(Available for Nintendo Switch only)
Triangle Strategy is the newest game from Square Enix using their HD2D engine, which was previously used in Octopath Traveller- which was a roaring success, creating a throwback to Super Nintendo era Final Fantasy games. Many people, including myself, were really big fans of it. Triangle Strategy is one of three games that have been announced for this new engine to create very exquisite looking 2D games that also act as throwbacks to their classic games, the other two being Dragon Quest 3 as well as a remake of the game Live Alive, which like this game and Octopath Traveller will be published by Nintendo.
Triangle Strategy is a throwback to classical tactical RPGs that Square Enix made, such as Tactics Ogre, but most notably, Final Fantasy Tactics. Rather like Octopath Traveller, which took those classic tropes and expanded upon them, it looks like Triangle Strategy would do the same. The game has done relatively well out of the batch, selling over 800,000 copies in its first month despite the fact that both Nintendo and Square Enix lowered the marketing push for the game due to the conflicts in Ukraine, since the beginning of the story involves one nation invading another.
This review took a long time to come out, and this is due to the fact that I actually did two full playthroughs of the game- I played it for one playthrough and was intending to do another one in my spare time, however, New Game Plus is a new feature in the game and it actually adds a bunch of new stuff to the game, so I felt that I had to see this through. As a result, after 80 hours of gameplay I pretty much did two full campaigns, including the 3 hours headstart I got from playing the demo in February, which gives you 3 chapters of the game. (each campaign had a total of 20 chapters with one exception)
I will stress, I won’t be spoiling any plot elements and I will keep gameplay spoilers to a minimum also.
The one thing that Triangle Strategy needed to nail was the gameplay.. Tactical RPGs really live and die by this, and I can safely say Triangle Strategy has expertly designed mechanics. It’s very much ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’. There’s a lot of risk and reward put in place, for example, you gain extra hits if you put two characters either side of an opponent, if they attack the other one will gain a follow up hit. It’s a good idea to do so, since you will gain experience, plus you really want to learn how to specifically benefit from levelling up abilities.
While characters do level up in the conventional sense as in other RPGs, they don’t always automatically gain the abilities or stat buffs- extras can be bought from the encampment, but those require materials to utilise, and some of them can’t be accessed without upgrading a class by using medals of bravery or medals of valour.
There is a huge portion of characters in the game, you have archers, some mages, a couple of healers, some tanks, and you want to really balance who you bring into battle- though, story missions all come with the game recommending units, and while I don’t think you should follow it completely to the letter, it is good advice in my experience.
The gameplay has been expanded from the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics in many ways, for example, elemental magic can often play into one another. If you perform an ice attack, it’s not going to leave immediately- the floor gets frozen, and if you follow up with a fire attack it will melt into a puddle of water. If an enemy then stands on that area and then you use a lightning attack, it will potentially do double the damage! There’s lots of factors like that that you will have to learn. You also have to think about positioning based upon what the area of the map looks like, how many healers are you going to bring into battle? And of course, you’re restricted on how many units you can bring in. At the very minimum, the game restricts you to 7 units, though most battles allow 10 and some 12 (obviously battle depending).
It’s all very addictive. I lost hours just honing my units abilities so that they would be perfect for battle, and it really felt by the end of the game that no character was wasted. I unfortunately didn’t unlock all of them, but I did unlock the majority. I only fell short on a couple because some characters are restricted by decisions you make in the story. But, man, did this game nail the battle system. I really loved playing it! I never played it on the hardest difficulty, but this game still gave me a challenge. I think even on easy mode this game has some real challenges. It’s not the ‘win button’ that some reviewers have made it out to be (I’d say Very Easy mode definitely is that). Though if you’re not used to tactical RPGs I would suggest toning down the difficulty for this game, it pulls no punches! That being said, grinding is not too difficult, and don’t be afraid to take under levelled units into battles where they’re quite below the recommended battle level. They actually gain larger amounts of experience by doing very remedial tasks faster in these battles than the higher level counterparts would. Grinding is definitely not an issue in the game. You can also access the mock battles which act as side quests at pretty much any point. You can even do a side quest just before you enter a story mission.
Because I’m a moron, I actually didn’t level up a few characters that I didn’t think were too useful but then got stuck with them for the final battles. I thought that I would be in real trouble but they actually levelled up faster than I would have expected and they became more useful than I had anticipated.
The combat is incredibly well thought out, and once you understand it, you’re going to want to experiment with it. You’ll want to learn how to get your archers to high ground and get extra advantage and damage or how to attack from safer spaces. The smarter you are with the battle, the more points you earn to buy items for weapons upgrades which come in a separate currency. You’re rewarded for your fractions in battle, as well as the fact that battles affect the conviction system, but the game doesn’t initially tell you how, so if you’re aiming for a particular outcome in the story I would suggest looking that one up prior to playing.
The HD2D engine already looked spectacular in Octopath Traveller, and it has pretty much been replicated brilliantly here. Square Enix brought in Studio Artdink to make this game, and they definitely did an excellent job. Square Enix obviously supported the team on it, and it seems as though they learnt what worked well in Octopath Traveller and applied it well here. They were able to add a lot of details and small elements into the environments and make a lot of it work because they didn’t have to design too many unique environments, a lot of them are repeated. Everything is rather square and of course in a grid format because a majority of them have to be used for the tactical battles, you have to make it so you can limit a character’s movement in battle.
The areas are explorable during exploration phases, and the fully functioning camera means that none of the environments are fixed, which makes it really impressive.
This game is gorgeous! This is definitely one of the best looking games on the Switch and is making great use of its engine. It of course doesn’t stand up to some of the 3D mega brands that this console has, but what it does within the confines of its engine looks great! There’s a reason that everyone wants every classic Square Enix RPG to be remade in this engine. It makes grass look really lush, and water effects look great too. The way it displays magic and powerful attacks also looks great. It actually does a really good job delivering heightened expressions for characters, so as a result it can make pixelated characters deliver small facial expressions that really help to aid the vocal performances.
Bottom line, it’s an excellent game in terms of its graphics.
Unlike Octopath Traveller which was a combination of 8 character stories, Triangle Strategy has a more central story and is a lot more focused. There’s definitely a bigger focus on character interaction this time around, which helps to increase your convictions in certain fields, not only enables you to recruit more characters, but you can also gain insight to their individual stories. Each one of them comes with excellent stories and character arcs.
The main story is excellent, it centres around three kingdoms on the brink of a war. In the midst of it all, the main character Serenoa who is the new Lord of a house that acts as a prime military aide to the Kingdom of Glenbrook and is very good friends with the second prince Roland, who is currently engaged to a sister of one of the leaders of another Kingdom.
You also have several other characters from the house that Serenoa leads that act as his advisors in the game. The story takes several twists and turns, it’s not exactly a ‘this whole thing is completely justified’ story, it kind of takes you down several different routes depending on which story decisions you make. The game eventually does pan out to several votes, and you can try to make decisions throughout the game- but during your first playthrough, I wouldn’t count on always getting the choice you want. Because Serenoa is an arch democrat and believes that he needs his advisors on his side for his decisions, every single decision goes down to a vote- and your job is to convince our allies to go down that route. This is one of the reasons I have to do a New Game Plus playthrough on this, and as a result, the game does have multiple endings (four, to be exact). Although, because Nintendo doesn’t have a trophy system, you don’t need to worry about getting them all if you don’t want to.
Because the story itself has a lot of great character moments and arcs, I really found myself getting invested! It’s very much a story of getting your desired outcome, but realising that no decision is without its risks and its costs. It certainly paints a very interesting picture of the world that it creates. In fact, by the end of the game it can be emotionally devastating, particularly if you got the ending that I got the first time.. I think though, if you get the true ending you will see the most satisfying stories. Having all of the individual characters’ stories to back it up if you can unlock them also really benefits the game.
- Mock battles
Mock battles are essentially this game’s side quests, you won’t unlock any of this game’s side missions otherwise. You unlock these through the encampment feature in the game which also acts where you go to upgrade characters abilities and weapons.
The mock battles are very interesting because they essentially are designed to replicate several situations that you’re going to face in the story mission, like if you are surrounded by enemies or if one of your characters is cut off from the rest and left vulnerable.
The game does a brilliant job with these. The good news is that you can access these and you can repeat them as many times as you want, and the rewards always stay the same! So you can use these to grind for certain materials you need to upgrade certain abilities. Also, you can use these to collect the spoils that enemies drop for new materials, plus, you can use these to upgrade your convictions in certain areas which can come in handy before a vote.
The mock battles are really good fun, apart from the fact that they keep the same battle system from the story missions which essentially means you get more gameplay, they were genuinely really good for challenging my thought process when I was going into battles, and I came out with a bunch of extra strategies. You unlock a certain amount on your first playthrough, but you un;okc some harder ones when you start a new game plus. And believe me, the harder ones are not kidding around- they are really challenging. I even found some of them more difficult than the main story missions. They do make for excellent downtime combat, and I would really urge you to give it a go, not only because it’s a great way to level up your characters before battles, but because they will train you for different scenarios really well.
- Multiple Endings
I said that the story was good, but the multiple endings confused me considering that outside of the true ending, it didn’t really feel like the story was aiming for this direction. You’ll have to experience it for yourself to see what I mean completely, but one of the things I found interesting was when you get to the point where you’re going to be locked into one of the four endings, the three that aren’t the true ending kind of feel incomplete. In fact, to a certain extent, some characters were none-factors by the end of the story..
That being said, by getting the true ending on my second playthrough (yes, I did look up a guide, and believe me; you’re going to need one, it’s not too complex but it’s very specific) there was an emotional gut-punch, and you have the canonical ending as far as the developers were concerned, it does feel like it nails the story and no stone is left unturned. As a prime example, there’s one story arc that isn’t answered unless you specifically get the ‘golden route’ ending.
- The conviction system and voting
I actually quite liked these systems when I first started the game. Basically, your convictions are divided into Utility, Morality, and Liberty and are represented by different colours (yellow, green, and red respectively). You gain them through doing different actions in battles like excessive healing gives you extra mortality points whereas placing characters on different tiles to gather spoils dropped in battles will gain you extra utility points. These points are also gained through dialogue choices in cutscenes or during the exploration missions where you go out for extra materials and talk to travelling vendors.
My biggest issue with this is while I think this is interesting from a plot standpoint, a democracy will decide for you which also suits the game narratively in some ways. It led to some really infuriating moments, I actually knew when I was locked out of the gold ending early on because I couldn’t get a vote to go my way- you have to convince others to go your way. You can sometimes convince them to change their mind, in my new game plus playthrough I managed to convince them to change their mind pretty much every time, I only failed once, I think. Though usually, the best route is to get the undecided persons onto your side. But if your score isn’t high enough in a certain area, it’s almost impossible to convince them. The problem I have with this is that it kinda cheapens these moments slightly for me. It kind of forces you into a new game plus as you’ll never get all the votes to go your way the first time around.. It can leave you in a state of feeling powerless.
That being said, I do think that it’s an excellent way of doing things, and it tells you your chances of convincing people to your side- if it says ‘I have a better chance talking to a stone wall’ underneath the characters, don’t even bother under any circumstances. If you want the vote to go exactly the way you want, look up a guide. It will tell you the exact character interactions you need to do. Remember that you need to take advantage of the exploration phases, some dialogue phrases are locked off if you don’t have certain information and as a result, you can be completely locked out of certain decisions. Talk to everyone! Leave no stone unturned.
- Information held off until New Game Plus
I really didn’t like the fact that most of the information is held off until New Game Plus.. mainly because it doesn’t tell you about the conviction system. There is no way to tell what your score is in each of the three convictions in your first convictions- it doesn’t even tell you how many you’re scoring in, it just tells you ‘Serenoa’s convictions have been strengthened’. In New Game Plus it tells you exactly how much conviction you have scored and in what field, and it also tells you which dialogue options will increase your scores. It also gives you the information of which new characters are available to be scouted, and what your score needs to be in each field to do so.
This is all information that I could have used in my first playthrough, and if I had them early on I probably would have made better decisions. The game really implies that you just need to make certain dialogue choices for things to go your way, but that’s not the case. It didn’t tell me how I increased each of the convictions in my battles.
The game does tell you in the New Game Plus, so you can make better choices, so I think the game is actually designed for you to get the golden route ending during your second playthrough. Considering how hard some of the battles are and you have extra battles in the golden route ending, I would insist you get it in your second go- some of these fights are ridiculously difficult. You’re going to be put in a position where you have to make some difficult battle choices.
I just wish that the conviction system was put to the forefront in the first playthrough, I don’t think it was a good idea to withhold information from the player in this regard.
Triangle Strategy is probably one of my favourite tactical RPGs ever. I really, really liked it. I think it’s up there with the Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem games. I didn’t even mention some of the other factors that I really liked, I think that the English voice acting was really good as well as the soundtrack. I can’t stress how good the battle system is, the various characters, the story nails what it needs to do to gain that emotional impact from the player, and it really does feel like an epic.
It’s a game that’s a joy to play, although I will say that this game is really dialogue heavy and there’s a lot of times where the game can feel like a visual novel. Though obviously, on a second playthrough, you can skip any of the cutscenes. You’re going to have a few repeats no matter what.
It’s a game that does invite multiple playthroughs, and you’ll obviously need to do that to see all four endings. I think that the golden ending is impossible to figure out without a guide, but I will say that this game is excellent. If you love good RPGs, this is one to try out. I think it’s an excellent start point for newcomers, especially because of the fact that the difficulty system is very much tailored to them and you can change it at any time. It’s a great tactical RPG from start to finish and despite the fact I had some misgivings about the conviction system, I had a great time playing.
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