The best turn-based RPG on Switch that delivers in almost every way.
While it should be in the running for overall game of the year, one award that Triangle Strategy is sure to walk away with is worst title. And for good reason: it lacks the style and heart oozing from every pore of the actual game, doing a disservice to just how incredible an experience it offers. Fans have begged Square Enix for a remaster or remake of the original Final Fantasy Tactics, and while that game isn’t quite the same as Triangle Strategy, this is the best facsimile we’ve ever received. Producer Tomoya Asano, who also led development of Octopath Traveler, must have heard the criticism of his former work loud and clear because a robust, player-driven story is at the heart of Triangle Strategy. The way in which fun, challenging combat, sublime visuals and soundtrack, and a gripping, well-told narrative all intersect make for one hell of a three-sided shape.
The continent of Norzelia is home to three separate factions, Glenbrook, Aesfrost, and Hyzante, and it’s obvious from the outset that achieving a perfect balance between them is an ever-moving target. As lord of House Wolfort, players guide young Serenoa in his quest to protect his own people while also navigating the conflicts that threaten to plunge Norzelia into all-out war. The discovery of a new mine sets off a chain reaction that leads to Aesfrost invading Glenbrook, and from there spins out a tale filled with branching paths, unexpected deceit, and painstaking choices. In addition to multiple distinct endings, Triangle Strategy offers unique routes to obtain each one, and it’s likely that almost every person’s first playthrough will be noticeably different.
Across 20 chapters, many of which have multiple sub-chapters, players engage in a few different types of gameplay to advance the story. Optional events include those that shed light on what’s happening around the continent at the time, and also character-focused ones that allow you to recruit new party members or learn more about the ones that have joined up. Mandatory events are divided into one of four categories: combat, exploration, voting, and story. While story segments involve watching through a cutscene, the other three are fully interactive.
During exploration phases, Serenoa has an opportunity to survey a battlefield before a fight, by exploring a town and meeting its inhabitants, or schmoozing with guests at a banquet. In addition to interesting conversations and a handful of dialogue options in these scenes, shining points of light sparkle every few seconds. Picking these up will grant gold, story notes, or crafting materials. In certain parts of the game, you’ll also need to speak with certain people to acquire information that can be used during the voting phase, so it’s worth exploring thoroughly.
The voting mechanism of Triangle Strategy is definitely its most unique feature, and it’s the means through which players are moved to different story paths. Before all of the voting periods, Serenoa can speak to the seven members of his retinue to try and persuade them to make one choice over another; in some cases, there may even be three potential paths. On occasion there may even be some optional exploring you can do just before the vote happens to gain knowledge and make your persuasion tactics more effective. The voting members of your party, who act as primary characters during the whole game, will either start off leaning towards one path or the other, or they may be completely undecided. There’s no need to persuade those who already want to choose the same path you do, so you focus on conversing with everyone else and making dialogue choices (which can expand based on your exploration exploits) to try to sway them to your side. The winning side determines the next story path, so it’s worth saving the game before initiating the vote.
The number of combat segments averages out to be about one per chapter, with a few of them coming back-to-back in the later parts of the game. Prior to combat, however, you can enter an encampment area to equip your party members, promote them to a higher class, or unlock new abilities and stat buffs. The encampment is another excellent means of adding depth to Triangle Strategy, with all of the party members you recruit along your journey ending up there. From the barkeep you can play practice battles that reward you with money or crafting materials, and any experience points earned in these battles carries forward to the main game. There’s one shop to buy materials, consumables, or accessories that can be equipped, and another shop where you promote your characters or use kudos points earned in combat to purchase unique items or unlock special abilities. Frequent trips to the encampment will ensure that every member in your party is in tip-top fighting shape.
Combat itself is a satisfying blend of challenge and patience, an area where Triangle Strategy actually does earn its name. After selecting which party members you want to use and organizing them on the field, turn-based battles play out across a variety of environments. Elevation, pillars, ponds, and even mine carts can all play a role during combat. Destructible barriers can be taken out by friend or foe alike; grass can be set ablaze with fire magic to create a dangerous hazard; water can even be electrified to send out a shockwave of damage against everyone standing in it. While it’s not always easy to pull them off, combos involving elemental magic are possible: cast an ice spell to freeze the ground, fire to melt it into water, and then thunder magic to shock everyone in the blast radius. For a portion of the battles, you may need to play them twice to emerge victorious, perhaps after devising a better opening layout for your characters. One really neat and helpful feature is that experience points from a loss are carried over if you choose to restart the battle, so even if you aren’t at the recommended level on your first attempt, you can still give the fight a try and be better equipped to win on a second go around if you don’t succeed initially.
One potentially divisive aspect of combat is the absence of permadeath. While it does make sense given the heavy story focus of the game, worrying about losing characters forever is an element of other strategy games that can add to the tension. Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough challenge from the normal difficulty setting alone and a harder setting for those who want even more, but being able to essentially sacrifice party members during tougher battles always felt a bit off for me personally. The flip side is that it makes the game infinitely more approachable for players new to the genre, and the addition of two easier difficulty levels only adds to that fact.
In addition to experience points (that scale based on your opponents) and leveling up, progression comes in the form of crafting new weapons and buffs to your characters. From the encampment smith, you can use special materials to raise your overall weapon level to a maximum of three. Within each weapon level are a handful of perks that can be unlocked, from a simple stat bump to a new skill or a helpful passive ability. The sheer number of upgrades means you need to be a little strategic about which characters you choose to prioritize, if you choose not to engage in the practice battles especially. The party members that join your ranks include a shaman who can control the weather, a wandering sage proficient in all elemental magics, and a dancer who can inflict various status effects. All of the optional characters have additional stories of their own that can be unlocked by using them frequently in combat.
At all times it’s hard not to be enamored with this retro-contemporary visual style that Square Enix seems very committed to. Beautiful interior scenes open to breathtaking natural ones, including one waterfall scene that will be eerily familiar to Final Fantasy Tactics fans. While the visuals in handheld mode don’t come off quite as impressive, playing on a TV showcases just how gorgeous this newer style can get. There’s something inexplicably charming about the appearance and motion of water in the game. In terms of its music, Triangle Strategy delivers a suite of tracks filled with gravitas and emotion, and while it may not have as many earworms as Octopath Traveler did, there are more than enough standouts to elevate the game’s captivating story and gameplay. Finally, the voice acting is largely fantastic, with scores of unimportant NPCs also having voiced dialogue. Serenoa and his bride-to-be Frederica are absolutely brought to life by their respective voice actors.
So often in video games do we encounter the illusion of choice rather than the genuine article. One facet of that illusion is deciding between simple black-and-white options, where one path is obviously the morally good one and the other the selfish path. In Triangle Strategy, there’s much more nuance than simply deciding to either make a sacrifice or let others make one. Serenoa needs to choose whom to trust, whom to ally with, which political strategy makes the most sense, and yes, at some points, what types of sacrifices he’s willing to make. On multiple occasions I agonized over which direction to push the vote, but nowhere was my mental hardship more great than in the game’s final major decision, which forces you to back one of your retainers while thoroughly spurning two others. Throughout the story, I genuinely felt like I was the one choosing the adventure, much like I felt with games like Mass Effect or Life is Strange.
Triangle Strategy doesn’t reinvent the strategy RPG genre, but it polishes it to an HD-2D shine. Each facet of the game complements the others, and at every turn I was left waiting with baited breath to see what would happen next. A new game plus mode unlocks after rolling credits, making it all the easier to dive back in and uncover paths yet untrod, and the second I had completed one route I felt that overwhelming rush to see what I had missed. The grid-style, turn-based combat lives up to the best of its predecessors, and while it may lack the customizability of a job system, the cavalcade of recruitable party members is a worthy replacement. Whether you’re in it for the story, the gameplay, or the aesthetics, the total package is one for the ages, and from any angle the strategy is clear: add Triangle Strategy to your Switch library. Maybe tell friends and family to end their turn; you’re going to be busy for a while.