The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Switch Review
I still fondly remember spending Christmas of 2015 playing Trails of Cold Steel on my Playstation Vita. The performance and visuals weren’t the best, but over the next few months, I played the entire 100 hours of the game that way. Comfy experiences like that made me fall in love with playing massive RPGs on portable consoles, which is why it saddened me to see Falcom back away from developing for them at the dawn of the PS4 era. The last time one of their game’s hit a portable title was for Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, which was outsourced to NIS for development. I think after all the updates, its a mostly solid port (and the best way to play it portably) but it was still far from perfect. When the third game of the Cold Steel series initially only released on PS4 I had a hard time getting into it after playing almost every single previous Trails game on a PlayStation Vita or PSP.
Thankfully NIS and Falcom have decided to appease to my very niche perspective and announced that both Trails of Cold Steel III and IV are both coming to Switch. I wish that the first two games in this arc had made it to the system first since unfortunately this is not a really good first entry into the series. Our own James Galizio did an amazing job breaking down more about why that is alongside his thoughts on the quality of the gameplay and story in his original review. This review will focus mainly on the quality of the port, I strongly recommend reading James review here for a more in-depth breakdown. A different team, Engine Software, handled this project than the one that worked on Ys VIII, and supposedly took time to carry over certain aspects of Durante’s PC port (which you can find our impressions on here). At the end of the day this is was a change for the better, as even with some issues this is the best portable release of a Falcom title I’ve ever played.
In terms of content, the game has been brought over in its entirety from the western PS4 port. High-speed mode and dual audio are both available on cartridge right when you pick it up, so you won’t be missing out on any quality of life features. High-speed is available with just a click of the left stick, letting you fly through any tedious aspects of the game like traveling across fields and battling. There’s an option to change the text language to both English and French, and you’re able to remap all your controls if you have a preference.
From a technical perspective, this is the “weakest” version of the game to exist, but the concessions made are understandable given the Switch’s hardware. This port targets a solid 30 frames per second and hits a resolution of 720p on both docked and undocked. On your actual Switch screen, the game looks incredibly crisp, but the resolution doesn’t hold up as well when playing it on your TV. It’s a bit hard to see anything since there appears to be a lack of anti-aliasing, and the text and art assets are hard to make out as well from a distance. This lack of AA leads to a lot of jaggy edges that are noticeable when playing on TV, and less so when playing on the go. It’s still a step up from the adaptive resolution of Ys VIII, which is doubly impressive when you consider that Cold Steel III was a big step up graphically from Ys VIII. I spent the majority of my time with this port playing on my Switch Lite and felt the visuals looked stellar on that. This made it feel like the natural evolution to playing the first two entries on vita, so I’m going to recommend playing undocked.
The framerate mostly hits the 30 fps cap, but there are noticeable dips that are worth mentioning. From my limited testing, it appears that the frame dips happen both docked and undocked, with the major ones starting in Chapter 2. While running around the streets of major cities such as Crossbell, the game will often stutter when things get very busy. A majority of the time however the game hits the 30 fps target, leading to a very smooth experience all around. I was surprised, because I was expecting combat to be where most of the dips would be but it managed to stay pretty consistent throughout. I was expecting the game to feel much slower all around due to the framerate being halved, but the team managed to keep the general flow of the game without losing too much speed. As I’ve mentioned before, and understandable concession to be made when targeting portable hardware. It’s definitely a lot more stable than Cold Steel I and II were on Vita, even with the dips in cities, and a lot more stable all around than Ys VIII. It’s playable, even if I hope there’s an optimization patch on its way for launch.
I especially hope for this, since there have been two moments during my time playing when the game soft locked and made me lose decent progress each time. The first of these was during shopping with Tita during the prologue, where the transition out of the menu left me with a black screen I couldn’t get out of. The next was during Chapter 2 where it randomly froze in Crossbell and I was stuck with an infinite loading logo slapped on top of the screen. I haven’t been able to replicate any of these moments and I’m not sure what caused them, so in case there is not a fix on launch I recommend saving frequently because there is no autosave function.
Sound quality is pretty great, with no noticeable compression on any of the music or voices. I wish this port of the game had been able to add additional voice acting since I still feel one of the flaws with Cold Steel III is how little voiced lines there are compared to how much dialogue exists in the script. There’s still quite a lot, but because the script is so staggeringly large there are still abnormal gaps with unvoiced lines or scenes where only some characters are voiced. This is an issue in both English and Japanese, and while I know it might have been unreasonable to want that from this (especially considering it wasn’t ever confirmed) I was still holding out hope for it. Not a deal-breaker, but it would have definitely been another reason for people to get the game on Switch.
All in all, I had a fun time revisiting Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch. I still wonder who this release is even actually for, given how it's hard for me to recommend newcomers play this, and most fans who really wanted this would likely have bought it on PS4 last year. Even with the issues, due to my preferences, I find this to be my favorite way to play the game. I hope there are further balance patches released to iron out any of the issues I found, but given how rare the serious ones were, I still recommend this for those looking to play the latest English Trails release on the go. It’s such a big improvement on Ys VIII’s port, and I wish in hindsight that it could have gotten the same treatment. This port gives me a lot of hope for the upcoming switch releases of Cold Steel IV and Ys IX. Time will tell if Engine Software manages to improve on what they have here, and I’m excited to see where they go from here.