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Top 10 Best Story-Driven Turn-Based RPGs To Play

Written by Harry Ted Sprinks

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Top 10 Story-Driven Turn-Based RPGs

If you want a good story, play these 10 RPGs

Due to their tactics-heavy nature, turn-based games often fall into combat-heavy experiences in which the story takes a back seat. Games such as Battle Brothers and Jagged Alliance focus almost entirely on turn-based combat, and plenty of turn-based titles follow this formula.

However, there are a variety of turn-based RPG games that center around a well-told story. RPGs are known most for their story-driven approach, especially in the JRPG genre, and as a result, many of these examples fall into one of those brackets.

Griftlands

This turn-based rogue-like deck-builder from the developers of games such as Don’t Starve and Invisible Inc (Klei Entertainment) is a uniquely story-driven game with a rogue-like structure. While these two genres may seem contradictory at first, Griftlands does a remarkable job of combining their gameplay mechanics; players battle through various combat encounters, while also meeting characters and engaging in multiple-choice dialogue.

One of the main ways Griftlands pulls off its story-driven approach is with its dual combat system. In Griftlands, players can choose to either be violent and kill enemies, or to engage in diplomatic negotiation. Both systems use deck-building and card-play, with violent combat playing like a party-based deck-builder and negotiation playing like its own separate mini-game. This allows players to role-play throughout each run, and the rogue-like structure makes it easy to experiment with different choice and consequence.

Furthermore, Griftlands features three playable characters, each with their own narratives. The stories of these characters also take place in different parts of the world, allowing for plenty of world-building and a welcome variety of environments and NPCs.

SKALD: Against The Black Priory

SKALD: Against The Black Priory is a party-based RPG takes an old-school approach to its design and visual style, with plenty of crunchy pixel art and tactical combat. The game is filled with multiple-choice dialogue encounters, old-school RPG systems, and combat. For those who can look past or even enjoy the game’s old-school visuals, SKALD has plenty to offer.

SKALD’s classic style and text-heavy dialogue allows its twisted narrative and dark, Lovecraft-inspired world to lead the way. For fans of retro-styled, party-based RPGs and Lovecraft horror stories alike, SKALD is a worthwhile title.

The Banner Saga

Taking heavy inspiration from Norse mythology, this turn-based RPG takes place in a dark, Viking-themed fantasy world. This world, and the characters who live within it, is at the heart of The Banner Saga, as it takes players on an Oregon Trail style road-trip.

The Banner Saga centers around a traveling caravan that players must manage throughout the game. Along with tactical, turn-based combat, players will be forced to make meaningful decisions at every turn. These decisions frequently have an impact on the game’s narrative. The likable, well-written characters also help to ensure each decision isn’t an easy one to make.

On top of The Banner Saga’s beautiful story and tactical combat is a painterly art-style that’s frequently jaw-dropping; vibrant colours and expansive environments, both in and out of battle, create a dense, immersive atmosphere throughout.

Wasteland 3

Set in the frozen-over wasteland of a post-apocalyptic Colorado, Wasteland 3 is a moody, atmospheric turn-based RPG with a tactical combat system. While Wasteland 3’s combat is both frequent and engaging, its story elements are arguably its strong suit.

Wasteland 3’s world is packed with brutality, unforgiving encounters, and desperate NPCs. Each of the game’s colorful characters is rich with detail and personality, brought to life by a cast of talented voice actors.

Wasteland 3’s RPG systems run deep, but exploring the world and meeting its variety of denizens are a particular highlight of the experience, constantly giving players a reason to keep playing. These characters fill the game’s various narrative threads with memorable moments at every turn, keeping players guessing throughout the extensive playtime. Furthermore, the game features multiple endings for players to discover.

Fallout

The original Fallout is a turn-based RPG with a great deal of depth and a focus on player agency. This agency is rooted in game design, allowing players multiple paths through the game, but this bleeds into the story and role-playing elements, too. Because players can approach quests from a variety of angles, Fallout encourages players to role-play at every turn. This allows the game to be a particularly immersive RPG with a focus on story, all without rail-roading the player.

Fallout takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and puts players in the shoes of a Vault dweller. The game gives players granular control over the creation of their characters, allowing them to fine-tune them to suit their wants and needs. This deep character creation and the impact it has on player choice throughout the game is what gives Fallout its immense replay value.

Shadowrun Returns

Taking place in a dark cyberpunk future ruled by corrupt corporations, Shadowrun Returns is a turn-based RPG inspired by the tabletop role-playing game. It allows players to create their own characters and sets them off on a cyberpunk journey packed with tactical combat and dialogue choices.

Shadowrun Returns paints a rich world that’s loyal to its iconic source material, with a unique art style that combines hand-painted environments with 3D characters. The world of Shadowrun is notorious for combining a futuristic cyberpunk setting with fantasy elements, including a multitude of fantastical races. This unique setting provides a distinct backdrop to Shadowrun’s cyberpunk story, which manages to keep the dialogue-heavy narrative engaging.

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling

This Paper Mario-inspired RPG features turn-based combat with timing attacks that allow for intuitive, fast-paced encounters. This approach allows Bug Fables to be an intuitive experience that’s friendly for beginners, especially when combined with a small party size of three. While each character has unique strengths and weaknesses, the game’s combat is simple enough to allow the story and characters to shine.

Bug Fables’ charming story is led by the three protagonists, but the variety of colorful NPCs that players meet along the way fill in the world with a bounty of side quests for players to engage in. However, Bug Fables’s biggest strength is its richly detailed world and the variety of environments within. The insect Kingdom of Bugaria is a consistent joy to explore, always offering up new and exciting places to go and people to meet.

Octopath Traveler 2

This 2.5D game features a painterly, pixel-art style with gorgeous 3D environments. However, Octopath Traveler 2’s greatest strength isn’t its visuals but its variety of well-written narratives. Despite featuring an engaging turn-based combat system, Octopath Traveler 2’s various character-driven stories are the main reason to play the game.

Octopath Traveler 2 features eight unique characters that players can choose from at the start of the game. Each of these characters has its own story, which players can progress through in a single playthrough of the game. This diversity of stories allows Octopath Traveler 2 to offer a varied mixture of narratives, keeping the game engaging by consistently offering new and exciting characters and plot points.

Undertale

This smash indie hit from developer Toby Fox is known for its charming minimalist pixel art and heartfelt story. Undertale features a simple turn-based RPG combat system but distinguishes itself with its unique bullet-hell elements and the ability to win combat encounters as a pacifist. Despite having a more than competent battle system, Undertale is a decidedly story-driven game, thanks in large part to its wide array of NPCs and well-written dialogue.

Undertale’s characters are at the heart of its enjoyment, with an ensemble cast of quirky NPCs with colourful personalities and memorable silhouettes. Undertale also takes a humourous approach to its writing, particularly in the dialogue of its many characters. Overall, Undertale offers a lightweight, wholesome adventure.

Wildermyth

This utterly unique indie RPG features a simple but strategic turn-based combat system that relies heavily on positioning and threat assessment. Wildermyth, however, is far from a combat-focused game. Wildermyth takes massive inspiration from tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, allowing players to explore a vast fantasy world filled with characters to meet and choices to make.

The most unique part about Wildermyth, and what makes it so story-driven, is its huge variety of meaningful random encounters. Furthermore, each character has a procedurally-generated history, and each of them have the ability to develop relationships with one another. Due to the sheer amount of procedural generation happening in the game, Wildermyth is wildly replayable. This allows players to enjoy all kinds of stories, playing the game over and over to develop new characters and experience new narrative threads.

Conclusion

All in all, there are a variety of story-driven turn-based games on the market. However, it would be great to see developers venture out of the RPG genre while still focusing on a well-written narrative. As it stands, many fans of turn-based gameplay may be missing out on great stories due to their lack of interest in the RPG genre.

If a story-driven turn-based game didn’t make it to this list, be sure to let us know on X, Discord, and our YouTube channel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Harry Ted Sprinks

With a deep love for strategy games that began when he first played Stronghold as a kid on his parents’ home computer and a passion for linear narrative games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and old-school shooters like Blood and DOOM, Harry loves video games of all shapes and sizes. His knowledge of games new and old is broad, but Harry’s biggest passion is indie games, which he loves to champion in his writing. Harry’s favorite games include old-school rogue-likes like Caves Of Qud, older RTS titles such as Red Alert 3, modern classics like Halo 3, and survival-horror games like Resident Evil. When he isn’t writing or playing games, Harry can likely be found developing small games of his own or making music. Although Harry enjoys the occasional AAA game, his attention is primarily focused on representing indie games.