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The idea of waiting my turn before laying the smackdown on an enemy was something I just couldn’t stand as a kid, but is something that I have grown to love as my gaming tastes matured with age.
Much like a lot of modern gamers today, I was someone who sought immediate validation upon smashing a combination of buttons, and needed constant ‘attaboys’ to press on to the next quest marker. However, through engaging with a slew of incredible turn-based RPGs, I soon saw the joy that comes with tactical turn-based combat.
These games opened my eyes to a variety of incredible combat systems, the importance of prepping party members for each type of encounter, and even when I was knocked on my ass for taking the wrong approach, it was a welcome feeling which led to me dusting myself off and hopping right back into the fray.
I consider some of these games as the ‘best-in-class where all variety of RPGs are concerned, and for that reason, I feel it is my duty to share with you the most accomplished turn-based epics the medium has to offer.
So, with that in mind, we’ll do just that. Here is RPG Informer’s comprehensive list of The Best Turn Based RPGs of All Time. Enjoy!
A little bit of admin before we get started. We want to ensure that this list only includes the absolute best in the turn-based RPG category. So here is the criteria we ran with to ensure that:
- All games listed will need to have a 70% aggregate Metacritic score or higher
- All games listed must be RPGs, and must employ a turn-based combat system
- We will only be including one entry per franchise
Oh, I hear the battle music swelling. I guess that means it’s time to get going!
The Best Turn Based RPGs of All Time
#1 – Final Fantasy 7
Release Date: 31st January 1997
Metacritic Score: 92%
While I would have personally picked Final Fantasy VIII as my Final Fantasy of choice, I’m not about to sit here and argue that Final Fantasy VII doesn’t deserve to be on this list, no matter how strong my love for Squall and Gunblades is.
Final Fantasy VII was a real coming of age for the FF Franchise, offering a mature and immensely gripping narrative, a cast of relatable, yet larger-than-life characters, and visuals that, while dated by today’s standards, really pushed the envelope back in the late nineties. It was the perfect storm that would usher in a long period of success for the series.
The game offered mountains of content by industry standards, provided some truly unforgettable gaming moments, and where turn-based combat is concerned, the game leaned on the excellent systems from previous titles, culminating in grand battles with gods, and more than a few Omnislash commands.
When someone says RPG, many immediately think Final Fantasy, and when people think Final Fantasy, they usually think of this game. I think that pretty much says it all.
#2 – Xenogears
Release Date: 11th February 1998
Metacritic Score: 84%
Speaking of Final Fantasy, we have another title from Squaresoft which was actually meant to be the follow-up to the game listed above. Originally supposed to be Final Fantasy 8, Xenogears was deemed too dark by the lead producers and instead turned into its own game.
Stepping into the shoes of Fei, you’ll play through one of the most intriguing storylines that the medium of RPG gaming has ever served up to us gamers. You’ll build and battle with Mechs, meet a cast of colorful characters, and learn to master a peculiar RTS meets turn-based battle system.
Okay, cards on the table. Xeoogears hasn’t aged all that well, especially where traversal and platforming are concerned, and due to budget constraints, the back end of the game was never finished, meaning the developers chose to represent this with textboxes and slideshows to tie up the plot for fans.
However, what is there to experience is wonderful, and earns the right to be entered into the 90’s RPG golden era hall of fame.
#3 – Persona 5 Royal
Release Date: 15th September 2016
Metacritic Score: 94%
For the longest time, the Persona series represented one of the biggest ‘Failure to launch’ stories in gaming. A blockbuster hit always felt like a looming inevitability, but even by the time Persona 4 rolled around, the series couldn’t capitalize and cement itself as a gaming goliath. It seemed doomed to always serve as a ‘cult classic’ series.
Well, Persona 5 and The Phantom Thieves changed that.
Atlus didn’t re-invent the wheel when creating Persona 5. They just added more style, more flair, cooler mechanics and systems, and crafted a narrative that serves as the best in the series to date. The game still maintains it’s 50/50 life simulator meets dungeon crawler split, but in this entry, it all just feels much more accessible, and fun.
A good way to think of this one is like a very dark and mature Pokemon game, where you collect Personas and battle through ‘mind palaces’ to rid the inner demons from people’s hearts. It sounds a little zany, and it is, but in the best way possible.
We would recommend that newbies go for Persona 5 Royal, as this effectively serves as the Director’s Cut for the game, offering much-needed fixes, and a wealth of new content to keep you enthralled for even longer than the original.
Turn-based monster battles don’t get much better than this, so go grab this one, and I’ll see you in Mementos.
#4 – Divinity: Original Sin 2
Release Date: 14th September 2017
Metacritic Score: 93%
While many would argue that Larian Studios have finally outdone themselves and made an even more accomplished CRPG than Divinity 2: The Original Sin, It’s only right that we give it the time in the spotlight it deserves.
Divinity 2: The Original Sin is an RPG game that can be a hard sell, as the systems are deep, and the scope of the game’s world is enough to overwhelm anyone who doesn’t have an extensive amount of fantasy bandwidth.
However, once you get your feet under the table, in a manner of speaking, you’ll soon find yourself engrossed in a lovingly crafted fantasy epic where you truly can choose your own adventure.
This freedom even extends to the combat, as the player can approach it in hundreds of ways, through a mass of spells at your fingertips, an environment that doubles as a destructive playground, plus player builds and a cast of party members, each with their own unique skill sets, the possibilities are near endless.
It’s essentially DND for those who don’t have access to a talented Dungeon Master, and this game serves as the blueprint for the Larian-Studio-developed DND epic that will pop up later on this list
#5 – Wasteland 3
Release Date: 28 August 2020
Metacritic Score: 85%
If you’re looking for a CRPG with a post-apocalyptic twist, then you can’t go wrong with InXile’s Wasteland series. Wasteland 3 is an enormous game that has brilliant writing, fascinating locales to explore, and a brutal combat system that emphasizes strategy and creativity.
Along with that, you have tons of choices to make that impact the gameplay and multiple routes to take that change your story substantially.
It essentially takes the old-school, Isometric RPG format from games of yesteryear like Fallout and Fallout 2, and gives them a new coat of paint to offer a modern CRPG experience where, only through careful planning, and a little luck, will you survive.
If that sounds like your thing, then I would urge you to give it a try!
#6 – South Park: The Stick of Truth
Release Date: 4th March 2014
Metacritic Score: 85%
I know what you’re thinking. Surely, a South Park game has no right to stand among these turn-based greats. Well, I’ll have to stick my neck out here and say, you’re dead wrong!
Straight from the minds of iconic South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an awesome game that feels like one really long and hilarious South Park episode. Complete with running gags and obscene humor, all filtered through the lens of medieval fantasy.
However, putting the great writing and iconic characters to one side, it’s the gameplay that actually steals the show. With the help of RPG veterans, Obsidian Entertainment, South Park: The Stick of Truth provides an incredibly accessible and cohesive interactive turn-based system that emphasizes button prompts and timing.
In short, it has no right to be as good as it is, and yet, here we are singing its praises. I’ll grant you, if you’re not a South Park fan, your mileage may vary, but even still, I would give it a blast.
#7 – Octopath Traveler 2
Release Date: 24th February 2023
Metacritic Score: 86%
For those looking for a true blast from the past RPG, Octopath Traveler is the best tribute imaginable, and Octopath Traveller 2 is simply the same, but bigger. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in this instance, that’s very much the case, as the characters are more interesting, the format allows for a more player-led experience, and the visuals remain absolutely jaw-dropping without ever compromising that retro feel.
The game improves on all the out-of-battle flaws the original has, while fine-tuning the turn-based action to offer a rich system that allows players to strategize and tactically outmaneuver opponents by boosting, leaning on party-member skills, and breaking down enemy defenses through carefully planned attacks.
We will concede, it’s not a game that really caters for beginners to the world of RPGs, but if you consider yourself a weathered RPG gamer, then this is a great one to pick up and play.
#8 – Darkest Dungeon
We could have stuck the latest title in the Darkest Dungeon series on this list, but this is one of those rare occasions where the brilliance of the original is tough to top, which has seen us go with the original permadeath turn-based roguelite RPG.
That sentence alone should inform you that this isn’t your typical RPG experience. It’s a game that plays out a little like games such as Inscryption or Slay the Spire, where the road ahead is unknown, and while you do have an end goal, the journey ahead of you is completely unique and unpredictable.
This, along with a permadeath system that will see you inevitably lose vital party members to bosses with the frequency you lose matching socks in the drier, makes for a turn-based battle system with real stakes. It’s a super intense affair that will make you second guess every little decision, as it could cost you your life.
If there was ever a turn-based RPG that caters to the casual player, this one is probably it, as it’s accessible and addictive, but has the depth to keep you playing endlessly.
Also, if you want some additional homework before you play, you might want to check out our interview with the Developer behind Darkest Dungeon.
#9 – Undertale
Release Date: 15th September 2015
Metacritic Score: 92%
In an attempt to satirically poke fun at the turn-based RPGs of yesteryear, and the gaming industry as a whole, developer Toby Fox ended up creating one of the most brilliant and affecting RPGs of all time.
For those unaware, Undertale places you in the shoes of Frisk, a little kid lost in a world filled with monsters, and in an attempt to escape, you’ll need to befriend or battle these odd creatures, usually with humorous or horrifying consequences.
The satirical and surreal humor within Undertale is undoubtedly its driving force. However, the bullet-hell meets turn-based combat system is a wonderful novelty that makes each and every encounter a unique and charming affair. You can pet dogs into submission, go on full-scale romantic dates during combat sequences, or simply go with the genocide route and kill all that stands before you.
RPG Maker games can be a little hit-and-miss by all accounts, but Undertale represents the best of them and is an essential RPG you need to try.
#10 – Chrono Trigger
Release Date: 11th March 1995
Metacritic Score: 92%
When tasked with naming the best-ever SNES RPG, it’s very hard for anyone to look past Chrono Trigger, which, in my eyes, is definitely one of, if not the best, traditional JRPG of all time. That’s high praise for a game that looks like some Dragonball reject, but I assure you, Chrono Trigger walked so that the games that came after could run.
It’s a game that succeeds through a sum of its parts rather than any standout feature. The visuals still have a certain charm by today’s standards; the soundtrack is a wonderful chiptune selection. Then you have a memorable storyline, equally memorable characters, a robust yet accessible combat system, and you have design features like seamless exploration to battle transitions that ensure maximum immersion.
Plus, the game feels perfectly paced, never feels like a grind fest, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Yet equally offers a New Game Plus feature for those who want to delve deeper.
It’s a JRPG that nails pretty much everything it sets out to do with style and grace, and it serves as the blueprint for another game on this list, which has instantly become one of my all-time favorites, but more on that later!
#11 – The Legend of Dragoon
Release Date: 2nd December 1999
Metacritic Score: 74%
It was really tough to stand out in the ’90s as a turn-based RPG if your game didn’t have the name ‘Final Fantasy.’ Yet some plucky RPGs managed to carve out a space for themselves on the physical gaming store shelves (remember those), and one of the very best of those is The Legend of Dragoon.
It’s easy to see the Final Fantasy influence here, but it’s not a game that aims to be a Final Fantasy clone, but instead, a Final-Fantasy-inspired RPG with its own quirks and personality, allowing The Legend of Dragoon to build its own fanbase and acclaim.
The combat is undoubtedly the highlight, as Legend of Dragoon introduces a unique system based on performing timed combos every time you attack. This means instead of just hitting attack and letting the game do the work; you’re going to be fully engaged as you need to hit buttons based on timed prompts and memorize your party’s attack combos.
You can also transform into a Dragoon, a unique dragon and human fusion that each character has access to after a certain point, and this turns combat into a high-octane and visual spectacle with some of the coolest attacks you can find in an RPG.
If you’re pining for a big story with some awesome characters and great combat, turn-based RPGs rarely get better than The Legend of Dragoon.
#12 – Valkyrie Profile
Release Date: 22nd December 1999
Metacritic Score: 81%
Before Square Enix was Square Enix, it was Squaresoft and Enix, two separate companies, going head to head in the turn-based RPG genre. Perhaps the crowning achievement of Enix was Valkyrie Profile, a dark, serious, and difficult game.
You play as Lenneth, a Valkyrie in Valhalla who is tasked with collecting warriors to prepare for Ragnarok. These warriors are all recently deceased people, and because of that, you get to witness their tragic ends right before whisking them away to fight in the afterlife. These stories are powerful, well-written, and may even see a single tear stream down your cheek.
If we are being completely truthful, this isn’t a completely traditional turn-based system, as the game will see you take control of all your party members and chain their attacks together to create powerful combos. However, it still sees your attack followed by your foe’s response, so there is still that turn-based back and forth to an extent.
Valkyrie Profile still represents the high point of the Valkyrie series, with later follow-ups underwhelming to the extent that one even popped up on our most underwhelming RPGS of 2022 list in the form of Valkyrie Elysium. So, if you want the optimum Valkyrie experience, this 1999 hit is still the way to go.
#13 – Vagrant Story
Release Date: 10th February 2000
Metacritic Score: 92%
Vagrant Story is a hard sell as far as turn-based RPGs go, mostly because the game’s systems are obtuse and untutorialised for the most part, making this one a really tough nut to crack. That being said, if you stay patient, and maybe consult a guide or two, you’ll begin to see the magic within.
In Vagrant Story, you play as Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker who goes to investigate a local cult, only to find himself embroiled in a tale of espionage, conspiracies, and will need to battle to clear his name, or die trying.
The story is about as unhinged as it gets, but the combat system isn’t quite as chaotic. It may seem unruly at first, but it’s a wonderful blend of RTS and turn-based strategy that sees the player attack specific body parts of enemies, seek to debuff their equipment to gain an advantage, and make use of a unique Risk/Combo system that rewards or punishes the player for playing recklessly.
It’s one that takes a little bit of legwork to actually understand what’s going on, but it’s worth it, trust me.
#14 – Sea of Stars
Release Date: 29th August 2023
Metacritic Score: 91%
I highly doubt you take my career milestones into account when weighing up whether a game is a certified best-of-all-time contender, but try this one on for size. Sea of Stars is the first game that I have ever awarded a perfect 10/10 score, and even after the dust has settled, I firmly stand by that.
Sea of Stars is Sabotage Studios’ follow-up to debut success, The Messenger’ and goes in a completely different direction from their debut outing, offering a classic JRPG-inspired title that feels like a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger.
This indie masterclass places you in the shoes of Solstice Warriors Zale and Valere, who, along with their Warrior Cook buddy Garl, must rid the world of evil and prove themselves as heroes of the realm. It’s all pretty boilerplate JRPG stuff, but the level of love and care pumped into every inch of this game makes each story beat a joy.
Add in a killer soundtrack, plenty of side content, a masterful turn-based combat system with timed responses, and an intuitive ‘locks system,’ then top it off with amazing dynamic lighting, which effectively makes it look like they added raytracing to a 16-bit game, and you have an instant classic that I could not recommend more.
#15 – Baldur’s Gate 3
Release Date: 3rd August 2023
Metacritic Score: 96%
Remember the Larian Studios game that effectively shoved Divinity 2: The Original Sin off the all-time CRPG top spot I mentioned earlier? Well, Baldur’s Gate 3 is that game, and it’s essentially a 200-hour DND campaign waiting for you to pick up and play. For anyone who knows the complexity of DND, I know that sounds ridiculous, but honestly, it’s that good.
Baldur’s Gate 3 sees you crash land in this world governed by the rules of DND 5E and with a Mindflayer tadpole wiggling around in your brain, you need to gather a party of fellow tadpole hosts, explore the land of Faerun, and try to make sense of this whole situation.
Much like Divinity, the scope for customization, player freedom, and replayability is sublime. It’s simply impossible to see all that this game has to offer you, and even with multiple playthroughs under your belt, I guarantee you there will be more new oddities to uncover next time around.
In a gaming landscape filled with formulaic annual releases and rushed development cycles, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the antithesis of this. An RPG done right, and Larian’s new magnum opus.
#16 – Pokemon Emerald
Release Date: 30 April 2005
Metacritic Score: 76%
I suppose it’s about time we mentioned a Pokemon game, seeing as it’s one of the few games listed that has transcended gaming and become a global phenomenon. I mean, honestly, try to find me somebody who doesn’t know what a Pikachu is; I’ll wait.
While you do that, I’ll introduce my pick for the best Pokemon game on record, and while this will probably turn a few heads, I believe that Pokemon Emerald (and, by extension Ruby and Sapphire) is the best Pokemon outing we’ve been blessed with.
Sure, there have been more technologically advanced Pokemon games with more systems, battle mechanics, and bigger open worlds. But to me, Emerald had the best story, had just enough cool systems to appeal to veterans while bringing in new players to the franchise, and to be a little biased, the GBA era was the best Pokemon era, and I’ll die on that hill.
Other games that would run this one close would be Pokemon Black/White, Pokemon Red/Blue, and Pokemon Crystal, but for me, this is the OG Pokemon experience.
#17 – Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Release Date: 26th July 2019
Metacritic Score: 89%
Fire Emblem was always one of those titles that couldn’t make the jump across the water and appeal to a global audience. Each new title would always get a great reception within Asia, but the series maintained cult status in Europe and The States. Then Three House came along, and suddenly, the RPG collective began to take notice.
Fire Emblem as a series was always a strong showcase of what makes a good turn-based RPG, but Three Houses is definitely the pinnacle of this, offering easily the best story the franchise has provided in its long run, streamlined strategy to cater to more casual players, and thanks to a strong cast of characters, multiple playthroughs is practically a must if you want to get the most out of this title.
I won’t sit here and say I’m a die-hard Fire Emblem fan, but this one was one that piqued my interest, and I reckon it will have a similar effect on any curious RPG fan.
#18 – Earthbound
Release Date: 27th August 1994
Metacritic Score: N/A
If we are going to mention Undertale on this list, then it’s only fair that we list the game that inspired Toby Fox’s surprise hit. Earthbound (or Mother) represents the SNES RPG contingent, and does a great job, might I add.
In Earthbound, you play as a ragtag group of kids who discover aliens and are thrust into a situation where you must save the world. It’s all a little Stranger Things meets The Goonies, filtered through the funnel of a turn-based RPG.
It’s packed full of adult humor, surreal themes, and a battle system with a rolling HP meter that allows you to save party members in a pinch.
Honestly, the best way I can sell this one is, if you liked Undertale, you’d like Earthbound, Simple as that.
#19 – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Release Date: 9th March 1996
Metacritic Score: N/A
With a Super Mario RPG remake coming before the end of the year, it’s only right that we praise the original for offering something fresh and new involving the mustachioed plumber. Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars sees you take control of Mario as he aims to track down Smithy, a new antagonist that has crashed into Star Road and scattered seven star pieces over the land.
So, with the help of up to five party members, you’ll need to travel through the Mushroom Kingdom battling enemies, and gathering items and goodies galore to restore order to the land.
It’s a pretty basic and super accessible RPG by all accounts, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. It’s a perfect turn-based RPG for newbies, allows you to strategize and plan without any complex systems bogging you down, and has that feeling of pure, unadulterated fun we associate with the Mario franchise. So, if you can’t wait for the remake, go play the original now!
#20 – Breath of Fire
Release Date: 3rd April 1993
Metacritic Score: N/A
Then we wrap things up with what is easily the oldest game on this list, and rightly gets referred to as one of the grandfathers of turn-based RPGs. Breath of Fire is an SNES classic RPG that sees you play as Ryu, the last of an ancient dragon race, as he searches for your sister, deals with a sinister Dragon clan, and aims to defeat the Mad Goddess pulling the strings.
By all accounts, it’s a pretty traditional and simplistic turn-based system with the typical ‘attack, magic, item’ setup, but seeing as it was one of the games that effectively wrote the script for what came after, I think it’s fine to cut this one some slack.
The game looks great, has an interesting agility rating mechanic, has a fun soundtrack and overall, if you love RPGs, it wouldn’t hurt to play this one as a history lesson as much as anything else.
Then, before we sign off, we think it’s only fair that we list the best of the rest selection, allowing you to do some further research and play some more turn-based RPG titles when you exhaust the cream of the crop above. Check these out:
- Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
- Pillars of Eternity
- Breath of Fire
- Wild Arms
- Cassette Beasts
- Grandia II
- Dwarf Fortress
- Slay the Spire
- For The King
- Chained Echoes
- Dragon Quest XI
- Triangle Strategy
- Fallout/Fallout 2
- Yakuza: Like A Dragon
- Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
- I Am Setsuna
- Bravely Default II
Question: Why are turn-based RPGs so long?
Answer: The reason so many turn based RPGs are so long is the grind that takes place to complete the stories. You will need to level up to face tough enemies and also the random encounter systems that makeup so many of the RPGs on this list are quite time-consuming as well.
Question: Are any of these games multiplayer?
Answer: While most turn-based RPGs are single-player, there are a select few that add multiplayer into their games such as Divinity: Original Sin 2.
Question: What is the difference between turn-based RPGs and Strategy RPG games?
Answer: Turn-based games generally take place on a closed-off battlefield and involve small parties fighting against other groups of enemies. Strategy games generally take place over massive maps and involve you commanding multiple units.
So there you have it, a selection of the finest turn-based RPG games of all time. Whether you are someone looking to dip your toe into this sub-genre, or a veteran on the lookout for their next hundred-hour adventure to commit to, I’m sure there is something listed above that tickles your fancy. We hope you found what you were looking for, and as always, thanks for reading RPG Informer!
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