Review – Triangle Strategy
Triangle Strategy wasn’t the game I assumed it was going to be. Since its announcement, all I’ve seen is “Final Fantasy Tactics 2″. So when I started to learn about the actual game, I was confused and worried. No Job System? No random encounters? Fixed recruitable party with no permadeath? This wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics 2, what was going on here? Was this going to be a game I liked and enjoyed? Why would the developers go and make some other game instead of the game I spent a lot of time constructing in my head? My hype took a legitimate nosedive right before release because of such ridiculous thoughts. Ridiculous because Triangle Strategy is a phenomenal game for many reasons I can especially appreciate, and listening to such idiotic ideas would have caused me to miss out on a potential personal Game of the Year.
The first thing to understand about Triangle Strategy is that it’s very story-heavy. A lot of dialogue, a lot of cutscenes, and a lot of names and lore to learn. I’ve seen some people refer to it as essentially a visual novel, and while that’s an exaggeration, it’s not a crazy one. People who are averse to slower paced or story heavy games are going to run into issues, especially early on. It’s not a game for everyone, and that’s alright. For others though, those who love to be immersed in a new world, you’re in luck. Triangle Strategy has some of the best characterization, the most coherent and thought out world-building, and flat out best story that I’ve come across in a decent while. When you’re coming out the gate as story heavy as this game does, you need to deliver and Triangle Strategy does.
Set in the land of Norzelia, Triangle Strategy is a grounded tale of politics and war with a dash of fantasy. Norzelia is home to three nations currently in an uneasy peace. The fiercely independent Grand Duchy of Aesfrost, fueled by iron and winter. The noble Kingdom of Glenbrook, where honor and blood intertwine. The Holy State of Hyzante, where all are servants of the Goddess. These three nations are currently recovering from a brutal war known as the Saltiron War, which revolved around the trade of the two title goods. Aesfrost’s Iron and Hyzante’s Salt, with Glenbrook in the middle. You play as Lord Serenoa Wolffort, the heir to the most powerful of Glenbrook’s noble Houses. House Wolffort earned much glory in the war and is second in standing only to the royal family itself.
The best example of what kind of story this game is telling comes early on. You are to be wed to a member of Aesfrost’s ruling family, Lady Frederica, as a sign of peace. Yet Serenoa’s father informs him quite matter of factly: it’s not exactly as it seems. House Wolffort may be of high standing, but is at the end of the day merely a bannerman of the King. Lady Frederica may be member of the royal family, but is the result of a union between the Duke and a concubine. It’s a token marriage of a token peace, intended to be of no great sacrifice or loss should the peace vanish. You’re expendable, your wife is unimportant, and the world is so much bigger than you are. Quite different from most other fantasy games, and had me instantly hooked.
The story and world are clearly inspired by stories like Game of Thrones and Final Fantasy Tactics. Grounded in real life history, with a dash of fantasy. Magic exists, but so does science. Mythological creatures do and did exist, but are far removed from everyday life. It’s a mature and serious story that sucked me in and still hasn’t quite let me go. Far too many fantasy games confuse quantity of lore with quality. Triangle Strategy is a game that has both in equal measure. Yet while story is one of the biggest aspects of the game, it’s not the whole experience. Thankfully, the rest of the game is up to the same level of quality as the writing and narrative.
There’s three major gameplay phases to Triangle Strategy, and one mechanic that ties everything together. There’s the story phase, which we’ve already gone over at length. Fully voiced cinematics, and very numerous especially in the first few chapters. We also have the Exploration and Battle phases. Finally there’s the Scales of Conviction, and the games morality/decision mechanics. The Scales are what ties every aspect of the game together, and elevates this game to the next level. It’s not the first or only tactical RPG to throw in morality systems, but none have done it quite like this.
First, the Exploration Phase. It’s simple, and might seem a waste of time to some. You’ll be tossed onto a map, usually one you’ll do battle on at some point, and you just walk and talk. It seems your classic RPG experience, but is deceptively more than that. In most games when you do this, it’s just to learn things for flavor. Small world-building facts that aren’t inherently useful, but are interesting to know. In Triangle Strategy though, knowledge is power and this is where you gather that power. As you talk to people and learn things, you’ll gain knowledge tags. During the Scales of Conviction segments, you will unlock dialogue options based off of the tags you’ve collected. The more you explore, the more you learn, and the more nuanced you can be during those critical decision making moments. Everything you do matters.
Going into Battle is exactly what it seems. You select a number of units, position them on a square grid battle map, and do turn-based battle. It’s a very simple system to be honest, and that’s part of its addictability. Positioning is simple, terrain advantages are near nonexistent, and height advantages are limited to one level above and below. Likewise, the flanking bonus is as simple as having two units on either side of an enemy. The basic rules are fast and simple, no more than is necessary. That’s the guiding principle for the whole game it seems, and as far as I’m concerned it worked perfectly.
Don’t let the simplicity of the rules mislead you. There is plenty of complexity to be had here, in some cases more than other more upfront complex games. This game may not have a Job System but it does have a huge roster of unique characters. Your roster is fixed and you unlock them as you play. Depending on what choices you make and how you play, you’ll unlock different characters. And each character is genuinely unique, not just from each other but from what you’d expect from other games. They don’t just have different classes and abilities, but wholly new mechanics. For example Anna, your parties Rogue, gets two actions in a row. Roland has his movement increasing horse. Corentin can use his ice magic to change the terrain. And so on.
I may have started off disappointed in the lack of a job system, but I quickly got over it. For one, this system is highly reminiscent of Shining Force. And Shining Force is one of my favorite games ever, with one of the reasons being its character system. Being able to customize your party is great and all, but this kind of system lets you break so many rules and do interesting things. You have to customize classes for balance, otherwise the player can just roll a party of the same class and steamroll the game. But when you limit everything to a max of one use, you can go bananas. And that’s exactly what they did here, and I’m absolutely in love with how it turned out. Toss in all of the personality and characterization and you have a slam dunk of a party RPG here.
Finally, there’s the system that ties everything together. The Scales of Conviction. At specific plot points, you’ll reach a fork in the road. And unlike in other games, where the decision falls to you, here everyone has a say. The party votes where the game goes, and as the leader you can choose to either let the chips fall where they will or sway others to your preferred choice. You do this through dialogue, with your choices powered by your convictions. There’s three Convictions, essentially your morality stats. Morality, Utility, and Liberty. You’ll notice these aren’t your standard RPG alignments, and that’s another example of what kind of game this is. You don’t decide between good and evil here. You simply try to choose the best option that matches what you believe in as a leader. It won’t be easy, but those are always the best decisions.
Triangle Strategy is not a game for everyone. It’s story heavy, individual character customization is limited, and it’s very low fantasy. But for those who don’t mind or enjoy those kind of things, there’s loads to love here. The plot and characters are fantastic, some of the best writing I’ve come across in gaming period. The party and battle system is very Shining Force inspired, a series many have been waiting to come back in some way. As always, the HD-2D graphics are downright gorgeous, and the spell effects never fail to be impressive and beautiful. It may not be the Final Fantasy Tactics 2 that myself and others were expecting, but, honestly, it’s even better than that. Triangle Strategy is its own game that manages to stand on its own feet, which is always impressive for a new IP. I only hope there will be more to come.
HD-2D continues to deliver beautiful results, with the same flashy and stunning visual effects as Octopath Traveler.
The battle system is quick and easy to understand, but with many variables to use and exploit that make it deep, fun, and consistently intriguing.
The soundtrack is fantastic and the voice acting is performed pretty well, both in Japanese and English.
The slow story heavy pace makes it a game not for everyone, but for those with whom it lands you will find few other games that compare.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Triangle Strategy is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Triangle Strategy was provided by the publisher.