- The Best Turn-Based RPGs if You Hate Turn-Based Combat - December 16, 2023
- Super Mario RPG Remake Review – A Hearty Helping of Nostalgia - November 25, 2023
In the world of video games, there’s no genre quite as notoriously difficult to get into as the Turn-Based RPG. You’ll constantly hear people complain about how they can’t find the appeal in taking turns with your enemies to see who wins, gaining EXP, and experiencing what’s typically a pretty slow burn of a gameplay loop.
This stereotypical idea of what a Turn-Based RPG is does fit some games, but there are plenty you could find out there that help ease you into the genre and make improvements from the game design with its roots in a board game from 1974. I’ll review a few RPGs you can play if you’ve tried the biggest and best in turn-based combat and never found it appealing.
Now that we’ve got that little clarification, it’s time to understand what I’ll consider when choosing games for this list. These games are all ones that I believe, for one reason or another, anyone can enjoy, no matter their affiliation or experience with turn-based RPGs. Games with these qualities are ones I’m confident you can enjoy and might get you to enjoy other games in the genre as well:
- Turn-based Gameplay is the point of this list, and it is mostly just to remind you that I won’t be covering Action RPGs since that’s a whole different kind of game. We need to be exchanging blows, taking a few turns, and strategizing, but I’ll accept some loose definitions of a “turn” for variety.
- Gameplay Variation is critical; if the game still plays like an NES Final Fantasy game, there’s something wrong here. There needs to be some significant twist or reason to play this instead of your box standard RPG.
- Low Risk means there’s a significant reason I think you’d still end up liking the game and feeling it was worth it, whether for an alternate gameplay mode or another aspect of the game that’s prominent enough, even if you hate the combat.
- High Quality is pretty apparent. I’m not going to recommend a game if I don’t think it’s good, and I’m mostly just going to recommend games that I think most people will agree are great, fun times, regardless of your opinion on the genre.
Now that we’ve got all the qualifications for this list laid out let’s get into some of the best games if you’ve picked up a few turn-based RPGs and wanted to turn them off after only a little while playing. I’ve felt the same; I’ve been there, and these games are ones I think will help you appreciate the genre a bit more.
- Platforms: SNES, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, Mobile, Steam.
- Metacritic Score: 92
Firstly, let’s start with a classic that more or less created the Action RPG, but in doing so, it isn’t full-on action, but rather a Turn-Based game where the faster you menu, the less damage you’ll take. This leads to a combat system that feels as fast and fluid as you make it, with the concept of turn-based, strategy-heavy fights still in full force.
On top of this free-form combat system that excellently blends real-time action with turn-based gameplay, you have an incredible story with some of the most iconic music in video game history. The only big turnoff with this game is that there’s no best way to play it. I’d recommend the DS version here, but every version has faults, so go with whatever you want.
Nevertheless, no matter what version you’re going for here, Chrono Trigger is an excellent, investing game that is hard to believe is a Super Nintendo game since it honestly goes toe to toe with more modern RPGs on a mechanical level. It’s more standard than most other games on this list, but it’s incredibly satisfying and nowhere near boring.
Any Mario RPG
- Platforms: SNES, Nintendo 64, Gamecube, Wii U, Switch, GBA, DS, 3DS
- Metacritic Score: 87
You’ve probably seen them, played them, or at least heard of them before, but any RPG with Mario in it is guaranteed to be a great time, even if you hate turn-based combat. This extends from Super Mario RPG to the Mario & Luigi series and, of course, to the Paper Mario series, all similar in style with unique quirks and differences.
You can play any of these you want, and playing them in order doesn’t matter; the gist of all of them is being able to avoid damage or do more damage by timing your attacks, on top of having some unique gimmick or attribute that makes that game in the series feel worth playing. Super Paper Mario’s quality is that it isn’t an RPG, but the rest are.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are the two frontrunners. In my opinion, Bowser’s Inside Story has tighter gameplay mechanics, and the switch up to playing as Bowser is excellent, but Thousand-Year Door has a more engaging story and better exploration, so really, go for whatever you want, as long as it’s not Sticker Star.
Sea of Stars
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Steam
- Metacritic Score: 87
If you saw the last two entries on the list and thought, “Okay, those are cool and all, but what if we combined them?” Then you’d probably have Sea of Stars. This incorporates Chrono Trigger’s beautiful music and vibe with the timing-based attacks of Mario RPGs, leading to an incredible combination that constantly brings a sense of freshness to the gameplay.
This, on top of the game’s excellent story and the extreme amounts of polish everything has makes this truly an RPG to behold, and I think everyone who has sworn off of turn-based combat will still find a new favorite within this game; it’s so high-quality and incredibly well executed that it’s hard to say no to such an incredible combination.
This one is recent, too, so there will still be many raving fans to discuss your journey with. Sometimes, a game being both great and popular is all you need to drive you to actually finish it, even if you’re not a big fan of the genre; I know that was the case with me with several games on this list, and I’d imagine it would be the case for turn-based haters with this game.
Live a Live
- Platforms: SNES, Switch, PS4, PS5, Steam
- Metacritic Score: 81
Now for a game that’s quite old, but got a recent re-release that’s made many people discover it’s actually pretty great. The remake is in typical HD-2D style (basically, it looks like Octopath Traveller), and it’s not too long, meaning if you choose to dive into this one, you’ll find it’s not too much of a chore to get through if you commit to playing it and don’t like it.
The main appeal of this one for me is that it breaks up the monotony by having what is essentially nine smaller campaigns, all in highly varied scenarios and across various periods; this makes the game a whole lot more tolerable if you usually find the reason you hate turn-based RPGs is for the slow burn of the gameplay, which this game never has an issue with.
The actual moment-to-moment gameplay is pretty standard RPG fare, so if you’re looking for a turn-based game that still has you doing all the quests, combat, exploration, and just a sprinkling of grinding that you’d expect from an RPG but with far less monotony and dreary moments of dull gameplay, then this is the one for you.
- Platforms: SNES, Switch
- Metacritic Score: N/A
Earthbound is an absolute classic, and it’s the inspiration behind practically every single indie RPG out there nowadays. Going back to playing it now, it’s still a great time that can charm you into playing through it, even if you think turn-based battles suck. I will say the first few hours of this one are pretty dull, but after that initial bump, you’ll have a great time.
It’s got a lot of wacky monsters, intense charm, and a unique modern-day vibe where you’re playing as a group of kids traveling through exceedingly wacky environments until you eventually peep the horror. It’s incredibly charming, though the mechanics are somewhat standard as far as RPGs go, so don’t expect anything wildly different.
This one is mainly carried by its beginner-friendly nature, incredibly charming story, characters, and vibe, and the fact it’s been such a culturally important game that you’ll understand where so many different RPGs in the modern day got their main ideas from. It’s a fun time, especially if you want to ease into the more traditional side of turn-based combat.
Undertale and Deltarune
- Platforms: Steam, PS4, Vita, Switch, Xbox One
- Metacritic Score: 92
Now, for two iconic indies, I can group these together since they’re incredibly similar and (kinda) in the same series; it’s the games you’ve heard of by now, Undertale and Deltarune. Deltarune isn’t finished yet, but what we have of it shows incredible promise, so I’ll be covering it as more of a “look to play this whenever it’s released” type game.
These games mix your typical RPG combat system with a Touhou-like bullet hell, having you dodge bullets as you move your soul around the small box of space you have, and the better you are at one, the less you’ll have to play the other. This system works incredibly well to make these games feel interesting, especially with Undertale’s constant gimmicks and Deltarune’s TP and grazing systems.
These games are pretty short, inexpensive (or currently a free demo), and have an iconic, fascinating story and some of the most notorious and wonderful music in video game history. You’ve definitely heard of them before, but if you haven’t given them a shot just yet, I’d say it’s a worthwhile time investment.
Final Fantasy 7 (and the Remake)
- Platforms: PlayStation, Steam, Mobile, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Metacritic Score: 89
Now, for one of the most iconic, beloved video games of all time, Final Fantasy 7 expanded on what Chrono Trigger did with its combat, having you menu in real-time and make decisions on the fly, leading to a much more engaging gameplay loop where you not only had to make intelligent decisions, you had to make them as quickly as you could.
The remake takes this even further, feeling like a proper fusion of turn-based gameplay into Action RPG style, merging the modern and classic Final Fantasy games excellently. All this to say, you can customize the timings of the Action game elements in this game and make it entirely, 100% turn-based if you want to, so it’s whatever you make of it.
Aside from the combat system, this is one of video game history’s most essential, iconic stories. While the remake takes an entirely different path and is less of a remake as much as it’s a retelling (that they keep making you pay more to experience, unfortunately), I’d say try out the original first, then maybe give the remake a shot if you’re feeling it.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Metacritic Score: 89
Fire Emblem, as a series, is like a mix between traditional turn-based RPG gameplay and strategy games like X-COM, and it’s a mix that works pretty well, incorporating (very rudimentary) type advantages, stats, and highly brief battles on the field whenever you encounter an enemy. It’s a formula that works so well; it has warranted like 800 characters in Smash.
On top of this solid, strategic gameplay, you’ve got exploration in a large world, a bunch of different characters to befriend and manage your relationship with, and, in the case of Three Houses, three different routes that drastically change the gameplay, some classes to teach, and some things you can cook to further prepare for battle.
This one, while still an RPG where the combat takes turns, barely resembles a traditional turn-based RPG, so while it’s a highly different and enjoyable flavor of this genre, it’s not necessarily going to help you get into other turn-based games. I mainly recommend it to make a point to your friends, like, “See! I do like turn-based RPGs! I play Fire Emblem!”
- Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
- Metacritic Score: 84
Now, for our Pokemon stand-in of this list, simply because the main reason a lot of people hate turn-based combat is because modern Pokemon kind of sucks. Cassette Beasts take Pokemon and decide to do the daring, brave thing of innovating for once, making many significant changes to the creature collecting and battling formula.
These additions mainly come in the form of an open world with cool permanent upgrades for your character that significantly change your movement far beyond just giving you a bicycle. A fun dash, an excellent magnetism move, and a Metroid Spider Ball are all you need to make exploration way more fun and give you the freedom to go where you want.
It’s also fun to fuse your creatures, every combination having unique sprite work, and play it in multiplayer (which is soon to be online). This game feels like an active improvement over Pokemon in many different ways, and it’s the one to play if that series has left you jaded and upset from the streak of mediocrity it’s been on.
Persona 5 Royal
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, Steam
- Metacritic Score: 95
Now, onto the game that literally everyone will recommend to anyone looking to get into any RPG ever: Persona 5 Royal is a masterclass in game design that’s made both RPGs and Social Simulators enjoyable for people who hate both genres by merging the two and creating an incredibly potent combination that excels over the sum of its parts.
You’d expect the other half to suffer a bit, with half the game not even being an RPG. Instead, it’s some of the most free-flowing, smooth turn-based combat I’ve ever seen in an RPG, giving you the option to end most fights before they even begin if you’ve got the knowledge or intuition to understand your opponents’ weaknesses.
The only real flaw I see in this game is that it feels like a slog whenever you’re fighting enemies that don’t have weaknesses, but the incredible social aspects, the incredibly cool dungeons, the fantastic music, and the overwhelmingly superb visual style are all so ace that I don’t think anyone cares. I can also recommend Persona 3 and 4 (especially with the remake of 3 on the horizon), but 5 is the easiest to get into.
Questions and Answers
Question: Why can’t I get into Turn-Based RPGs?
Answer: The genre is a fickle thing, often associated with tedious grinding, but if you give games that offer more exciting gimmicks or shakeups a shot, you’ll probably learn to love them.
Question: What are the best Turn-Based RPGs?
Answer: No two people’s answers to this question will be the same, but if you had to ask me, I’d probably go for Persona 5 Royal, Chrono Trigger, and Sea of Stars.
Question: Is it okay to not like Turn-Based RPGs?
Answer: It’s okay to dislike or avoid any genre, but staying open to whatever cool new games come your way is always a great idea. Even if you’re sure you’ll hate whatever turn-based RPG is in front of you, it’s still worth trying them out before passing judgment.
Turn-based RPGs might seem like a stagnant genre collecting dust in your mind due to the raw amount of times you’ve picked one up and put it back down right after, but if you give some new games a shot, try and have an open mind, experiment with games that blur the lines between genres, and take a risk on a game you might not like, you’ll probably learn to love turn-based combat.
I remember for the longest time, I would turn away from every Turn-Based game I’d seen, even though I’d always loved Mario RPGs until I played Persona 5. It hooked me, and ever since I enjoyed one of these games, every other one has felt a lot more appealing. I guess struggling through a boss and making it through by the skin of my teeth only due to my intelligent decisions changed how I felt about the entire genre.