Choices, consequences, and convictions
Some say war never changes. And indeed, Triangle Strategy feels immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a tactics game in the past. It certainly does enough to be a good tactics game in its own right. It’s where Square Enix and Artdink build on top of the pillars, adding their own touches and twists, that you start to see hints of it becoming much greater.
Triangle Strategy feels old and new at the same time. It will introduce something familiar, then swerve at just the right angle to make it fresh again. There are bits and pieces of many past entries in the tactics genre, and it combines them in novel, interesting ways, while molding in its own spins on both the battles and stories being told.
I’m still feeling my way through the expanse of Triangle Strategy‘s tactics, both on and off the field. But the way it balances between approachability and difficulty, between its story and tense battles, and characters that live on and off the field are something worth experiencing.
Triangle Strategy (Switch)
Developer: Square Enix, Artdink
Released: March 4, 2022
The core of Triangle Strategy is exactly what you expect: a turn-based tactical RPG. Battles take place on a “board” of sorts on top of the world map, a pleasant aesthetic touch, and units take turns moving around the field and using abilities, metered out by points they accumulate turn-over-turn.
In the first few battles, Triangle Strategy seems fairly simplistic. The first units you use are mostly carrying swords, spears, and some basic magic. You can attack an enemy, and get a follow-up hit from an ally if they’re on the opposite side of the target. There’s no job system at work. Each character has their own class, allowing them to be more narrowly defined while still fitting within the broad strokes of certain playstyles.
The first healer you’ll get is Geela, who fills the “white mage” role. She gets direct heals and some buffing abilities. But then you might later recruit a healer who’s also a mounted warrior, or focuses on healing items rather than magic. Maybe a new archer does more damage the further they are from the enemy. And then there’s characters that can lay traps, loot more coins, or give more actions to others.
Triangle Strategy lays a solid foundation and then builds up and out. Magic starts out as a basic cross-shaped fireball, but then it starts to have terrain implications and interactions with other magic. A Scorch spell could take out an enemy unit, but then it would melt the ice underneath my neighboring ally, weakening them to the lightning magic of an enemy mage.
Battles are not too time-consuming, though some definitely feel like a stretched back-and-forth. The map size usually keeps there from being too many turns spent just closing the distance, and story scenarios have kept the fighting centered on focal points around the field.
Progression also feels like it happens at a good cadence, bolstered by the ability to run “mental battles” at the tavern in your camp to earn experience and materials for upgrading stats. Though Triangle Strategy is heavy on story, the battles are always ready and waiting with just a few button presses.
Triangle Strategy‘s story elements have been what struck me the most by surprise so far though. It’s a war story, centering on the tensions between several nations trying to rebuild after a costly war over precious resources. The player takes on the role of Serenoa, the heir of House Wolffort, one of the high houses of Glenbrook. He’s set to be wed to Frederica, part of the royal family of rival nation Aesfrost and half-sister to its Archduke. Joining him are his advisor Benedict, best friend and Glenbrook prince Roland, and a small group of supporting characters.
While all seems peaceful at first, it’s not long until war breaks out again. Aesfrost senses a moment of weakness and strikes, leaving the world in disarray. It’s a political story, one that so far has centered on human enemies rather than the mystical or fantastic. It’s a good one too, especially when it takes time to narrow in on characters, like the tension of Frederica and Serenoa’s betrothal after Aesfrost invades, or how Roland handles the mounting pressures the world puts on him.
Story happens either in dialogues, which play out like the sort of story scenes you’d normally see in an old-school tactics RPG, or in exploration. These parts let me roam around a bit, talking to companions and picking up resources. They also let me survey the battlefield.
Those are some of my favorite moments in Triangle Strategy, where it starts to show where it builds upon previous ideas. In one chapter, I knew an ambush was likely waiting in the wings for my party, and I had the opportunity to walk around the area. Ostensibly I was doing so to just rest and chat, but I knew a fight was coming, so I started eyeing out different elevations and choke points.
One of the best early game fights arrives if you decide to not hand someone over to another nation to spare Wolffort from the war. Triangle Strategy uses a branching narrative to weave in choices, where I had to decide what course I wanted to take. And it wasn’t just down to me either, but to my traveling companions; each one had their own opinions, and would weigh them on the scales to decide for the group.
My decision to not acquiesce to the demands of Aesfrost required exploring the town to learn what I could, and then presenting my arguments to those I wished to sway. It’s not always easy to do. I fell into a trap of thinking that just because I had discovered some information, it would be a silver bullet for swaying allies to my cause; but they’d turn them around, making me realize I was just playing and not reasoning.
My reward for swaying them was the Aesfrost army brought to my doorstep, in a seemingly unwinnable fight. It was here that Benedict advised me of a secret defense that could sway the tide of battle: the canals that run through the city could be flooded with oil, creating deadly fire traps. This would even the numbers. It would also destroy the homes of Serenoa’s subjects.
I was so, so determined to not use this method. I carefully concocted the perfect defense, maximizing chokepoints to funnel their superior forces and numbers into manageable streams. The rooftops, terrain, and tools were all to my advantage. My ice mage conjured walls to stymy the onslaught, my smithy built traps to fling forces backwards, and my ranged units rained fire as my bulkier infantry held the line.
Yet it still was not enough. The Aesfrosti host was simply too much. By the time the imposing General Avlora and her greatsword advanced on my position, it was already falling to pieces. Reinforcements pierce the outer walls, seeping units into positions behind my carefully laid chokepoints.
I beat a hasty retreat, as units fell to a rain of blades and arrows. When I had finally fallen back to my final hold, I had less than half my forces standing. In desperation, I saw a moment where Avlora was occupied by two of my units, right in the detonation zone of a fire trap.
I waited a moment before I tripped it, even though I knew several turns in advance I’d have to. There’s no permadeath in battles, so my vanguard and smithy were still standing by battle’s end. But I razed several homes to the ground. Frederica lamented the loss. It was a moment where Triangle Strategy actually challenged my convictions: do I hold out, in the face of grim defeat, against what I know is wrong? Or do I take the shot, knowing its consequences? Triangle Strategy measured my character in that moment.
Through the rest of the campaign, every time I’ve been back to Wolffort, a child has been standing outside the charred outline of a house. I’ve made decisions to help the people since then: I’ve secured more supplies, support, and ensured we have no reason to fear Avlora and her army knocking on our door again. But that kid reminds me that I razed his home to the ground.
I’ve still got a ways to go in Triangle Strategy, with just about 20 hours clocked at the time of this writing. And at this point, it’s checked the boxes for your standard tactics RPG. It has interesting classes, with clever interplay and reasons to switch up my lineup for each battle. Its music and presentation are wonderful. In those ways, it’s what I was hoping it would be.
What’s kept me intrigued has been where Triangle Strategy surprises me. And it’s in those moments where a decision has carried through the story. Not all of them are as massive as starting a war or the death of a character; some are simply reflected in the world. I chose to utilize those fire traps, and there was a consequence.
Alongside the branching narratives, it gives me reason to already be thinking about second or third playthroughs while I’m still in my first. There’s also the chance to recruit different characters, and see how my choices shape certain scenes. Maybe in another war, with another strategy, with a more seasoned commander at the helm, I won’t have to destroy those homes.
[This review-in-progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]