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A land divided by its resources, a race of people oppressed by an unfair class system, and common civilians struggling to stay afloat. The continent of Norzelia is by no means your usual fantasy land filled with magic and make-believe issues - its problems are unashamedly real, raw, and underline every facet of Triangle Strategy’s grand chronicle of war.
Square Enix’s latest is, in a word, brilliant. That’s it, review over, nothing more to say here. But no, really, this stunning tactical RPG has so much to offer, and has had me enchanted since I first got my hands on it.
Be sure to check out the trailer for Triangle Strategy below.
I feel like I have to open this review by addressing where this game stands in regards to Square’s 2018 release, Octopath Traveler. It’d be very easy to take one look at it, clock the HD-2D art style, title screen font, and general cryptic naming, and assume it was a sequel of sorts. Yeah, it’s not. If anything, it’d be more accurate to call it a spiritual successor, but even then, it’s not really the case. The aesthetic choices of the game are really where their similarities end - there’s absolutely no crossover between the gameplay, story or characters, so please don’t head into this expecting such. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism at all - as someone who played Octopath, I found myself relieved throughout the duration of Triangle Strategy that it was anything but the same. More on that later.
The game’s plot is quite difficult to summarise, given that almost the entire thing, including the ending, is influenced by your choices - it’s important to note that despite pouring almost 40 hours into it and seeing the credits roll, I couldn’t possibly have managed to have seen all of the different twists and turns that it has to offer. But the basic premise is this - the Grand Duchy of Aesfrost, the Holy State of Hyzante and the Kingdom of Glenbrook have been historically locked in feuds over their resources of iron, salt and trade, respectively.
As we begin our adventure though, we’re in an era of peace - on the surface, that is. We’re introduced to our sword-wielding protagonist - Serenoa Wolffort, the heir to House Wolffort in the Kingdom of Glenbrook. He’s due to wed Frederica Aesfrost, who’s from, you guessed it, Aesfrost - in a partnership set to further strengthen the ties between the two nations. What could possibly go wrong? Given that we have a full game ahead of us, I’m sure you can correctly assume, plenty, but that’s for you to discover.
Each of the game’s chapters is broken down into several elements - well, not all of these are present in every single one, but generally speaking. There’s the fully voice-acted main story events, sub-events (which are basically just more story, but less important stuff, I guess?), and exploration sections, where you’re free to have a wander around some of the game’s locations yourself, speak to the NPCs, and find hidden items. Occasionally, you’ll have a voting section, in which your characters will determine which path to take next (we’ll get onto that soon), and finally, each chapter will conclude with the actual tactical RPG bit, in the form of a battle.
For the most part, these different sections are all divided up really well, and the variation in what you’re doing personally really helped keep me hooked, and not burnt out on any specific part of the gameplay. The only problem I had with this was in the first couple of chapters - the game pulls no punches at all when it comes to slam dunking you with the details of fictional politics, a plethora of locations, and a cast of characters big enough to rival Game of Thrones, and it frankly teeters on being overwhelming. The story sections here felt particularly drawn out, and don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of dialogue throughout the other chapters too, but here specifically I feel like it’d be so easy for someone to be put off. It feels like such a long time between the first chapter’s battle section and the second’s, and at this point, you’re not really invested in the story or characters enough to have the patience for it to exposition-dump on you for so long. This improves significantly past this point though, so I implore you not to be put off if you played the demo and found it a little slow.
That said, it needs to be addressed that Triangle Strategy is very wordy throughout. While I haven’t exactly timed it, the dialogue sections - if you allow them to be fully read out to you rather than skipping ahead yourself - certainly last longer than the actual battles, which could definitely feel like a slog depending on what you’re hoping to get out of the whole experience. Although I personally became a lot more interested in the story as it progressed, and therefore wanted to see all the plot points unfold, there’s no doubt that you can be waiting quite a while sometimes to get into the actual tactical gameplay, and if that’s all you’re really bothered about, this may prove to be annoying. Although, there is a very effective ‘speed-up’ button available if you really do want to skip the whole thing. I’d say that if plot matters very little to you, this might not be the game for you.
The thing that’s been at the heart of all the game’s advertising is undoubtedly the ‘conviction’ system, which is, for the most part, a fancy name for choice-based gameplay, and I genuinely can’t sing the praises of its depth and flexibility enough. Throughout the game, Serenoa will have a number of different dialogue options thrown his way when in conversation with others, and depending on your answer, you’ll influence your invisible Morality, Liberty and Utility values, which over the course of the game, will determine which characters join your army.
Then, there’s the ‘big’ decisions, which become near enough a chapterly occurrence as you progress, and they’re where things get really interesting. The idea here is that your main gang of characters can all make up their minds about the potential choices, for example, whether to visit Hyzante or Aesfrost near the start of the game, and your army will go with whatever decision is voted upon. As you’d expect, you end up having a lot of influence here - you can talk to every single character in an attempt to persuade them to go with whatever your preference is before the voting, which is very democratic. I personally only had one occasion where I failed to persuade enough characters to take my side and lost the vote - I decided to roll with the outcome anyway, but you can quite easily reload your save in that scenario, too.
The thing that’s so refreshing about these though, is that the majority of the time there really doesn’t feel like a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. There’s no stereotypically evil route to take in the game, and similarly, no path is without its negative consequences either. I loved this - everything genuinely felt like it mattered, and it really does push you to stick by your morals (dare I say, your convictions) and enforce what you think is best, regardless of what happens.
Not only that, but your decisions really do send you down a very branching path. You can track this on your “path travelled” in the menu - while there are some points where the story converges onto a main path, most of the time, you’ll find yourself weaving your way through a totally unique, sprawling adventure. This includes the ending, or should I say endings, of the game, too. Not only is the journey to reach the conclusion completely malleable, but there are multiple endings to experience. Obviously, I won’t go into details here, but it's really satisfying that your choices are made to matter through the entirety of the game, and you aren’t just forced into a generic finale regardless of what came before, like so many choice based games are guilty of.
As you’d imagine then, the potential for variation throughout your journey is absolutely massive. While the options aren’t endless, it’d still be unlikely for anyone to have experienced the exact same series of events in their first playthrough as the hypothetical person next to them.
Even though the conviction system is excellent, Triangle Strategy’s tactical gameplay is absolutely where it shines brightest. Rather than using a turn-based combat system, each character’s (and enemy’s) turn is determined based on their speed stat, which definitely makes battles feel more fast-paced.
Unit placement is absolutely key - you can score more damage by attacking from a greater height, as well as land critical hits by striking from behind. Units can also team up by sandwiching themselves around an enemy - if another is already placed at the opposite side to the one you’re attacking from, they’ll swoop in and land an extra hit. Definitely keep in mind though that all these tactics can also be used against you, too - keeping your characters in spots where they aren’t susceptible to these sorts of attacks is crucial.
The map designs are also commendable - not only do they all look super interesting and are well integrated into the events of the story, but most importantly, they’re just really fun to actually play on. Each one is multi-tiered - they’re not just flat surfaces that you send your units across like a pretty pixel-art chess board, but intricately designed, with terrain of differing heights populating the screen. This not only gives you plenty of options to take the high ground to gain the advantage over your enemies, but visually, it also makes each map look like a gorgeous, fully interactive diorama.
Not only that, but interactive elements from moving minecarts, which both transport units across the map and deal damage to anyone unfortunate enough to fall into their path, to volatile traps to ambush your enemies, also help spice up the tactical gameplay experience from chapter-to-chapter. There’s also a nice amount of variation when it comes to the goal of each battle - not every one is won simply by felling all of the enemies. There’s just so many ways that each battle is made different - there wasn’t a single point where things began to feel repetitive or samey.
If you’re someone coming into Triangle Strategy from having played any of the Fire Emblem series in the past, one thing that you might find slightly restrictive is how class changing works, because the answer is that it kind of doesn’t. Each unit can be promoted twice, each time to a more advanced version of the class they arrived as (e.g. archer, sword fighter, healer), and in turn, each time will gain access to shiny new skills. However, there’s no way to change anyone to take on a different role to the one they came with - they very much are what they are, whether you like it or not.
Personally, I didn’t find this to be of any detriment at all - I enjoyed the fact that I only had one flying bow-user, one high-defence tank, and one assassin - it made them all feel more unique, and made me value what they could all offer on the battlefield as individual characters, rather than as their class types. However, I could definitely understand people wanting more flexibility here to adapt the units into whatever they want them to be, so this might not be for everyone, and it seems almost contradictory to have so few options here when the main premise of the game is the importance of your individual choices, and forging a unique path.
Despite their differences, I have no doubt that many people looking at this game with any level of interest will also be those who played Octopath Traveler, and I’d like to make it clear here that I would genuinely recommend Triangle Strategy even more to those who didn’t enjoy Octopath than to those who did. For many people, and myself included, Octopath’s main issue was how grindy it was, but here, that’s very much a thing of the past. Each battle gives you a recommended level before you begin, which from my experience, quickly becomes higher than you’ll naturally find your army at. However, you really don’t need to worry about levelling up before taking them on.
When you lose a battle, you’ll retain any experience gained and levels grown, but any items you used up during the fight will also be returned to you, so it’s the best of both worlds. Additionally, the way experience gain works means you’ll level up mega fast with characters who are weaker than they should be, even if you’re just using a support skill. With all that put together, it means you can very quickly get your entire army up to the recommended level just by attempting the battle, and start again with no consequences if you lose.
Finally, it’d be remiss for me to wrap up this review without taking just a moment to gush over how gorgeous this game is. The HD-2D art style is refined to absolute perfection - the colours are vibrant and the environments are filled with life, and every single location and map in the game is breathtaking. There’s not a single place I thought was visually lacklustre, and it’s an absolute treat to behold, especially in tandem with its sensational soundtrack.
Overall, Triangle Strategy is a must-have for anyone who enjoys a good tactical RPG, pretty visuals, or a choice-based story which makes your decisions actually matter. Although anyone can try the first three chapters of the game for free on the eShop, I can’t emphasise enough how little justice this demo does for the whole game - as each hour passed, I progressively fell further and further in love with it, and the very first thing I wanted to do upon seeing the credits roll was find out what would have happened if I’d made different choices. The replay value it offers is immense - although the main campaign can be finished in around 35 hours, it really doesn’t have to stop there at all. Even with the Switch’s stacked 2022 lineup, I genuinely believe Triangle Strategy is going to be up there with the very best releases of the year.
Pros: Dynamic tactical combat, branching choice-based story, great replay value
Cons: Lack of class customisation options, some slow-paced moments
For fans of: Fire Emblem, strategy RPGs, pretty pixel art
Triangle Strategy releases on Nintendo Switch on March 4th. Review code for Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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