Hot on the heels of Octopath Traveler, Square Enix is at it again with Project Triangle Strategy. It’s another “working title” we can expect it to formally adopt, as if there was ever another name in the running.
The game reuses much of the aesthetic charm that Octopath Traveler adopted as a homage to the golden years of JRPGs. Is this new strategy title a worthy follow-up to the legendary Final Fantasy Tactics, or just a pixelated attempt to cash in on nostalgia? Judging from the demo, I’m inclined to say it’ll live outside the shadow of its most common direct comparison. But, if the narrative doesn’t draw you in, don’t expect to see the journey through.
Before thrusting you into the deep end, the demo wisely admits that you’ll struggle to grasp the story from the few battles you have ahead of you. Tossing you straight into a battle from Chapter XI, things have already reached fever pitch. With death and destruction all around, it’s hard to take stock of the situation — never mind use the intriguing voting mechanic to decide whether or not to give a prince over to an approaching army that just lopped off his dad’s head like a cheap rotisserie chicken.
With town names like Glenbrook and Whiteholm that I could happen upon on a walk around the north of England, it’s hard to get behind what feels like a story we’ve heard a million times before: Medieval fantasy kingdoms fighting over commodities. Rather than share resources, these feuding nations would rather burn them to fuel lengthy crusades and slaughter the masses. Only one kingdom can be allowed to prosper, and you’ll never know whether you’re on the side of justice or just another part of the incurable scourge that is man.
But that’s OK. Where the story struggles, the battles carry the weight. Project Triangle Strategy is more than just text boxes preceding lengthy turn-based battles. Before each major bout, you’re free to explore the would-be battlefield, where you can listen to the concerns of your troops, gather any items that happen to be strewn about, and identify potential choke points, shortcuts, and high ground you can use to your advantage. Once you’re happy, you can watch the enemy roll in and set up your units like the little pawns that they are.
If you’re at all familiar with recent tactical hits like Fire Emblem, you’ll quickly get to grips with managing unit actions and banking resources for later turns. It can take a little while to get going, but once units start to converge, combat mechanics come thick and fast. Repositioning for bonus back attack damage, getting your archers onto higher ground, and even using ice walls or healing circles to impose choke points and quickly patch up a stalwart squad will hook you with their fancy particle effects and impactful screen shake.
You’ll have virtually every sort of battle mechanic open from the start of the demo. Having units learn new skills midbattle as they level up opens the doors to some strategical shifts that, for me, came right as I needed them. For those worried about sluggish pacing and lengthy wait times between actions, turns are based on stats like Speed, so you don’t need to move a whole army at once and wait for the opposing team to shuffle their whole army about. Go more than 10 seconds between getting your swords and staves dirty, and you only have your own indecisive nature to blame.
Between big battles, you use a world map adorned with towns and villages to witness how neighboring settlements are responding to your actions. Indicators are aplenty, so you’ll know what you’re getting into before you pull the trigger. Get a chance to have your say in a conversation and your ideals will affect how your subordinates view you, which can make or break a key character’s decision to join your cause. It’s all refreshingly transparent for a game that’ll no doubt take 40 hours of your life at the bare minimum to complete, with the titular triangle strategy multiple choice mechanic opening up avenues for repeat playthroughs further down the line.
There’s a lot to take away from this surprisingly deep demo. It’s easy to lambast Square Enix’s decision to take the interactive storybook approach again, but the delicate mixture of 2D and 3D graphics really does strike a perfect balance of old and new. In the first battle alone, the gorgeous bokeh of the sea behind the pop-up book bridge sets a beautiful precedent of what to expect in the full game.
It’s safe to say that Project Triangle Strategy is feature complete. Balance tweaks, bug fixes, and the odd bit of detail are likely all that’s left to stir into the pot. Charming sprites acting out brutal battles betweem shimmering spells is a sight I can see myself thoroughly enjoying. The gameplay loop is deep and tight, but I worry that the story has been done a million times before. And if you can’t get behind the performances of its characters, what’s left might not be enough to carry what’s likely to be a very long adventure.