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Today, the RPG is arguably the most popular single player genre of game out there. So many games that never even considered themselves an RPG have slowly integrated role playing elements into their experiences and the result is the ultimate fusion of action adventure games and RPGs. It wasn’t always like this though. Long ago in the early days of gaming in the 90s, RPGs were a very separate genre and the most popular form of that genre was none other than the turn based RPG.
While today’s games often demand pinpoint response times to your controller inputs, back then, your attacks were largely automated and it was all about your strategy when it came to playing turn based RPGs. Would you heal on your turn? Or is now the time to unleash the special attack? This created more of a chess match in these games which enraptured many gamers, including myself.
My first real gaming love was turn-based RPGs, specifically in the vein of Final Fantasy. These massive experiences would often take 60+hours to beat and introduce incredible worlds and novels worth of reading to the point that people asked me why I didn’t read a lot of books and I would respond ” I played RPGs instead.” Stories and characters always felt so much more intricate in turn based RPGs and I still play them to this day. Here are some of the best turn-based RPGs of all time from both past and present.
- Must be a turn based system
- Must be an RPG
- Any era of gaming acceptable
Bottom Line Upfront
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the best turn-based RPG I’ve ever played and it’s great graphics, incredible branching storyline and gripping cast of characters will keep you engaged for an unlimited amount of hours.
Final Fantasy 7
Why not start off with what many call the greatest game of all time? To me, Final Fantasy 7 was the landmark game for not only turn-based RPGs but gaming in general. It introduced an incredibly mature world and multifaceted characters who felt real for the first time in a video game and the massive, sprawling story is still one of the most imaginative tales out there. the combat was fast and amazing looking for its time and the turn-based nature felt quicker than any other game in the genre, almost giving the game an action feel to it.
The cast of characters is iconic as well, with some of the best designs in the genre. From Cloud and his Buster Sword to Barrett and his machine gun hand and of course, the most recognizable videogame villain of all time, Sephiroth. Final Fantasy 7 Remake came out recently and was excellent in its own right, but it really was only chapter one of what the original game was. If you’ve yet to play, there are several platforms that have Final Fantasy 7 ready and waiting in what is still its ultimate form.
Squaresoft was the titan of the industry in the ’90s and while they had their cash cow in Final Fantasy, they also ventured off in some decidedly different directions too. One of those directions was Xenogears. Originally supposed to be Final Fantasy 8, Xenogears was deemed too dark by the lead producers and instead turned into its own game.
You play Fei, a young man with amnesia who lives in a small village until it’s invaded by a foreign force with giant mechanized robots. Fei finds one unmanned and tries to defend the village and ends up blacking out and killing everyone near and dear to him. It’s a harrowing opening sequence and from there, you embark on one of the craziest stories ever written, game, movie, or otherwise.
The combat is a unique combination of turn-based and real-time combat. Each time your turn comes up, you can select from different attacks bound to the face buttons to create custom combos or discover the various unlockable ones. You fight both on the ground and in giant mechs and the combination was never done before. The boss fights, the characters, and the massive story are all incredible and this remains not only one of the best turn-based RPGs of all time, but it’s also one of the best games ever.
Persona is a long-running series that seemed to be losing relevance in the modern age of gaming. Persona 4 was a success, but it wasn’t the mega-hit that it was supposed to be, so people wondered what would become of the Persona series. Then came Persona 5 in 2017 and everyone woke up and saw the light. Persona 5 doesn’t completely recreate the series, but it does add in so much that it’s hard to even look at prior games like they’re part of the same series.
The graphics are a gorgeous mix of anime and 3D and the result is a bombastically colored masterwork that has some of the craziest boss fights and most over-the-top attacks that the videogame world has ever seen.
The turn-based combat is wild and fast and you’ll unlock tons of attacks between your main party and the Persona’s you collect. Think of the gameplay as Pokemon on drugs and you’ll get the idea of what’s going on here.
You also have a massive social simulator part of the game to engage with too and the dichotomy between being a normal, high school student and then infiltrating an alternate universe with your fellow classmates to expose the evil in your society is an intriguing thread to follow throughout.
You will spend 100+ hours in this one and likely won’t regret a second of it
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Divinity was a series that seemed to be losing steam with several releases that neither completely failed or achieved mainstream success. Then came Divinity: Original Sin, a moderate hit that made gamers aware of the name Divinity. A short few years later came Divinity: Original Sin 2 and gamers got to experience one of the greatest turn based games ever made.
The combat in this game is absolutely incredible and everything matters from character position to environment. You can use explosive barrels, water, oil, the rain and so much more to alter your combat approach and your suite of abilities is massive and ever changing throughout the game. You also get an incredibly unique story that is far different than any fantasy game you’ve seen. You can choose from the base characters or create your own and experience a totally unique path that way.
Between the thousands of ways your game can go depending on choices you make, the replayability here is just absurd and you’ll be excited to play through it every time.
Don’t think the turn based RPG is a thing of the past. It’s actually anything but and in recent years, the turn based RPG has come back swinging and produced some of the best titles in gaming. With Wasteland 3, we get a trip back to the heyday of the isometric RPG. 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 up substantially. You’ve got a solid party that’s completely customizable and some great voice work as well to bring the whole experience to life. It’s also on Xbox Game Pass on Xbox and PC, so you can experience the game for pretty much free.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Don’t laugh, actually, do laugh because this game is hilarious, but it’s also a fantastic turn-based RPG to boot. 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. You play as a custom character and interact with every South Park character you can imagine from Cartman to Jimmy, Kenny, and beyond. The story is completely ridiculous and of course, a small situation gets blown up in typical South Park fashion and soon you’ll be fighting Nazis and Aliens in one of the wildest South Park stories out there.
The turn-based system at play is also brilliant as RPG veterans Obsidian took the reigns here to create a really fun and interactive turn-based system that emphasizes button prompts and timing and the result is a shockingly good time that puts a lot of turn-based RPGs to shame.
For those looking for a true blast from the past RPG, Octopath Traveler is the best tribute imaginable while also being an awesome turn-based RPG in its own right. Published by Square Enix, Octopath Traveler has an old-school look with some slick 2D graphics and animations and the whole experience is just an awesome time as you take the paths of multiple different characters whose stories all interconnect. The combat system is rather simplistic, but it works well enough and feels like you’re playing a JRPG in 1994 all over again.
Some might love that feel while others might not, but one thing that everyone will love is that it has an engaging story, charming characters, and an intriguing play style that gives it a feel of all its own.
While I wouldn’t categorize any of the above RPGs as particularly easy, none even approach the difficulty that Darkest Dungeon has in store for you. Luckily for us, that difficulty is packaged into an incredible experience that is one of the most powerful RPGs out there that just sticks with you after you play it. What makes this so impressive is the complete lack of story. Yes, there is a mission you must complete, but aside from that, this is your story to build.
You will build it with a party of ever changing characters who are made up of many different classes and the catch to this is they can actually die. Permadeth always on in Darkest Dungeon, so regardless of whether you have a level 1 Highwayman about to die or an absolute tank of a Hellion who you’ve been relying on for hours needing health, both are equally vulnerable to being deleted from the game forever. This permanence means the turn based combat will be that much more intense and the enemies you’ll face throughout the dungeons are some of the most vile looking and punishing enemies in all of gaming.
if you’re down for a challenge, Darkest Dungeon will give you one of the best games and challenges out there.
In an attempt to pay homage to the turn-based RPGs of yesteryear, developer Toby Fox ended up creating one of the most brilliant and affecting RPGs of all time.
You play as a little boy who ends up in a world of monsters and while that sounds innocent enough, things get very dark, very quickly. What looks like cutesy monsters hide a much darker side and the path the story takes is all kinds of weird and disturbing.
Surrounding all of this is a wild turn-based combat system that changes depending on what type of enemy you’re fighting. When it’s your turn, you can choose to fight, act, use an item or even show mercy. The show mercy option is the most interesting part of the game as it’s not exactly clear why this option is available until the end of the game where your deeds might be judged pretty harshly.
Okay Chrono Trigger fans, put down your torches for a second. The sequel to the ever popular Chrono Trigger is an incredible game in its own right and I’d go so far as to call it a far better one.
You play as Serge, a blue haired island boy who gets sucked into an alternate world that looks strangely like its own. From there, you go on a mesmerizing quest full of terrifying monsters, an evil cat person, warring armies, dragons, aliens and cyborgs. It’s a wild mix of everything you’ve seen in sci-fi and fantasy stories and the result is one of the more bizarre games out there.
Cementing the experience is one of the best turn based combat systems of all time. When you attack, you get a percentage next to a light medium and strong attack you can choose. You can risk going with all strong attacks for the most damage, or you can go for higher percentage low damage attacks. As you build your attack meter, you can use spells that you equip to each level of attack you get to. You also get summon attacks as well and it feels a lot like an advanced Final Fantasy game at times.
The story is extremely long with tons of side quests and an astounding cast of characters available to join your party depending on what you do. Overall, it’s one of the most unique RPGs ever made and unraveling the truly bizarre story is an awesome experience.
Turn based RPGs come in many different forms and one of those is in the tactical RPG world. XCOM 2 pits humans against an alien invasion and while the story seems pretty basic, the game ends up being anything but. Your characters are all incredibly thoroughly put together and each one has special skills and movement abilities that must be monitored at all times.
Combat is brutally tough here and you need to consider position and movement in order to deal out the most damage. Your party members can die also, so your choices in combat will have lasting consequences.
There is a lot to take in with XCOM 2, but if you want a chess-like experience complete with gore and mature themes, this is as good as it gets.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy 7 might be the most popular JRPG of all time, but Final Fantasy X is the game that brought the series into the next generation of gaming. A completely different feeling tale, Final Fantasy X has you playing as Tidus, a futuristic sports star who has his home invaded by a monstrous creature named Sin and wakes up in a world where his home never existed.
You’ll embark on a massive journey with some memorable party members and an epic story that has some incredibly twists and turns along the way. You’ll also explore a beautiful world that feels different from every Final Fantasy before it.
The combat is classically turn based with some twists to it like battle order affecting who attacks next. You can actually see who’s going to attack in this game, and that allows you to prepare yourself for big enemy attacks or plan out your next sequence of attacks as well.
Final Fantasy X is a lengthy experience with tons of sidequests, hidden summons to acquire, side quests to take on and weapons to find and you’ll rarely find yourself bored in this one.
Legend of Dragoon
It was really tough to stand out in the 90s as a turn-based RPG if you didn’t have the name Final Fantasy attached to you, but despite that, there were a handful of gems that other companies came out with. One of the very best of those is Legend of Dragoon. It’s easy to see the Final Fantasy influence here, but once that aura wears off, you’ll find yourself with an engrossing journey with some awesome villains and incredible visuals as well.
The combat is the highlight here 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 memorizing your party’s attack combos are crucial to winning battles.
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 Legend of Dragoon.
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 darkly serious and difficult game, Valkyrie Profile is one of the most unique games ever made.
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 and well written and more than a few will drive up the tears in you.
The combat here is the main start and it’s a unique mix of turn-based and real-time combat. Each of the face buttons on the controller controls a different character and you can stack these on top of each other to create a bunch of wild special attacks. Different characters have different abilities and requirements to unlock and part of the fun is figuring out how to do it.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Although it’s considered a spin-off from the main series, Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the best the series has to offer. Taking a hard left turn from the realistic graphics of Final Fantasy 7 and 8, the next title in the Final Fantasy series in the 90s went back in time to 2D character models and high fantasy, medieval setting. They also jumped from pure, turn-based combat to a grid-based system that involved an entire battlefield.
Your party is built up from tons of characters you’ll encounter throughout the journey and there are tons of different classes and abilities to learn. These battles are massive and tough and they take a long time, but there are few more satisfying wins in the turn-based RPG genre than you can get here.
With 100+ hours of content, I strongly advise giving this one a go if you want a great turn-based RPG to eat up some time on your hands.
Vagrant Story is one of the more unique turn based RPGs out there. From the bizarre character designs to the unique combat system, Vagrant Story is one of the most memorable RPGs you can find.
You play as Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker who goes to investigate a local cult and the story that spins out from there is completely nuts involving government conspiracies all sorts of insanity.
The battle system requires you to aim for certain limbs within a combat sphere and it’s a unique mix of turn based and real time combat that starts out very difficult, but slowly gets easier to get a grip on as you get further in the game.
Overall, it’s a totally unique RPG that still hasn’t seen anything close to as weird since its release and it’s also one of the best JRPGs around.
You might recognize the prefix of this game after seeing the above game Xenogears. While it’s not a sequel, it is created from some of the original developers of Xenogears and the themes that drove that game like religious corruption and existentialism are abound in this wild turn based RPG.
It’s not a traditional turn-based RPG as the combat is consistently happening, but when you attack has delays in it, so it’s technically still waiting for your turn to attack, so we’ll count it. You have multiple skills available and can switch to any character you’d like mid-battle and things get very complex very fast, so you need to be really fast on your feet to keep up with this unique system.
In a way, Xenoblade Chronicles revived the JRPG when it first released in 2010. It gives you a massive world to explore, an awesome story that slowly gets more and more complex along the way, and an awesome and innovative combat system.
You play as Shulk, a young man who gets pulled into a military conflict against the Mechon, an AI-controlled machine race. The world you explore is on top of two massive titans frozen in time mid-battle. Intrigued? Good, because there is no game world like this and it’s an enthralling journey the whole way through.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Most of these RPGs are great, but few of them have top-of-the-line graphics backing them. That’s where Yakuza: Like a Dragon comes in. Not only is it an awesome-looking game, but it has one of the better unique combat systems out there.
You move in real-time, but you wait your turn to fight and the combat system here is nuts. It starts out pretty basic with just bats and knives, but soon, you’ll get access to crazy special attacks that combine over-the-top anime attacks with realistic graphics and the combo is fantastic.
The story is also far more based in realism than most turn-based RPGs and it’s a pretty great crime story that is a huge change of pace from the usual fantasy that occurs in turn-based RPG games.
There was a time when Final Fantasy had a large amount of time between releases and that allowed other kinds of JRPGs to jump into the mix and make their claim as the kings of the genre. Lost Odyssey felt in every way like the new age Final Fantasy when it was released in 2007 and it remains this day one of the best turn-based RPGs out there.
You’ve got an incredibly unique story featuring immortals, insane villains, and world-ending consequences, a turn-based combat system that focuses on timing and magic, and some incredible cinematics and amazing cutscene sequences.
There are tons of wild look bosses, crazy plot twists, and also some solid voice acting as well to really bring this title to life. It’s a long game, but it’s still one of the best RPG stories out there.
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.
The above RPGs are some of the best games ever made. They also happen to have some awesome turn based systems that will make you stop worrying about timing your blocks and dodges of modern games and instead make you think ahead, plan your attacks and approach battles like a tactical master instead of just someone with good reflexes. With over hundreds of hours of content available in those games, you will find mesmerizing stories, epic encounters that will with you for years and some of the most amazing game worlds you’ll ever see. If you’ve never tried a turn based RPG before, Final Fantasy 7 is a great place to start and it’s available on a ton of platforms these days including mobile phones.
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