Triangle Strategy Review (Switch)
Release Date: March 4, 2022
File Size: 6.3GB
Developer: Square Enix
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
No game review is a monolith, able to separate their personal preferences or biases from evaluating each new title. We all look for something different out of each experience. Some love nothing more than a series of compelling game systems to sink hours into. Others might look for an amazing story to get lost in. Others simply grow attracted to specific publishers, directors, series, or art styles. Sometimes those preferences coalesce around a single game, creating the perfect storm of game elements to make a game feel like it was “made for you.”
Triangle Strategy sits in a weird place for me on that spectrum. I can 100 percent affirm that I am a gamer who adores Square Enix’s HD-2D engine, and I have greatly enjoyed almost all of Team Asano’s projects in the past. At the same time, though, my evaluation of other tactical RPGs has always been tainted by the fact that the first game in this genre I ever played was also perhaps the best ever made – Final Fantasy Tactics. Having a Team Asano game, using the HD-2D engine, trying to recapture the magic of Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics is a recipe that could leave me singing the game’s praises or being quietly disappointed that it doesn’t quite stack up to what is maybe my favorite game of all time.
With these overlapping biases all in place, I could do nothing else but set out to review this game from as objective a place as I could muster. The results, I think, will surprise no one who has given the game even a passing glance.
Triangle Strategy comes right out the gate with the political intrigue the genre is known for, describing the tense relations between three rival nations: The Grand Duchy of Aesfrost, a major producer of iron, The Holy State of Hyzante, who controls the only source of salt on the continent, and The Kingdom of Glenbrook, who rests between these two powers, controlling lush farmland and advantageous trade routes. Thirty years before the game begins, the ever-present tension created by these resource disparities boiled over into a war that only ended when an independent clan, the Wolfforts – who had been allied with Hyzante against Aesfrost and Glenbrook – secretly negotiated with the King of Glenbrook to bring peace back to the war-torn continent. The Wolffort clan then became “House Wolffort” and was integrated into the nobility of Glenbrook, creating a powerful buffer state between the more aggressive Aesfrost and Hyzante.
At the start of the tale, the heir of House Wolffort, Serenoa, is pledged to be married to the half-sister of the leader of Aesfrost, Fredericka. Their marriage represents a hopeful (though cautious) bond of kinship between the two nations. At the same time, all three nations embark on a joint venture to mine iron within Glenbrook’s borders. While it may appear that a lasting peace may finally be within their grasp, Serenoa is soon dragged into a new conflict that quite literally reshapes the map of the continent.
HOW that map is reshaped – and how the war progresses in general – depends largely on the choices Serenoa (and the player who controls him) makes. At various points throughout the adventure, House Wolffort will use the “Scales of Conviction” to make major decisions that affect the game’s plot. The Scales operate as a fairly simple voting tool, with key members of your party voting on what they think is the best course of action. Critically, the leader of the house, Serenoa, gets no vote unless there is a tie, though he may speak with the party members before the vote to try to influence their decisions. What this means in practice is that there are times when you CAN’T make your party do what you want, and your responsibility as leader of the house is to go along with the democratic decisions of your advisors. I personally LOVE this element to the game, as it keeps the player immersed directly in the story. I do understand how other types of gamers may be frustrated, however.
On the first playthrough of the game, this situation can be surprisingly common, depending on how you play the game. Dialog choices, gameplay choices, and other seemingly mundane actions all affect Serenoa’s “conviction” – a series of initially invisible point values that influence how convincing Serenoa may be before a vote is cast. He can gain conviction in Liberty, Utility, or Morality. Each choice made on the Scales of Conviction will align with one of these values, as do the three nations and three party members that are central to the game’s story. This includes Roland, Serenoa’s best friend and prince of Glenbrook, Fredericka, Serenoa’s betrothed and member of an oppressed minority group, and Benedict, a veteran of the Saltiron War and good friend and advisor to Serenoa’s family for decades. Each of these characters and convictions are also directly tied to the game’s three primary endings, which play out in dramatic fashion and all come with their own drawbacks and regrets. A “true” ending, known as the Golden Ending, can also be unlocked should you follow a specific path through the game’s branching storyline.
Overall, the narrative of the game is well executed and engaging all the way through. If the storytelling ever does get bogged down, it mostly comes in the form of side stories that can be unlocked for each of your party members. There are times when you can unlock large batches of these stories all at once, and if – like me – you feel the need to see ALL available stories before moving on, it might take you a while.
Triangle Strategy is a game about war, so bringing a competent tactical combat system is a must. Thankfully, the game handily delivers on its premise, presenting a series of creative and often strategically difficult story battles across the many chapters of the story.
The combat system itself is fairly standard in comparison with other games in the genre. The player controls a party of about 10 characters, moving them across a square-based grid to attack the enemy party. The game masterfully deploys environmental effects to increase battle variety, whether it be in the form of simple difference in terrain or elevation or more complicated systems like traps, pulleys, mine carts, or switches. Even better, certain party members you will recruit over the course of the game come with abilities designed to alter these environments. You will recruit units who can lay their own traps, change the weather, create walls of ice, or set the ground ablaze. Rather than being simple gimmicks, these abilities are often the key to victory, particularly at higher difficulties. Honing in on particular effective strategies can be very rewarding.
To execute these and other, more standard special attacks, characters rely on a simple TP system to execute their moves. Each character starts with a small amount of TP at the beginning of the battle, and gains an additional TP each turn. Abilities costing one TP can effectively be cast every turn, but doing so won’t allow the character to save the necessary TP for an ability costing three or more. This simple resource management mechanic can be a bit cumbersome early on – especially for mages – but as units progress and unlock more abilities over the course of the game, you can master the systems at play and create powerful (and sustainable) combinations. Finding how different characters and abilities interplay with each other is something I’ve always loved about Team Asano games, and I’m thrilled to see those elements play out in the tactical space.
To help smooth over any rough edges that may be present in combat, the game also offers the player access to “Quietus Points” – a special currency shared by the party that has a strict limit each battle. Using Quietus, units may execute abilities from a bank of skills that can be purchased at a special shop throughout the adventure. These abilities can pull your proverbial butts out of the fire in a pinch, allowing you to revive a key party member, teleport a unit into or out of safety, or refresh someone’s turn to immediately trigger the next in line. When spent carefully, Quietus can spell the difference between victory and failure on a myriad of maps. I personally spent a good deal of my first run completely ignoring Quietus, only to realize later that it could have saved me a good chunk of time on more difficult maps (whoops).
In contrast to the game’s sharp combat system, the character progression system leaves a lot to be desired. Individual characters are locked into a single class, with a series of upgrades locked into a three-tiered system. The majority of these upgrades are simple stat boosts, though a few will enhance or unlock new abilities. Customization, in this scenario, is mostly lacking. While you can find a bit of nuance in the system, each character will forever be locked into a set role with little deviation possible. Unfortunately, the game’s experience curve is also just a hair undertuned, and even those players working with a dedicated 10-person party will find themselves needing to grind between story missions. This is, I think, one of Triangle Strategy‘s biggest weaknesses.
Grinding is performed at the player’s base camp, where they can speak to NPC to engage in “Mental Mock Battles,” a series of preset scenarios with static enemy line ups, objectives, and difficulty. This means that as you progress through the game, you will really only have a tiny handful of mock battles that can give your party meaningful experience at any given time. Compared to the measuring rod that is Final Fantasy Tactics, which offered leveled encounters against multiple potential line ups across a large swath of battlegrounds, it’s clear which game comes out on top here.
This slight lack of tuning plays out across the board for other means of progressing your characters as well. Many upgrades require specific items dropped by enemies or available in limited quantities in the shops to unlock. For players not looking for an 100+ hour experience, collecting the necessary items can be a chore. Add an additional gold requirement to the mix, and you’ll find yourself grinding the same, monotonous mock battles over and over again just to get one or two upgrades. Towards the end of my first run, I just got tired of the mock battles entirely, dropped my difficulty down a bit so I could tackle story missions underleveled, and let the credits roll.
Coming Back For More
For players who truly are gluttons for punishment, Triangle Strategy offers a New Game Plus mode that allows you to replay the story from the beginning, while carrying over your party, items, equipment, and conviction scores. The retention of conviction makes it easier to convince your party to change their votes at critical points in the story, making each successive playthrough more controllable. And with four different endings to discover, that freedom can be a blessing.
New Game Plus also levels up the enemies on each map, and increases the difficulty by some marginal amount, even with the settings still on normal. This also applies to the mock battles. Higher level enemies come with more abilities and new challenges, forcing players to rethink familiar strategies and (sometimes) just outright cheese their way through.
For players entering New Game Plus for the first time, be warned that the first battle can be a doozy. This is the only battle where you are locked into a core set of characters, who are poorly positioned to boot, making what was once a simple engagement against weak opponents into an absolute slog. Things get better once you have access to your main party again.
Despite lacking a standout character progression we’ve come to expect from both tactical RPGs generally and Team Asano games in particular, Triangle Strategy is still a force to be reckoned with. The tale it weaves is mature, the choices forced upon the player nuanced, and the various endings may be truly heartbreaking or uplifting, depending on your particular point of view.
Whatever its faults, Triangle Strategy is yet another standout exclusive for the Nintendo Switch, and a must-play for strategy and RPG fans alike.