After 20 minutes of this demo I was ready to delete it from my Switch forever. You start off in a busy gameplay sequence at level 35, with dozens of arts, crafts, attacks and formations that make no sense. A battle starts and there are 8 menu buttons for each character. There’s all sorts of bars, EP, CP, HP, TP, NPD, ESRB. Nobody has an actual name, they are just labelled “Pink Haired Girl” or “Blue Haired Guy” etc. for every colour you can think of, it feels like a parody. Is the game meant to be like this? Some kind of war is going on and more characters join you, then more characters appear until you have lost count of everyone and you can’t tell who is on what side. Nothing makes any sense but the music is cool.
*3 months earlier*
Ah, thank goodness. Time to breathe. There’s nothing like a comfy train ride to gather your thoughts. Due to the nature of this being a demo, it was hard to tell if that was a scripted intro, or if it legitimately threw you somewhere into the mid game for a “sample”. It was all part of the intro and wasn’t supposed to make sense yet. Got me there, game. Now everything’s calm, you get off the train and chat casually to a couple of people, there’s no war. Just a bunch of excited students and an ominous picture of the future.
Now you really meet everyone, and the pace slows down dramatically with almost an hour of talking. Deguello summed it up best in the Pietriots chat.
That said, the writing is quite good and it’s worth listening to. Characters have a very natural bantering style much like the Tales of games where they talk forever. The world is very unique, it feels like it takes place 1000 years ago, except imagine if technology started much earlier. They have primitive looking mobile phones, and weapons that resemble robots. It’s a strange world that I don’t think I’ve fully grasped yet, but it makes it all the more interesting to listen to what’s going on. Everything is voice acted and I found it serviceable.
The graphics are extremely mixed. Most of the effort is put into the characters, they are nicely animated, fully featured and have a vibrant design and style to them. This is important in a game that casts a million characters in the first hour. The environments however are very basic, with flat textures and bland geometry. The main dungeon you play in is just a bunch of grey rooms, for example. At least the game engine runs well with a smooth framerate. It’s a good port and it feels like nothing has really been sacrificed. The weakness of the game’s graphics are just the simple geometry and low-budget textures that already exist in the PS4 game.
This game’s creativity makes up for technical shortcomings with amazing music as well. It’s highly infectious, very upbeat but in a complex way. It does remind me a bit of the Ys VIII soundtrack, which makes sense coming from the same composers and developer Falcom. The demo has 4 or 5 really high quality songs so I’m excited to hear more in the full game. Music is definitely a huge strength of Falcom games in general. There’s still a familiar JRPG vibe to it, but with enough new melodies to keep your ears perked.
The battle system finally starts explaining itself when you get the first “real” dungeon. After you’re thrown into the deep end in the intro, the game dials back a bit and teaches you the mechanics one by one. It is turn-based with stats and options everywhere. You have multiple types of attacks, and different energy required for each. There’s crits, shields, link attacks, it’s all bit overwhelming even with tutorials. That said, it’s easy to get through these fights even if you don’t have the perfect strategy. It just eases you into it.
Some attacks let you “aim” at the enemies, like the attack in the screenshot above. This will have the area of effect inside the two lines, hitting every enemy inside. There are other attacks that have a circle area you can move around, and you have to adapt to each enemy formation with the right attack if you want to hit multiple.
Going into this, I was wondering if not playing the other bazillion Trails games would make this even harder to get into, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. There’s a lot of mystery but I think that makes it more interesting. The demo was about 3 hours long and reveals a lot. The fact this takes place in a school learning environment actually helps the player figure out what’s going on with them, it’s quite genius really. I feel like I definitely don’t know the scope of what’s going on, but neither do the main characters. Whatever happened in Trails 1 or 2, or the Legend of Heroes games in the past, it doesn’t concern your party directly. We’re all learning together. The main menu of the demo also has a brief text summary of past games lore to digest.
This demo was a soap drama of reactions and confusion, but at the end of it I was impressed. It successfully showcases the enormous scope of Trails of Cold Steel 3 and the full game is looking mighty interesting. It’s the kind of game that could really consume your attention with layers and layers of plot detail. The music is amazing, the characters are somewhat entertaining, the graphics are basic but pleasant, and the battle system has a lot of depth. It feels like a work of passion and this series should make a great addition to the Switch library. It’s nice to see Falcom finally embrace a Nintendo system, even if they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the only viable handheld.