Nintendo is starting off the year rather strongly on Switch, with exciting games to keep us busy towards Summer. Despite fierce opposition the Nintendo-distributed game at the top of this scribe’s list is Triangle Strategy, which is coming to us thanks to Square Enix and continuing the visual style we first saw in Octopath Traveler. Yes, there are massive Pokémon and Kirby games too, but for fans of strategy games it’s hard not to be ever-so-slightly impatient for a title that, to be honest, has a rubbish name.
To clarify, though the look and of course the leadership of Square Enix (especially through producer Tomoya Asano) in the projects are the same, Triangle Strategy and Octopath Traveler have different contributing development studios. With Octopath Traveler it was Acquire, whereas for Triangle Strategy it’s Artdink. Both companies have a lot of experience and it makes sense that different teams would specialise in very different genres, but it’s a reminder that Triangle Strategy is very much its own game and the link with its HD-2D predecessor is largely limited to the rather handsome graphics engine.
The HD-2D batch of games has started a trend, though, of Square Enix releasing games with very literal names, eschewing the conventional approach to brand building. Or, if you’re being generous, the minimalist approach to the game names is the brand. With Octopath Traveler it began life as ‘Project Octopath Traveler’; the end result was clunky and literal but was arguably still relatively interesting. Octopath is an unfamiliar way to say ‘eight paths’ and Traveler gives a sense of adventure. It wasn’t our favourite game name, but it had a bit of flow and could theoretically still draw interest from neutral gamers.
When you see a name like Triangle Strategy, do you think it has the potential be a wonderful fantasy story with a modern take on classic isometric strategy? Or does it sound like a weird 99 cent mobile puzzle game?
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of gamers and Switch owners don’t necessarily spend much time browsing game media, or following the progress of releases for months ahead of release. A lot of people enjoy their games, occasionally see official trailers or game listings for upcoming titles, and perhaps rely on some word of mouth from their social media timelines. And so, when you see a name like Triangle Strategy, do you think it has the potential be a wonderful fantasy story with a modern take on classic isometric strategy? Or does it sound like a weird 99 cent mobile puzzle game? It could go either way, right?
When it began as ‘Project Triangle Strategy’ we thought “oh well, they’ll definitely think of something better this time”. They didn’t, and as many have pointed in the months since its reveal it is not a good name or brand, making little sense unless you are an enthusiast interested in the strategic approach that’s referenced. Unlike Octopath Traveler it doesn’t have unfamiliar phrasing or a sense of adventure; Triangle Strategy is a name with little allure.
We understand the market research that could lead to that title, especially in tactics and strategy games. Often when a familiar IP gets a tactics spin-off it has a simple name to reflect that – Gears Tactics and Metal Slug Tactics spring to mind. But that’s just unimaginative game names using familiar, popular brands. The ‘brand’ for Triangle Strategy is that it’s from Square Enix and is using the HD-2D engine; how much of that will be missed by more casual, less enthusiastic gamers browsing for a fresh purchase? Most of it, frankly.
It’s a little frustrating as this particular type of strategy game, namely with an isometric view and a very steady, deliberate pace, is already quite niche. Yes, there’s a loud base of enthusiasts for the genre, but it deserves a high profile mainstream hit. Yet even on a Switch platform with such an active and large fanbase, and with Nintendo leaning in and publishing it, we still fear it’s an underdog. It needs all the help it can get, yet its name is effortlessly skippable by anyone unfamiliar with the demo or the project’s appeal. Just think, if you’re scrolling through social media and see promotion for Triangle Strategy, without having heard of it, would you be remotely tempted to click?
As a small bit of proof of why branding matters, Nintendo of America’s YouTube account uploaded a number of videos on 25th January. Some comparisons are below on view numbers at the time of writing, over four days later. It’s lagging behind smaller download-only games, one of which is a cinematic trailer without gameplay.
The best-performing Triangle Strategy video on Nintendo’s channel is the announcement trailer from a Nintendo Direct nearly a year ago, on around 383k. Not bad but, again, modest compared to a lot of retail game trailer uploads on the channel.
The name isn’t the only reason that it’ll be tough to sell big numbers of what is – ultimately – a genre that struggles for mainstream attention. It can also be argued – when it comes to defending this naming convention – that Octopath Traveler succeeded with a few million sales, which can be considered a solid result.
We can only hope that Triangle Strategy can find a sizeable audience despite its unfortunate name.