Final Fantasy Portal: Triple Triad Review


I am not what you would consider…a mobile gamer. I’m about as hardcore as you can get when it comes to playing console video games, but mobile? Not so much. To put it mildly, I would never seriously consider playing anything on a phone. I do enjoy a game of Spider Solitaire or Angry Birds from time-to-time on my phone when I’m stuck getting an oil change or waiting in line, but that’s about it. That doesn’t happen too frequently. I’m not a very patient person and avoid lines like the plague…

However, a little over a month ago now, I stumbled up on this Kotaku article, and my mouth hit the floor. Triple Triad. Triple-holy-balls-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-Triad. Yes, that’s right, the game introduced 16 years ago in Final Fantasy VIII (oh dear lord, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence…that makes the length of time that has passed greater than I was old at the time…how utterly depressing…). The game within a game that I was obsessed with so absolutely back in the day. I can vividly recall hunting for the card of Rinoa’s dog, finding that kid who ran around in circles in Balamb Garden to get Mini Mog, refining the Laguna card to make 100 Heroes (so you could beat the ridiculous Omega Weapon), and battling with some elder dude in some town that had a crap ton of rare cards, losing to him, and then spending hours trying to get them back. Ah, memories…

I’m in! Let’s do this!

Downloading the game

So with a great amount of nostalgic excitement, I downloaded that sucker like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, what’s the big deal? It’s free after all? Side note: I ended up watching the wonderfully timed South Park episode, Freemium Isn’t Free, a mere few days later; everything in this episode is so spot on, it’s hilarious.

First thing to note, the game is not a standalone app. It’s an embedded game within something called “Final Fantasy Portal”. Read: It’s an advertisement hub with internal apps that you can purchase; just another tricky revenue stream that Square-Enix is pushing. To get to the game itself, you need to touch the upper left corner, and a drop down of games will appear, it is currently the first on the list.

Setting up and starting the game

I believe you need to actually go through a pretty lengthy update process, so grab some popcorn or come back in a few minutes. Once the game has updated, you’ll be presented its story. I have never seen a game attempt to tie-in a story so pathetically in my life. It is literally, literally one pop-up ripping off the recent Dissidia/Theatrhtyhm (I hate that word) games: a struggle between Cosmos and Chaos. O…Kaay. Once that’s over, you move onto the tutorial phase, and the digital crack begins…

Tutorial and initial gameplay

Triple Triad itself is a very simple game with a few wrinkles. Let me see if I can explain it in a sentence…ahem…two players take turn playing from their hand, comprised of 5 cards each, that have north-south-east-west numerals ranging from 1->9->A to a 3×3 grid, each successive card will attempt to “flip” ones on the field to “their color” by “beating it” if the numeral adjacent to it is greater than the one on the field (with “A” being trump”), the players keep doing this until the 3×3 grid is full of cards; whoever has the most cards on their side, wins. Feels like a run-on sentence, but that’s the gist of it.

There are additional “rules” that can be tweaked to change the core gameplay, such as forcing specific card ordering (Chaos), adding bonus flip potential with simple match (Plus, Same), or altering the whole numbering system; 1 is trump, A is weakest (Reverse). If that sounds confusing, it’s not. It’s a very simple game. You beat an opponent? You get to pick one of their five cards to keep as your own (your opponent does not lose their card; like in FFVIII, however).

The tutorial phase explains all of this in great detail and takes about 5 minutes to go through. You are given 5 initial cards (very important, I’ll explain later), and you play through an unloseable first match (trust me, I’ve tried), and then one more match before you can be free to do what you want. Then the not so fun begins.

Freemium…isn’t free?!

You are informed that to replenish whatever nonsense the story said, it takes 30 minutes to recharge a crystal. You get five crystals, and you need one of them to play a round. Lame. Super lame. But, you are given an additional five crystals to attempt to get you addicted. Want more? Too bad. You need to wait 30 minutes, buuuut if you feel like money is not needed for  food, shelter, clothes, dog food, or other important things, you could just dump your money into Square-Enix’ digital bank. Shame on you Square. I have not once made an in-app purchase, nor do I ever intend to, nor should anyone, ever. This nonsense alone significantly cripples the game. I hope this angle dies a horrible death, but alas, it is what it is.


The fun to be had is a mixture of nostalgia, card collecting (there are almost 400 cards in this game from Final Fantasy I to XIV and various offshoots like Type 0, Dissidia, and Tactics [!!]), deck building (nothing beats spending time building a killer deck!), and just the joy of owning fools online with superior strategy.

Triple Triad has two modes: offline and online / local bluetooth. There is no ranking system per se, but for both modes you are given stats on: Wins, Draws, and Streak, and these are displayed to your opponent on every match.

Current stats as of this writing:

Ndolger: Offline – Wins: 497, Draws: 58, Streak: 6 | Online – Wins: 436, Draws: 142, Streak: 1

XeNJ     : Offline – Wins: 304, Draws: 33, Streak: 0 | Online – Wins:  86, Draws:  47, Streak: 3

OK, first off, my main account is artificially bloated…sorry, I’ll explain why below, but it’s about 150-200 wins padded. I know…I hate myself. XeNJ is real though, I promise!

Oh, hold on…my crystals replenished, be right back…

… … …

Eh, a Draw. Where was I? Oh…let’s talk about game progression next.

Game Progression

So, you can’t just waltz into the online components, or you’ll pretty much get destroyed. Your initial deck sucks. It will be composed of two 1* cards, two 2* cards, and one 3* card. The best cards are 5* cards, and the best of the best cards have corner “A-9” placements. Unfortunately, without these, you stand little to no chance of actually winning on the default game mode online. I’ll go into the online aspects in a bit, but first…

You end up needing to play the Solo mode to get some salvageable cards. The offline component (I use that loosely, as the game requires an online all times…which absolutely sucks for my junky 3G phone…), is broken down into three difficulties: Easy, Normal, and Hard. You unlock each by beating the protagonists in each of the first 14 numbered Final Fantasies. Why not the antagonists? I have no idea. Don’t ask me. The story slide was only one pop-up, remember? Not much details to go off of.

Depending on how good you are at math and not sucking at games in general, this process takes, at minimum, 42 crystals (14 * 3). You get, I believe, 11 crystals to start off with. 5 crystals replenish every 2:30 hours. So, you can reasonably expect to play 20-25 times a day. After you’ve actually unlocked all the difficulties, you basically have a 1% chance of encountering a “rare card” (Hard mode only). Note: Drop rates were significantly boosted at launch; I’d say it was in more of 3-5% range, but it’s hard to know.

In any event, you’ll probably need at least 1 or 2 rare cards before you venture online. The whole goal of this game is to really play with other people. Offline is sort of fun…? I guess. The CPU is either intentionally retarded, or the game modes just aren’t fun. Online is where it’s at!

Starting online

OK! So it’s probably been a few days, you’ve probably got 50+ cards, let’s do this! What should you expect? Well, first off, you’re probably going to lose. A lot. Why? Anyone who is playing online basically needs to win 4-5 times to have a manageable deck. But once you’ve won a few times, you can then have a reasonable chance of beating other players. Make sense? So…newbies get screwed. To make matters worse, you do not get the option of toggling the game mode…until you win one game! What does this mean? I’ll tell you. It means you have to beat “A-9” 5 card deck juggernauts. This basically needs to involve having a dumb opponent. Or fighting someone who is in your boat, but with only a few good rare cards (cough Lightning). This process sucks. It’s dumb, and it shouldn’t be this broken. If you can get past this phase (at least one win), the game is pretty fun.

You’re then free to enjoy all of the other modes at your disposal (alter settings before finding a match). Matchmaking is very basic and you just sit in a queue until another player is found. You get the name of your opponent, but that’s pretty much it. I see no way to follow-up and find out who they are. Which kind of sucks.

Tips, tricks, and hacks

Do you have gotta catch ’em all obsessive compulsive behavior? Do you have a physical longing to complete ridiculous digital collections, for no apparent reason that would benefit you, save perhaps, the stroking of your own ego? Why…I can help! Because I’m like this! There are 383 cards (as of 9/29/15, based on Japanese version, there will be more) available to find, and there are various ways to obtain each:

  • Restricted cards: Need to “achieve” something. Win X number of times. Win X number of times in a row. Unlock all cards from one of the games, etc.
  • Cards found through gameplay: There are “commons”, “uncommons”, and “rares”; just like any card game. You can take one card for each win you earn.
  • Special cards: Triple Triad is part of Final Fantasy Portal. Final Fantasy Portal wants you to sign up for a Square Enix account. Play every day, click on articles, and get points. Redeem points for 5 special cards. Ugh..
  • Tutorial cards: Remember the tutorial section? And the 5 cards you get? Yeaaahhh…about that… Well, all of those cards are unique. And…there’s about 60-70 of them. Yeah. That’s right. So what does this mean? I suspect this is an attempt to force people to “play with their friends” to find all the cards. But the odds of you having enough friends to obtain all of these cards are impossible. There are only two ways I know of how to do this:
    • Get a second phone/tablet to play against yourself (keep deleting/redownloading the app until you get them all), or find the subreddit for this game and play with people online. I chose the former. Because I’m antisocial, and I’d rather do it myself. I don’t ask for help.
  • Sephiroth: Because Square-Enix wants to be a complete douchebag, they decided to make one very special card almost impossible to obtain without cheating: Sephiroth. It’s not even that great of a card, but…to get it, you need to win…100 matches…in a row. Online. If anyone can achieve this feat, I applaud you. But this is akin to winning the lottery, so good luck. The only way this can be done is fighting against yourself or a friend 100 times in a row, and hoping you don’t get a dropped game. Yes, I did this. Yes, I’m obsessed.

Well, if you’re not obsessed with the collection aspect (I have a problem), here are some general tips on how to win:

  • Stop making boring decks. Guys, seriously, every deck online has 3-4 of the same cards in them. Why? Because they’re overpowered. What does this mean? You know exactly what people are going to use. I’ve found decks that have right heavy “A” power mixed with some trickery can beat most anything…because everyone uses left heavy “A”, and I know, in general, what cards are going to be used, so I can account for the weaknesses. It also helps that I have every card, and there are so very few cards that have specific combinations.
  • Why do people make boring decks? Well, there is one card, specifically, that is completely broken. It is a double “A” west-south. Lightning. Everyone uses it. In every deck. It’s the ONLY card that has two “A”s in it, and can be used as a defensive shield or brutal offensive weapon. I’ve seen one person not use it…ever. That means, every deck you’re going to see is only going to have 4 unique cards. You need to account for this card at all times, it is almost always the card that causes you to lose.
  • I use a spider approach: Bait people into a sequence of events until they screw up and leave one of their cards unprotected. This usually involves a trap with the Lightning card. It works 75% of the time for me. I have 3-4 variations of this same deck. Most people play the “four corners” approach with “A-9” and hope you screw up; usually followed up by a north or south “A” finisher. Seriously, that’s it. Everybody does this. My approach beats these decks 80% of the time.
  • Play “Roulette”. If you really want to have the most fun and vary up your experience, this is really the only mode to do that, and it’s the only mode where you might generally find a game (all the other combinations are ghost-towns). Although this isn’t exactly booming with activity either.

Final tips:

  • Look, I don’t do this, as I don’t see the point, the game is supposed to be fun, but if you’re having trouble, here’s a way to get past the “first phase” of online: background the app when you start a game. This will drop the session, but the game will remain. Your opponent will be replaced by a CPU, and the CPU is stupid. You have a much better chance of winning. A lot of people do this on purpose, just to get more wins/streaks. I don’t get it, but, to each his own.
  • Want a comprehensive list of all cards? Check this page out. It’s still being worked on, and it should take quite awhile to find them all.

Final thoughts

I really want to like this game more than I do. It has several problems though. Online is broken. One card has broken the game. I really wish Square-Enix would patch it or get rid of it completely. The game has a lot more potential, but it’s not a full fledged game…yay for freemium. It makes me upset at the potential here. I still enjoy it, but it’s depressing to consider how much more fun it could be.

Also, I didn’t mention this, but once you obtain “10” of the same card, you can “alchemy it” into a different version of the same numbers. This aspect is really the only reason I’m still playing. Not everybody has unlocked these yet! And that’s fun to me. I like being the first people to do stuff, so…I’ll continue playing.

I’m at 378/383 cards, and 3 of the remaining that I need involve creating up to two hundred new cards. That means I need to play (win) at least 2000 times. It’s going to take awhile…

I’m obsessed with this damn thing, but I’m going to see it through the end. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes to play, my wife hates it, but…I just can’t stop. South Park says it best:

  • “No, see If something’s addictive because it’s FUN, that’s one thing, but this is just blatant Skinner Box manipulation.”


+ Oh, the nostalgia!

+ The core gameplay is actually very fun and simple

+ Card collecting and deck building is enjoyable

– Boring initial phase

– Ridiculous freemium replenishment

– Broken online…damn you Lightning!

– With the launch window over and supreme difficulty of new players being able to break through; the community isn’t very robust. Seems doubtful that the online aspects are going to be healthy for long; at least on Android…I can’t imagine this is much better on iOS though.

7.5 – But yet I continue…recommended for fans

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