Writing this article about the best Turn-Based RPGs and Strategy Games from the 90s has brought joy and sadness. It’s a feeling shared by many of us who grew up and played those games during that time. The 90s were the golden era of Amiga games, DOS, CRPGs, and the launch of the first Sony console, the PlayStation, which revolutionized the gaming industry. Some of these games were challenging for me due to their complexity, my youth, language localization, and lack of explanation. I still remember being stuck in Jagged Alliance with no idea what to do…oh, those glory days!
While I played a wide variety of games during that time – from platforms and RTS to sidescrollers – turn-based games made a lasting impression on me. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane, explore some of the best turn-based games of the 90s, and see where you can still find and play them.
History of Turn-Based RPGs and Strategy Games of 90s
The 1990s were a decade of glorious turn-based gaming. Back then, real-time strategy games were bogged down by sluggish processing speeds and subpar graphics, but turn-based RPGs and Strategies thrived with their complex mechanics and strategic gameplay.
One of the earliest turn-based strategy games of the decade was Sid Meier’s Civilization, released in 1991. It was a game where players guided a civilization through history, from the stone age to the space age. Civilization became an instant classic with its deep gameplay and historical accuracy.
Master of Orion was another popular turn-based game released in 1993. It was a space strategy game where players explored the galaxy and built an empire. Its replayability and innovative technology trees made it a hit with gamers.
As the decade progressed, turn-based games became more visually impressive and intricate. X-COM: UFO Defense (1994) and Heroes of Might and Magic (1995) were prime examples of this, with their detailed graphics and complex gameplay mechanics.
But perhaps the most iconic turn-based game of the 90s was Final Fantasy VII (1997). It had stunning graphics, a complex story, and an innovative battle system blended turn-based gameplay with real-time elements. Final Fantasy VII was a genre-defining RPG that brought turn-based games to the mainstream.
All in all, the 1990s were a heyday for turn-based games. From the early classics like Civilization and Master of Orion to later hits like X-COM, Final Fantasy VII, turn-based games were king. And their impact on the gaming industry would be felt for years to come.
The Legacy of Turn-Based Games From the 90s
The legacy of turn-based games from the 90s is still felt in today’s gaming industry. Many modern games draw inspiration from past classics and continue to use turn-based mechanics to significant effect.
The 90s turn-based games left a mark on modern gaming. Take Civilization VI, which still captivates players today with its classic turn-based gameplay and fresh mechanics. The XCOM series is another example, with its critically acclaimed strategy and replayability. And turn-based RPGs like Persona and Dragon Quest remain popular thanks to their deep, turn-based combat.
The legacy of 90s turn-based games has also spawned a new wave of indie titles. Games like Into the Breach and Darkest Dungeon offer their own twist on classic gameplay and have earned plenty of accolades. From the classics to the new, the impact of turn-based games continues to shape the gaming scene.
The Best 90s Turn-Based RPGs and Strategy Games
The 1990s were a golden era for turn-based video games. These games, which require players to take turns making moves or decisions, were top-rated among gamers. With the rise of personal computers and gaming consoles, developers were able to create increasingly sophisticated and immersive turn-based games that captured the imagination of players.
This article will revisit some of the best turn-based games from the 90s. From strategy games to role-playing games, these games provided hours of entertainment and challenged players to think creatively and strategically. Many of these are still beloved by gamers today. Of course, these are the ones that have left a strong impression on me and that I recommend you go and find in some way. Don’t worry, I also tell you how to get and play some of them.
Developer: Gremlin Interactive, Games Workshop
Release date: 1991
HeroQuest, a beloved tabletop game from the 1980s, was adapted into an incredible Amiga and Commodore 64 RPG in 1991. Set in the Warhammer fantasy world, players can choose to play as one or more heroes, including a barbarian, mage, elf, and dwarf, and guide them through 14 challenging dungeon scenarios. With secret paths, die rolls, traps, and various items, HeroQuest provides an exciting and immersive gameplay experience.
Released by Gremlin Graphics, the digital adaptation of HeroQuest has stood the test of time and remains popular among gamers today. Fortunately, the game is still accessible through various online sources, including gamesnostalgia, which offers downloads of both the Amiga and DOS versions. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the original tabletop game or a newcomer to the HeroQuest universe, give the game a try.
Sid Meier’s Civilization
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release date: 1991-1996
Sid Meier’s Civilization! Developed by Firaxis Games and designed by legendary game designer Sid Meier, the Civilization series is one of the most iconic and enduring strategy game franchises in gaming history.
The original Civilization game was released in 1991, setting the standard for turn-based strategy games. In Civilization, players start with a single city and guide their civilization through the ages, researching new technologies, founding new cities, and building a powerful empire.
The series continued to evolve throughout the 1990s with the release of Civilization II in 1996, which introduced new features like multiplayer and an updated tech tree. Civilization II also improved the graphics and user interface, making the game more accessible to a broader audience.
Despite the evolution of the series, one thing has remained constant: the addictive “one more turn” gameplay that keeps players coming back for more. With its deep strategic gameplay, immersive historical setting, and endless replayability, Sid Meier’s Civilization is a must-play series for any strategy game fan. Look for it on Abandonware.
Space Crusade & Space Crusade: The Voyage Beyond
Developer: Gremlin Interactive
Release date: 1992
My baptism to the Space Crusade series was through the second game, The Voyage Beyond, which I played on floppy disks. I don’t recall all the details, but the feeling of moving my units through grid-based corridors while facing unknown dangers was thrilling.
The Space Crusade series began in 1991 with the release of the first game on Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST by Gremlin Graphics, a major player in the gaming industry at the time. In this tactical game, players take on the role of space marines, including Blood Angels, Imperial Fist, and others, and explore dungeons with either a top-down or isometric view.
Two years later, Gremlin Graphics released the sequel, Space Crusade: The Voyage Beyond, which introduced new game mechanics, levels, monsters, and higher difficulty levels. The game can be enjoyed as a standalone experience or a continuation of the series. Fortunately, both games can be accessed through gamesnostalgia, allowing players to relive the excitement and adventure of these classic turn-based strategy games.
Ufo: Enemy Unknown & Terror From the Deep
Developer: Mythos Games – MicroProse
Release date: 1993 – 1995
Memories of playing Ufo: Enemy Unknown with my cousin are etched in my mind. We had a blast naming our soldiers after friends and family members and eagerly awaited completing research to unlock new game features. These unique feelings of excitement and joy remain with me to this day.
Ufo: Enemy Unknown was developed by Julian Gollop in 1993 as a spiritual successor to Laser Squad, another tactical game he had created (though, shamefully, I never played the latter). Players take on the role of X-COM, a secret organization formed by the world’s strongest nations to combat an unknown alien threat. The game’s turn-based tactical missions involve building and managing bases, taking down UFOs, and investigating crash sites.
After the first game’s success, Terror From the Deep was released in 1995. This time, the alien menace emerged from the depths of the sea, and players faced even more challenging missions. While still employing the same formula as the first game, Terror From the Deep added deep-sea tactical missions, special missions, and an overall higher difficulty level. Both games can be found on Steam and GOG, allowing players to relive the excitement and strategy of these classic turn-based strategy games.
Developer: Digital Reality
Release date: 1994
Get ready for an epic space adventure with Reunion – Even though it’s not technically turn-based, this game’s incredible depth and impact on me have landed it on my must-play list.
In Reunion, players will face a constant barrage of choices, from selecting their advisors and carrying out vital research to exploring new solar systems and building on uncharted planets. All while racing against the clock as a menacing alien force hurtles towards us, destroying everything in its path.
To overcome this daunting challenge, players must forge alliances with other civilizations, exchange crucial knowledge, and upgrade their fleet to combat the impending threat. And let me tell you, this game isn’t for the faint of heart – the unique level of challenge is sure to keep players on their toes, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never been able to beat it.
But even if you can’t conquer this ultimate space challenge, Reunion is a true gem that deserves to be played and appreciated. And the best part? You can easily access the DOS version through the Abandonware website. Get ready to embark on a journey through the stars like no other.
Release date: 1995
The concept of worms battling it out with absurd weapons may sound crazy, but it proved to be a huge hit among gamers. I have fond memories of playing Worms with my cousin on PC, spending entire days engaged in battles. One of my favorite moves was to burrow underground with a drill and launch unconventional weapons at my opponents.
The first iteration of Worms was released by Team17 for the Amiga in 1995. It featured two or more teams of worms battling it out on 2D maps, with a vast selection of weapons and tactical items at their disposal. Players had to consider the wind, angle, and power while launching their attacks, adding a layer of strategy to the gameplay. It was always amusing to watch a banana bomb get blown back toward the launcher due to the wind.
Worms’ success led to its adaptation for other platforms, spawning numerous sequels. It remains one of my all-time favorites. If you’re interested in playing Worms, you can find it on Steam.
Release date: 1995
What to say, a pearl, a gem, a timeless JRPG classic anyone should experience once in their life. Chrono Trigger is a classic Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) originally released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The game was developed by an all-star team of RPG veterans, including Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of the Final Fantasy series), Yuji Horii (creator of the Dragon Quest series), and Akira Toriyama (creator of the Dragon Ball manga).
The game follows the story of a young boy named Crono who travels through time to save the world from destruction. Along the way, he meets a diverse cast of characters, including a princess from the Middle Ages, a robot from the future, and a frog knight. The game’s unique time travel mechanics allow players to explore different eras, interact with historical figures, and even alter the course of history.
Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time and is known for its memorable characters, beautiful graphics, and innovative gameplay. The game features a nonlinear story with multiple endings, encouraging players to explore and experiment with different choices and paths. It also boasts an iconic soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu.
Over the years, Chrono Trigger has been ported to various platforms, including PC, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, and mobile devices. It has also inspired numerous sequels, spin-offs, and fan works, cementing its place as a beloved classic in gaming history.
Developer: Stick Man Games
Release date: 1996
Chaos Overlords may not be as well-known as some of the other turn-based strategy games of the ’90s, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Developed by Stick Man Games and published by New World Computing in 1996, Chaos Overlords is a cyberpunk-themed game that puts players in control of a mercenary gang fighting for control of an 8-by-8 grid city.
While the game’s premise is simple, its multiplayer mode is where it really shines. Players compete to control sectors, gain income, and equip their mercenaries with the best weapons, armor, and accessories. It’s a game that rewards strategic thinking and careful planning.
If you haven’t heard of Chaos Overlords before, it’s worth checking out. And for those who have played it before, it might be time to revisit this underrated gem. You can still purchase the game on Gog, and stay tuned for some upcoming gameplay videos on my YouTube channel.
Final Fantasy VII
Release date: 1997
Final Fantasy VII is a groundbreaking RPG developed by Square and released on PlayStation in 1997, with subsequent releases on Switch, PS4, PC, and Xbox One. The game features an engaging storyline that follows protagonist Cloud Strife and his comrades as they battle the evil corporation Shinra.
In addition to its compelling plot, Final Fantasy VII introduced many of the now-standard features of JRPGs, such as side quests, secret characters to unlock, and the use of summons. By equipping orbs called Materia, players can unlock skills, passive abilities, and powerful monsters to use in battle.
The game also features the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, in which a unit can only take a turn when its action gauge is filled. The result is a dynamic combat system that requires players to manage their resources while staying alert for enemy attacks carefully.
All of these elements are expertly complemented by a memorable soundtrack, making Final Fantasy VII one of the most beloved RPGs of all time. On Steam.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Release date: 1997
I remember having to sneak in some playtime with Final Fantasy Tactics whenever my brother wasn’t home, but those stolen minutes and hours were the best spent. Developed by Square in Japan and released on PlayStation in 1997. One year later in the United States, Final Fantasy Tactics was the first tactical game in the Final Fantasy franchise.
With an intriguing storyline and awesome turn-based battles guided by a complex and satisfying job system, Final Fantasy Tactics set a high standard for the genre. I have talked about games like Final Fantasy Tactics a lot in my videos and articles because, over the years, the game has become a reference and a source of inspiration for the genre. Although it missed a true successor, besides a port on PSP called Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lion and a GBA spinoff called Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, it remains a beloved classic. The only way to get it now is by exploring online stores.
Developer: Interplay Entertainment
Release dates: 1997 – 1998
War, war never changes, but the way it’s portrayed in RPGs can. Fallout and Fallout 2 are perfect examples of this. Developed by Interplay in 1997 and 1998, these games introduced players to a post-apocalyptic world unlike anything seen before. The SPECIAL system used to develop characters was groundbreaking and allowed players to tailor their experience to their liking. In 2001, a third game, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, was released, focusing on tactical combat.
The Fallout games occur in a world ravaged by nuclear war, where the hero is a survivor of Vault 13. The main objective is to find a water chip to help the people of the Vault survive. Equipped with a Pip-Boy 2000, a handy device for managing quests and maps, the hero must navigate through the harsh environment of South California, encountering mutants, marauders, and various creatures. Along the way are recruitable friends, such as the iconic Dogmeat.
Fallout 2 continues the story and adds new items and equipment to use, as well as improved party management. These games have become classics, influencing RPGs to this day. Both Fallout and Fallout 2 can be found on Steam and Gog.
Release date: 1998
Suikoden is a series of role-playing video games developed by Konami. The series is known for its large cast of characters, epic storyline, and ability to recruit up to 108 playable characters in each game. The second chapter in the series, Suikoden II was released in 1998, and it still stands out as one of the best RPGs ever made.
Set in a world where war looms large, Suikoden II follows the story of two friends who find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict that threatens to tear their homeland apart. With turn-based combat and the ability to recruit up to 108 characters for your army, Suikoden II offers plenty of strategic depth and things to discover.
But what really sets Suikoden II apart is its castle-building mechanic. As players recruit more characters to their army, they will also unlock new parts of headquarters and be able to develop it into a bustling hub of activity. And with memorable characters and an epic story that spans kingdoms and generations, Suikoden II is an RPG classic that’s not to be missed. Look for it inside Online Store but be careful about the price.
Release date: 1998
Video games can have a powerful impact on players, leaving an unforgettable impression that stays with them long after the game is over. Xenogears is one such game that touched me deeply. This emotionally charged JRPG adventure, featuring an incredible soundtrack, left an indelible mark on my soul.
Initially released in 1998 by SquareSoft for the Sony Playstation, Xenogears takes players on a journey through a war-torn land as they control Fei Fong Wong and uncover the hero’s past. The game’s combat system is particularly noteworthy, featuring battles on foot and in giant mechs, complete with a deep combo system and interludes that are enhanced by the stunning musical score.
Although Xenosaga and Xenoblade are often considered to be spiritual successors to Xenogears, as they share the same creator, Tetsuya Takahashi, they are far from capturing the same magic as the original game. While Xenogears was once available through the PlayStation network, it can now only be found in online stores. I would love to see a remake or even a sequel to this unforgettable game.
Heroes of Might & Magic III
Developer: New World Computing
Release date: 1999
The Heroes of Might and Magic series is a beloved franchise that has entertained gamers for over two decades. Developed by New World Computing, the series has had its ups and downs, but it remains a classic in the turn-based strategy genre.
While all the games in the series have their strengths, the third chapter stands out as probably the best. Released in 1999, Heroes of Might and Magic III received critical acclaim for its polished gameplay, beautiful graphics, and addictive mechanics.
In Heroes of Might and Magic III, players take on the role of a hero who must build an army, explore the world, and conquer enemy territories. The game’s turn-based combat system is easy to learn but challenging to master, and there are dozens of units to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The game’s success can be attributed to its addictive gameplay, colorful graphics, and immersive soundtrack. It’s a game that is easy to pick up and play but difficult to put down. Heroes of Might & Magic III has stood the test of time and continues to have a dedicated fan base to this day. Players worldwide create new content for the game, and many popular streamers still choose New World Computing Strategy title for their live sessions.
Thanks to its enduring popularity, Heroes of Might and Magic III is easily accessible today through Steam, where you can purchase the HD edition of the game.
Jagged Alliance 2
Release date: 1999
Although I was stuck in the first Jagged Alliance game when I was around ten years old, I was captivated by the game’s aura. However, with Jagged Alliance 2, I truly immersed myself and spent countless hours playing. I often resorted to save scumming as I attempted to solve battles in stealth mode. Whenever an enemy guard noticed me, I quickly loaded my last saved game and started again.
In Jagged Alliance 2, players assume the role of a rebel force fighting against Deidranna Reitman in the Arulco state. The game features a catalog called A.I.M. with the best mercenaries from around the world. Players can select which ones to hire or even create a custom character from scratch. The game also includes a strategic layer, where players must decide where to move next and which towns to conquer. Once a town is conquered, nearby mines can be used to gain an income to spend on better mercenaries and weapons and to train a local militia to defend against enemy attacks.
In turn-based tactical missions, players must defeat enemy forces in each town. Each mission has multiple approaches, ranging from attacking at night to trying a stealth approach when possible. It is crucial to consider melee and ranged skills, explosive and mechanical expertise, and much more when planning your approach. Once a town is liberated, players can explore it and interact with NPCs and items to unlock new content and maybe even gain new allies.
Jagged Alliance 2 is undoubtedly one of the best turn-based RPGs ever made. Although I struggled with the first game, the sequel captured my heart and provided hours of gameplay enjoyment. Now it can be found on Steam and GOG
Conclusion and Honorable Mentions
Before wrapping up, I would like to highlight some titles that, although not included in my list, have been a significant influence and point of reference for many modern games. These games have left an indelible mark on the gaming industry and have contributed to shaping the standards and expectations of gamers.
Games like Planescape: Torment with its unique and mysterious world. Breath of Fire with its compelling storylines and combat system. Shadowrun, Vagrant Story, Dragon Quest, and more. Each one has left something indelible in me, and it was a great pleasure to tell you about it.
These are, for sure, my 90s Top Turn-Based RPGs & Strategy Games. Now I’m so curious to know your favorites. Let’s talk about it on Twitter, inside our Discord Server, and on my TBL Youtube Channel, where you can find the video version of this article.
No Fantasy General?
Shining force should be on this list one of the best torn based strategy rpg games ever made
Where is Shining Force ??
No breath of fire????
Phantasy star IV was another great one
II was also one of the best RPGs I’d ever played.
Master of Orion, Master of Magic, and a real gem, Ancient Art of War at Sea.
Forgot Disciple Sacred Lands
Civ was microprose, not firaxis. Firaxis took over after civ ii.
Fading Suns, deep and enduring.
Silver Star Story?
>Back then, real-time strategy games were bogged down by sluggish processing speeds and subpar graphics…
Yes, that’s why Starcraft and Warcraft were so unpopular, of course.
Also half of the games in this list are real-time games with turn-based combat. That isn’t the same thing as a turn-based game.
This article is a bit of a mess, honestly.
How you could leave Warcraft/Warcraft II and StarCraft out of this article completely is just criminal.
Uhm….because they are not turn based games?!
I’m surprised of no Shining Force or Shining Force 2
Captivating turn based Games I played in the ’90’s: Civilization, Master of Orion, The Legend of Kyrandia, Might and Magic III, Day of the Tentacle, Warlords, Ascendency and UFO: Enemy Unknown. I also played the above mentioned Reunion, but it didn’t captivate me that much. Non turned based games were among others Dune, Mortal Combat and Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss.
I forgot to mention Dark Sun: Shattered Lands!
Lords of Magic. FFS.