Square Enix is mainly known for its traditional JRPGs, but fans of the old school Final Fantasy Tactics games are aware that the publisher can put out a pretty good strategy title when it puts its mind to it. Rather than dive into its Final Fantasy branding for a new strategy game, Square has put out something totally free of it with Triangle Strategy. The result is a cerebral feast, one that should satisfy strategy players of all skill levels. It's a lot of fun to play, just as long as you're willing to sit through the story. And, brother, there is a lot of story to Triangle Strategy.
In the House
Triangle Strategy's primary motif is that it operates in threes. To that end, the story centers around the continent of Norzelia, which mainly revolves around three factions. Players will take on the role of Lord Serenoa of House Wolffort, one of the royal houses of Glenbrook. The story starts simply enough, with Serenoa being placed in an arranged marriage and taking part in various festivities with his best friend, Prince Roland. However, the story soon becomes one of political skulduggery. The three factions are coming off decades of war over the land's greatest resource: salt. However, some still aren't ready to put the conflict to rest, as Archduke Gustadolph of the Aesfrost region weaves a web of deceit in order to propagate war against Glenbrook and, eventually, against Hyzante, the continent's primary keeper of salt.
In many cases, the narrative is a straightforward and comprehensive one. Given how much time Square dedicates to it, I would certainly hope so. There are a lot of cutscenes in Triangle Strategy, so many that those looking to just get into the action will lose patience with the game at least once. They're not terribly done. The HD-2D art style is visually pleasant to the eye and the story is fully voice acted. The acting is competent and gets much better towards the end, once the stakes pick up. The issue with the story isn't the quality (not entirely, anyway, put a pin in that for now), but it's how much of it there is. To give you an idea of how much combat takes a back seat to the narrative, your characters will often be underleveled heading into actual battles because there are so few opportunities to level them up. Instead, those who want to level up their characters will have to dive into mock battles, which are basically context-less skirmishes that start to feel like busy work after a while.
The other issue with the story is that sometime around the 15-20 mark, it will diverge into multiple paths, each with their own ending. Some of those paths will basically take the story to that point and throw it out the window. To put an example out there, the path I wound up going down had me thinking about the political subterfuge surrounding the Glenbrook throne, the villainous Archduke, and the drama surrounding the nobles, the citizens, and everything else about that main plotline that I had spent hours getting familiar with. Then I threw it out the window, because suddenly, none of it mattered anymore. I had gone in a completely different direction, jumping into a totally different story, and getting an ending that had almost nothing to do with the entire first half of the game. Obviously, that's not going to be the case with all of the endings, but this outcome made me feel that Square couldn't quite tie everything together as neatly as they might have wanted to.
One other item to note about the story is that it can diverge down branching paths at various points and most of it will depend on Triangle Strategy's voting system. Serenoa rides into battle with his close circle that includes seven other main party members. By the traditions of House Wolffort, critical choices are decided by the Scales of Conviction. Everybody's vote is final and Serenoa is bound by the majority. Before getting everybody's vote, Serenoa can attempt to sway people's votes through information he gathered around town in the game's exploration phase or through his own convictions. The latter is where things get troublesome.
Whether it's actions taken in battle, dialogue choices with NPCs, or even in how items are used or how characters are built, nearly everything in Triangle Strategy will shape Serenoa's convictions towards one direction, whether it's Morality, Utility, or Liberty. (THREE! Three conviction values! Ah-ah-ah!) What direction that is, you'll have no idea, and that becomes a problem when hitting the game's voting sections. Depending on what type of character Serenoa is, swaying a voter to his side can either take minimal effort or be outright impossible. I've had entire paths closed off to me because Serenoa's convictions at that point made it so that the other party members would stubbornly vote their own way. In several cases, the exploration phase didn't even matter. Dialogue options would unlock, but they would sometimes prove entirely meaningless, as Serenoa's words would go totally ignored.
On the one hand, the Scales of Conviction is a heavily nuanced system and I can't help but admire it. On the other hand, I wish I knew exactly which convictions I was building with Serenoa, just so I would have an idea of how exactly I closed a certain path off to myself. To Triangle Strategy's credit, the game will eventually make that critical information available... after you unlock New Game+, a reveal that left me thoroughly annoyed.
I have the high ground
If you've read this far, you may be wondering, "When are we getting to the combat?" That's the Triangle Strategy experience in a nutshell, dear reader.
Having said that, Triangle Strategy's combat delivers beautifully. This is turn-based strategy with heavy variety, complex layouts, and delightful challenges. Mastering combat means learning how to battle with multiple units, many of which serve different roles. Serenoa's sword fighting is not the same as Frederica's fire casting, which is not the same as Hughette's archery. Some units can attack from a distance. Others are more effective when attacking from behind. Just be careful, because leaving yourself open can lead to getting sandwiched between enemies, at which point they can attack twice. Finding a balance of units isn't enough, but players must also know where to lay them out in order to make the most of them. They need to recognize which attacks make the most of their abilities without leaving them open to debilitating counter-attacks.
Even better than that is that Triangle Strategy utilizes battlefield principles of elevation. Obi-Wan telling Anakin in Star Wars, "I have the high ground" isn't just a meme. Having the high ground is meaningful in this game, because it allows units to get in more advantageous strikes and even allows some of them to expand the range of their attacks. Characters like cryomancer Corentin can lay down ice walls to block off paths. Healers can be placed up high for safety. Arrow-slingers can fire from above and do heavy damage. All of this feeds into a player's approach in battle and most of it can be mixed up depending on a certain fight's win conditions.
Speaking of win conditions, there are going to be several instances where players will want to mix up their unit layout. It'll depend on the types of enemies, the stage terrain, and exactly what players have to do to win. Having a healthy mix of leveled up units will be key, but the problem, again, is that there are so few opportunities to provide that experience. By the time I rolled credits, I had at least five units that I never took into a single battle because I didn't have the time or patience to level up through the game's tedious mock battles.
For the honor of House Wolffort
Square Enix put a lot of thought and a lot of heart into Triangle Strategy. It's a story that centers around numerous characters, many of whom are capably fleshed out by the end. There are even supplemental side stories that help give more shine to some of the story's lesser faces, which is nice, even if none of them have any playable elements to them. The story takes some undesired turns, especially once it comes time to choose a final path, but it's detailed and suspenseful.
The issue with the story is, it's a lot. That can be interpreted as a credit to Triangle Strategy's turn-based battles, which are beautifully designed, fun to play, and easy to understand. You find yourself wanting more of these fights, but the exposition-heavy cutscenes far outweigh the instances where you'll actually play the game, which is unfortunate.
If nothing else, Triangle Strategy shows that Square Enix has some fire in its turn-based tactical engine. It just needs to balance its scales between exposition and gameplay a little better.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Triangle Strategy is available now on Nintendo Switch for $59.99 USD. The game is rated T.
- Beautiful HD-2D art style
- Thoughtful story that fleshes out multiple characters
- Brilliant tactical gameplay that's easy to learn
- Voting system adds greatly to character building experience
- Varied units that are fun to play
- Exposition cutscenes heavily outweigh combat sequences
- Some endings render earlier story pointless
- Not enough engaging ways to grind for experience
- Serenoa's conviction path is unclear (until New Game+)
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Triangle Strategy review: Three sides to every story