Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those games that has an adoring fanbase. Strategy RPG enthusiasts the world over hold a ravenous hunger to see this game succeeded by the latest SRPG release, frequently stating whether or not a title is a “Final Fantasy Tactics spiritual successor.” To this date, I still consider Final Fantasy Tactics my favorite game of all time, and while I’m not seeking a spiritual successor, I make cursory glances at the latest SRPG to see if it’ll scratch that itch. Triangle Strategy, while clearly made with Tactics in mind, is a bold creation that weaves old and new game design and styles.
I don’t intend to make this a derivative compare and contrast review, but rest assured that the core gameplay (tile- and turn-based strategy RPG gameplay) and style (a low-tech fantasy world enduring political strife) match Tactics seamlessly. That said, almost immediately Triangle Strategy feels different. And it should. I’m going to repeat that for emphasis: it should feel different. Triangle Strategy is Triangle Strategy.
Serenoa Wolffort is the son of a lord in a kingdom whose ruler is a king. His family has historical ties supporting the king for generations, though it has also earned a lauded reputation for its pivotal role in the Saltiron War thirty years ago which eventually brought peace to Norzelia, the world/region where the game takes place. The kingdom in which House Wolffort resides is Glenbrook, with Aesfrost to the north and Hyzante to the east. This is a lot of names, but the intention here is to impress upon you there is a sense of place, lore, and several people to get to know with distinct personalities and goals.
The tensions in Norzelia revolve around access to iron, which Aesfrost controls, and salt, which Hyzante holds. Glenbrook is strong in its people and bountiful land. When the game begins, a neutral Consortium of merchants has just been formed to help regulate the trade of iron and salt so that all kingdoms can prosper without extorting the others. This becomes especially important as new mining sites have been scouted in Glenbrook. Aesfrost’s technological superiority is pivotal in excavating said mines. What do the mines hold, and can all three kingdoms maintain this new-found peace? The answer is no. Definitely no.
Triangle Strategy has a vast array of characters that are quickly introduced out of the gate. The pace can seem overwhelming at first, but if players tuck each individual in the back of their minds without trying to memorize who’s who, the experience is much more enjoyable. Expect fantastic people with bold personalities, legendary reputations, and distinct voices, both in terms of script and voice acting. While Triangle Strategy capably maintains a serious tone with little levity or childish humor, some of the characters have eye-rollingly bad moments, such as a villain cackling. Fortunately, these moments are few and don’t meaningfully detract from the otherwise consistent atmosphere.
By that same token, don’t expect high fantasy lore as one might from something like Pillars of Eternity. Logs describing the world’s history and culture can be discovered or bought over the course of the game, which add depth, but it can be hard to get lost in this world. I enjoyed Norzelia and found it realistic enough, but it feels microcosmic, sometimes as if the whole affair takes place inside a shoebox.
Players can shape the world at critical moments using something called the Scales of Conviction. During these occurrences, Serenoa depends on his companions to help decide how to move forward at difficult crossroads. The Scales are really just a voting booth, though–nothing magical. Players are given two or three choices for how to proceed and must petition core party members. Some of them have their minds set, but others can be persuaded. Dialogue options throughout the game are well-written and rarely black-and-white. Each set of two or three choices requires some consideration and can help push the party member toward the desired outcome. At the same time, players have three hidden stats that accrue throughout the game to determine Serenoa’s conviction.
These stats increase depending on how players engage in battle, talk to townsfolk and allies, and conduct housekeeping (shopping, upgrading, etc.) What this means for the Scales is that even if Serenoa makes a strong argument, if that particular stat is low for the desired outcome, the attempt to persuade may fail. Some may find the secretive nature of this mechanic frustrating, but I enjoyed the idea of it. At one point, I took issue with it, as I found one turn at the crossroads especially reprehensible and couldn’t seem to argue my way out of it. Other than that, I was okay with the party deciding for me; that’s the theme of the game and idea behind the Scales of Conviction.
Conviction also determines which extra party members come to your House throughout the game. During chapters, players receive notifications if a new character seeks to join the party, and depending on how Serenoa builds these hidden stats, different party members will show up. I also have a feeling story events and branching paths influence this, but that’s never explicitly stated, as far as I can tell. Triangle Strategy boasts a significant amount of extra party members, and while it has plenty of core “job” types—tank, spellcaster, healer, etc.—some of the new faces are unusual, fun, and powerful to use. Think classes like acrobat, merchant, and blacksmith.
Even within the spellcasters, characters differ in meaningful ways, like the ability to change the weather or put up ice walls. While everyone’s aware of job classes in other games, Triangle Strategy doesn’t include any class changes; instead, every party member remains locked into who they are and accrues abilities with levels. So, if players want to use different skills in a battle, they just have to employ other party members.
In terms of actual combat, Triangle Strategy is pretty cookie-cutter, but that isn’t to say it’s simple. Every battlefield offers different thematically driven layouts. Sometimes a bridge is just a bridge, but the environment changes strategy significantly most of the time, such as with natural elevation and buildings. The typical strategy RPG furnishings are here: put your back to a wall or facing away from the enemy, turn order is prominently displayed, archers are best atop high terrain, everyone bobs up and down in place, and elemental weaknesses/resistances have some influence over damage. Very Easy, Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulties will create some stress over deciding how to proceed, as who knows what Normal and Hard mean.
This is my favorite genre, I’m somewhat veteran to this style of game, and I overall found Normal to be pretty breezy, though I had to legitimately strategize to ensure victory after the halfway point. I lost two battles in total: one in the middle and the final battle, but I only lost the first one because the first twenty hours were so mind-numbingly easy that I was pretty lax about upgrading my units. At this point, I got the wake-up call and had to start putting in some effort. I don’t know how punishing Hard is, but the fact that I had to think through my movements, unit placements, and skill point usage means that Normal was engaging enough to entertain. Regarding controls, Triangle Strategy plays just fine with a controller, though sometimes exploring environments felt odd as my character would sort of stick to the terrain as I tried to walk about different elevations. Again, a minor issue.
Other furnishings give gameplay that added something to chew on or enhance the story, but this is the bulk of Triangle Strategy. What do I think? I was a bit disappointed—yet still enjoying myself—for the first twenty hours. The gameplay and story felt exceedingly vanilla and cliche, but something happened at the halfway point that gave Triangle Strategy its own authentic identity. Choices and decisions felt meatier and the stakes were getting higher. Initial details and character biographies deepened, forming a sense of tension and investment not immediately apparent. I began to wonder what would have happened if I went a different route. Battles required focus and energy all of a sudden.
A twenty-hour investment for a game to hit its stride is a big ask for anyone. Again, I didn’t hate the first half of the game, but I wanted it to be so much more. At the start, I also took issue with the pacing and not just in terms of the storytelling. Triangle Strategy is light on battles; it boasts several chapters that are essentially sprite-driven cinematics with an isometric camera panning over a town, throne room, or encampment. Some chapters have several of these scenes with no battle at all, while most have one. In rare instances, a chapter has two battles. I eventually warmed up to 70% story, 30% gameplay approach, but even by story’s end I felt a bit cheated out of what I signed up for: a heavy strategy RPG.
Triangle Strategy’s presentation is clearly reminiscent of old Tactics-style games, though modern enhancements smooth the harsh edges evident in PS1-era titles and create some colorful spell animations. Still, in 2022, not everyone’s going to go in for a game that looks this retro. At my native resolution, I could almost count the pixels. Musically, Triangle Strategy is nearly top tier. Battle themes are king in strategy RPGs where battles can take up to an hour; fortunately, Triangle Strategy nails both the variety and quality in its stellar soundtrack. The Battle in Grand Norzelian Mines theme might be a new all-time favorite score of mine.
If you’re not one for Japanese voice work—which is fantastic here—then prepare for some budget-tier acting and casting mismatches. I tried to give the English voice lines a real shot for about five hours, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Since story scenes are plentiful, I had dialogue running automatically, which worked fine most of the time, but sometimes the English translation in text was way longer than the Japanese spoken lines. This required me to pull up the log more than a few times to catch the text I missed. A small grievance, but one I found worth noting.
While Triangle Strategy isn’t the second coming of Final Fantasy Tactics, it carves out its own identity as a title that is stylistically similar, yet certainly distinct. Serious pacing issues hurt it, as I’m not sure everyone wants to wait twenty hours for a game to be what it should have been at the start, but once it got there, I couldn’t stop playing or thinking about it. With New Game+ staring me in the face, I’m eager for a new challenge and to explore roads not yet walked. I also have a newly discovered appreciation for food seasoning.