Turn-based RPGs have been a major part of gaming culture since its inception. It’s the medium that allowed Eastern-style games to be introduced to the West through the likes of Final Fantasy and is responsible for some of the greatest games ever released.
In this list, to celebrate one of gaming history’s most influential genres, we’re looking at some of the best turn-based RPGs of all time. Bear in mind that we are only including one turn-based RPG per franchise, and all games listed for PS4 and Xbox One will also work on PS5 and Xbox Series X | S thanks to backwards compatibility.
The Best Turn-Based RPGS
15. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
South Park: The Stick of Truth is one of the most successful examples of a TV to video game adaptation, rather than the other way around.
The game was released in 2014 as a collaborative effort between Obsidian, the developers of Fallout: New Vegas, and South Park Digital Studios and was published by Ubisoft.
According to box-sale figures, The Stick of Truth became the best-selling game across all platforms during its first week of release. It was also met with critical and commercial praise, receiving solid 80+ score reviews across the board.
The game is very much a parody of Lord of the Rings in the traditional South Park style, both artistically and thematically.
A fully fleshed-out class, progression, questing, and combat system makes it an incredibly comprehensive title that doesn’t just rely on the brand name.
As is common with all things South Park, there was a fair deal of controversy surrounding the game’s release. However, if you’re not the type to be easily offended, it offers one of the funniest casual turn-based RPG gameplay experiences of all time.
The Legend of Heroes: Trials in the Sky was the first entry into what would later become known as the Trials Series.
The game was actually released in 2004, but it didn’t see an English port until seven years later in 2011, a testament to how well the game aged during those years.
The Legend of Heroes: Trials in the Sky saw a higher level of success in the West than the East, as is evident by the Japanese-exclusive remakes for the PSP and PS Vita it received in 2012 and 2015, respectively.
It’s a JRPG that isn’t ideal for casual fans, but if you have an active interest in old-school Japanese RPGs, especially turn-based ones, this is a game that you can’t miss.
The gameplay itself is a grid-based, dual-map system that places combat in a separate space to the overworld. You control a cast of characters, completing quests as you go to advance the story.
Trials in the Sky’s combat system isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it was one of the earliest titles to implement it this effectively. There are several different attack-type categories, each of which drains a certain resource bar.
While the gameplay wasn’t overly original, even in 2004, the game did receive praise for its story and writing quality, staying relatively true to the original vision even through localization.
13. The Banner Saga
Developer: Stoic Studio Publisher: Versus Evil Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
The Banner Saga is one of the most beloved turn-based RPG games ever created, receiving universal acclaim across the board.
Everything from the writing to the gameplay to the art style stunned reviewers on first release and to this day stands up well against newly released turn-based RPGs. The same can be said for the other two entries in the Banner Saga trilogy, but the original remains the favorite of many.
The game is based on Norse mythology with an interactive story that branches off based on choices that the player makes. It’s unique in that it features two simultaneous protagonists whose stories are treated separately throughout the plot.
The Banner Saga actually served as the debut title for Stoic Studio, which was founded by three ex-developers from the esteemed BioWare team. It was funded through Kickstarter, drawing support from both fans and publisher Versus Evil alike.
The premise of the plot is relatively simple. It deals with the protagonists battling against an evil and genocidal race of human-hating Dredges. Despite this, Stoic managed to weave one of the best original stories seen in a turn-based RPG to this date out of the premise.
The gameplay of The Banner Saga was influenced heavily by Final Fantasy Tactics, with the ability to build up a party of unique characters playing a large part in combat.
While using a tried-and-tested turn-based RPG system, Stoic made an effort to steer clear of RPG conventions like the “lone hero” trope, allowing the game to flourish as a refreshing take on a genre that was beginning to become stale.
Square Enix is a giant in the RPG industry for both turn-based titles like the aforementioned Final Fantasy Tactics and games featuring real-time gameplay like Kingdom Hearts. Octopath Traveler was an attempt at a new IP from the developer and it features a plot built around eight different playable characters, each with unique combat abilities and stories.
The game was nominated for several awards, ultimately winning Golden Joystick’s Nintendo Game of the Year in 2018 and the Excellence in Art award during the 2019 SXSW Gaming Awards.
Octopath Traveler uses a HD-2D art style, adding a level of aesthetic uniqueness on top of its already original turn-based gameplay systems that critics responded well to. As well as critical success, the turn-based RPG also saw commercial success, with total sales exceeding 2.5 million as of February 2021.
Octopath Traveler was one of the biggest hits of 2018 and has become a must-play for any fan of either turn-based RPGs, or RPGs in general.
11. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios Publisher: Red Hook Studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Vita
Darkest Dungeon is a clear-cut example of how to do a Lovecraftian game right. It features both a gameplay style and aesthetic unique to itself, playing up on the pseudo-horror genre that the game takes place in.
The game revolves around the exploration of a mansion that the player has inherited. Rather than exploring those depths themselves, the player recruits a roster of mercenaries of different classes, featuring different traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
This allowed for a large amount of theory-crafting surrounding the 2D turn-based combat, which is only further deepened by the game’s reliance on a “stress” system, as well as a traditional health system.
Combat in Darkest Dungeon is permadeath, meaning if you lose a hero, they’re gone for good. This gives the game an almost roguelite feeling that is great for multiple attempts and playthroughs.
Darkest Dungeon is a gothic horror title that will go down in gaming history, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Developer: Toby Fox Publisher: Toby Fox Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Undertale is possibly the most impactful indie game to ever be released in terms of cultural success. At the very least, it must be considered among the greatest games ever created by a single developer.
Undertale isn’t a turn-based RPG in a traditional sense. Its gameplay and combat are entirely unique, being unlike anything that came before it. In combat, enemies send attacks at your heart that you need to dodge.
After each attack wave, you have the option to fight back which deals damage, or you can attempt to charm your opponent. This option allows you to pacifist run Undertale, a fact that the plot takes full advantage of.
Along with having stellar and unique gameplay, Undertale was praised for its exceptional and nuanced approach to storytelling, being a meta-commentary on traditional video game conventions.
It’s a game that anyone interested in gaming as an art medium needs to play at least once in their lifetime, although if you’re looking for a strict turn-based RPG to pass the time, you might be a bit disappointed with it.
9. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Switch
There are many different Fire Emblem titles that deserved this spot, but Three Houses is the most well-known and best-selling game in the franchise, which is why we’re featuring it over lesser-known entries that you may prefer.
The game revolves around the protagonist as an acting professor residing as the head of one of three different houses that you can choose from close to the start of the story. Four different branching stories come from this, resulting in the game having a lot of replayability.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses won numerous awards throughout 2019 and 2020, including the Best Strategy Game and Player’s Voice Award in the 2019 edition of the Game Awards.
Three Houses features gameplay and combat that fans of the Fire Emblem franchise will be familiar with. It’s based on a grid with you building up a roster of characters, each with different skills and combat types.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses played a large part in the Nintendo Switch’s success, making it a must-play title for anyone with that system.
8. Valkyria Chronicles
Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Switch
The Valkyria Chronicles series stands out in the current turn-based RPG landscape as it’s not only built off of third-person shooter combat, but also successfully blends real-time gameplay with those turn-based elements.
While almost all four titles in the series follow the same formula, we’re going to be focusing on the original, Valkyria Chronicles, for this entry.
In-game, you take control of a tank commander given charge over a squad of soldiers during a war between two nations, reminiscent of World War II.
You assemble your roster of soldiers to take into battle, as well as what equipment you want them to use as you battle through a linear set of missions that carry you through the game’s story.
From a narrative perspective, Valkyria Chronicles is a well-written game that takes an interesting approach to blending fantasy RPG elements with the historical influence of WWII, making it stand out both in terms of gameplay and narrative.
However, the greatest selling point of the series is the unique gameplay that it features. Rather than being simply turn-based, each combat encounter takes place on an open map, with you being given several opportunities per turn to use any of your deployed troops. Once you take control of a troop, the gameplay switches to real-time as you navigate them to an ideal position in an attempt to take out enemies and seize objectives.
Developer: Black Isle Studios Publisher: Interplay Productions Platform(s): PC
Fallout 2 served as the highlight of the Fallout series for many. Before the games grew into the action RPGs that people know and love today, it was a turn-based RPG developed by Black Isle studios, the spiritual predecessor to Fallout: New Vegas developer, Obsidian.
Fallout 2 maintains the gritty post-apocalyptic setting of the newer Fallout games while combining it with a level of wit and cynicism that is a trademark of Obsidian/Black Isle games.
The story revolves around you needing to find a G.E.C.K for your tribe, leading to you galavanting around the wasteland, meeting the game’s various factions, and ultimately deciding the fate of New California.
Gameplay uses the familiar dual-map system from the 90s, with an overworld treated separately to combat arenas. The combat itself is a point-based, turn-based shooter influenced by the many stats the player has to customize.
While the gameplay is more than acceptable, Fallout 2 received particular praise for its non-linear story and writing, serving as a worthy sequel to one of the most influential turn-based RPGs of all time.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is set in the same universe as Divinity: Original Sin, with the plot focusing on monsters invading the world due to a weakening between the veil that keeps it separate from the void.
Despite being a common premise in fantasy RPG games, the writing was praised almost universally, with specific reference being given to the game’s varied cast of characters.
Gameplay-wise, players can create their own character, after which they either go solo or team up with three other party members, all of which are fully playable.
The ability to individually control each character leads to a complex turn-based battle system that is still cited as one of the greatest ever made.
The eleventh mainline game returns to traditional turn-based RPG gameplay and storytelling that had since been phased out of the RPG genre in favor of new and more experimental styles.
Dragon Quest XI’s story starts with your home kingdom being invaded and destroyed by an army of monsters. As an infant, you survive the massacre and are adopted by the daughter of the man who finds you, raising you in the village of Cobblestone.
After coming of age, your adoptive mother tells you the truth of your birth and sends you to speak King Carnelian. The king then accuses you of being an evil entity before throwing you in a dungeon. That’s when you find out you’re a legendary hero destined to save the world, and things progres from there.
These aspects led to Dragon Quest XI being crowned as a favorite among many fans of old JRPGs, making it a must-play title for anyone looking for a fundamentally solid turn-based RPG experience.
4. Grandia II
Developer: Game Arts Publisher: Game Arts Platform(s): PC, Dreamcast, PS2
Grandia II was released back in 2000 for the Dreamcast and it’s still receiving adaptations and ports 19 years later, with a high-definition remaster released in 2019. Grandia II’s life-span alone marks it as one of the longest-lasting and most successful turn-based RPG games to ever be released.
The game received all-around favorable reviews when it was first released for the Dreamcast. However, critics were less high on the newer version, claiming the title’s linear gameplay felt outdated.
The combat in Grandia II runs its turn-based system in real-time, with mechanics that feel similar to those of the Final Fantasy series. However, developer Game Arts put a unique twist on things with gameplay. Rather than using a 2D turn-based system that was common at the time, the team opted to support movement in combat, adding further depth to what was already a remarkably complex game.
Grandia II has a plot that, like a lot of other games at the time, revolves around the player saving the world from impending doom. You play as a mercenary that was initially hired to escort a songstress. Obviously, things go wrong, massacres occur, and before you know it, you’re fighting for the fate of humanity.
While critics may have been cool on the remasters that the game received, the continued support from both developers and the game’s fanbase is a testament to the game so many years after its initial release.
Chrono Trigger released in 1995, making it the second oldest turn-based RPG to appear on this list. It was both developed and published by Square before they merged with Enix to become Square Enix.
The game received constant praise throughout its life-cycle as ports and adaptations continued to be released, often cited as one of the most influential games ever released. Chrono Trigger pushed the limits of the fifth generation of consoles and set the standard during what many consider to be the golden age of gaming.
The gameplay and story of Chrono Trigger were extremely innovative for the time. To this day, game developers still struggle to match the emotional intensity that Square brought with this title. It’s a heavy tale that is complex as it is inspired and is still considered the measuring stick for video game narratives.
As the decades go by, Chrono Trigger continues to remain one of the most important releases in gaming history. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing this turn-based RPG, especially considering how readily available it is.
2. Persona 5
Developer: Atlus, P Studio Publisher: Atlus, Deep Silver Platform(s): PS4, PS3
While some argue Persona 4 or Persona 3 are superior games to the fifth installment in the series, no one can dispute the fact that Persona 5 is an infinitely more popular turn-based RPG.
The game has been cited as being among the greatest RPG experiences of all time from numerous sources and has received several individual awards, including greatest RPG of 2017 and numerous other nominations.
Persona 5’s story follows the protagonist, who has been disgraced after a well-known politician sues him for assault. With a chip on his shoulder and the assistance of a mysterious app, he takes on the moniker of “Joker,” as he and his friends form the Phantom Thieves and work towards bringing corrupt influential figures to justice.
While both the story and art style of Persona 5 have been constant points of praise for many critics, the soundtrack and gameplay are also considered the pinnacle of JRPG design.
The turn-based gameplay features battles that take place separate from the overworld. The combat isn’t anything foreign for anyone who’s played a Persona game before, with you recruiting a roster of “Personas” to use in combat. Each Persona has its own attribute that dictates its weaknesses and strengths, as well as what combat abilities it has access to. This formula has been a strength of the series since Persona 3 and reached a point of refinement in the fifth mainline entry.
Persona 5 single-handedly brought the franchise into the gaming mainstream and is worthy of being played by all, regardless of your interest in genre or style.
1. Final Fantasy VII
Unlike Chrono Trigger, which received HD updates and ports, Final Fantasy VII was partly remade for modern technology in 2020, 23 years after the game first came out. But the original is still absolutely worth playing.
It’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of Final Fantasy VII in some capacity, as it remains the best-selling game in both the franchise’s and Square Enix’s histories and has received numerous awards since being released.
The plot of Final Fantasy VII is deep and well written, following protagonist Cloud after a terrorist attack on a reactor goes wrong and he is thrown into the slums of Midgar. From here, the plot twists and turns, as is commonplace in the Final Fantasy series, creating one of the most memorable and engaging experiences in gaming history.
From a turn-based gameplay perspective, FFVII set the standard for the genre. There are separate worlds for both the overworld and combat, with Square pioneering the party-based gameplay system that’s still common in turn-based RPGs today. The overworld consists of 3D spaces, while combat is held on a 2D plane where you and your party take turns using abilities and items.
While the gameplay is simple, the range of options that players have makes it a deep experience that is as rewarding as it is time-consuming. It’s going to take you around 40 hours to complete the main game, with a runtime pushing 100 hours if you decide to 100% it.
There are nine different party members for you to recruit, each of which needs to be leveled up if you want to use them later in the game. This can make FFVII a bit of a grind-fest, but that’s a part of the game’s appeal.
Final Fantasy VII is gaming royalty and will go down in history as one of the most important turn-based RPGs ever, so you owe it to yourself to play it.
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