Last Direct, what really caught my eye was Project Triangle Strategy. Being a big tactics and strategy game fan, as well as someone who really values a good story, I was hoping for something to scratch that itch while I roll my thumbs waiting for the next scrap of Fire Emblem news.
Triangle Attack's sprite work may be good, but I don't think it services the story it tries to tell, at least not when it comes to the cast. Every character seems to have official art - which is pretty damn good - but you have to click a button to see it, otherwise you're just watching these pixly chibi humans emote. The problem is that the sprites simply can't convey enough emotion or even individuality - one of the best things of Fire Emblem is that every character in your army is unique, and Project Triangle Strategem seems to opt for a similar approach, but the sprites don't look distinct enough for you to be able to tell what each character is about. You can press X when a character is speaking to get a picture of them, but it never changes expression or anything to fit the current situation. Some sprites also look vastlydifferent to their official art.
This would could easily be fixed by just including character portraits when they speak. Square Enix could use the official art they already have, and just draw some three or four expressions per character, with more for the main ones of course. I'm honestly baffled they didn't learn this after Octopath Traveler, which suffered from the same problem. This is something games haven't done for decades, so it's so weird seeing this in a modern game from a prominent studio.
So, you've got chibi sprites which don't really fit the tone of the game and can't convey the individuality of the characters, but I'm afraid there's one more issue: the voice acting. The English voice acting is...uneven, to say the best. Some actors sound like they're really trying, but some - especially the main character - sound like they had to memorize their lines and don't have the script in front of them. If the chibis don't take you out of it, the voice acting definitely will. The quality is so uneven and the delivery of some characters change seemingly mid-sentence. This is particularly bad since, like I just mentioned, the protagonist's performance is the worst. When Roland mourns his dead father, Serenoa is supposed to convey his sympathy, but he sighs in what sounds like annoyance. It made me laugh during what was supposed to be a serious moment.
Gameplay and writing may be king in a game like this, but when you just can't get into it and buy what the characters themselves are saying, you'll feel emotionally disconnected. Three Houses and Shadows of Valentia, regardless of whatever other problems they may have had, consistently managed to sell what was happening on-screen. So far, Triangle Shmiangle has not.
Story and writing
Triangle Circumference seemed like it had a lot of potential. A mixture of Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and with the setting similar to Three Houses, I was hoping for some sweet sweet drama and tales of political intrigue. While this may come later, there are some major red flags and inconsistent writing in the demo.
The game all but starts with one massive issue which seems unlikely they'll address satisfactorily in the first chapters we haven't seen: Aesfrost's forces manage to seemingly teleport to the Glenbrook capital without anyone being able to tell. Aesfrost is located far to the north, surrounded by mountains with seemingly only one easy way in and out, and that goes through two Glenbrook High Houses territories. Even if they managed to convince House Tellior, whose leader is a coward, they'd also have to pass through or close to House Wolffort's territory, which is the domain of the protagonist. The logistics behind the attack which seems to set off the real beginning of the plot make absolutely no sense. I realize this might be addressed somehow, but this is a red flag for logistics being completely ignored. This wouldn't be the first military strategy game to basically ignore things like these, but it is very egregious here.
The villains thus far seem to be mustache twirling Saturday morning cartoon characters or the usual anime take on cowardly nobles. Maybe Gustadolph, who is portrayed as the main antagonist, has some kind of weird reason for what he's doing, but he doesn't have the charisma to sell it. The game pretends like he does, however, which is a problem.
Gustadolph keeps the "kind and benevolent king" prisoner, holds a speech about how Glenbrook betrayed Aesfrost during the opening of a joint mining operation. The fact we know this to be false doesn't matter, but what does matter is the people of Glenbrook cheering when Gustadolph speaks for some reason. Gustadolph makes king Regna confess to a crime he didn't commit under the threat of medieval gunpoint, and yet people seem to buy it? And yet in the very next scene, the narrator says the people are confused by Regna's death - why is the game including loud cheers during the pre-execution speech? There's a reason people don't trust people speaking in videos sent by kidnappers.
The core of the demo is the decision to give up Prince Roland so that House Wolffort and its allies live another day or fight a seemingly hopeless battle to defend him. On paper, this is a decent moral dilemma. In practice and with context, this doesn't work. You know Gustadolph is a lying and manipulative bastard, and you just spent great effort trying to keep Roland safe. It makes no sense for the cast to go "whew, we just saved Roland. Anyway, should we sacrifice Roland or nah?"
The Scales of Conviction is a very strange part of the story. With the power of democracy, you can use this family heirloom to make decisions to avoid regrets, but...putting votes in a hat and then sorting them would literally accomplish the same thing. During this phase the dialogue also seems to be incredibly mismatched. I played both choices, and when I spoke to Frederica about giving up Roland, which she passionately spoke against a minute before, it said she was "indifferent to your pleas", yet her position changed and she still voted to sacrifice Roland. I could also convince one of Roland's loyal soldiers, yet she remains in the party after he leaves, which is...awkward. When I convinced others to let Roland stay with us, Anna, who I thought was Serenoa's spy, said half-threateningly "don't make me regret this", which also doesn't seem to line up with the, er, medieval hierarchy.
The "I've had Roland in my party for five minutes but if anything were to happen to him I'd set fire to people's houses and then myself" route
Probably the most mainstream choice and honestly there's not that much to say here. The traps are convenient and I dislike the fact that the game assumes you used them all. It's also pretty frustrating that you've got two separate bonus conversations with people going "all according to keikaku".
At least this choice lines up with the rest of the game, however...
The "Oh hi Roland. Oh bye Roland." route
I'm sorry but what is this? Within minutes, Roland is convinced by the man who invaded his country to order the Wolffort house to attack the other loyal house. And the Wolfforts agree to take their army to the other house's doorsteps...is Roland okay? Did we drop him on the way from the castle?
So anyway, you fight against the other loyal lord in a typical "misunderstanding battle". These are not too uncommon in strategy games, and there are bad examples of this in Fire Emblem too, but that does not make this okay. Again, due to Aesfrost apparently having an army made up entirely of teleporting ninjas, no one in the Wolffort army notices them approaching, and now you're forced to fight against the other house...apparently. One would've thought these two houses would be in constant communication with each other, especially considering how fast armies move in this universe.
This entire battle felt contrived. It was built upon contrivances and poor communication between two houses which should've been talking to each other constantly considering the circumstances. While I understand the other house leader (whose name I've obviously forgotten) would be suspicious of Wolffort, he immediately jumps to conclusions and attacks the Wolffort army. Serenoa, in his idiocy, doesn't just lay down his arms to prove his innocence or anything, but just goes "fuck it, we're killing him".
I worry that this game is so focused on giving us choices that matter that they forget to make the choices make sense.
Honestly? Pretty good. Lots of things to keep in mind and I like the uniqueness of the characters thus far. I also liked the variety of the map layout and the different objectives seen thus far.
There is a lot of room for improvement here, however, but unlike the story, I suspect this is much easier to fix.
1) The camera is wonky and getting it in a good position was a struggle. This also affects how easily you can move your units.
2) It's slow. Really slow. Both versions of map seven take far too long and make me nervous to think of the final maps.
3) For some reason it says "search" even when you interact with things in the world, like a ladder.
4) I don't know what it is, I can't put my finger on it, but the UI felt...bad. Really bad. Like I couldn't view all the information available to me.
5) This might just be me which is why I saved it for last, but in the "let's send the prince to his doom" route, I couldn't use the zipline. I tried standing behind it, in front of it, at the side, click on it, but I couldn't see an option to use it despite Benedict telling me to use it in case of combat.
Project Triangle Democracy has many major issues which plague the demo. This is especially bad in terms of its presentation and story, and I worry the latter in particular will be hard to fix. There are leaps in logic, ignored logistics, and character interactions that seem inconsistent in addition to lackluster bonus scenes and uncharming villains. All in all, it feels amateurish, and while I realize this is a demo, I worry it's built on a foundation the developers will be hesitant to change.