Despite it sitting in my collection for the past 4 years, I never got around to playing Octopath Traveler. Simply put, I just had other games lined up to play at the time. Ironically, Triangle Strategy, Octopath’s spiritual successor, was yet another title that I immediately set out to purchase. However, unlike the former, I made a resolute decision to play this one on the day of its release. And that is exactly what I did.
Developed in a joint collaboration between Artdink and Square Enix, Triangle Strategy is a tactical turn-based RPG. Despite saying otherwise on the Steam store page, this is Artdink’s first foray into the Octopath cannon. While they certainly have delivered an enjoyable game, their unwillingness to let the player play is a massive drawback. (As a side, check out Masahiro Sakurai’s thoughts on this subject here.)
An (un)expected war.
Set within Norzelia, the narrative follows the continents three major countries, Glenbrook, Aesfrost, and Hyzante. The three, who were in a long-standing conflict named “The Saltiron War”, called as such due to the hostilities over the planet’s rare resources salt and iron, have been at relative peace for a little over 3 decades.
Serenoa, heir to House Wolffort, and a pivotal member of Glenbrook, finds himself in an arranged marriage to Princess Frederica of Aesfrost. This pairing, along with the discovery of a new iron mine, seems to solidify a new age of tranquillity in the name of prosperity. Alas, as with all things politically, foul play is afoot, and it isn’t long before a new war campaign takes flight. It is up to Serenoa, and his allies old and new, to come together to decide the ultimate fate of Norzelia.
A slow, and sometimes sluggish affair.
As fair warning in advance, Triangle Strategy’s story is a real slow burner. Decidedly so, as the entire game can basically be summed up as an endless array of monotonous and exhaustive cutscenes. Seriously, you have to sit through roughly an hour of storytelling just to be able to play 20 minutes of the game. It’s utterly preposterous that Artdink expected new players to be excited about this. Excessive lore dumps are tedious at the best of times, especially when ladled with political talk, but this was ridiculous. Sadly, it is only the tip of the iceberg.
The main drawback of Triangle Strategy’s narrative is its constant need to reiterate its own points. Multiple cutscenes are dedicated to highlighting the same topics, using near identical phrasing, and reaffirming conclusions that the characters have already made. It is unfathomably dull, and a real chore to sit through.
I will say that the story does get better once you progress onto the actual meat of the game. The choices that you and your party make via the Scales of Conviction – more on that later – genuinely influence the world at large. As a result, individual playthroughs are completely unique, and provide a valid reason to play through the game a second time. However, the plot is riddled with an abundance of JRPG tropes and cliches. I myself didn’t mind that fact, but it’s entirely possible that some players may get bored due to this.
Phase through the gameplay.
Having played Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga recently, I was interested to see how Triangle Strategy’s gameplay would compare to it. The biggest difference between the two titles lays within their influences. On one hand, SoW is comparable to Ogre Battle, whereas Triangle Strategy is clearly inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics. Fundamentally, this means that the latter is less squad focused, and much more independent unit based.
Simplistic unit-based management.
The individual units are comprised of Serenoa and his allies. They all come equipped with their own set of skills, attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. Though, what they bring to the table specifically depends on their prefixed class. To give you an example, Frederica is a pyromancer that specialises in fire-based magic. This, of course, means that she’ll excel against enemies that are susceptible to fire. However, it also means that she will be vulnerable to ice form attacks.
In all honesty, I anticipated this system to be messy and convoluted. In actuality, it is remarkably intuitive and user friendly. The game explains everything in a concise, yet rigorous fashion, meaning that new players can easily adapt to this. The only downside is the inability to change a unit’s class, but, personally speaking, I never found that to be much of an issue.
Final Fantasy Tactics for the modern audience.
Combat sequences operate on a turned based system, and take place on a gridded battlefield. During a unit’s turn, they have the ability to move, and separately, preform an action. Actions encompass anything from a basic attack, to consuming a potion, or casting a spell/ability. Conveniently, the grid will highlight different colours depending on if a unit is in or outside an enemy’s attack range.
Advanced mechanics like high ground advantage, terrain conditions, and weather effects are also present and accounted for. This adds another layer of complexity to your encounters, and allows you to come up with optimal, or quirky strategies to defeat your foes. It’s also possible to combo moves together using these mechanics which is absurdly fun to do.
Without a doubt, the combat is by far the best thing about Triangle Strategy. It is immersive, engaging, and, at times, mighty challenging. On top of this, everything here is presented in a digestible manner, and is beyond effortless to control.
Unfortunately, as I’ve already alluded too, the combat only takes up roughly a 1⁄3rd of the games overall play length. This is way below the margin of what I expected going into this, and it is a massive disservice to its near impeccable battle sequences. You can partake in mock battle scenarios, but even then, it still feels a little short. Having said that, the combat is positively incredible, and I don’t want to take away from how much I enjoyed it.
Level up everything, why not.
Triangle Strategy provides you with a myriad of ways to upgrade your units. For starters, each unit has the ability to level up. Doing so boosts their baseline attributes, and has the added-on effect of unlocking new skills and passives to use. Similarly, a unit’s class can also be improved upon through the promotion system. This is a little harder to achieve though as it requires specific conditions to be met beforehand. However, promoting a unit’s class will reward you with increased stats, as well as new abilities.
As if that wasn’t enough, Triangle Strategy also allows you to rank up your unit’s weapons. Sadly, it isn’t as interesting as it sounds, as it is yet another way to increase a unit’s baseline stats and passives. Much like the classes, you can only upgrade your weapons once you have collected certain materials.
Besides levelling and ranking up, consumable items and accessories can be purchased from provisions and rare town merchants. Accessories are particularly useful as they provide units with special benefits. These can include things like guaranteeing the first turn at the start of combat, or increasing the unit’s resistance to magic damage.
Evidentially, the varying upgrade mechanics allow you to craft a unit with a particular focus in mind. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect, but it is engrossing enough that you can, and will, spend hours theorycrafting setups for all of your available units.
Explore and make choices that matter.
You aren’t given free rein to navigate around Norzelia as you please. Instead, the exploration phase places you within small set pieces that are reminiscent to traditional RPG towns. Inside these areas you can talk to NPCs, discover lootable items, and find the aforementioned merchants that sell rare items.
Making an effort to speak with NPCs will rewards you with additional information relating to the world at large. While this is nice touch from a lore standpoint, it also garners you valuable intel that can be used to sway your allies’ opinions during the games voting phase.
Speaking of which, the voting phase dictates which path Serenoa will take during narrative crossroads. It does this through the Scales of Conviction, an artifact that House Wolffort uses to give equal voting rights to its major political figures. As you may expect, your allies all have their own opinions, but you can try and persuade them by using the knowledge you’ve gained.
I found the Scales of Conviction to be a noteworthy mechanic that added a lot of intrigue into the storyline progression. Truth be told, they probably could have pushed this system further to emulate sandbox type scenarios. Still, even in its current form, it is pretty ingenious idea.
A bona fide visual experience.
Although Triangle Strategy’s art style is yet another element taken from Octopath Traveler, it still remains as one of my personal favourite graphical designs. The juxtaposition between the 2D character sprites and the 3D environments, both of which emulate a 16-bit thematic, create an oddly interesting spectacle. However, what truly amplifies this to the next level is the HD lighting. It transforms regular looking scenery into unique and captivating imagery. Pair this with the fantastic cinematography, and you get cutscenes that are undeniably breath-taking.
In addition to this, the VFX add another admirable contrast to the visual direction. They have been designed in a modernised anime style, with spells and item effects replicating something you’d see from Bones. What’s more, the way in which the water interacts with the in game lighting invokes unbelievably picturesque moments.
Music that rattles your bones.
Incidentally, the OST for Triangle Strategy was made by none other than Akira Senju, composer of the legendary FMA: Brotherhood series, which was developed by Bones. He brings his trademark symphonic sounds to the tracks, complete with lush strings, heroic horns, and triumphant percussion. This isn’t a short soundtrack either, clocking in at a staggering 4+ hours in length. Considering how much variation lays within the tracks, it is admirable to say the least. Even then, I’m still left wanting more, but I suppose that’s to be expected with Senju’s work.
Whilst I am appreciative that Triangle Strategy has voice acting, the execution can be a bit hit and miss. For instance, there are noticeable volume inconsistencies between the different actors. I wouldn’t label the audio balancing as horrendous, but it did break my immersion a few times throughout my playthrough. The performances themselves are mostly fine, though they are marred with anime tonalities that may rub some people the wrong way.
Lastly, to quickly touch on the sound effects, they too are exceptional. They coexist masterfully alongside the VFX, matching the anime aesthetic, and really driving home the intensity of the attacks, spells, moves and abilities.
Overall, Triangle Strategy is an entertaining tactical RPG, even if it does go out of its way to prevent its players from playing it. The tactical-based gameplay is intuitive, immersive, and challenging, and breathes a new sense of life into the genre. Narratively, the extensive cutscenes can be exhausting, and their eagerness to constantly reiterate themselves only makes things worse. However, the visual presentation is absolutely gorgeous, utilising a unique juxtaposition with 2D sprites, 3D environments, and HD lighting. Similarly, the soundtrack created by Akira Senju is exceptional, and rivals that of contemporary series such as Dragon Quest. If you enjoy tactical RPGs such as Fire Emblem, then this is probably something you’d be interested in. Just be warned ahead of time that you’ll be spending the majority of your playthrough looking at cutscenes.