It's interesting looking into how much the credits of the Trails games writing wise don't change that much and Takeiri 100% takes over as main scenario lead from Zero forward and honestly I love Zero so I have no idea how Cold Steel ended up this way.
It's entirely possible that Azure will mark a fairly big departure for the series from grounded socio-economic meddling to disappearing up it's own magic lore. Maybe it handles that better than Cold Steel. Gosh I hope so.
It is exceedingly odd to me that basically the same writers worked on Zero all the way to Cold Steel 2. Maybe they just bit off way more than they could chew with the time frame they had. Maybe the original plan just wasn't great.
It feels more like the blame lies with the event script writers just not really picking up the slack between the bigger moments or Takeiri running out of steam managing the scope and introduction of ideas.
Considering the Hajimari is one-third playing catch up with the events of the series, seems like it was in part Takeiri failing to manage pacing and scope.
Frankly, it seems like the writers in sum total couldn't manage to fully wrap their heads around the societies that they set up for themselves, and without that understanding couldn't come up with compelling conflicts that tied in with the core themes.
Does Cold Steel have core themes? I honestly could not tell you but it has a dozen sub-themes.
Kondo stepped down as Director after Azure and Takayuki Kusano came in for all of the Cold Steel games so arguably his presence marks the biggest shift in the series. It goes from basically detective fiction to anime high school fiction.
Arguably the series gets more and more anime as it goes on and that's not always in the fun way; more often it's in the eye-rolling "rule of cool" sort of way and when the presentation of Falcom games is jank at best it's more often quaint than anything else.
You could even say that the Trails series has slowly morphed into a completely different genre over time but if I'm being honest it's not bridging the gap super well!
And the longer it goes on the more likely it is to introduce stuff that begs more questions than it answers.
Not really talking about the lost zemurian artifacts or old world tech either. I'm specifically talking about the 1200 year time gap between the old civilizations and the current one. That's a lot of time for stuff to have happened and you need to manage that really carefully.
Something I'm really stuck on is the subject of literacy, and how much the printing press in our real world effected everyday life. Allowing people to disseminate information and share ideas more widely and giving them access to material previously exclusive to nobles.
That basically led directly to the decline in noble power which led into the creation of modern day conservatism as a way of keeping the nobility and already well off at the top of society.
And the printing press existed before the Orbal Revolution in Zemuria! They even show it to us in Cold Steel 3 which is neat but also begs the question of how long it took for people to catch onto how powerful of a tool it was.
And considering you can draw a direct line between literacy through the decline of nobility to current conservatism, and by extension neoliberalism, it's a bit odd that nobles and merchants are competing in the world of Zemuria instead of working together.
Cold Steel puts a lot of narrative weight onto "the responsibility of the nobility to act in service to the people" but you and I both know in reality the nobility couldn't give a shit about the people unless they were threatening to execute them.
So it comes off really naive, like it's trying really hard to be a little centrist and all sides have good points when no. It's a liberal market economy versus birthright nobility. Neither are good.
You could take what you consider to be good from each of them and make something actually equitable but I guess none of the characters can imagine a world outside of their own, which is odd when the Sky and Crossbell games explicitly has criticisms for their societies.
The biggest saving grace is the idea that the characters are poisoned by their own upbringing but the intentionality of that isn't very clear and the framing of the story sure doesn't have anything interesting to say about that aspect so far. It's more like a band-aid excuse.
I'd say the biggest change between the soul of the first two duologies and the Cold Steel games would be that the former was about people taking advantage of society whereas the latter is about people disrupting society. It's reform vs. revival, in more than one sense of the word
Actually I guess you could argue at least SC was about disruption but it's so carefully structured to feed great character moments so it works.
I guess if each odd part of the Cold Steel tetralogy was about Erebonia's systems and institutions I would be more forgiven but they're really not. Just seems like a waste of potential.
I have no idea what any of the nobility do besides sit in lavish buildings and sign nondescript paperwork all day. I could read into the local exports and institutions are and say they handle those but like... that is never showned or stated. And it's lame.
With Mayor Maybelle, she has an active hand in her city and is shown to care a lot about her people. To the extent that she'll eat a personal loss just to keep a restaurant people like open. She rules. None of the nobility in Erebonia leave a fraction of her impact on me.

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