If there was one side activity in any Final Fantasy game that had me hooked, it was the Triple Triad card game from Final Fantasy VIII.
Unlike Final Fantasy IX’s Tetra Master or any other similar activity, Triple Triad was a card game that had clear enough mechanics for anyone to understand, yet enough challenge and strategy to make most victories satisfying. In addition to clear tiers of cards, the challenge to obtain better cards gave the game even more reason to play throughout the entirety of Final Fantasy VIII.
But now that Square Enix has elected to release this card game as a Free-to-play title for both Android and iOS, is the magic still there?
Yes and no.
First off, the goal of each match and the mechanics remain largely the same as they did in the original game. Each player gets a deck of 5 cards (based on characters and monsters from the various Final Fantasy games), which are placed on a 3×3 grid. Your goal is to obtain more points than your opponent by flipping their cards with yours and keeping the cards you control from flipping. Each card has four numbers representing the strength of each side of that card. When a card with a higher value is placed next to a card with a lower value on the side it touches, the lower value card flips. The match ends when the 3×3 board is filled and the points are determined by how many cards are under each player’s control at the end of the match.
There are of course more rule sets beyond the basics, including the Plus and Same rules (which can be used to flip more cards than the one(s) touched directly by a card you play via combos), but nearly all of them are standard fare for Triple Triad. The elemental types that some cards had in the original game (along with the Elemental board spots) are absent from this version. There are a couple of new rules like Chaos (which seems to have replaced the Random rule in the original version), but the majority of rules remain the same and the original music and sound effects are still present. That’s a good thing.
There are some good changes to the game. One is that there is a much wider variety of cards (380, where the original in Final Fantasy VIII only had 120) coming from every mainline Final Fantasy game released thus far including Type-0, but excluding spin-offs (like the Crystal Chronicles and Tactics entries) and prequels/sequels (like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XIII-2). Another good change comes from the nature of mobile games: it can be played anywhere as long as you have access to wi-fi or a mobile network. Also, the controls are as simple and intuitive as any other touch-based card game. The fact that you don’t lose cards when you lose a match is largely a nice perk. Lastly, this is easily better-looking than the original version on Final Fantasy VIII, as the visuals are cleaner, the cards are more detailed, and everything just looks nicer.
But there are some changes that are not so good. Due to the free-to-play model, you cannot play an unlimited amount of the game without paying, as each match requires use of a Crystal token to play and you only get a set number of Crystals each day. Each Crystal recharges after 30 minutes, but considering you only get 5 Crystals at a time and each match usually lasts a few minutes at the most, you’re likely to burn through them long before even one has recharged. While people who are used to free-to-play games might not be bothered by this, it’s a bit frustrating if you love the game and just want to keep playing. It’s like trying to stream a movie on a slow internet connection: watch a few minutes, then let it load for a few more. Rinse, repeat. I’d rather just pay $10 and get a truly unlimited version to play as much or as little as I want.
Then there’s the fact that the “All Open” rule (both players can see each other’s hands) is largely absent in most of the single-player matches. In the original game, there were matches like this as well, but it was not a common occurrence. What makes the lack of an All Open rule so annoying is that matches end up feeling more random because it’s pretty much impossible to plan how to approach your opponent, especially when the Plus or Same rules are active. There is little ability to strategically place cards in order to keep your opponent from getting Plus/Same and a massive combo, making most victories/defeats more based on luck than strategy. It feels like a chess match in which you cannot see any of your opponent’s pieces except the one that was most recently moved.
What is by far the most annoying change to me is that there aren’t really any cards that feel unique or special anymore. In the original version of Triple Triad, you had monster cards which varied in strength and stats. The next tier up was boss cards, which also varied but were more powerful than the monsters. Then you had GF (Guardian Force a.k.a. Summons, Espers, Eidolons, etc.) and special creature cards, which were some of the best cards you could get and were usually very powerful. Finally, you had the top-tier Player Cards, all of which were based on characters from Final Fantasy VIII and were (in terms of raw numbers) the most powerful cards in the game. In the Android/iOS versions, none of those tiers exist anymore. Cards are now represented by star levels, which is all well and good, but the tiers seem to be randomized as to what cards are in what tier. Now there are character cards in every star level and in many cases, those characters have multiple different iterations (each one having a different portrait). Cards that were the most powerful in the original Triple Triad are now mid-level in many cases (having completely different number sets) and very few of the cards seem to be “one of a kind.” That might change in the highest star level cards, but I’ve seen very few of those so far. Ultimately, too many cards of characters I loved in their original games just feel mediocre.
My last complaint is not related to changes to the game and is relatively minor, but good to note nonetheless. Instead of having an actual app for Triple Triad, you have to download the Final Fantasy Portal App, then select the Triple Triad icon, then select “App Details”, and then you can finally select “Play Now.” It’s not a long process, but it’s needlessly tedious and frankly unclear as to what you are supposed to select. It took me a couple of tries to figure out how to start up the game. That should never be the case.
All complaints aside, Triple Triad is still a game worth checking out if you enjoyed playing the original. It may not have the same draw for me as the Final Fantasy VIII version or the early-2000s unofficial “Triple Triad Online” did, but it’s still a good looking mobile version of a fun card game with all of the original music and sound effects and largely the same mechanics as the original. Even though the free-to-play model has its shortcomings and frustrations, the wide variety of cards from multiple Final Fantasy titles are a largely welcome addition and there is still plenty to enjoy.