This is going to be a fairly comprehensive look at Trails of Cold Steel 3 and as a result is probably going to be best read if you have played the game already. It isn’t often that a game makes a big enough changed impression on me to want to discuss its story at length both at the midway point and the conclusion, but – and this may be a flaw in some ways – it backloads a lot of its plot, and does so in a way that works effectively as a mirror of the way CS1 saw tranquility fall apart.
And while this article is going to go into some heavy places in terms of discussing the game’s political themes and inspirations, it’s important to remember it’s also very funny a lot of the time. Some of the jokes are wearing, particularly the “comedy lesbian” characters, but a lot of the time there are some sharp scenes and charming interactions. It’s worth considering it in comparison to a game I watched a playthrough of recently, Tales of Symphonia 2. That was a sequel to a beloved RPG that brought back, as visiting characters, the old party. It did so in a way that mostly annoyed the player, as it felt that character development was undone and beloved characters were reduced to one-note gimmicks and punchlines. CS3 largely avoids that; it remembers that the party have all matured as characters, have now settled down into new jobs and it offers a fairly charming depiction of a circle of friends trying to recapture the old magic.
Recently I have been playing two games from the Legend of Heroes series; Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel. Both have impressed me with their storytelling decisions; although their stories may not be those of the most novel characters, and their settings at first glance do not seem significantly original, a number of fine details make the games stand out as a quite different approach to well-worn ground. The games make use of their protagonists’ inexperience in a way that does not immediately suggest some world-changing destiny and thanks to more leisurely pacing provide a much stronger sense of a coming-of-age story. Any development into the resolution of a nationwide conspiracy thus becomes a political awakening as much as a heroic destiny.