Triangle Strategy delivers a powerful story, innovative combat, and a few broken hearts.
I’m generally not one to feel sorry for the landed gentry, but I truly sympathise for Serenoa Wolffort, the put-upon protagonist of Triangle Strategy.
No sooner does the game begin than he is betrothed to a stranger in the name of diplomacy. And during the following 40 hours, he is duped, coerced, pushed, and pulled from all quarters. That Serenoa manages to sound so consistently chipper is as much a testament to his character as it is Taylor Clarke-Hill’s acting,
Most games make you want to become the protagonist, but not this time. It’s enough to make you walk away from your duties and give an exclusive interview to Oprah Winfrey.
Triangle Strategy‘s unhurried opening goes to great lengths to make you empathise with Serenoa, as well as detail the state of play between the three nations of Norzelia. Despite Serenoa’s arranged nuptials, relations between the Glenbrook, Aesfrost and Hyzante nations are fragile and quickly go south, setting the stage for an epic conflict.
It’s scene-setting on a grand scale, during which you meet an extensive cast of characters. Despite their pixelated appearance, they are all distinct, partly by adhering to a range of familiar archetypes. There’s the wise confidante, the smuggler with a heart of gold, the plucky spy, the ailing father, and so on. Keeping track of each character is also helped by several thoughtful design touches, such as a brief biography you can quickly pull up during dialogue.
A genuine connection with Triangle Strategy‘s narrative was not something I envisaged going in, but in truth, you have little choice but to be swept along by the theatricality of it all. The performances are as broad as a sword but endearingly so. The story’s players take turns to say their lines with the earnestness of a school play, and it’s hard to resist their conviction and charm.
The theatrics are emphasised by the game’s impressive visuals. The HD-2D style – previously seen in Octopath Traveller – is adapted to display intricate stage-like dioramas that rotate a full 360 degrees. These sets serve multiple requirements, acting as the locations for the game’s story, exploration, and battle sequences. They are exquisitely designed and perform each role perfectly.
Events are enhanced further by Akira Senju’s delicious score. It’s not a subtle soundtrack, but the orchestral swells, Knopfler-esque guitar licks, and perfectly placed stabs of percussion deliver dramatic swagger and emotional heft at every turn. In terms of presentation, the game is stunning from top to bottom.
I’m a relatively new convert to the strategy RPG genre. It was the fanboy trap of Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle that opened the door, and the soap operatics of Fire Emblem: Three Houses that shoved me through. Like Three Houses, much of Triangle Strategy‘s appeal comes from the blend of tactical combat and melodramatic storytelling.
Gameplay purists might find the drams too much of a distraction, but for me, it’s a way into the game and the genre. Triangle Strategy delivers a rich tapestry of political posturing and emotional storytelling, and the battles, although important, are just one part of the overall experience.
The time between conflict sequences is often lengthy, but they are worth the wait. The initial skirmishes – which you can enjoy in the game’s free demo – are relatively sedate. But, as the stakes increase, layers of complexity are added, including elemental effects and environmental objects that assist traversal or snare opponents. There’s also a neat combo system that gives you a critical hit for striking a foe from behind and then having an ally assist with a follow-up attack.
Underneath it all is the oblique Scales of Conviction system. Throughout the game, Serenoa occasionally – and invisibly – accrues points against the convictions of Liberty, Morality, and Utility. They influence the story’s path and the characters that you can recruit to your cause. The underlying numbers are hidden until New Game Plus, however, making multiple playthroughs a necessity if you want to experience the game’s multiple outcomes.
At pivotal moments, you’ll also have to make a decision that affects the direction of the narrative. Before each choice, you can consult with your allies and attempt to convince them over from one side of an argument to the other. The scenes in which your companions cast their votes to determine an outcome have a genuine tension. There’s never an obvious answer, and given the game’s often bleak outlook, there are few happy endings.
There’s a lot to track, but thankfully, Triangle Strategy has an elegant inventory of character details, equipment and lore. It’s worth highlighting, as many similar games (hello, again, Three Houses) fail to make this information useful and usable. It’s a summation of the game as a whole. Accessibility is evident throughout, whether it’s the clarity of storytelling and easy-to-follow action or the considered learning curve of combat.
Players without an appetite for stately-paced issues of state might find Serenoa Wolffort’s tale too much to stomach. However, if you’re a fan of Fire Emblem, The Banner Saga or Final Fantasy Tactics, there’s a lot to savour.
Hopefully, Triangle Strategy will be successful enough for Artdink to return to Norzelia again in the future. In the meantime, I look forward to putting Serenoa through the wringer one more time and then, maybe, another time after that.
Game: Triangle Strategy
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now