The last Nintendo Direct initiated a surprise attack. While Square-Enix is running Octopath Traveler into the ground with a low-budget mobile outsourced exclusive prequel cash-grab, the developers of the original game have moved onto a brand new project in what they call the “2D-HD” series. Project Triangle Strategy has a similar rich pixel art style to Octopath but the genre has shifted to strategy. Even though it’s not releasing until 2022, they dropped a juicy demo to give us a taste of war.
It’s glorious. The game that is, not war. After an extremely lengthy dialogue sequence we get thrust into a comfy little exploration phase where you can walk freely and scout the battlefield. Here we learn you can rotate the camera, go up and down ladders and talk to your crew to see how they’re doing.
Oh, what’s this? After finding a potion under the bridge, let’s take a moment to gaze at the high definition water. What kind of fish lie below the sparkly wrapping paper surface? Are they at war, too? This was the calm before the storm.
When the combat scenario started, I was confounded. How does this work? I spent a couple of minutes just figuring out how to move people. Wait a sec… I don’t get to choose who to move? Instead of moving everyone in the one turn like Fire Emblem, the speed stat of individual units determines the turn order. Right, only one person can move right now. This single turn is followed by an enemy, then one of my units, and so on. Sometimes two enemies in a row, sometimes two allies in a row. You can cycle through the turn order with L and R to see who is where and plan ahead. That was the moment it hit me that this wasn’t an ordinary tactics game, it had its own flair not just in the subtleties, but the very flow of battle. Exciting.
Our objective here is to lower the bridge and clear the enemies from our path. Your position matters not just on the grid, but the direction you are facing. If an enemy can hit you from behind, they’ll get a critical hit. Furthermore, if two enemies sandwich you they’ll get a double-hit and team up, just like in Disgaea except without everyone standing on each other’s heads comically. Thankfully the same rules apply to you, so if you finesse a good strategy in the turn order, you can overwhelm an enemy with a co-ordinated attack that will allow a opportunistically-positioned unit to strike when it’s not their turn. The field is ripe with archers, swordsman and tanky armour units with different strengths and weaknesses.
This is an information-gathering exercise between battles. As the leader of the group, your job is to listen to the people and make informed decisions. Oh, and steal HP potions from people’s homes. For… their own good! Now you’re a more realistic leader. The more info you gather from the townspeople, the more convincing you can be to your group when proposing ideas when people go to a vote. The idea that the truth actually matters might be naive, but still a wholesome innocent concept that I’m happy to see this game pushing. You’re doing your best in a bad situation.
The game isn’t completely going for realism, with magic elements thrown into the mix. We’ve got Shamans who can change the weather, magical healers, spell casters, and horses that can climb ladders. Although if you read real history books from as early as the last few hundred years, you’ll hear people casually talking about magic as if it was a normal thing. Who are we to judge what is realistic? The overall tone is quite serious with sprinkles of sad music and dark story elements. Even in the demo I’ve seen more blood than in Octopath Traveler already.
The second and final map in the demo introduces more environmental interaction. Instead of lowering a bridge you have the option of burning down huge parts of the town to trap enemies in a fiery inferno. Such an interesting moral dilemma if you care about your town… but one that a gamer would not hesitate to employ to get the upper hand in battle. Does that make us evil warlords? Well, it depends how well prepared we are and how many of “our” people we save.
I got into a few tricky situations in this one when the enemy all grouped up in one spot after I had used my tricks. The archers can prove quite the nuisance and things can escalate quickly. Luckily, your own team has a lot of tools to escape situations. One spell I really enjoyed and used liberally was the ability to create a wall of ice to temporarily slow down enemy movement. You’ve also got healers lurking in the background, spells that can buff defense or attack, spies that can hide their position and flying units that can perch on rooftops. I found a good use for everyone in my team for this map, which speaks to the comprehensive design.
If I had one complaint about the demo it would be too high on story and dialogue. Not that it’s bad, it just throws you halfway into the game and expects you to care about a bunch of characters you’ve never seen before, I didn’t really like that approach. It will probably be fine in the full game though, I’m excited to see how it actually starts. It’s also a bit of a pain to mash the A button during dialogue, and I hope the full game includes an autoscroll option that most games have now adopted. Small complaint with an easy solution. It felt like only half the demo was gameplay, with how much story there was (of course, you also have the option to skip it).
I also found it a bit obnoxious how the menu bar stays on the bottom all the time, I don’t think we need a constant reminder of the buttons while we’re following the story. You can see it in every single screenshot on this page.
I went into Project Triangle Strategy thinking it would be a bit less focused than Octopath Traveler, and came out of it thinking the opposite. This could be a masterpiece. Once the gameplay kicked off I really got into it. The combat is engaging, and the new soundtrack is high in energy with some creative compositions. Some tracks brought back a very specific flavour of hype I haven’t heard since the Fire Emblem GBA games, with a nice mix of drama and energy. I loved one particular song so much I did a short guitar cover of it. The game also has fairly competent voice acting while helps differentiate between the characters.
I’m excited to see how this game matures in development, and I wonder if they will think of a new name by next year? Project Triangle Strategy could be a grower it doesn’t really roll off the tongue that well. How about Grids of War? Triple Threat Chaos? Circle of Death? Saltiron Sandwich? Post your name suggestions in the comments if you have any!