Triangle Strategy Review
Triangle Strategy is the second 2D-HD game to come from Square Enix, following up the utterly excellent Octopath Traveller, and to be succeeded by the Live A Live and Dragon Quest III remakes. Unlike those games, however, this game goes a different route, casting aside turn-based RPG gameplay and diving deep into a Fire Emblem- or Final Fantasy Tactics-style strategy RPG. Much like Octopath, Triangle Strategy aims to blend the look and feel of classic SNES-era games with modern 3D game development, to moderate success. With a heavy focus on story and a fantastic gameplay loop, there’s a lot to like about Triangle Strategy… but it’s far from perfect, too.
In a change to tradition, I’m going to talk about the gameplay first, rather than starting with the story. You’ll see why when we get there, but let’s stay focused for now. Triangle Strategy is a pretty straightforward strategy RPG in terms of its combat, but that’s not to say it’s not interesting or engaging. On the contrary, despite it missing any sort of major combat gimmick — think Bravely Default’s Brave/Default system or Octopath’s equivalent — like its predecessor, Triangle Strategy is some of the most engaging strategy RPG gameplay I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, and that’s coming from someone who usually bounces pretty hard off SRPGs.
What makes Triangle’s combat a little more unique is that there’s no classes or really much crossover between characters’ abilities at all; each of the 20-odd characters you’ll come across and join to your party have almost a totally unique set of skills, with only one or two skills being shared between a couple characters. For example, two spellcasters both have the healing spell Sanctuary, but other spellcasters don’t, and even other healers have different healing abilities that behave in different ways. Because every character is unique in how they use their abilities — each character has passive abilities that can change the way even shared abilities work — there’s a lot of variability in the way you play. You’ll only be able to bring 10 (give or take a couple) characters into any given battle, so you’ll have to spend some time figuring out how synergistic each character is with others, and if or where a new character could fit into that configuration when you recruit them.
It’s a wonderful little system, and its general simplicity, combined with the absolutely bonkers amount of different combinations, gives you the option to really focus in on how you want to play. Some battles have specific gimmicks too; for example, one battle has you reaching a specific point on the battlefield with a certain character, and another has you dashing around the map to defuse bombs before they go off, which means that the team you’re used to using might not get the results you want, leading to a delicious loop of creating, deploying, and revising different combinations. It feels a little bit like deck-crafting, in a way, and it’s very very satisfying to finally have your combinations click in a way that makes you feel powerful.
Let me give you a brief example of how this synergy all comes together on the battlefield. Roughly halfway through the game, I had three elemental mages on my team: one for ice, one for fire, and one that was a bit of an all-rounder, with wind and electric spells on hand as well as a few nice support and healing spells. I decided I would go hard into magic and attacking from afar, so I built the rest of my team up around supporting and protecting my mages. A shieldbearer would keep enemies from getting too close, while a healer and tactician would keep them alive, healthy, and buffed up. From there, I established a clever little loop, starting with my ice mage, who’d freeze the battlefield with his attacks. Then, I’d utilise my fire mage, using her burning attacks to melt the ice and leave puddles of water across the battlefield. Then it was time for the all-rounder to step up, using his electric attacks to shock any enemies standing in the water left behind by my previous two volleys of magic.
As I said, it’s intensely satisfying when a strategy comes together like this, a triangular strategy (hey, I get it now) that effectively loops and makes me feel like a tactical god. Unfortunately, eventually, my strategy was undone by a battalion of enemies who were very resistant to magic, and it was back to the drawing board for me. Which is great, because I love it.
Now, let’s talk about the story. Triangle Strategy, broadly, tells the story of Serenoa and Frederica, the former a fledgling lord from the Wolffort demesne within the nation of Glenbrook, and the latter a Rosellian princess from the Grand Duchy of Aesfrost. Many years ago, Glenbrook, Aesfrost, and the religious nation of Hyzante, were embroiled in a fierce conflict called the Saltiron War across the continent of Norzelia, with Aesfrost controlling the continent’s supply of iron, Hyzante controlling the continent’s supply of salt (apparently a deeply important supply), and Glenbrook kind of just stuck in the middle of the two, geographically speaking. Serenoa’s father, Lord Symon Wolffort used his tactical combat skills to put a standstill to the war, acting as an intermediary between the two powerful nations and brokering a peace deal that would allow for the free trade of both salt and iron, with reasonable taxes on the two resources to opposing nations. This peace deal was uneasy at best, but for thirty years, it was enough for the continent to remain at peace.
At the start of our journey, we learn that, to build relations between Aesfrost and Glenbrook, Serenoa and Frederica have been arranged to be wed, just as the three nations of Norzelia embark on a joint mining venture in a newly discovered vein of iron to the north of Glenbrook. Of course, this is a game about war and strategy, and the ruling class of Norzelia are greedy, so that joint venture, uh, does not exactly go swimmingly. Its foreman is assassinated, Aesfrost invades Glenbrook, killing its king, and his son (and childhood friend of Serenoa) Roland is forced to fake his own death to escape notice. What follows is a deeply political tale of war, intrigue, rebellion, and loyalty, that has you picking sides in a war that hurts everybody, grappling with the enslavement of the Rosellian people (for the record, objectively bad, but the game seems to position it as a lot more complex than it is), unmasking shadowed religious leaders, and leading the charge for what may become a better Norzelia… or may become a war-stricken wasteland.
See, Triangle Strategy is one of those games where your choices in dialogue matter. In fact, they can matter a lot. And it’s not just your dialogue choices, your actions and responses, in addition to dialogue, can and do significantly change the way the story plays out. For example, an early choice in the game has you choosing to accompany diplomats back to either the holy land of Hyzante or the Duchy of Aesfrost, where you’ll get to explore and converse with the people of those nations and find out what makes them tick. Shortly after, Aesfrost’s siege of Glenbrook begins, and for those who chose to visit Hyzante, it comes as a shocking surprise, while for those who chose to visit Aesfrost, it comes as a crushing betrayal.
Make no mistake though: for the most part, the same general events will happen, but how they happen, how you’re aligned, and from what perspective you experience those events can change massively. Still, as you get further into the game, the choices you make seem to become more important, and the outcomes you get in return become much more divergent. There are multiple routes and endings on offer here, and I could absolutely see myself playing through again with totally different choices just to see how much of a difference it makes.
I’ve been very descriptive about the game’s approach to story so far, so allow me to inject some opinion into the conversation too — I absolutely love the story in this game. Part of it comes down to incredibly well-written characters with interesting motivations and a shared history in the land of Norzelia, and part of it lies solely on the shoulders of just how much mystery there is to uncover. Serenoa and Frederica are fantastic audience surrogates here, with both of them being young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, learning at the same time you do about the machinations of nation states, but just about every line of dialogue, every choice made, every piece of environmental storytelling, is so fluid and coherent that it feels as if it were sculpted from a monolith of marble, rather than the collective work by a whole team of writers, artists, and developers.
I was particularly fond of a section of the game in which major choices are made, known as consulting the Scales of Conviction — an ancient artefact that illuminates and weighs a group of people’s desires to light the path forward. Here, your core seven teammates and travelling companions are asked to choose between two or three different options. When consulting the Scales, each character has a coin to throw in, and whichever option gets more votes is how the party progresses going forward. Each character has their own opinions on the matter, though, and you don’t get a vote of your own, so it’ll take some convincing to get everybody on board with the option you want — if you can convince them at all. You’ll have to gather information from around the area, and get to know your crew before talking to them, so you know what to say to them to bring them around. It can be very challenging, and it’s not always straightforward, but it’s an extra layer of subtle puzzling that I deeply enjoyed (and stressed about, a lot).
As positive about Triangle Strategy I’ve been, I have some major issues with it, too. The first, and perhaps most contentious for some people, is the visuals. I loved Octopath’s visual style; Square Enix’s 2D-HD art-style can be absolutely gorgeous in a lot of situations, blending classic pixel art with 3D environments, in what can best be described as a pop-up book-style approach. Unfortunately, due to what I’m assuming are performance issues, it doesn’t always look good here. Despite there generally being a lack of large, explorable environments like Octopath, instead opting for a more vignetted slice of an environment, Triangle Strategy suffers from some seriously ugly dynamic resolution scaling. Character sprites and animations, perhaps the most important part of a character-driven game like this, often end up muddy and unintelligible, and environments are filled with shimmer and artifacting as the dynamic resolution shifts at the slightest change in activity on the screen.
I could have forgiven and perhaps even looked past the issues with the background had the character sprites been locked at full resolution, so as to keep them clear and legible, but as it is, it’s incredibly distracting and off-putting, and is ultimately a big downgrade from Octopath’s implementation of the same style. Thankfully, it is a lot better in this regard in docked mode compared to handheld, but it’s never truly great, exactly.
My other semi-major concern, not so much for me but for what I imagine will be an issue for many others, is the story to gameplay ratio, which sits at about 85:15 story to gameplay. Now, admittedly, this game is as much a story game as it is a strategy game, perhaps even more so, and I absolutely love the story here, but there’s just so much of it compared to the combat gameplay. Quite often I’d spend 45 minutes to an hour pressing A through dialogue, rarely making any choices or exploring to any considerable degree, before engaging in a roughly 15 minute combat encounter, followed by another 45 minutes to an hour of dialogue. This becomes a lot more bearable when mental mock battles are unlocked, which allow you to hop into a battle in between story moments to test out strategies or level up characters for the fight ahead, but I can certainly imagine it won’t be enough for a lot of people. This is a game that leans hard on its story, so if you’re only in it for the gameplay, you absolutely will be frustrated and annoyed.
There’s some more minor issues too, like the music being fairly forgettable, the voice acting and directing being a bit dicey at times, and the combat UI being a little bit cluttered and confusing. But frankly, in the grand scheme of things, these are teensy issues at worst, and personal taste at best, so they’re very very easy to look past when the rest of the game is as good as it is.
Triangle Strategy is an excellent strategy game with a heavy focus on a very good, very malleable story. Characters are well-written and very likeable, the story goes to some absolutely fascinating places, and the game’s strategy combat is best-in-class amongst its peers. Unfortunately, inconsistent visuals and a gameplay/story balance skewed far too heavily on the story side hold it back at times — but looking past that is easy when the rest of it is so good.
+ Fantastic branching story with heaps of replayability
+ Best-in-class tactical gameplay
+ Lots of puzzle-y aspects to mull over
- Aggressive dynamic resolution shifting makes for an ugly experience
- Heavy story focus might turn some players off
- The combat UI can be a little bit messy and confusing