What do you get when you cross role-playing games with the tactical turn-based combat of chess? Add a hint of political intrigue, mixed together with an intricate pixel art-style, and add a generous serve of unit management – the end result? The humble strategy RPG. Pioneered in the mid ’90s thanks to iconic series like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, this spin-off genre amassed quite a cult following. By providing a slower, more methodical style of strategic gameplay, and allowing the perfect platform for vast political narratives to unravel throughout the games’ course, this genre set itself apart from any other available at the time.
Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1, 1997) helped to popularise the genre.
While the giants of tactics are now long since forgotten, Square Enix now seeks to create an SRPG renaissance with their latest strategic masterpiece. Following in the footsteps of the critically-acclaimed Octopath Traveller, the first in a distinct retro revival known as the “HD-2D series“, Square’s latest offering isn’t square by any means. It’s triangle. Triangle Strategy.
This oddly-named strategic RPG captures every single element that makes this genre great: thought-provoking combat interspersed with gripping stories with themes of human morality, and a stellar cast of memorable characters. Thrusting the player into the midst of a nation at war, Triangle Strategy not only requires the player to command their people in the battlefield, but take charge in forging the path ahead through their own convictions. Where will your convictions guide you? Will you save the nation from injustice, prosper at the expense of the kingdom, or wage war like the very tyrants you thought to overthrow? Tip the scales of conviction and forge your path in our review ahead.
Norzelia, a prosperous continent once oppressed by the throes of a colossal 30 year war, is blessed by an era of peace following decades of torment and hardship. Though they now work in co-operation, distributing their precious resources of salt and iron among one-another, the proud citizens of this continent are still divided into three distinct factions: Aesfrost, Hyzante, and Glenbrook.
Sitting atop all Norzelia in its harsh and frostbitten mountains is the Grand Duchy of Aesfrost. Known for their prowess in ironwork and forging, their leader Archduke Gustadolph, who rules with an iron fist, rewards those in the country for their prowess and skill, not their lineage. Seated upon a gargantuan forge, Aesfrost provides the continent of Norzelia with rich veins of iron, which are processed and fashioned into weapons and tools. Assisting his rule are Gustadolph’s siblings, trusted advisors and generals, and oddly enough, a woman of Rosellan heritage, a downtrodden race identified by their distinct pink hair. Though there is far more to Aesfrost than just iron and snow, as there is one precious resource they desire above all others: salt.
Aesfrost’s harsh climate creates a strong and resilient populace hardened in iron.
Nestled within the towering walls of the Goddess’ Shield is The Holy State of Hyzante, a devout land under the protection of the divine goddess. Overseen by The Holy One, an unseen hierophant who resides within a secret chamber, this religious state is governed by none other than the Saintly Seven. Uniting the citizens of Hyzante under the holy light of their beloved Goddess, all who reside within the walls are highly devoted to their faith. For it is the Goddess who has gifted them with the blessing of salt, a precious ingredient harvested within the city walls at a body of water known on as The Source. Though not all within Hyzante are followers of the Goddess, as at the heart of the prosperous city resides a colony of Rosellan slaves who are forced to harvest salt from The Source to atone for their sins.
The Saintly Seven of Hyzante, who heed the voice of the Holy One and spread the teachings of their Goddess.
Bridging the gap between these two powerful nations is The Kingdom of Glenbrook, a just and righteous kingdom who band together under the banners of three courageous houses. Praised for their intervention in the Saltiron War, which ravaged all of Norzelia 30 years ago, the citizens of Glenbrook follow their royal leader, King Regna, who is responsible for this era of peace. Among his bannermen is one Symon Wolffort, whose son Serenoa is soon to be wed to the sister of Archduke Gustadolph. Through the joining of their two great nations, the people of Glenbrook and lord of their high houses welcome the coming years of well-being and flourishing trade across the kingdom.
The proud people of Glenbrook and high house Wolffort, knowing for ending the vicious Saltiron War.
However, this era of peace is sadly short-lived, as betrayal and war once again erupt across the land. And the catalyst for this conflict? Salt. This powerful tale of bloodshed and betrayal stands front and centre as the focal point of Triangle Strategy, and is truly one of the most compelling ever told.
As the story of Triangle Strategy is separated into three regions, so too is its gameplay divided into thirds.
Narrative is the largest portion of the game, allowing the over-arching story to unfold across twenty epic chapters. Dialogue is frequent and vital to the game’s experience, as it is the compelling story told that binds the remainder of the game together. Be prepared for lengthy sections of dialogue between characters, their allies, and their foes, as the story explores themes of injustice, morality, alliance, and betrayal. Twists and turns are plenty, and friend can turn to foe at any moment. Breaking up these segments of exposition are short sections of exploration. These offer a break from dialogue and give the player time to discover a particular area. Interacting with NPCs, finding valuable items, exploring houses, and gaining more insight into the region. This is integral to the persuasion phase, as you may discover insightful snippets of knowledge or character interactions that guide your path.
Despite the seriousness of the game’s dialogue, there are actually some amusing moments too.
Persuasion is the next key element of gameplay, where the player takes on the role of Serenoa Wolffort, proud lord of House Wolffort of Glenbrook. This house is enamored with its tradition for making choices through the Scales of Conviction, a form of democratic vote. As the story progresses, players will be given various difficult choices and must let their convictions guide their path. Should you relinquish a valued ally to avoid potential bloodshed, light the town and its people ablaze to fell your foe, or even go so far as to ally with your enemy? All these choices are made upon the scales.
Influenced by three hidden stats that are determined through your gameplay choices, Serenoa must convince his companions to follow his chosen path. At times the scales may tip in your favour and allow you to continue on your path, and in other times the scales may force the story to go in an unpredictable direction. The choices you make during these segments are vital, and will determine the fate of Norzelia and its people.
May the Scales of Conviction tip ever in your favour.
Combat is undoubtedly the most important, strategic aspect of the game, where Serenoa must lead his followers into battle. Players familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre will immediately recognise the similarities found in Triangle Strategy’s combat. Characters move upon a grid and are assigned a spot in a queue based on their speed, moving a number of tiles followed by an attack with a weapon, an ability, or use of an item. This simple combat becomes increasingly complex when aspects such as terrain, height, and environmental traps and weapons are added into the mix.
Many of the battles take place on creative maps, like this stage where the player must board an enemy ship.
Controlling an entire party against a formidable foe is incredibly satisfying, and easily the most thrilling aspect of the Triangle Strategy. The game offers a significant challenge, requiring the player to utilise strategy and clever techniques in order to prevail; charge forward blindly with no tactics and you will surely fail. This becomes increasingly tactical as your team roster expands, as each character possesses unique abilities that can be exploited during combat. Between battles, characters return to their Encampment and can hone their skills, abilities, and weapons so that they may succeed in the fights to follow.
Clever use of your team becomes vital in the later chapters of the game as the difficulty curve increases. Though players not familiar with strategy need not be discouraged, as the game offers four separate difficulty modes to cater to the individual player. If you want the most satisfaction from Triangle Strategy’s combat, play on the hardest difficulty you can tolerate. You won’t regret being made to deliberate carefully on your every move.
Think wisely before rushing headfirst into battle.
Blending elements of the past and modern day through its distinct HD-2D art-style, this is a game with a unique visual aesthetic that will impress any player. Those fond of retro pixel and sprite art will be in constant awe of the gorgeous design of the characters and environments, whereas players who focus moreso on graphical finesse will be satisfied by the intricate lighting, particle effects, and visual flourishes during combat. Even the most basic of dialogue scenes throughout the game are a visual pleasure awash with detail and colour, while also retaining a uniquely retro style.
Despite being pixel art, the environments are gorgeous and highly detailed.
There are moments however where the visuals sadly detract from the gameplay. Certain battles with varied terrain heights become difficult to navigate and position the game’s camera accordingly. Enemy units may be missed entirely due to being obscured by parts of the map, and trying to effectively view the whole battlefield can become an unnecessary struggle. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and the game’s art-style shines through in most combat situations, particularly when units are made to unleash their special abilities in intricate and breathtaking animations.
Dynamic and detailed visuals keep the combat interesting and engaging.
Overall, the game utilises its visuals to its strength, and is aesthetically-pleasing in both handheld and docked mode despite occasional dips in performance when the screen is particularly busy. Both Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy successfully showcase the style and potential of HD-2D as a means of modernising the JRPG genre’s fan-favourite pixel art.
Where Triangle Strategy triumphs through its unique visuals, it excels through its truly flawless audio. Commendations must be given to composer Akira Senju (known primarily for his music to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) as he has created one of the finest soundtracks ever heard in a videogame. It comes as no overstatement that the music for Triangle Strategy is incredible. The game features 70 separate tracks and an impressive 4 hours of music created from scratch to accompany the gripping narrative.
Tracks range from blaring brass and military percussion through to folk and classical-inspired pieces, and even a bit of high-tempo rock mixed in for good measure. I can’t imagine what this game would be like without the contributions of Senju, who has composed a soundtrack that I will be listening to for years to come. Here are an example of his finest pieces for Triangle Strategy:
One of the game’s many combat tracks, which combines an orchestral suite with guitar and drums.
Emotive and melodic violin is a common theme for the Rosellan Lady Frederica, a pivotal character.
This playful track accompanies some of the game’s more light-hearted moments.
Praise must also be given to the game’s voice actors, who have recorded fully-voiced dual-language dialogue for the game’s 30+ hours of story segments that deliver powerful and heartfelt performances. Every single character sounds genuine and believable, making the story all the more engaging. Even despite there being a tonne of dialogue in Triangle Strategy, there were almost no moments where it felt tedious or unnecessary. With the exception of a handful of characters whose voices sound a touch cliché, the voice-acting throughout the story is near perfect, and conveys the emotional weight of the game’s difficult decisions.
So what’s there to do in Norzelia once you’ve finished the game? Well, quite a lot actually. The game features several different endings, each of which vary significantly and include completely unique chapters, battles, and decisions. Each decision along the way too unlocks new side-stories and companions, adding to the game’s replayability. Once a full playthrough has been accomplished, a New Game+ mode is offered whereby the player retains all their characters, upgrades and items while being given the opportunity to explore a different path in the story. At the time of writing this review I’d completed 3 out of the game’s 4 possible endings and highly recommend playing each through to completion.
Choose your path and your convictions wisely, or you may regret it.
Aside from the main story and alternate endings, players can test their skills in “Mock Battles” which are hosted through the Pub in the game’s Encampment. Each of these battles last approximately half an hour and will help the player discover new tactical skills through a variety of challenges. Playing through these mock battles is an engaging way to earn additional experience and items for your team, so it’s well worth the time invested.
Where Final Fantasy Tactics established the strategy RPG, Triangle Strategy manages to perfect it. Spanning 40 hours for a full playthrough, and boasting multiple endings and alternate pathways, there’s a significant amount of content to keep strategy fans coming back for more. Through its compelling narrative, satisfying strategic combat, and uniquely modern retro-inspired visuals, this is undoubtedly a love-letter to the games that made this genre so admired. Square Enix has proven that that strategy games are not only alive and well, but flourishing in an era of gaming where expansive open world games and cinematic masterpieces hog the limelight. Triangle Strategy is a modern classic, and chronicles one of the most gripping stories ever told in a videogame. You’d be mad not to tri it.
So, why should you play it?
- One of the most compelling narratives to ever feature in a videogame.
- Challenging and satisfying strategic combat that echoes the genre’s finest.
- Conviction system with complex choices that actually carry significant weight.
- Modern art-style that revives and revitalises classic pixel art.
- Colossal 4 hour soundtrack with 70 tracks of pure quality.
- Difficulty that can be adjusted to suit both rookies and veterans.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Massive amount of dialogue may be off-putting for some players.
- Starts out quite slow-paced for approximately 5 – 6 hours.
A review code was kindly provided by Nintendo Australia for the purpose of this review.