Hands-On: Project Triangle Strategy’s demo brings us back to a satisfyingly dark era of strategy RPGs

Let me tell you a story of strategy RPG history. In the era of the late SNES and early Playstation 1, a number of grid-based strategy RPGs came out that all had a similar flavor. Final Fantasy Tactics, Vandal Hearts, Tactics Ogre, and many other titles all took us to a dark place, a place of blood and war, of political conflicts and corrupt churches, of people dying senselessly and greed dominating the wills of men. It was a real Game of Thrones era for the strategy RPG.

Then everything changed. Final Fantasy Tactics became fairy tale high-fantasy with its Advance spinoffs, most of the other franchises simply disappeared, and the successor to the strategy RPG, Disgaea, while fun in its own right was more of a parody of the genre than anything else. Thus, this particular brand of small party-based strategy RPG, laid dormant, as bigger war games like Fire Emblem took their place.

Well, Square Enix has a development division whose sole job is to make everything old new again. They reinvigorated the turn-based JRPG with Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler and now they are going to do the same with Project Triangle Strategy, one of the biggest titles revealed in the last Nintendo Direct.

Triangle Strategy tells the story of three kingdoms each with access to a precious resource, water, salt, and iron. You, a noble youth of House Wolffort in the Kingdom of Glenbrook, witness your beloved homeland invaded under false pretenses by the kingdom of Aesfrost. You know how things go. Kings get beheaded. Armies occupy your nation. Now you are on the run with the last surviving heir to the throne, and the future of the kingdom is in your hands.

This is dark. There’s drama. There’s bloodshed. There’s a genuinely compelling plot that we only saw a very small sliver of. Square Enix is not treating their fanbase with kid gloves. This isn’t about the power of friendship triumphing over evil. This is about cold, calculated political plays in wartime.

Triangle Strategy plays like all the fantastic strategy games of the PSone era. You have maps made out of simple polygonal grids with a focus on verticality. You have a small squad of soldiers, each with diverse roles and unique abilities that you can further customize with weapons, equipment, and a deep class and ability system. You have lots of specific map-based events, traps, and gimmicks that keep every battle feeling fresh.  Finally, you have difficulty, unapologetic, punishing, difficulty.

Triangle Strategy does not screw around. While the difficulty was artificially inflated for the demo, it was easy to tell that it won’t hold your hand in the final release. Even your most hearty units can only take two or three hits before dying. Most of your party is made up of squishy healers and mages, so if you don’t use your heavy armored units to divert enemy attention you’ll die quickly.

This is the first way Triangle Strategy differs from strategy games of the past. Class matters a lot. Final Fantasy Tactics was proud to let you customize your characters however you wish. If you wanted to make a white made that could beat someone to death with a stick, you could do that.

Classes in Triangle Strategy feel a lot more like Fire Emblem classes. If you leave a mage or an archer out in the open for just one turn, they will die. If you leave a heavily armored unit near an enemy magic-user, it will die. Even your protagonists which have much higher stats than anyone else die from a concentrated attack by a few enemy peons.

But don’t worry. You can always blame the battle system that has a million little gimmicks to make grid-based combat slightly more complicated. Attacking an enemy from behind always deals critical damage. Flanking an enemy allows your allies to join in an attack. You can push enemies around to deal damage by smacking them into walls or hazards. You can even create your own hazards by lighting the ground on fire or electrifying puddles of water.

We only saw a small sampling of the many things Triangle Strategy has in store, and honestly, we can’t wait to see more. If these few battles are this deep, then we can’t wait to see what major boss fights are like.

The battle is usually the thing you focus on most when you talk about a strategy RPG but Triangle Strategy has a lot more to offer. Aside from its medieval drama with… questionable voice acting… it also has two other styles of gameplay, exploration, and voting.

Exploration has you running around town gathering information and picking up items. Why are you doing this? Well finding out new clues and info open up new dialogue choices further down the line. Dialogue choices are important because this is a “choice matters” game, where the things you say and do affect the plot and gameplay in huge ways. They determine what characters you recruit, what battles you fight, what items you have access to, and more.

Bigger decisions cannot be left up to one man. They must be voted on by your whole party. In the demo, we were given a choice to turn over an exiled prince to the enemy in order to gain favor with them or to stand and fight despite overwhelming odds. Each member of your party will have their own feelings on the matter and by talking with them you can attempt to sway them through a variety of dialogue choices. Like before, more choices will open up if you explore thoroughly, with some secrets sending you spiraling down paths you would have never expected.

I was astounded at how quickly Triangle Strategy hooked me. The demo is an impressive five hours long and it left me wanting more. I immediately played through it to see more possible story branches and try out new strategies in battle, and if a demo with a limited amount of units can get me this excited, I can’t wait to see what the final version has in store.