Judging through the success of fire sign series, there’s a healthy appetite for more tactical RPGs. So it was only a matter of time before Square Enix dived back into the genre, and if you’ll forgive its awful title, then triangle strategy is a worthy retro-inspired spiritual successor to the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics that takes a modern approach with deep narrative choices.
Four years since the release of the equally hilarious name Octopathic Traveler, it is only the second game to use Square Enix’s patented HD 2D art style, as classic 16-bit style pixel art is combined with modern lighting, particle and water effects, which is simply a feast for the eyes. While we’ll be getting more of that aesthetic in 2022, including Dragon Quest 3 HD 2D Remake and live one life, triangle strategy feels uniquely suited as an isometric 3D game with a fully rotating camera, reminiscent of a transitional period when Japanese developers continued to use 2D sprites while adapting to 3D environments like Square Enix’s Xeno gearbox and of course, Final Fantasy Tactics.
While the pixel art has charm, an overall earthy palette makes this a grounded affair too. Sure, there may be spells and an elegant narrator, but triangle strategy feels less inspired by JRPG tropes than by them game of Thrones. Not that you should expect sex and violence in a PEGI-12 game (that is, marking character dead with their sprites collapsed in a pool of blood leaves any impression), but the world-building is laced with a rich, intricate web of history and politics layered between the game’s three nations – the feudal kingdom of Glenbrook, the industrious classless duchy of Aesfrost, and the theocratic state of Hyzante – where you can even discover individual characters’ motivations beyond your protagonist’s perspective.
After a period known as the Saltiron War devastated the continent of Norzelia, peace reigned between the three nations for 30 years. Behind the diplomacy, however, is a truce on shaky foundations, with tensions and resentment simmering beneath the surface. Serenoa, a young swordsman and future lord of Glenbrook’s House Wolffort, is in the midst of what threatens to plunge the realm into war once again, and the path he chooses lies in your hands.
The paths allude to the first part triangle strategy‘s title, which is driven by a worldview made up of three beliefs: morality, utility, and liberty (although you may notice that the rule of three is a running theme).
Crucially, decisions crucial to the plot are decided democratically by Serenoa’s closest allies via the Scales of Conviction, although there are some you can do Ace Attorney-Style detective work and argue your case to influence the votes for your preferred outcome. But beliefs also relate to a whole range of actions, including your strategies in combat and even what you do in between explore and camp modes, leading to regular notifications in the top right corner of the screen that “were Serenoa’s beliefs strengthened”.
But what conviction he does not tell you. It’s odd and frustrating that such a core mechanic remains hidden while never spelling out what belief the BioWare-style narrative choices you’re given actually align with, though the upside is that you often have very nuanced answers and no crass binary options. However, when it can affect your paths and even who will join your cause, it’s like making a decision without all the facts.
I suppose keeping it opaque allows players to go with their gut the first time around rather than being overly calculated to get the outcome they want. In any case, decisions remain fascinating and excruciating because it becomes obvious that there is no “right” decision that does not entail a concession or consequence. For example, you can bow the knee to an invading force to protect your own, or fight defiantly even when outnumbered forces you to adopt more destructive tactics that put your people at a disadvantage.
Then, of course, the second part of the title relates to the turn-based tactical gameplay. But while it’s tempting to draw comparisons with fire sign, triangle strategy is much closer Final Fantasy Tactics In this way, turns are based on the speed of individual units, rather than each side moving all of their units in one turn. Despite the title, there is no weapon triangle in combat, instead you gain even more tactical depth with attacks that consider altitude, position, and direction. Terrain can also play a role, as fire magic can set some environments on fire, while puddles of water can spread lightning attack damage. Another important difference is that between battles and difficult decisions you will not find ship simulation between the characters. Even romance takes second fiddle between Serenoa and his bride-to-be, Frederica, though her own arc as the descendant of a persecuted and oppressed people, characterized by her pink hair, is far more compelling, though helping them depends on your choices or not .
The various paths in the campaign affect who you end up fighting, although in my playthrough the turbulent alliances and double crosses of the story meant that almost everyone in the realm would sooner or later become an enemy, which keeps the fights as fresh as the objectives went far beyond simply wiping out the opposition. Your units may not be very customizable beyond their own specific upgrades and promotions, and the large roster means not all get as much screen time (however, using a unit more often leads to scenes that provide its backstory), but every character does stands out. Some have defected from neighboring nations to join House Wolffort, and surprisingly, even typical NPCs like the trader or the blacksmith can be recruited in your camp.
Almost all have unique abilities, like the Apothecary, who can use items at long range against allies, or the Circus Acrobat, who can create a clone of herself as bait. These abilities require TP, which prevents you from spamming a unit’s most effective abilities every time, even though you regain 1 TP every turn. More importantly, every action taken by a unit can help gather XP, so everyone can make themselves useful in addition to fighting on the front lines (however, a follow-up mechanic means your mage can still throw a weak hit when attacking triggered by a more powerful ally positioned opposite the enemy unit).
If, like me, you value every party member, you need to prepare to grind a fair amount of battles to make sure no one is left behind level by level. But even if you choose to only stick with a core group, you’ll still repeatedly engage in optional mental mock battles to help you keep up with the story missions’ recommended level. The grind is at least mitigated by rewarding significantly more XP to low-level units, while keeping any XP gained even if you retreat or lose a fight.
Permadeath is also mercifully absent, meaning you can still take on the toughest fight to the last person, although the option to change difficulty settings mid-campaign is also welcome. That’s ultimately important, because despite the grind, triangle strategy doesn’t want you to be stuck for hours – it’s too epic to tell before it forces you to start another playthrough down a different path you could have taken. where it is missing fire signThe heart makes up for it with strong beliefs.
triangle strategy launches for Nintendo Switch on March 4th.
Where Square Enix’s first HD 2D game is Octopathic Traveler suffered from an incoherent narrative, triangle strategy features rich world-building with an ambitious but deep history of conflict and loyalty that will test your beliefs as well as your tactical prowess. With immersive battles and a diverse roster, it’s an old-school tactical RPG that you’ll be happy to return to and make more devastating conflicting choices.
- HD 2D presentation just as beautiful in 3D environments
- Gripping and far-reaching epic narrative with many contradictory paths
- A diverse cast with unique abilities useful for every battle
- The belief system is frustratingly opaque
- Quite a bit of grinding required