Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those beloved franchises that people have eagerly been awaiting the return of, despite the publisher showing no interest in it. Strategy RPGs are generally underserved in the console space, and the original is widely hailed as not only one of the best in its genre, but one of the greatest games of all time. Despite a more split reception to its handheld sequels, it’s hard to feel that Final Fantasy Tactics was tapped out, and that it couldn’t again reach the heights of the original. Finally, Square Enix seems to be returning to the franchise unofficially, with Project Triangle Strategy.
The demo throws you into a chapter from the middle of the game, with a brief introduction to give you some background. It takes place on a continent with three central countries, each of which has a rich supply of a vital resource, but none of what the other countries have. In the middle of a tenuous peace between the three, one attacks another, and war breaks out across the continent. It’s a standard setup for a fantasy RPG, but there are some nice wrinkles that seem interesting, like that the aggressor’s princess is engaged to the prince of the annexed nation. It’s hard to judge the story from this short excerpt, but it looks promising. The dialogue is decent, the portraits and sprite art manage to convey emotion well, and, despite the lack of context or attachment, there are some moments that feel grand and impactful, like the public execution of a former king. There’s also some branching paths, but it’s hard to say how truly impactful these choices will be.
The gameplay is mainly what I was concerned with here, and it lives up to expectations. Really, it feels almost exactly like Final Fantasy Tactics. There’s a variety of different jobs and classes, though you can’t customize them here. Still, pretty quickly you’ll start seeing how their specific abilities combine for devastating effect, and you’re given a lot to play with. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, and unlike its biggest contemporary, Fire Emblem, Triangle Strategy makes use of vertical space in its maps, so you’ll be granted bonuses for attacking from above, or certain moves can only reach a certain height. You can also choose which direction to face at the end of your turn, because you’ll take extra damage from a backstab, or if you get surrounded, so there’s even a lot of strategy in the most minute details of the placement of your troops, which bodes well for how robust the combat system should be in the full version. You’ll probably flounder a little as you acquaint yourself with your characters, but the combat is really fun once you find your footing.
Project Triangle Strategy is not only a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, but to 2018’s Octopath Traveller. They both use the “HD 2D” sprite art style, they both have really stupid names, and, most importantly, they’re both revivals of beloved and neglected Square Enix properties. Octopath Traveller used a similar rollout strategy, getting announced alongside the release of a playable demo. (It was also announced with the word project in its title, implying the stupid name might have been a working title that’d be changed. But, alas.) Fans were excited by the demo’s gorgeous sprite art and return to classic JRPG form, and a lot of hype built around it leading up to release. There was a second demo released that was received even better than the first. But the final product fell well short of expectation. The early promise in the writing didn’t pay off satisfyingly, it didn’t make full use of its premise, and the combat wasn’t varied enough to stay interesting throughout. All things that might have seemed good in the demo, but wouldn’t pan out in the full version.
The Octopath Traveller story is the only thing that makes me hesitant with Project Triangle Strategy. The story seems interesting, there appears to be some depth to the combat, and it looks like a modernization of a beloved classic. But a short vertical slice of any game like this asks you to give the benefit of the doubt a lot, and it doesn’t cover any lingering concerns from this team’s last project.