When I first saw the trailer for Square Enix’s new tactical role-playing game Triangle strategyI was excited to scratch myself fire emblem itch (very normcore of me, I know). But now that I’m actually playing it, I’ve found that it more often reminds me of another game I like. After a few hours with the game, I realized it borrowed a lot more from Octopath Traveler— which was helmed by the same producer, Tomoya Asano — than the warm color palette and nostalgia-inducing pixelated art style. Like its predecessor, the game deeply humanizes its characters, fleshes them out, and respects their beliefs, making them less disposable than most other tactical war games. Triangle strategy is a worthy successor to Octopath Traveler.
Here’s a confession: I waited years to play Octopath due to the negative reviews it received upon launch. Same Kotaku called it “gritty” and “boring”. When I finally started the game last year, I was engrossed for dozens of hours. This is why I put Octopath on my GOTY list: the developers had perfected milling. Once you enter the “zone” of his tower-saving combat – improved and refined after first being introduced in A brave omission, also produced by Asano – the game becomes a real meditative experience. As I ventured through the gorgeous vistas and talked to emotionally well-rounded NPCs, I stopped caring so much about the destination. I was having too much fun on my adventure.
For some players, games like Final Fantasy Tactics are their main points of reference when approaching Triangle strategyand I recognize its validity, but for me it is Octopath, sharing the same signature visual style and directed by some of the same people. So, do Triangle strategythe gameplay really feels Octopath at all? Well, sort of. Your army doesn’t act as a single entity – each character takes their individual turn based on their speed, interspersed with your enemies’ turns. This makes it much more difficult to simply brake all enemies before they even have a chance to hit you. And while in Octopath characters can store towers to unleash more powerful techniques, here they can use abilities depending on how many TPs (turn points? Your guess is as good as mine) they have accumulated. These points can be saved for a more powerful ability, or they can be used immediately. There is even a character who can give TPs to his allies. You can block the enemy by regularly spending TP, or you can use basic actions to build up a pool of points.
While playing the game, I kept trying to chase away the “flow state” I experienced in Octopath as I stacked my towers and used them strategically to defeat my enemies. Getting into that state proved elusive here because tactical RPGs are far less predictable than traditional JRPGs. At times I thought I had reached a comfortable combat pace, only to have to scramble and change my entire strategy when enemy reinforcements unexpectedly showed up. I was spending points I thought I could safely save in order to survive immediate encounters, only to realize I didn’t have enough points at a critical moment later. The gritty tactics are enjoyable regardless, but it’s an example of how mixing genre conventions can dilute the strengths of both. It was nonetheless a fascinating experience that achieved the kind of intricate risk-and-reward gameplay that I don’t get in most strategy games.
I know it Triangle is a war game, and people are dying in it. It’s just a sad reality. And yet, I can’t help but marvel at the beauty of it all as I pan the camera around the three-dimensional battlefield. I was thinking Octopath was pretty, but Triangle truly sets the standard for beauty and production values in a modern pixel-art game. Yes, my soldiers were killing human beings in the flesh. But do you have seen the sparkling river? Or the steep character of the reddish cliff? When I got really Stressed out by the strategy, I took a deep breath and toured the battlefield. War has never looked so good. And the lore outside of these cards is impeccable. I’ve played a lot of war games that require me to engage with fictional worlds out of a sense of heroic obligation. When I make decisions Triangle strategy, however, I do not mean noblesse oblige. I think of the people of Roselle who carved their villages into the cliffs of Glenbrook – a testament to their enduring resilience in the face of persecution.
There are no narrative tricks. The designers have quite simply created a universe that is close to your heart by providing you with small attentive details. The doubts siblings feel about each other, the gifts exchanged before a character’s untimely death, the minutiae of how the territories’ turbulent histories complicate what might otherwise be a simple moral decision – nothing all this is just a simple setting like in many bloated RPGs. Here, even the generic NPCs lead surprisingly dignified lives as they did in Octopath. Unwilling to sacrifice even a single civilian’s house, my fondness for them caused me to struggle with a single map for four hours, when I could have solved it much faster had I been willing to abandon their homes. While most tactical combat simulators like XCOM and even a lot fire emblem The games treat each unique card as throwaway puzzles to be solved, the game is determined to show that everyone’s dignity matters, regardless of their station.
Despite having a more focused story than its eight-protagonist predecessor, Triangle strategy employs a similar narrative design philosophy with a focus on world building. As you progress, you must periodically use the “Belief Scales”, a system that determines the direction of the story at key turning points. Your path forward is decided by a vote, and the main character can influence their party members with logical or emotional appeals. Often the only way to get key information for these calls is to talk to NPCs throughout your adventure. I love that caring about others isn’t just a fun way to waste time on the continent of Norzelia. This is the key to ensuring the survival of your party.
Octopath tried to decentralize the lone hero narrative structure of so many games by providing eight protagonists, and the result was wildly uneven. The stories often seemed contradictory and hazy – each member of the group had their own quest that felt entirely separate from the others, and so their willingness to travel together felt like forced artifice. But in Triangle strategy, the voting system allows each member of the party to have different opinions while maintaining a concrete reason to stick together. The belief scale system also subverts the chosen hero archetype in that each person bears some responsibility for the outcome of each vote. Even when I didn’t like the way my decisions turned out, I didn’t feel any of my usual temptations to reload my save file. Since the whole group had had a say in the actions of the party, I didn’t feel like an evil tyrant sending them to fight on my own personal whim.
If anything, Triangle made me realize how screwed up most tactics games are. Think about it: you play as a royal or noble who commands your friends to fight (and sometimes die) in wars simply because they had a revealing moment in which they believed in you, or because they were bound to you by honor or obligation. In Triangle strategy, each is driven by their own goals and ideologies. No one is just a disposable pawn. It’s a worldview that more games could incorporate into their stories, even if they deal with the dirty business of killing fictional people across borders.