One of the most unexpected announcements in the February 17th Nintendo Direct was the next in the series of HD-2D games from Square Enix: Project Triangle Strategy for the Nintendo Switch. Inspired by classic SRPGs like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, it was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm here at RPGFan!
And much like “Project” Octopath Traveler before it, Triangle had an immediately available demo available on the Nintendo eShop. Of course, several of our staff members immediately downloaded it to see what Square Enix has on offer!
With that in mind, here are Niki Fakhoori and Mark Tjan with their impressions of the demo. Does it deliver the same nostalgic (but modernized) warm fuzzies as Octopath, or is there still some time before Triangle can go head-to-head with its inspirations?
When filling up my customary “Nintendo Direct Bingo” sheet, a spiritual successor to Tactics Ogre was absolutely not on my mind. Needless to say, Project Triangle Strategy’s announcement—sans the actual title—landed very well with me, and the demo’s quick availability was another welcome surprise.
The demo drops you right into the midst of a tumultuous point in the story, encompassing Chapters 6 and 7. The main narrative segments paint a clear picture of the story’s serious nature. These main segments are fully voiced, helping each of the many characters stand out. There’s also a helpful “profile” button that brings up their illustration and title so you can remember who’s who—or just to look at the beautiful portraits.
In addition to watching the main story, you can also find side stories to check up on characters outside your faction. Certain locales allow free roaming, and you can even recruit a few new allies. There’s also a chance to investigate, persuade your allies, and cast your votes in a game-changing decision. Packed into this one demo is an assortment of what the main game has to offer—everything of interest in the Nintendo Direct announcement and more has an opportunity to shine here.
Of course, this demo also comes with three maps to clear (though accessing them depends on the choices you make in the demo). In my run, the first is a lot simpler and the second makes much better use of terrain. By encouraging the utilization of skills to push enemies away, Project Triangle Strategy quickly establishes many layers of complex strategy to build upon. The difficulty has been ramped up for the demo similarly to Bravely Default II’s demos, but thankfully battles never felt too overwhelming. If anything, knowing the game had adjusted difficulty encouraged me to experiment more with the unique terrain interactions.
Echoing the Bravely Default II demo process, Project Triangle Strategy’s demo isn’t entirely indicative of the final product, and Square Enix will be conducting surveys for input later. Thankfully, navigating the menus in Bravely Default II’s final demo is vastly improved from the original, so I do hope we see another demo with improvements to Project Triangle Strategy before its 2022 release. There are a few things that stood out as not standing out enough.
Namely, the backgrounds and character sprites are lovingly detailed but lack clarity due to the lack of contrast, especially on the Nintendo Switch’s screen. The nebulous void surrounding the character sprites only muddies the image further, rather than allowing the characters to stand out from the background. Rare glimpses of bright locales show just how clear the game could be, but it’s not at all the norm thus far. Similarly, in battle, you see the range of your ally for the turn. Blue squares are out of enemy range, while the purplish ones put you at risk of attack. But even these colors can be difficult to differentiate when overlayed upon the dull terrain.
It’s still a massively enjoyable demo overall for fans of the Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics series of games. It’s wonderful to see this style of strategy RPG make a return, and I’m loving Square Enix’s use of demos to implement feedback and make meaningful improvements to their titles. Project Triangle Strategy’s release might be quite a ways off, but it’s now firmly planted on my radar.
As may be plain from the naming convention, Project Triangle Strategy is the newest work from the Square Enix creative team that brought us Octopath Traveler. It continues Octopath’s aesthetic strengths, using the same mix of 2D sprites and tilt-shift 3D backgrounds to render its game world. Where Octopath drew upon turn-based RPGs such as Final Fantasy VI, Project Triangle Strategy lifts from PSX-era SRPGs like Tactics Ogre, utilizing a three-quarter semi-isometric view. It features tile-based multi-unit battles for its core gameplay, with interstitial exploration and discussion scenes.
In the demo, I was thrust into the midst of a hostile takeover of main protagonist Serenoa Wolffort’s home kingdom, whose power is challenged by the Duchy of Aesfrost. Given control of Serenoa, I was entrusted with the protection of Prince Roland, heir of the royal line, running from Aesfrost agents.
The battle ran smoothly enough. As with Final Fantasy Tactics and similar games, turns were dispersed via a speed statistic, rather than split into discrete Ally vs. Enemy periods a la Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I could attack in four directions, use skills, weapons, items, etc., then choose a direction to face. Attacks from behind or high ground did more damage, and characters adjacent to the same enemy could lend a hand. I could also look up character profiles of named individuals with a quick press of the Y button (even during cutscenes) for quick reference — positive additions and twists on the usual fare.
Then, a big mechanic landed for me: I could choose a “Conviction” to reinforce: Utility, Morality, or Liberty. I had earlier made dialogue choices that affected this, but it came to a head with the presentation of a war council scenario: To either protect or hand over Prince Roland to our enemies. While my officers’ initial lean was towards surrendering him, I managed to sway confidence towards protection instead. I had to talk to townspeople to glean more information, unveiling knowledge about a secret weapon that could aid our cause and then convince my officers with the facts. They then voted, determining the outcome.
It’s a solid mechanic that I’m looking forward to more of, and one I hope grows in complexity as the game progresses. It’s rare that a game ties thematic and ludic elements together like this, and I’m here for it.
Regrettably, this is a game that would be wholly better without voice acting. While the dialogue can be compelling and the characters likeable, the spoken lines do nothing for immersion. Not only is the quality of acting uneven, the voices themselves are often at odds with the person speaking. My healer felt too young for her portrait or text; my shieldbearer unit spoke in a relatively gruff midwestern American accent yet was clearly supposed to be some variety of Celtic from his text.
There are also the annoying, if forgivable, fantasy colloquialisms here and there. Using “Ser” in place of “Sir” may be a bid at trying to be gender-neutral, but it came off as an awkward and still masculine term. The use of “bells” to mean “hours” was worse still, given that it added nothing to the world-building and came off as obnoxious. These are largely quibbles, but their abundance stands out in the agitating way H’aanit’s dialogue did in Octopath.
What isn’t minor is that I didn’t feel attached to any of the characters. Ostensibly, I should have felt a responsibility to protect Prince Roland’s life, but his actual character didn’t really shine through despite the plight of his kingdom and family. That’s true for most of the cast (so far), except for Ser Maxwell, a masked legend whose personality was bold and upfront. He’s a standout, but had to be given his rather short time with my party.
This is a feeling I had during Octopath, where connection to most of the characters took time, and my sympathies never ran deep for many of them. There seems to be a focus on invoking a feeling of the narratives the game lifts from, but I’m concerned there’s more show than substance.
For all my gripes, I’m not writing Project Triangle Strategy off. The game’s themes are certainly interesting, speaking to political complications and how your ideas around utility, morality, or liberty can determine what path you take in life. There’s certainly some narrative meat to enjoy here and a lot of promise in the battle system. I’ll be interested to see what the full game has to offer when it eventually comes to market. If nothing else, it strongly reflects Tactics Ogre and its kin with some exciting twists on the usual mechanics. I recommend trying the demo for yourself and seeing how it sits for you.