Do you like a good story? Because a story is most of what you’ll get from this game.
Both Square Enix and tactical RPGs have had a pretty good run on the Nintendo Switch thus far. Square has mostly erased the memory of its messy late-90s breakup with Nintendo with games like Octopath Traveler, Bravely Default II, and Dragon Quest Builders 1 & 2, while tactical RPGs have seen a rise in popularity through games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and especially Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It was only a matter of time before Square jumped into the tactical RPG waters, and the result was the strangely-named Triangle Strategy, leading players through another story of three kingdoms at war trying to rule the fictional land of Norzelia. Whether the game is good or not is not in question: The story is epic, the characters are captivating, and it’s likely to go down as one of my favorite games on the Nintendo Switch. Whether it’s worth buying, however, is another story, and it boils down to one question: How much action do you like in a game? As much as I like Triangle Strategy, this game is only one step above watching a movie, and if you like a bit more excitement and pace in your games, you’ll probably want to pass this one by.
If there’s one word to describe this game, it is slooooooooow: The game is broken down into chapters, and each chapter includes the following:
- One (possibly two) exploration scenes, where you get to run around a limited area, find a few hidden items, learn some information tidbits to use later in negotiation scenes, and speak with all the cats in Norzelia.
- A ton of cutscenes that tell the story, set up the battles, and provide some backstory for the characters. Even if you skip all the optional scenes, you’re sitting through a lot of dialogue.
- A single battle, which will sometimes take an hour or so to complete (and that’s if you win the fight the first time).
In other words, you can be waiting a long time between battles, and if the story doesn’t interest you, this game will be like watching paint dry (and if you’ve set the difficulty too high, eve the fighting will begin to grate on you). There are some “mock” battles that can help you get your combat fix in between chapter skirmishes, but they’re generally pretty short and nowhere near as involved.
This deliberate (plodding?) pace, however, is also the game’s biggest strength. Unlike most country songs on the radio right now, this game makes you think long and hard about every decision, and the high stakes and serious tone of the game makes every decision feel weighty and purposeful. While this approach made success in combat feel very rewarding, the vaunted ‘Scales of Conviction’ scenes never seemed terribly difficult: Everyone was open to discussion and convincing them was a matter of finding the right information during exploration scenes (at least during the early stages of the game). Still, you always feel like you are involved in important political decisions and discussions, and that they warrant careful and copious thought to make sure you make the right choice.
So what is the story I keep gushing over? The game takes place thirty years after a devastating war over the continent’s primary resources (iron and…salt? Really?), with the three kingdoms (Aesfrost, Glenbrook, and Hyzante) locked in an uneasy alliance. Your character, Serenoa Wolffort, is the son of the Lord of one of Glenbrook’s high houses, and is preparing for a politically-bargained wedding to the half-sister of the Aesfrost archduke when the salt hits the fan and he ascends to house lordship just as the alliance begins to crumble. While Aesfrost and Hyzante have general creeds that set the tone in their respective nations (Glenbrook is a bit harder to pin down due to the role of the high houses), the selfish political calculations of everyone in power are never far from the surface, and navigating these waters are what really give the story its power, especially when the knives (both figuratively and literally) come out. I actually like the messiness of the whole thing: Few characters are pure good or pure evil here, and you generally get a sense of each character’s motivations and why they do what they do.
Lurking behind all of this drama is the game’s vaunted Conviction system, and each chapter presents several decisions whose answers represent one of the three categories: Utility, Morality, and Liberty. Your decisions add up over time, and depending on how much (or how rarely) you choose answers in certain categories, the story will take different paths and different characters will join your ranks. While I’m still a bit too early in the game for the decisions to add up to anything meaningful, they’ve already had an impact on my playthrough/strategy: The Chapter 5 battle tries to force you into a central path that’s teeming with enemies, but I happened to recruit a player right before the battle who could build ladders on the battlefield, which let me scale the walls and take a side path that was much easier to defend! I’m curious to see how deep this system goes in the game, but it’s off to an intriguing start.
The combat system is mostly what you’d expect from a fantasy-based tactical RPG: Allies and enemies move around a grid-based map and try to achieve certain victory conditions (take out all the opponents, reach a certain area, etc.). The combat system itself is reminiscent of FE: Three Houses: You can move and take an action (the order of these is up to you), and actions include attacking enemies, casting spells, or using items. There are a couple minor twists included in this formula (for example, being on higher ground increases your range and damage, and attacking an opponent from behind is an automatic critical hit), but the biggest thing to keep in the mind is the combo system: If you’ve got a player on either side of an opponent, attacking from one side will immediately trigger an attack on the other, letting you gang up on opponents to take them down. (However, enemies can do the same thing, and they’re more than happy to do it if you push into enemy territory too far too quickly.) You’ll quickly discover that the best strategy is to move your forces as a group and find narrow passages that are easier to defend (using elemental attack to create or remove barriers can also help). Overall, the battles can be tricky and force you to think a few steps ahead, but it makes it sooooo satisfying when you make the right calls and claim victory.
Square Enix decided not to include permadeath in this game to allow it to weave a deeper story with its characters, and you start with a core group of eight that show up in most of the cutscenes. While each one has a unique and interesting personality, I find that they mostly distinguish themselves through the combat system. Serenoa is your standard “see ball, hit ball” sword-slinger, Roland combines solid offensive power with some extra mobility and reach, Erador is a tank that’s darn near impossible to kill when buffed, Frederica is a mage that adds some literal fire power to your backline, Benedict is a support unit that can bump up your offense, defense or movement, Anna is a stealthy rogue with the ability to act twice, Geela is Marianne minus the self-esteem issues, and Hughette is a bird-riding archer who can ignore the terrain and grab any high ground she pleases. (In Splatoon terms, if Hughette and Frederica end up “on snipe” together, the enemy is in for a long day.) Each new character brings something a little different to the table, which makes proper battle pre-planning critical for success. (Case in point: My Chapter 5 ladders!)
In terms of the graphics, Triangle Strategy uses the same “2D-HD” style that Octopath Traveler did, and the results are the same: The landscapes look great, the characters are sufficiently expressive, and the style captures the retro look the ghosts of RPGs past without seeming bland or stale (plus it probably makes it a heck of a lot easier to get it to run well of the Switch; I haven’t noticed any frame drops in my playthrough). It’s a solid art direction that enhances the immersion rather than distracts from it. As for the music, it’s usually decent and does a good job setting the mood of each particular scene, but you barely notice when you’re caught up in battle or a dramatic twist.
So where does that leave us? We’ve got a lot of positives (great story, great characters, great combat system) lined up against one glaring negative (seriously, this game is as slow as molasses uphill), so whether or not it’s worth buying Triangle Strategy will depend on whether you find the game riveting or sleep-inducing. It’s a game that feels highly tuned towards story-loving RPG veterans like myself, so if you’re new to the tactical RPG space, I’d probably recommend playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses first and see what you like best about the game. If the story and characters are what draw you in, then you might want to give Triangle Strategy a test-drive; if you like a faster pace with lots of combat, then you might want to look for a game with a bit more action (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle isn’t a terrible option, and it’s got a sequel coming later this year!). Much like with Bravely Default II, Triangle Strategy comes across as a serious, hardcore game for serious, hardcore RPG players, and if you can deal with sitting around and feeling like you’re stuck on rails for most of the game, there’s a lot of fun to be had when you get to start calling the shots.
One thought on “Triangle Strategy: Is It Worth Buying?”
Great post, Kyle! I’ve been on the fence about this game. Tactical RPG is a genre in which I’m late to the party, and as you might know from Twitter, I only recently took the plunge to see if I had the bug with Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
… And I absolutely adore that game to death. So to hear that the story is the real selling point here is OK with me, given that the scattershot nature of FE in the three routes system is probably my only real nitpick with it! I’m a bit more torn on this game’s art style, in that I flip between “ah, that looks neat,” and “really, that’s it?” I’d probably like it in action if I just gave it a chance, but it’s taking that first step …
I am glad to hear, based on what you said, that the combat when we do get it is involved and intricate. It sounds like a good balance to complementing the other elements (a “less is more” strategy, perhaps?).
Also, thanks for linking back to your older reviews of similar games – as I said, this genre is new to me, so I might also have to give Octopath Traveler or Bravely Default II a whirl too!
That’s, you know, after my wallet recovers from FE, Legends: Arceus, Stardew Valley, Monster Hunter: Rise and … oh, there’s a Kirby game on the horizon, you say? Being a Nintendo fan is tough sometimes. 😅
LikeLiked by 2 people
Comments are closed.