Turn-based strategy games always feel somewhat of a remnant of the past. It’s not even that those sorts of games don’t exist anymore. Particularly in the Western indie space, you have games like Warframe and Banner Saga that are loving modern odes to classic titles while offering something new, and the Fire Emblem series is bigger than ever. In reality, though, the genre thrives on the memories of the past, not necessarily the ideas of the present. Whether that’s a good thing or not, it makes something like Project Triangle Strategy, via its Debut Demo, a perfect title for Square Enix’s HD-2D series.
Announced during last week’s Nintendo Direct, Project Triangle Strategy is attempting to do for strategy RPGs what Octopath Traveler did for the JRPG: recreate the golden era of the genre by capturing the magic of the SNES and bringing it back in a hyper-realized state that captures the fans’ imagination, not the graphics themselves. Using modern technologies, particle effects, and a 3D world mixed with classic 16-bit sprite work, the games of the HD-2D series are about reimagining a feeling.
Since the announcement, I’ve had the chance to spend time with the Project Triangle Strategy Debut Demo, and it looks like lightning does strike twice when it comes to Square Enix’s nostalgic reimagining of the past.
I have to admit, the premise of the game makes me laugh somewhat, because of its admittedly generic nature. You have three kingdoms in Glenbrook, Aesfrost, and Hyzante living side by side on the continent of Nozelia in an uneasy truce. Each struggle for the resources of salt and iron they need to sustain themselves, and 30 years before the game begins, that struggle resulted in all three kingdoms being involved in the fittingly named Saltiron War. Now, with Aesfrost making moves to assassinate the head of Glenbrook and re-ignite the war, you’re tasked to bring Glenbrook together to resist and win against the opposing forces.
It’s nothing unusual for the genre, but like Octopath Traveler before it, the magic comes from taking the high-fantasy world associated with older games and reimagining it with new visuals and gameplay that blend old and new together.
The most surprising thing about the Project Triangle Strategy demo is how in-depth it is. The demo offers chapters 6 and 7 from the in-development title, each of which hit major moments in the game’s story. Chapter 6 is the chapter where Gustadolf of Aesfrost assassinates the leader of Glenbrook, and you and your crew are tasked with trying to flee the city. In chapter 7, enemy forces peruse you to the remote town you shelter within.
With the heavy amount of story on offer, alongside two lengthy battles that took me just shy and just over an hour respectively to complete, you’re looking at an impressive 3-4 hours of content in this demo. It’s a generous preview of a game we otherwise won’t get our hands on for another year, and the offerings showcase quality, not just quantity.
For the points where the Project Triangle Strategy demo can be compared to Octopath Traveler and its less-successful mobile spin-off, this title comes out strongest. Visual fidelity may be a strange thing to discuss in a game build around 2D sprites, but the work put into the game’s visuals lift it above its predecessor. A full 360-degree camera has been introduced for battles and exploration segments for a better survey of the area in battle, and even with clunky camera controls, it’s useful in battle and a stunning all-angles view of the game’s graphical presentation. Not only that, but the areas that go for realism, namely water and lighting, have both seen major improvements to the game’s benefit.
Story was a major complaint many had with Octopath Traveler, mostly because of the game’s freedom of character choice and non-linearity limiting the depth of any overarching story that the game attempted to string together. In Project Triangle Strategy, the story is the focus, and players also have a direct intervention into the story through the Scales of Conviction.
Dialogue choices that pop up in the game are mostly minor in nature, but more substantial issues are settled by debate using the Scales of Conviction. In chapter 7, the question being asked is whether to give up Prince Roland or fight a potentially losing battle to defend him. Most are unconvinced about the value in fighting on, and you can vote with them to relinquish the prince, or you can try to convince them to join your side, gathering info that could help you change their minds.
Gathering info and trying to convince them of your path is one thing, but not letting your character make the final decision is what makes this system so intriguing. Convincing others is vital. If not, they’ll vote against you, and the story shifts in their direction anyhow. I was skeptical just how well this would be implemented in the reveal, but if it works this well throughout, it will define the experience as something truly special.
And this is all without talking about the gameplay itself! Movement around the battle arena is as you’d expect, but the use of elevation and environmental attacks adds an interesting level of depth as you position yourself for battle. You can also recruit additional members through side stories and, potentially in the full game, side missions, that further grow ranks. I added a shaman who could make the arena wet and use lightning, and they’re not the only recruit you can add to the game. Battles feel complex even without permadeath, and a lot of fun to strategize.
With the Project Triangle Strategy demo, three hours passed before I noticed. It’s an impressive showcase of a game that could recapture the intense-yet-enjoyable experiences of the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics. Provided the final game is as strong, this could become one of the best games on Nintendo Switch.