Review – Triangle Strategy

Overview

Developer Square Enix, ARTDINK
Publisher Nintendo (Switch), Square Enix (Steam)
Genre Strategy RPG
Platforms Switch, Steam (played on both)
Release Date March 4, 2022 (Switch)
Oct 13, 2022 (Steam)

Ever since Bravely Default, I have kept a close eye on “Team (Tomoya) Asano” within Square Enix. Octopath Traveler and subsequent Bravely Default games were quite enjoyable, but in 2022 Team Asano decided to try their hand at a strategy RPG with Triangle Strategy. Surely the game is better than its title? Let’s take a look!

Early in Serenoa’s journey.

Content Guide:

Fair warning: I played this game twice through on Switch, and then quite a ways in on the Steam Deck. But I have not played every possible path, and I may be forgetting something (it’s a long game). 

Language:  The game’s language is tamer than many of its peers. The word sh-te is present, but I do not remember any other swear words. 

Drugs & Alcohol: There are several references to wine, ale, and getting drunk. 

Sexual Content: A few characters have revealing outfits, but the pixelated art is not very detailed. There is some innuendo in the dialogue. Perhaps most importantly, a central plot point from the beginning is the arranged marriage between the main character and the illegitimate daughter of another nation’s ruler. The romance between the characters is charming and played as a positive thing, but arranged marriages are not viewed positively in the modern Western world. There is a lot there that could be discussed in both good ways and bad if the game is played by a teenage child of yours. 

Violence: The game involves war and political intrigue throughout. In addition to characters dying on the battlefield, key story characters are murdered and assassinated. The art is not detailed enough for there to be graphic gore, but there is blood. 

Spiritual Content: One of the three nations has a strict religious code, and part of it involves their intentional enslavement and mistreatment of another race, as “due punishment” for that race from their goddess. The true reality of this religion within the game is a spoiler that I won’t share, but I would strongly encourage discussing the religious aspects of the game with a child in your household that finishes the game. Working through the negative view of religion within the game can actually help strengthen our own Christian faith if it’s discussed thoroughly and carefully. 

The Scales of Conviction, about to show the result of a vote.

Review

I’m going to spoil this review up front: Triangle Strategy is the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics that I always wanted. 

I play role-playing games primarily for the stories, and Triangle Strategy does not disappoint. While telling a grandiose tale of political intrigue, Triangle Strategy manages to be accessible and deeply personal. I remember spending a lot of time in both Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre within the menus, looking up characters, plot reminders and summaries, and just trying to understand what was actually happening within the plot. I never had to do this in Triangle Strategy. Even with a complex, evolving story, I always understood who was who, why people were doing what they were doing, and what the implications were for my motley crew of characters. The game was very good at summarizing events between chapters, but I also think it was just a cleaner, more refined story being told. 

Within that political intrigue is an engrossing, personal story for the main cast. I cared deeply for House Wolfortt and was invested in the well-being of all of the main characters. The game’s central plot mechanism is that the whole group votes on key decisions in the war, and it’s up to you to persuade the characters to vote a certain way if you want to go down a certain path. While it’s not too difficult to figure out how to persuade characters, so you could have just asked the player to pick what to do next, I’m glad they didn’t. The process of discussing the issues with the rest of House Wolfortt and hearing their legitimate concerns made the storyline feel so much more personal. 

Whacking bad guys with mine carts!

In the past, Team Asano has often held themselves back by doing some kind of crazy oddball thing in the middle of a game that usually backfired (If you played Bravely Default, you definitely know what I mean). In Octopath Traveler, it was far too much post-game work to connect the eight disparate threads together. In Triangle Strategy, the game has multiple endings, and finding the “true ending” was nowhere near as much work as their other crazy ideas have been in the past. You could do it on the first playthrough with a guide; I played blindly and missed the chance but was happy to play the game again and make different decisions. This leads to my only complaints about the game: I wish it was easier to “rewind” to decision points and keep playing, and I felt like the “non-true” (false?) endings were made artificially worse to push players to seek the true ending. The first ending I watched, without its last few moments that felt forced, would have been a satisfying, melancholy ending, and I would still have been eager to play again. 

While the story and the “choose your own adventure” aspect of it are fantastic, what probably caught more people’s eyes when Triangle Strategy was released were the 2D-HD graphics. On the Switch I found that these looked okay, but perhaps a bit blurry. On the Steam Deck, I find the graphics to be much improved. The character models are still a bit too pixelated and blurry for my liking, but the backgrounds looked far more distinct and crisp than they did on the Switch. Perhaps even more importantly, the layout and the graphic design made it easy to understand what was happening on the battlefield. I never felt like the combat was obfuscated by weird layouts or design choices. 

A great example of how crisp the game looks on PC / Steam Deck.

Of course, another key part of the storytelling is audio, and I liked the voice acting well enough. None of the voices stood out to me as amazing performances, but I got used to them and they were part of the personal connection I felt with the cast. I am not a musician, so I’m not all that qualified to say whether music in a video game is “good”, but I do have one metric that I use. I play so many medieval-themed RPGs that eventually the music all blurs together; if I can think of scenes in a game months later and hear the music replaying in my head and enjoy it, then I think that it qualifies as “good”. In that sense, Triangle Strategy has a very “good” soundtrack. 

So Triangle Strategy is a great story with great music and visuals… but I am not reviewing a movie. Triangle Strategy has some truly great Strategy RPG gameplay, and this is in large part because of all of the things it doesn’t do.

A skill tree that doesn’t require a Ph.D. !

I feel like Team Asano looked at past titles in the genre and decided to ask themselves regarding every single design choice: do we need that? Do we need to constantly buy new equipment that just makes numbers bigger? Do we need to be able to have characters change jobs? Do we need to be able to buy new generic units? Do we need to wander aimlessly around an overworld and have random encounters? In doing this, the designers managed to dig into the heart of what truly makes a Strategy RPG fun, and threw away all of the chaff that was there simply because it was standard operating procedure. 

The units in Triangle Strategy each have unique abilities, and they each have a skill tree that is customizable in how you progress. But for equipment? Each unit just equips two accessories. Job changes? Gone. Overworld encounters? Gone. If you need to level, you can do some mock battles at your “encampment,” which also includes everything else you need access to, all in one place. No need to find that one particular shop way on the other side of a big map with the item you couldn’t afford back then. Instead of buying weapons, you “level up” the weapon as part of your skills progression. Everything is perfectly streamlined, but still customizable and fun. I felt like I could actually focus on customizing my party and trying to play well in battle. And Triangle Strategy ties these together well by providing “kudos” for clever moves in battle, which can be cashed in for rewards. 

Kudos!

Triangle Strategy is the most focused effort from Team Asano yet. The gameplay is streamlined and fun, the plot is engaging and heartfelt, and the votes around the branching story are agonizing (in the best way). It is the best Strategy RPG since Fire Emblem: Three Houses and in my mind, the best spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics. 

The Bottom Line

 

The true spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics.

 

9.5

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Derek Thompson

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