Strategy RPGs (SRPG) are those kinds of games that consume a lot of time, and for many of us, shaped our childhood gaming experience. SRPGs are one of those genres that I spent a lot of time playing as a kid- everything from excellent games like Shining Force, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Growlanser, to Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth. That is to say, I have a wide variety of experience with this genre, both good and bad. Triangle Strategy is a particularly bold push from Square Enix- SRPGs of note are becoming rarer and rarer in the last few years, and many of the greats still hold a special place in people’s hearts. Is Triangle Strategy the store brand Final Fantasy Tactics, or is it a worthwhile title from Square Enix that hopefully won’t be turned into an NFT? Let’s find out.
The story of Triangle Strategy is surprisingly grounded- relying on resource disputes among three countries which spark the flames of war across the entire continent. It is a strange juxtaposition, then, that while the story largely relies on realistic medieval causes for a war to break out, that there are characters who can summon magical fire, and archers who ride around on giant hawks. There is a bit of conceptual whiplash that requires your suspension of disbelief to surmount, because while this game has magic and unique flying mounts, you won’t run into crazy numbers of monsters like you would in most Fire Emblems or Final Fantasy Tactics. Truly, the most dangerous animal is man, as you know.
The unique mechanic of Triangle Strategy is that at various moments of the game, you’ll be presented with large dilemmas that your characters will vote how to proceed, thus changing which places you visit and what combat encounters you see. Your main protagonist, Serenoa, has three stats that are hidden in your first run of the game: Morality, Utility, and Freedom. Morality should be self-explanatory, Utility is your likeliness to use whatever you can to your benefit, and Freedom is your will to take risks. Characters will very commonly ask you questions that will shape Serenoa, and in the background, increase these stats, and in turn influence his ability to change people’s minds at pivotal decision points of the game.
The philosophy stats of Serenoa actually form a very unique and vital mechanic in Triangle Strategy due to Serenoa’s tendency to be a democratic leader. Branching paths will pop up in the story often and will present moral dilemmas such as, “Do we turn over Serenoa’s best friend to the invading army to save ourselves, or do we send them a letter with the drawing of a middle finger?” Each of Serenoa’s advisors will have their own opinions on the matter – so if, for example, protecting Serenoa’s friend is the choice you want, your chances of convincing your more utilitarian party members are wholly dependent on the moral choices you made earlier in the game – because how they perceive your argument is based on your character.
This system isn’t exactly confusing, and you can still achieve the results you want even without the necessary stats by reaching the correct argument. Should you get forced onto a story path you don’t want, just know that it’s only temporary and you’ll soon be back to the main story. Your choices will change what of the story you see for a chapter or two, and you don’t risk getting locked into one path until the end of the game in chapter 17, where the story branches to one of three paths for the ending. There is a fourth path, a golden route with the best ending, but it’s a sizable undertaking to go that route for a first playthrough.
The actual gameplay of Triangle Strategy should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. Characters take their turns in speed order, navigating the battlefield one space at a time as their movement allows, and after performing your action you select what direction your unit looks to end your turn. Triangle Strategy relies on players incorporating height advantages, because you’ll deal more damage to enemies when you tower over them. Similarly, attacking the backs of your enemies will grant you automatic critical hits that deal significantly more damage.
Players on hard difficulty will especially want to take advantage of the variety of crowd control options afforded them – early on, players gain access to units that can blind, bind, poison, or even create icy ground that’s difficult to traverse. Many characters are capable of producing more than just damage for your team, and knowing which characters to use on which map can be pretty invaluable. Additionally, making liberal use of the game’s follow-up mechanic, where you basically get free attacks by surrounding an enemy unit with one of your own, can be the key to efficiently dispatching swaths of foes.
Character progression is somehow both muted and pronounced, simultaneously. You can do simple upgrades that will immediately confer benefits, such as improving damage or maximum health via a shop. Conversely, there’s a promotion system not unlike Fire Emblem where your characters rank up from Recruit to Veteran to Elite, but the game actually hides away what you get by ranking up until after you’ve spent the rare items to do so. Certainly, ranking up Serenoa from Swordfighter to Swordmaster is valuable, and doing so lets him unlock skills after level 20, but you can’t even see what the skills are that you’d unlock until after you’ve done so!
What this means is twofold: The first is that players can, and likely should, look up what characters are capable of outside the game to determine that you’re allocating your resources appropriately. The second is that players can wind up benching characters without even knowing how good they ultimately become. It just seems problematic that all of the information is in the game, just hidden away from the player- it literally shows a “?” when you try to get information on what your characters will learn at later levels. This serves no purpose other than to force players to seek information from outside the game, and it’s 2022 and that’s unnecessary, but it is a very minor complaint.
Combat in SRPGs can commonly be overly complex, as some of them will layer mechanic on top of mechanic and explain at least half of them poorly. Yggdra Union is probably one of my most perfect examples of this problem. Triangle Strategy is not one of those games – battle mechanics are neither overly convoluted, and even the most challenging maps seem thoroughly tuned. There are instances of strong challenge in this game, however, as anyone who played the game on hard and pursued the fourth ending route can tell you.
If a player does hit a point where they feel stuck on a particularly challenging chapter, there’s always the option to grind more materials and money to further upgrade your characters to overcome the challenge. Due to the fact that you can farm EXP and upgrade materials, Triangle Strategy is nowhere near as punishing as old Fire Emblems, Langrisser 2, and more where you simply can’t grind at all. The mechanics are simple enough at the surface, and you’ll feel very powerful when you unlock some excellent synergies and crowd control abilities for your characters that allow you more control over when, and how, your enemies can approach.
That being said, Triangle Strategy is an excellent SRPG with fantastic visuals that look like they came right out of Octopath Traveler. The high definition 2D look likely isn’t for everyone, but seeing the meticulously designed sprites and spell effects flicker above HD water ripples is just as gorgeous as Octopath was in 2018. The music is also superb- a strong orchestral soundtrack with bright and cheery tunes when necessary, and violent, booming tracks when it’s time to fight.
If you find SRPGs difficult to break into then Triangle Strategy could make a great choice as the combat isn’t overly convoluted and, I imagine, would be simple to break into on easy or normal modes. Meanwhile, those who don’t really enjoy the slow and methodical nature of SRPGs likely will not have their mind changed on Triangle Strategy, even though you can speed up turns. Similarly, if you hate story in general, it is worth noting that a significant portion of Triangle Strategy’s runtime is devoted to explaining character motivations, consequences, and machinations, though there is a skip button if you’re particularly impatient with the plot.
Overall, Triangle Strategy is an excellent SRPG addition to the Switch library, offering a more balanced experience than many others available on the platform. The unique approach to storytelling, which can lead to you experiencing completely different chapters depending on choices you make, is more refreshing than I initially thought it would be because it encourages you to play the game more than once just to see the chapters of story and battle maps you had missed. Triangle Strategy is absolutely a worthwhile SRPG experience, and if you’ve enjoyed games in recent years like Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark or the God Wars collection, then you’ll likely have a lot to love in Triangle Strategy.