As part of the recent February Nintendo Direct, Square made a surprise announcement with the reveal of a new title tentatively called “Project Triangle Strategy”. Given the unique aesthetic, at first glance I and others thought this might be a sequel to 2018’s JRPG Octopath Traveler. However, it soon became apparent that this was instead a tactics RPG in the vain of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics rather than a direct JRPG successor to Octopath. Showcasing an interesting mix of a choice-based story and a full-fleshed tactical combat experience, my interest was quickly piqued. Though the game is set for a 2022 release date, Square recently dropped a demo on the Switch eShop shortly after the direct which I quickly jumped on. Here are my immediate thoughts after completing the demo.
Let me first highlight the elements of Project Triangle Strategy that left a positive impression.
A Serious War Story
The PTS demo throws you right into the thick of the story at chapter 6, and you’ll find all sorts of political rumblings and war maneuvers present that can be found in other tactics games like Fire Emblem. PTS tells an original story about a continent that had finally found peace, only to be plunged right back into war. A shaky truce between three powerful kingdoms is broken by an invasion, and some pretty intense events kick off right at the start of the demo. The kingdom of Glenbrook is in great peril and you play the Lord of one of its houses, Serenoa (who let’s just say bears a striking resemblance to the protagonist of a popular anime involving man-eating giants).
After making a daring escape from the invaders, a seemingly very significant choice with life and death stakes for a key party member must be made… and it continues to ramp up from there. I enjoyed this slice of story Square gave us for the demo, and I’m interested to learn more about the world of PTS, even if there’s nothing that particularly jumps off the page in terms of originality around the setting. More than anything, the various characters involved are what kept me interested, and their beliefs and opinions on potential decisions make a big mark on the next key aspect I liked about PTS…
Freedom of Choice, For the Persuasive
One of the key elements highlighted by the trailer for Project Triangle Strategy was making impactful choices based on three different ideologies: utility, morality, and liberty. Although this focus on ideologies was not explained much in the demo, it did give you an opportunity to exercise making a critical choice. The interesting thing is that you do not have unilateral authority to make these important choices – they come down to a vote by the whole party. Each party member will have preconceived notions about what is the right thing to do. I couldn’t tell from the demo, but it’s possible these notions are based on differing ideologies between party members, which would be neat.
The specific choice in the demo revolved around whether or not the party should voluntarily surrender one of its key members to the enemy in an attempt to pacify them. The default consensus of the party leans towards giving the party member up, and if you don’t attempt to persuade the party, that’s the choice that will be made. This sequence involved exploring a nearby town for clues revolving around the choice, talking to each party member, and picking dialogue options in an attempt to persuade the party member to whichever side you support. Some dialogue options are locked behind discovering these clues in the world.
I found this system pretty neat as opposed to just making unilateral choices as the player. Hearing other party member’s opinions on difficult decisions could be a great opportunity for character development and intrigue. The sequence of discovering relevant clues was fairly straightforward, but I’m hoping Square can find ways to make this an interesting experience every time one of these choices come up. Additionally, I’m partly inclined to replay the demo and select the other option, and seeing how that choice plays out – how much will this choice, and other choices throughout the game, really shake up the story? If the answer to that is “a lot”, then I think the system is very promising.
Edit: After hearing recommendations on playing the demo through twice and making different choices each time, I plan on doing the same and will add my further thoughts here!
Deep Tactical Combat
Although PTS carries on the “2D-HD” visual style of Octopath Traveler, it deviates in having a tactical combat system as opposed to a turn-based JRPG-style system. Anyone who’s played Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem will feel comfortable with PTS’s offering. The player controls a party of characters on a grid-based battlefield, each character having a distinct class with specific abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Allies and enemies take turns moving, attacking, and using abilities, with faster characters taking their turn more often. It does not use the Fire Emblem style of taking turns where all player characters move first, then all enemy characters, and ad infinitum. As someone who’s primary experience with tactical RPGs is Fire Emblem, this was an interesting twist, more akin to an RPG like Divinity Original Sin. Each character taking a turn at a time changes the formula on positioning your characters properly.
For tactics veterans, this is all standard fare. However some elements that stuck out to me include a focus on careful positioning and wide character role diversity. Attacking an enemy from behind results in an automatic critical hit, and attacking with characters flanking opposite sides of an enemy lets both characters attack simultaneously. But, enemies can do the same to you, so ensuring that your characters are protecting their backs by moving in step with their allies or using the environment for protection is key. There were a few times where I had an opportunity to land a critical hit on an enemy, but doing so would have moved me into a spot where I would be vulnerable to critical hits myself. This balance of aggression and caution is something I hope Square focuses on as a key combat element for the full game.
Each character also feels like they have a meaningful role, which is not uncommon for good RPGs, but it does benefit combat in PTS significantly. Each character has special moves controlled by “TP”, a resource which renews point-by-point every turn. From what I’ve played, it feels like a well-balanced resource, encouraging patience and planning of moves in the future. In terms of characters, you have your typical fighters on the frontline, but even the fighters also have some interesting support moves such as a sword slash that can delay an opponent’s turn. The archer character has two sweet abilities where she can blind enemies or prevent them from moving. The tank character has a typical move to aggro enemies, which is a nice tactical option, but can also shield bash to push enemies across the map. Magic characters can lay down walls of ice to control enemy movement or set tiles ablaze. There seems to be a competent terrain status system where terrain can be frozen or lit on fire, but I’m not entirely sure how complex this system will get. I’m not expecting Divinity levels of environmental interactivity.
There’s a healer character, another character focused on buffing allies’ stats, and a cool rogue-type character who can backstab an enemy and turn invisible on the same turn. All of this diversity in roles and the myriad of support moves add tactical depth. Combined with the focus on positioning, there’s great potential for some deep tactical scenarios with this combat system. Additionally, the second combat scenario in the demo also introduced map-specific environmental traps that were a very neat addition to the tactical tool-belt and made for a pretty spectacular display.
In terms of difficulty, the only time I was in any real danger was at the tail-end of this second scenario. In fact, I let my healer get one-shot by the map’s “boss” (I didn’t realize healers were so weak…) before winning on the next turn. I’m sure difficulty will be a important point of tuning for Square, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple difficulty levels ala Fire Emblem. One last note, there actually is not permadeath; that is, characters who are killed in battle will still be around afterwards. This was surprising to me but I’m confident with the right balancing it can still allow for a meaningful challenge.
Overall I’m quite optimistic about PTS’s combat system. At worst, it’s a derivative but solid attempt, and at best, it could provide some unique and deep tactical experiences for strategy fans. Square has plenty of time to make changes and tweak things, so here’s hoping they can capitalize on its potential.
There were also some aspects of the game that I had mixed feelings about, or had clear negative downsides, that hopefully can be improved upon leading up to the game’s 2022 release.
Great Looks, Suspect Performance
I really liked the “2D-HD” visual style of Octopath Traveler (though I only played the demo), and Square appears to have expanded upon it here, adding more 3D elements to the various maps and towns. Throw in some really impressive special move visuals and environmental effects, and the game is a pleasure to look at.
That is, if you can ignore the rough framerates. The world map and cutscenes generally run at a stable 30fps, but battles are where the real issues pop up. Without any effects going on, the game is stable but still not a smooth 30fps. And once battle effects start popping up, especially the flashier ones, the game chugs. The lack of smooth cursor and camera movement was troubling enough that it made selecting the right grid square tough and unresponsive at times.
Given how nice the game looks, it would make a huge difference if Square can optimize this game to a smooth framerate, because at the moment, the performance tradeoff doesn’t feel worth the visuals. They have a lot of time to optimize, so we’ll see.
Lots of Cutscenes
The last thing I want to note is that, at least in the demo, there were a number of dialogue-based cutscenes. Some of these were “side stories” – optional cutscenes explaining events going on away from the main narrative. I’m kind of hoping that some of these side stories get fleshed out into full-on sidequests/side-battles – I’m assuming they will. I definitely enjoyed a lot of the dialogue and as I mentioned, I find the story interesting. However I felt that the interludes between the main meat of the game – battling and making choices – stretched on a bit too long with cutscenes and dialogue. This is just a minor gripe at the moment, as I’m not really sure if this will be a pattern for the whole game or not. At least the voice acting is decent.
All in all, I’m optimistic about Project Triangle Strategy, although it will be a bit of a long wait until 2022. The combat is promising, and I’m interested to see where they take the choice-based narrative and how deep that aspect will really go. I think the Switch is a great platform for these kind of strategy games, with the portability and usually lower graphical requirements. However PTS still needs some optimization in the performance department, and if they can accomplish that, Square will probably have a fun and very pretty tactics game for us next year.
What are your thoughts on Project Triangle Strategy? Thanks for reading!