Tactical RPG Fans Should Dig the Obtuse Triangle Strategy

Games Reviews Triangle Strategy
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Tactical RPG Fans Should Dig the Obtuse <i>Triangle Strategy</i>

Triangle Strategy makes you feel like your decisions matter, whether it’s on the battlefield or in a debate. It frequently goes above and beyond its lackluster English voice acting and glacial start to deliver a story rife with political intrigue and poignant choices. Its style of storytelling threads the needle with expert precision promising to keep most players engaged, even if it’s not as focused on tactical gameplay as it is on story and worldbuilding.

Once it finally gets going, it constantly keeps the player on edge: set on a continent held together by tenuous treaties between dogmatically divergent nations 30 years after an all-out war over salt and iron, war could break out again at any moment. The continent’s three nations—the hyper-capitalist duchy of Aesfrost, the egalitarian holy state of Hyzante, and the Kingdom of Glenbrook, a seemingly idyllic monarchy with a seedy underbelly—are in many ways kept in line by a treaty negotiated the Wolforts, a house with unparalleled martial expertise and political sway among other lords. The main character, Serenoa, and many of Triangle Strategy’s supporting cast hail from House Wolfort.

Each nation and house has a complex relationship with the next, but Wolfort always finds itself in the middle (and eventually the winning side) of each of them. The game doesn’t do the best job of introducing the player to its cast of characters or its world. Instead, it opts to throw a lot at the player rather than easing them in. This makes for an extremely dense, slow start that will turn off many players. Characters’ names and introductions fly on and off the screen at a breakneck pace as worldbuilding interweaves itself into every line of dialogue.

Though this isn’t quite as extreme of an example of an RPG taking hours and hours to finally hook a player, as something like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 might, Triangle Strategy can still be a slog. Its first three or so hours are shakily broken up and redeemed by the battles that take place in-between cutscenes.

The shaky start gives way to a deliberate, almost plodding narrative driven by ambition, politics, friendship and idealism. Triangle Strategy doesn’t just focus on its main characters, either. Brief, optional cutscenes will show up in-between missions that help build the story’s fantastic sense of dramatic irony and bolster its side characters and villains further.

At multiple points throughout Serenoa’s journey, the player is tasked with making difficult choices. Some are minor choices, like determining a plan of attack on an invading army, while others will determine the fate of entire countries. Regardless of the stakes, Triangle Strategy does a fantastic job of not only making the player consider every angle of each decision but making each decision’s impact tangible. This comes from one of the game’s most creative ways of facing a player with a decision: instead of just outright asking the player what they think, they’re supposed to convince others to vote with them.

In these negotiation sequences, the game’s core cast of characters are often in disagreement. Being the leader of the group, though not always the most powerful, Serenoa will opt to bring out The Scales of Conviction: a literal set of scales in which characters will put a token in to cast a vote. The player character doesn’t get a vote, so the actual decision will be entirely dictated on your negotiating skills.

It’s always possible to get your desired outcome, but it’s not always easy. This conceit ties back into the game’s overall narrative really well; it nails the feeling that your decisions have weight, but also that it’s impossible for a politician or ruler to truly please all of their constituents.

As the story progresses, the rippling effects from your choices become waves. The choice you’re forced to make at the beginning of the game’s third act is especially challenging—unlike previous choices, the impact of your decision will clearly have personal implications for members of your party and court.

The decisions you’re made to make serve the story well. Triangle Strategy’s world is rich with conniving, mustache-twirling villains with complex ambitions. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for its cast of heroes—at least not most of them. Ultimately many of them are redeemed by their relationships with each other and the game’s complex, well-devised world rather than their individual strengths as characters. That’s not necessarily a stand-out issue, since it’s a clear ensemble piece, but its flat English voice acting contributes to this problem.

Of course, Triangle Strategy is a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics in many ways, drawing influences from the PlayStation classic and subsequent series of tactical RPGs. Triangle’s tactical gameplay stands out compared to many of its contemporaries. For example, unlike other modern tactics games, the game’s action order is dedicated by a speed stat, rather than just alternating between the player and the AI.

This lends an interesting pace to battles. Triangle Strategy’s system feels rigid compared to games like Fire Emblem or XCOM, which allow players to move every unit in a single turn. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that players looking to make decisive, big plays that utilize all their units might need to think with more flexibility since multiple enemies’ turns could separate a play that requires a healer and a tank, for example.

The game’s encounter, environmental and enemy design balance out its moment-to-moment rigidity well without sacrificing challenge. Taking the high ground with an archer might place it in a perfect position to deal lots of damage, but it also exposes the unit to attacks from enemy units without much support.

Players are also provided with a wealth of optional side characters to unlock if they see fit. These characters add a much-needed additional layer of flexibility and diversity to the game’s cast and make it so there’s not just one right way to approach a battle.

In that same vein, Triangle Strategy is very forgiving—not necessarily in its gameplay, but in its systems. Characters keep all loot and experience gained in battle, even ones the player loses. This eliminates the need for grinding if the player’s underleveled in most instances. However, if your party isn’t at a battle’s recommended level, which mine rarely were (nor did they need to be), they’re also able to take on optional, replayable mock battles in the game’s hub to help level up their party.

The mental mock battles may redeem Triangle Strategy for more devout tactics fans who come to the game for a purely tactical experience, rather than a narrative one. There’s significantly more story and world-building to Triangle Strategy than there is actual strategy gameplay. That might disappoint some, but players can skip nearly every dialogue and exploration sequence if all they want is to experience the tactical action. However, they’d be missing out on an incredibly well-told story. Given the game’s shaky beginning, it wouldn’t be surprising if some players opt out, either.

After its dull beginning, Triangle Strategy sings. Its complex narrative and interpersonal relationships build a lived-in world that makes the player care about their decisions and feel the impacts therein. Poor performances from its one-dimensional heroes are sure to turn some off from what’s otherwise an incredible narrative that twists politics and dramatic irony in ways few other games have. Though it might lean closer to a visual novel than a tactics game at times, the two occasionally disparate elements combine to create a game that goes beyond its individual parts.

Triangle Strategy was developed by Artdink and published by Square Enix and Nintendo. It is available for the Switch.

Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.