I finally got around to finishing Triangle Strategy after gaining a great foothold in it from my charity stream a few weeks ago. I want to say that first, I enjoyed this game for the gameplay. The tactical battles were a lot of fun, and there were a few fights that I found very satisfying. My final battle was an escort mission on a bridge and I really felt the synergy between all of my units, the full weight of using the magic system (which is great!), and was able to use placement and turn order to its fullest. It's great!
The decisions that you are constantly making reminded me, of all things, of Disco Elysium. Failure in so many situations isn’t a stopping point, but another path to go down. Letting the chips lie and seeing the path that your party decides, not reloading for the outcome you wanted, and facing the consequences of your decisions all felt very well done. I wish there were more paths that lead to a game over as a reminder that honor and valor don’t win wars, but that isn’t on the game, just a personal wishlist.
With that out of the way, the game is about 35% battle and 65% story, so my god it has to stick that landing. I hate to say it does not. From the beginning, it spent a long, long time setting up a score of characters, nations, motivations, and other worldbuilding. I think in my first 2 hours of the game, I had maybe 30 minutes at most in an actual battle. I could look past that, but complaints kept building.
The most minor of nitpicks
Words have meaning. The meaning of those words changes over time, but in a fantasy setting, I took them a little more literally. First example is when a character rapidly gives an order of “no quarter” to a group of bandits. It originally meant that absolutely none should be spared - surrendering, unconscious, or otherwise. The second one is in every battle’s win condition, and is ambiguous at best: “Decimate the Enemy Forces”. Originally, this would be one in ten (and had origins in Rome, which wouldn’t exist, but if you write a game using only language that could have existed solely etymologically in your world, you are probably insane). Nowadays, however, the word has changed to just mean pretty much “destroy most of”. So kill somewhere between 10 and 80 percent of the units. Not all. Finally, I am like 90% sure that the rivers in the game could not possibly exist in real life. The sources/elevations don’t feel right, but I would need an angry Reddit cartography nerd to tell me if I’m right on that.
They needed a military buff on staff. Badly.
I remember clearly when Game of Thrones was on, and people had opinions. A lot of them came from the show being set in a mostly realistic wartime environment - armies had supply chains, which are totally unaccounted for in the game, but not egregious I suppose. Armies also had travel time. It would be outrageous for a single person, nevermind an entire army, to cross an entire country with any kind of swiftness on foot. If someone showed up ‘too early’ in the minds of the viewers, the reality was smashed. I don’t know how large Norzelia is supposed to be, but this stuff drove me up the wall. Your army would be across the map and you would hear of an attack and be there to defend it. The Aesfrost army would descend all the way from the north of the map to the south while most of a day passed.
Worse yet, the duration of battles and wars is incredibly short. An army would march into my demesne and be within my city walls attacking the same day. My demesne, by the way, is a literal castle, surrounded by a literal city, and oh yeah, all of this is on a giant motherloving cliff. There is one point of ingress, and any amount of archers is going to, if you pardon my terminology, decimate attacking forces before they think about getting into my walls. The capital city is also defended by thick walls, but only has one bridge inside and out of the actual castle, and even after that the castle is surrounded by water and on a hill. At the beginning of the game when armies were marching towards these fortifications I was expecting to have to meet them on the field. Defend the gates. They should have an army of those Helm’s Deep orcs trying to blast open the walls to make an opening where thousands of soldiers could pour in. Nope. Every fight was in the city streets.
On my particular path, I had to come up with a clever plan to free enslaved people stuck inside the most fortified city in the game: a city built on a salt lake. But it’s walls are like, really thick? Thicc? So my party devised a devious plan - we piss them off to send an army to our (not to put too fine a point on it) armored fortress. While that army is on the move, we sneak in, capture the slaves, steal a boat out, and blow up all other vessels in the bay. We succeed in the first part of the plan, and the army leaves to lay siege to us. We sneak into their capital. While we are in the capital but before we free the slaves - keep in mind that time period - their army reaches our fort and begins plans to siege. Literally siege. We are heavily fortified, and it's going to be a protracted engagement. Will our food stores hold out? Can we stop the common man from revolting from the madness of constant battle cries? Will they launch their dead in our walls to spread disease to thin our numbers before they mount an all out assault? Nope.
They literally get bored and break in. They get bored before we even freed the slaves.
In the time it took us to wipe our asses in the latrines, their army had moved across the world, and then again, we pulled our pants up and they were in our front gate. The capstone of all of this is why they wanted to be patient. Our most trusted advisor, left behind, came up with a devious ploy: scarecrow soldiers, to make them think the fort was armed. On first blush, assume that this is valid. Assume they thought our fort was armed, soldiers at the ready. That means they would have stuck to the ‘siege’. But keep in mind this is a game with archers riding birds to spy on enemy movement, teleporting spy units, and just straight up magic. Even factoring those things out, how in the hell are scarecrows supposed to work? They don’t move! Even through a spyglass you could see a standing army and go “wait, is that dude seriously made of straw?” On a clear day you could look and see a regiment standing stone still for an hour. Who was this supposed to fool?
All for a handful of salt
They had to come up with a reason to start hostilities. Something that would make sense in the lore of the world, and could be believable enough for a world full of fire blasting wizards. What is something so vital, you couldn’t live without? Salt. It’s all just…salt. Salt can be rare! We do literally need salt to live. So the plot of the game (spoilers?) is that someone discovers salt crystals in a mine, which means that the religion that is exploiting slavery to farm the world’s only salt lake™ would be brought to ruin and their god disproven. Here, I would like to point out that the irrational, illogical, farce of a dream that my character decided to take was “go out looking for a the ocean”, which was clearly impossible because…wilderness? Ignoring the fact that you can get salt from any source of water, a few plants, or the crystals in the ground…pick something better. The world is yours, Squeenix! Make the slaves farm magicite, unobtanium, or anything less banal and moreover questionable than just…salt.
Mass Effect, Triangle Strategy and Anal Beads
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, that too much of game design relies on anal beads. Remember Mass Effect? Every world it seems would give you multiple choices, a feeling of consequence, then push you on to the next world. You never branched too far off the plot so everyone had the same experience, just different decisions in between. Then at the end, you get to the Ending O Tron 5000, pick a color, and call it a day. It was a small bead of freedom, stringing you to the next bead, another small bead, until eventually all paths diverge at the last second. Your choices mattered, but only in a microcosm. A game like Triangle Strategy is all narrative, and introduced a mcguffin and mechanic just for voting on what to do. What decisions to make. But at the end of the day, right up until maybe the 2nd to last mission, it's all just anal beads, stringing you along to pick the ending that you want. I know it's folly to want a game to only offer 20% of the content because the other 80% is paths you didn’t take, however I have gotten so used to and disappointed by this model in games that so heavily tout the consequences of our actions.