heavily from the past. Unlike more famous franchises such as Final Fantasy which have gradually become more and more action, the series directed by Takayuki Kusano remains anchored to the classical system of turn-based game. Then we will find ourselves exploring the game world, divided into cities and dungeons, where in the latter we will find the enemies that will turn freely on the map. In fact, unlike the classic casual encounters, here it is possible to see and even pass the creatures that stand in our way. The fights in the eyes of many may not be as expected, since they are structured according to the basic rules of the genre, between attacks and usable spells, but at the same time enriched by various peculiarities that make everything more varied and dynamic.
Our team consists of up to four characters to use in battle, and their shifts can be viewed at the top left of the screen. Our every action, however, is determined not by the distance from which we stand from the target, but even give three specific parameters BP, EP and CP. The first allows us to make group attacks and increase the characteristics of the heroes for a few turns, the second is the one that allows us to use magic and summons while, finally, the CP allows us to perform special moves of various kinds. The player must therefore pay attention to everything, since our every action substantially modifies the shift of a character with respect to his companions and enemies. To allow you to load these parameters it is possible not only to fight with the most common attacks, but even to protect your allies through link actions. The latter are practically mandatory, obtainable connecting two determined characters of the group and thus increasing theirs degree of friendship. This has an effect in combat, as if a hero is hit, the one connected to him could retaliate with an attack on the attacker. Of course, it is possible escape the fighting not mandatory as well as use various types of objects. Enemies, too, may suffer various effects such as confusion or sleepiness based on the type of our attacks, especially if we give the right attention to statistics. In fact, the different types of opponents have specific weaknesses that we can exploit to our advantage. We will discover these only if we analyze them thanks to the sweet Altina or with some particular object.
The game that makes speedrunners happy
What we have just described to you is the combat system, which obviously is the second beating heart of the production. But before it there is still a part of preparazione of the characters and of scouting of the world, also fundamental for the structure of the work. The roster available can be equipped not only with the classic armor (not to be changed with the costumes that are the real clothing) or necklaces, but even with some crystal details called Quartz. Quartz are particular gems that allow you to give skills fundamental to our heroes, as well as the spells they can use in and out of combat. As we previously mentioned, exploration is divided into two main parts: dungeons and cities. In the dungeons, which to tell the truth are considered all the environments in which it is possible to encounter monsters, it is possible not only to face the dangers and complete the main mission of the round, but also to face various secondary challenges. These challenges can be summarized in tasks entrusted to us by the NPCs, but also in gods silver chests which offer us a more difficult confrontation than usual with certain characters.
The cities, on the other hand, are certainly the moment of tranquility for our heroes. In addition to being able to regain strength in taverns, buy the necessary in shops and upgrade our equipment or paraphernalia, here it will also be possible to discover more elements of the lore and participate in different minigames. The latter result very simple in the structure, but also a good diversion from the immense longevity of this The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV. In fact the title is by no means short-lived and presents a journey of approx 70-80 hours to be completed, complete with alternative endings. Perhaps that is why there is a real one in the product speedrunner mode, which allows you to greatly speed up the game in every phase. To tell the truth, it is even possible to let go automatically the fights, but this greatly spoils the enjoyment of the product.
However, everything we have just described may seem like a lot familiare for fans of the franchise, because indeed it is. Seeing as this product originally came out a year later than The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, complete with concurrent development, it feels like playing a real game. expansion of the third episode of the franchise. For this reason you cannot notice any difference in the way you play, feeling a certain one repetitiveness which could affect the user soon. We certainly do not want to be misunderstood with this, the combat system remains excellent and accessible to newbies thanks to its immense customization. Fatigue, however, begins to make itself felt, as well as being slightly unbalanced, with the more experienced of the genre who might find the whole experience all too simple.
It feels like playing an anime
When we mentioned the fact of the so-called "anime style" he was not exaggerating, because even only from the excellent opening opening it really feels like you're playing some Japanese animated series. The models and the game world especially reflect this feature, with the PhyreEngine that manages to shine right in the skeleton of the characters. The development team was able to faithfully reproduce the drawings of the artwork, making the main figures of the work really pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately we cannot say the same about the game environments, in which we actually notice that the operated engine is quite old. It seems, in short, to be playing some remastred of a title for PsVita or the last generation, and this is a real shame. However, we must appreciate how, at least in the PlayStation 4 edition we tested, they are not present drop in frame rates, bug, glitch or smudges of any kind, demonstrating by now how the team has become expert in working with the engine in question. Finally, the simple enemies are rather generic and anonymous, unlike the main ones that have increasingly varied and exaggerated designs.
Il Japanese dubbing is spot on, complete with special moves shouted as the most classic shonen teach us. Unfortunately we can't say the same about the English one, in which some characters have decidedly unprofessional voices. In any case it is possible to change everything at any time from the options, and even change all of them if you want to listen exclusively to the wonderful soundtrack of production. The latter is, in fact, one of the cornerstones of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, demonstrating once again how the composers of Nihon Falcom know their work perfectly. The tracks included here are perfect, suitable for every situation and able to best represent the epic tone of the events narrated.