We've taken a look at Square Enix's RPG ahead of its launch in a few weeks.
When Octopath Traveler was first unveiled and shown, it was one of those rare thunderclap moments, where a large, gasping audience applauded loudly, and collectively approved the title's rare combination of visual elements from different era's in a seamless, simply gorgeous package.
Traditional 2D sprites combined with detailed voxel-based animated backdrops to create something both seamless and distinct, something both vivid and nostalgic. It was, in other words, both forward-thinking and a hearty throwback to a time that was, and it didn't exactly hurt the game's chances that the rest of its turn-based Final Fantasy-style combat was both tactical and exciting.
Let us stress right off the bat, that Triangle Strategy isn't a sequel to Octopath Traveler. It utilises the same basic visual and aesthetical formula, basically replicating the sprite design and detailed environments. Furthermore, it's a tale about feuding royal families, sinister usurpers and political agendas set in a semi-realistic yet utterly fictionalised Middle Age-esque setting. It shares so many structural, narrative and visual similarities with Octopath that it's almost off-putting at first, that the two aren't explicitly connected. But, at the very least, its formed with the same building blocks, so most fans should be immediately interested.
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We were allowed to play the first three chapters of the game, spanning roughly 3-4 hours. Now, that was barely enough time to get to know the full range of characters, or even experience the central narrative events that set the plot in motion. It should be said however, that almost 95% of the these first hours are spent looking at cutscenes, where there's little, if no interaction at all. Both Octopath and Triangle are generally dialogue heavy games, which is befitting for the genre, but it's an almost unbelievably slow start. Sure, the various political factions, houses, kingdoms and important leaders within all of these are established in a pretty efficient and satisfying way, but we experienced two battles, two open segments and one voting scene throughout almost four hours of "gameplay", and the ratio did feel off.
It's too early to say whether that ratio will continue to be off throughout though, seeing as Triangle Strategy mainly uses its first few hours to introduce mechanics and systems. The gist seems to be linear cutscenes, leading into strategic grid and turn-based combat with a team of heroes at your disposal, followed by some very limited open-world exploration and a few key voting scenes, where you and your party must make crucial decisions that shape the narrative using the Scales of Conviction, where each party member has a voting token. Those, at least for the moment, seem to be core pillars, and they, again, seem strong.
The combat system is all-new, but if you've played, say, Fire Emblem, you basically know what you're getting. Each character can move on the grid and attack, and bonuses are provided if you lock an enemy in, or attack from behind. Some in your party are designated healers, some are ranged damage dealers. Furthermore, the terrain isn't level, and using higher ground to form your strategic approach looks to be key to victory.
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There's more familiar trappings. Using a separate camp screen you can upgrade individual heroes, upgrade abilities and, to a degree, shape them in combat. There's even a system where your main character can retain information obtained, and use it to persuade others further in. It's neither totally transformative, nor does it lean too heavily on others for its success, but it's probably fair to say that if you've played these kinds of games before, you'll find a lot, as in a lot of familiar elements here.
The story seems complex to the point of breaking at times, but it is, so far, highly engrossing. Three kingdoms, who have been at each others throats before, are attempting peace through a highly lucrative mining operation, which necessitates cooperation between them. Young Serenoa Wolffort must take up his father's mantle as one of the most influential houses within one of these nations, the trade kings of Glenbrook, and unearth a dastardly plot that will, eventually, plunge these nations back into war.
It really does work, even if it so intently throws the player off constantly with new names, houses, kingdoms, interconnected relationships and shared history. But again, it's interesting, and learning the in's and out's of this world is why it wasn't as much of a chore to sit through one uninterrupted hour of cutscenes after the other.
So far, Triangle Strategy is, at its core, beautiful to look at, strategic to play and well-written, at least if you forgive its traditionally ham-fisted, direct dialogue design. It's structurally uneven during its first few hours, and it's almost funny that it actually takes almost an hour of "play" before you really do anything but pressing A to advance a scene. But surely, if the game is long, it's paced in such a way, that it gets more action-heavy during its second and third act - we hope.