Over the years, Turn-Based RPGs have evolved, shone, faltered, and then risen again and are currently experiencing a new golden age of creativity and innovation. As a long-time RPG fan, I have always been drawn to the turn-based genre. Just something about the strategy and pacing of turn-based combat keeps me coming back for more.
I’m almost 40 years old, so my youth (glory days) coincided with the golden age of RPGs and JRPGs. The PC gaming scene boasted fantastic titles like X-COM, Baldur’s Gate, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Jagged Alliance. At the same time, the arrival of Sony PlayStation on the scene ushered in an army of gorgeous JRPGs, such as Xenogears, Suikoden, Valkyrie Profile, Legend of Dragoon, and many more. These gems and others like them undoubtedly shaped my passion for the genre and video games in general.
Today, I’m attempting to do something that often proves challenging – compiling a list of the best RPGs of all time according to my own tastes. I’ll be sharing my top picks for the best turn-based RPGs of all time, as well as some great options for beginners and advanced players. Imagine this as a sort of essential guide to turn-based RPGs. Of course, I know I may overlook some deserving titles, so I apologize in advance. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
- Introduction to Turn-Based RPGs
- What makes an RPG Great
- Top Turn-Based RPGs of all Time
- Best RPGs for Beginners
- Best Turn-Based Games for Advanced Players
- RPGs with the Best Story
- RPGs with The Best Combat System
- Top Upcoming RPGs
Introduction to Turn-Based RPGs
First, let’s define what we mean by “turn-based RPG“. In this genre, combat is typically structured around a turn-based system, where each character takes turns to make their moves. This can be contrasted with real-time RPGs, where combat is more fluid and dynamic. Turn-based RPGs often emphasize strategic thinking and careful planning, as battles can be won or lost based on the player’s ability to anticipate the opponent’s moves.
But turn-based RPGs aren’t just about combat. They also typically feature deep, immersive stories and worlds to explore. These games often allow players to customize their characters and build their own unique playstyle, whether that means specializing in magic, melee combat, or ranged attacks.
What Makes a Turn-Based RPG Great?
So, what sets the best turn-based RPGs apart from the rest? In my opinion, several vital factors make an excellent turn-based RPG:
Of course, the combat system is a crucial aspect of any RPG. In a turn-based game, combat should be challenging but fair, with various strategies and approaches players can use to succeed. The best turn-based RPGs also give players a sense of progression and growth as they acquire new skills and abilities over time.
A great RPG should have a story that hooks you in and keeps you invested. This means well-developed characters, exciting plot twists, and a world that feels alive and immersive. The best RPGs also allow players to make meaningful choices that affect the story’s outcome.
In role-playing games, one of the key factors that can make a game truly immersive and enjoyable is the ability for players to move around freely in the game world and approach different situations in various ways. Additionally, including secondary quests and hidden items can add another layer of excitement and intrigue to the game as players explore the world and discover all of its secrets. While this level of freedom is often considered a hallmark of Western-style RPGs, it is also becoming increasingly common in JRPGs.
Finally, a great RPG should have a rich and detailed world. This means a variety of locations to explore, from bustling cities to dark dungeons. It also means profound lore and history that players can uncover through exploration and conversation.
Top Turn-Based RPGs of All Time
With those criteria in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best turn-based RPGs of all time. These are the games that have stood the test of time and continue to be beloved by RPG fans around the world.
But first, a disclaimer! It’s impossible to list all the titles that have defined the RPG genre and keep this article at a reasonable length, so I’ll limit myself to mentioning the Ultima series, which has the honor of being a pioneer among video games with open-world mechanics and non-linear stories.
Another series that definitely deserves more than a passing mention is the cult classic series Dragon Quest. (At the very least, I honored it by featuring their image on the article’s cover.) The series’ first title was released in 1986 for Nintendo/Famicom. It was among the first games to introduce a party-based system and a strong focus on storytelling; nowadays, it is a series that still values turn-based RPGs, such as the exceptional Dragon Quest XI.
In short, as you can see, it’s impossible to provide a comprehensive list of all the greatest RPGs in history, as each title has left a unique and indelible mark on the genre.
Anyway, let’s move on to what I consider to be some of the most influential games that have continued to define the genre and have shaped my personal experience with video games over the years.
Final Fantasy VII
No list of great RPGs would be complete without Final Fantasy VII. This classic game, initially released in 1997, is widely considered to be one of the best RPGs of all time. A true classic that holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers worldwide. This game transported players to a world of magic, technology, and unforgettable characters.
The iconic opening sequence, featuring the haunting melody of the main theme, set the stage for an epic adventure that captured players’ imaginations everywhere. The story of Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, and Sephiroth – a tale of love, loss, and betrayal – left players on the edge of their seats and still resonates with fans today.
But it wasn’t just the story that made Final Fantasy VII so special – it was the gameplay too. The turn-based combat system was intuitive yet challenging, and the materia system allowed for endless customization and strategy. The game’s visuals and music were also top-notch. The character designs were original and memorable, and the music by legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu was nothing short of breathtaking.
For many players, Final Fantasy VII was more than just a game – an experience they will never forget. Even as new Final Fantasy games are released and technology advances, there will always be a special place in fans’ hearts for what may be the best Final Fantasy game ever.
The Fallout series is a franchise that has captured the hearts and minds of gamers for decades. The first two games, Fallout and Fallout 2, laid the foundation for what was to come and are still considered to be some of the best RPGs ever created.
Fallout introduced players to a post-apocalyptic world where they must navigate a dangerous wasteland filled with mutated creatures, gangs, and other hazards. Its open-world exploration, immersive storytelling, and tactical turn-based combat system made it an instant classic.
Fallout 2 continued the original game’s legacy with an expanded world, even more intricate quests, and a darker, more mature storyline. Its focus on player choice and consequence made every decision feel weighty and impactful, and its memorable characters and locations have stood the test of time. Together, these two games set the standard for what a post-apocalyptic RPG should be, and their influence can still be felt in modern games today.
Another classic RPG, Chrono Trigger was originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995. Its innovative time-traveling plot and memorable characters make it a must-play for any RPG and JRPGs fan. The turn-based combat system is also well-designed, with a variety of different abilities and combos to master.
Chrono Trigger is a game that many gamers look back on with a sense of nostalgia and wonder. The Square RPG was a landmark achievement in the world of JRPGs and remained a beloved classic to this day, with a cast of memorable characters and a story that is both epic and intimate. The game’s innovative plot, which allows players to travel back and forth through time to change the course of history, is still remarkable.
The turn-based combat system was ahead of its time, allowing players to combine attacks and abilities to devastating effect and the game’s multiple endings and hidden secrets gave players a sense of discovery and adventure that is rarely seen in games even today. The game’s visuals and music were also stunning.
The colorful world and beautifully designed characters still look great, and the music by legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda is unforgettable, with tracks that stay with players long after the game. More than 25 years after its release, the game’s timeless appeal and sense of wonder continue to captivate players of all ages.
X-COM Series (Julian Gollop)
X-COM is a legendary series of turn-based tactical video games that began in 1994 with the release of X-COM: UFO Defense (also known as UFO: Enemy Unknown). The series is set in a world where aliens have invaded Earth, and players must take on the role of the commander of an international organization known as X-COM to combat the alien threat.
Players must manage resources, research alien technology, and train soldiers to fight in turn-based battles against alien invaders. The X-COM series is known for its high difficulty and deep strategy gameplay, with players often facing tough decisions about allocating resources and which soldiers to send into battle.
One of the defining features of the X-COM series is the strong emotional bond that players often develop with their soldiers. As players send them into battle and see them overcome the odds or fall in combat, they can’t help but feel a sense of attachment and responsibility for their soldiers’ well-being.
The first X-COM game was a critical and commercial success. It spawned several sequels and spin-offs, including X-COM: Terror From the Deep, X-COM: Apocalypse, and X-COM: Interceptor. Gollop continued to work on other strategy games after the X-COM series, such as Chaos Reborn and the excellent Phoenix Point. Still, the X-COM games remain his most iconic and influential works in the gaming industry, inspiring many other turn-based strategy games and setting the standard for the genre.
Best Turn-Based RPGs for Beginners
There are plenty of excellent options for those who are just starting to explore the world of turn-based RPGs. These games are designed with beginners in mind, featuring accessible gameplay mechanics and a forgiving difficulty curve. Whether new to the genre or simply looking for a more approachable experience, there are plenty of great games to get started. Below are three of the most iconic.
For those looking to dip their toes into turn-based RPGs, the Pokemon series is an excellent starting point. Its straightforward yet immersive combat system and vibrant world have captivated players for years. The most recent additions to the series, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, introduce an expansive array of creatures to catch and train. Whether a longtime fan or a newcomer to the series, these games offer endless hours of fun and adventure.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
For those new to the world of turn-based RPGs or seeking an enjoyable and easy-to-play game, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an excellent choice. This game, based on the beloved animated series, provides a humorous and irreverent twist on the genre, with a turn-based combat system that is straightforward to learn and perfect.
Furthermore, its vivid, cartoonish world is a fantastic introduction to RPGs, with numerous side quests and mini-games to keep players entertained for hours on end. Therefore, for players looking for a game that’s both amusing and approachable, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a must-try. And after beating it, the fun continues with the second chapter, The Fractured But Whole.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
For a classic RPG experience, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an excellent choice for players of any skill level. The game boasts a captivating storyline and a diverse cast of characters that players will grow to love. Its turn-based combat system is also expertly crafted, offering a deep and strategic experience that rewards careful planning and tactical execution.
The game introduces new mechanics, such as the Divine Pulse, which allows the player to turn back time and undo a mistake or unfortunate outcome offering a satisfying blend of depth and accessibility that is sure to appeal to fans of turn-based RPGs.
Best Turn-Based RPGs for Advanced Players
These games are for seasoned RPG veterans looking for a challenge. They offer complex gameplay mechanics and brutal battles that will test their skills to the limit.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an award-winning RPG that offers a massive, immersive world to explore and a deep, complex turn-based combat system. Developed by Larian Studios (devs that now are working on the upcoming Baldur’s Gate 3), this game is a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin and takes everything that made the first game great and builds upon it in every way.
Featuring a vast open world to explore, a deeply intricate turn-based combat system, a diverse range of classes and abilities to master, and a branching storyline with multiple possible outcomes, this game will surely captivate players for hours on end. Whether exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants or strategizing through epic battles, Divinity: Original Sin II is perfect for expert players.
XCOM 1-2 (Firaxis Games)
In 2012, Firaxis Games, known for developing the Civilization series, acquired the rights to the legendary X-COM franchise. With this acquisition, they produced two masterpieces that set a new standard for tactical strategy RPGs: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 with the War of the Chosen expansion. These games are widely praised by fans and critics alike for their deep gameplay mechanics, excellent graphics, and engaging storylines, making them a must-play.
The gameplay mechanics have remained unchanged from the previous games. Players take on the role of a commander leading a squad of soldiers in a desperate battle against an alien invasion. With a turn-based combat system and strategic base management elements, they offer players a deep and engaging experience.
With a wide array of abilities and tactics to master, Firaxis XCOM Series challenges players to carefully plan and execute their strategies in the face of overwhelming odds. Games’ punishing difficulty curves and perma-death mechanics make every decision matter, creating a thrilling sense of tension and urgency.
I can’t recommend enough to jump in the series because both XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 are excellent titles and guarantee lots of hours of fun.
In Darkest Dungeon, players will find a turn-based RPG that is renowned for its difficulty and challenging mechanics. The game requires careful management of party members’ mental health and stress levels as they battle through dangerous dungeons and face off against terrifying foes. Despite its steep learning curve, the game is highly rewarding for those who persevere, with deep gameplay that will keep players engaged.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that Darkest Dungeon 2 is nearing the end of its early access phase, promising to continue the franchise’s legacy of dark and challenging gameplay. The second chapter will introduce new mechanics and features, emphasizing strategic decision-making and resource management.
Battle Brothers is a turn-based strategy RPG that is known for its extreme level of difficulty. As the leader of a mercenary company, players must navigate a dangerous and unpredictable world, completing contracts and engaging in tactical battles against various factions.
With a high degree of character customization and a punishing combat system, Battle Brothers is not for the faint of heart. Still, for those who relish a challenge and enjoy deep strategy and customization, it is a rewarding and engaging experience.
Turn-Based RPGs with the Best Stories
For many RPG fans, the story is the most crucial aspect of the game. These turn-based RPGs offer some of the best storytelling in the genre.
Planescape: Torment is widely regarded as one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, and for a good reason. The game’s immersive story is set in a unique and fascinating world that draws players in from the start. Players will follow the Nameless One, an immortal character who wakes up in a morgue with no memories of his past. As he navigates through the magical and mysterious world of Planescape, he discovers that he has lived many lives and that his past is filled with secrets and betrayals.
The story is a true masterpiece of the RPG genre, with deep and complex characters, intricate plot twists, and philosophical themes that make the player question the very nature of existence. The turn-based combat system is also well-designed and engaging, but the characters and the narrative truly elevate this game to legendary status. Whether a fan of CRPGs or just a casual gamer looking for a memorable experience, Planescape: Torment is a must-play title that will leave a lasting impression.
Undertale is a unique game that features a peculiar story involving monsters and magic. Despite its appearance, Undertale’s pure and heartwarming essence makes it a truly exceptional game in the realm of storytelling. It stands out with its multiple alternate endings that deliver a powerful emotional impact.
The game follows a young child who has fallen into the underground world of monsters, where they must navigate a perilous journey to return to the surface. Along the way, the player meets a cast of endearing characters, including a skeleton comedian and a determined fish warrior, each with their own motivations and quirks.
What sets Undertale apart from other games is its innovative approach to storytelling, which allows players to make choices that impact the plot and characters in meaningful ways. The game also subverts traditional RPG tropes, encouraging players to find non-violent solutions to conflicts and promoting empathy and understanding towards even the most seemingly antagonistic characters.
Undertale’s story is a masterpiece of emotional depth and complexity, exploring themes of redemption, identity, and the human condition in a way that resonates deeply with players. Its combination of charming visuals, catchy music, and compelling narrative make it a must-play for anyone looking for a truly unique and memorable gaming experience.
Disco Elysium, a role-playing game that was released in 2019, has garnered significant acclaim within the video game industry for its exceptional storytelling, earning it a reputation as a reference point in the genre.
ZA/UM Story-Driven RPG puts players in the shoes of a police detective who wakes up with no memory of his past or his identity and is tasked with solving a murder case in the city of Revachol. As a detective, players must navigate a complex web of political intrigue and corruption while dealing with their demons and struggles.
Disco Elysium‘s narrative and storytelling are awesome and full of richly developed characters and intricate dialogue options that allow players to shape the story and their character’s personalities through their choices and actions. The game also tackles heavy themes like addiction, mental illness, and trauma in a nuanced and sensitive way, making for a deeply immersive and emotionally impactful experience.
Turn-Based RPGs with the Best Combat Systems
Let’s now turn our attention to some of the best turn-based RPGs with the most captivating combat systems. These games offer dynamic and strategic battles that will keep players engaged and on their toes.
Final Fantasy X
Another classic JRPG from the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy X offers a well-designed turn-based combat system with a unique twist: the ability to swap out party members mid-battle. This adds an extra layer of strategy to the game, as players must carefully consider which characters to bring into each fight.
The combat system in Final Fantasy X is a turn-based system that emphasizes strategy and careful planning. During battle, players select actions from a menu that appears on the screen, such as attacking with a weapon or casting a spell. Each action takes up a certain amount of time, represented by a turn order bar on the screen, which shows the order in which the characters and enemies will act. This allows players to plan their moves strategically, anticipating the enemy’s actions and adjusting their tactics accordingly.
One of the unique features of Final Fantasy X’s combat system is the ability to switch party members in and out of battle seamlessly, allowing players to adjust their party’s composition and abilities on the fly. Additionally, the game introduces a new mechanic called the Sphere Grid, which allows players to customize their character’s abilities and stats by allocating points earned from battles. With its strategic gameplay and customizable mechanics, Final Fantasy X’s combat system remains a fan favorite among JRPG enthusiasts.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
For fans of turn-based strategy games with RPG elements, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a great choice. Its unique “BLiTZ” combat system allows players to move and attack in real-time while still retaining the strategic depth of a turn-based game.
The combat system in Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a unique blend of turn-based and real-time gameplay, with a heavy emphasis on strategy and positioning. During battles, players take control of a squad of soldiers, each with their own unique abilities and strengths, and engage in tactical combat against enemy forces. Unlike traditional turn-based systems, the action in Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place in real-time, with players able to move and aim their characters freely within a set amount of action points.
In addition, Valkyria Chronicles 4 also features a unique “Brave” system, which allows characters to perform special abilities and moves at the cost of action points. These moves can be used to turn the tide of battle, but must be used strategically to maximize their effectiveness.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
For a more lighthearted take on the genre, check out Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. This game combines the turn-based strategy of XCOM with the colorful world of the Mario franchise, resulting in a fun and engaging gameplay experience.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle features a unique turn-based combat system that combines elements of strategy and puzzle-solving. During battles, players control a team of characters consisting of Mario, Rabbids, and other characters from the Mario universe, each with their own unique abilities and weapons.
Combat takes place on a grid-based battlefield featuring a cover system, special moves such as sliding and jumping, and abilities to attack enemies and manipulate the battlefield. One of the key features of the game’s combat system is the use of “team jump” and “team jump dash” mechanics, which allow players to perform coordinated jumps and movements to reach high places and access new areas of the battlefield.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle‘s combat system offers a fresh, fun take on turn-based gameplay. Its unique blend of strategy and puzzle-solving elements makes for a truly engaging experience.
Upcoming RPGs to Watch Out For
I could go on in this section at length, given the numerous exciting triple-A and indie RPG releases slated for 2023 and beyond. I’ve listed only four of the most promising upcoming titles. Still, I invite you to follow me regularly, even on my youtube channel, to get a more comprehensive overview, as my favorite pastime is creating lists of the best turn-based games. Nevertheless, these four titles are among the most promising to watch.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the most highly anticipated RPGs in recent years, for good reason. Developed by Larian Studios, the game is a follow-up to the classic Baldur’s Gate series, which is widely considered one of the best RPG franchises of all time. The game promises to offer players an immersive and deeply engaging RPG experience, with a rich and detailed world to explore, a cast of memorable characters to interact with, and a compelling story that will keep players hooked from start to finish.
Baldur’s Gate 3 focus on players’ choice and consequence. Every decision players make will have a lasting impact on the game world and the characters around them, creating a dynamic and constantly evolving experience that feels truly unique to each player. And with a deep and complex combat system, the game promises to offer a level of tactical depth and strategy that will keep even the most experienced RPG players engaged for hours on end.
With stunning graphics, a deep and immersive world to explore, and a gameplay experience that is both challenging and rewarding, Baldur’s Gate III is shaping up to be one of the most exciting RPGs of the year.
Sea of Stars
Sea of Stars is an upcoming turn-based RPG that promises to take players on an epic journey through a vast and mystical world filled with adventure and wonder. From the creators of The Messenger, Sea of Stars boasts stunning visuals, a captivating storyline, and a unique combat system that combines classic turn-based mechanics with real-time exploration elements.
Players will embark on a quest to save the universe from an evil alchemist known as the Fleshmancer, gathering a diverse cast of heroes along the way, each with their own unique abilities and personalities. With a world filled with secrets to uncover, enemies to defeat, and treasures to discover, Sea of Stars is shaping up to be one of the most promising RPGs of the year and a must-play for fans of the genre.
Like a Dragon 8
Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a revolutionary game in the series, introducing turn-based combat and a new protagonist in Ichiban Kasuga. And now, the highly anticipated sequel, Like a Dragon 8, is set to take things even further. Fans of the series will be thrilled to see the return of the beloved protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, as he teams up with Ichiban for a brand new adventure in Kamurocho.
The reveal trailer for Like a Dragon 8 is already making waves with its exciting gameplay and dual protagonist storyline. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Kiryu’s new look, sporting a fresh haircut and letting his hair down like a true Persona 4 investigation team member.
Despite the lack of a definitive release date, Like a Dragon 8 is already generating buzz for its launch in 2024 on multiple platforms, including Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC. With its exciting gameplay and return of fan-favorite characters, Like a Dragon 8 is sure to be a must-play for any fan of the Yakuza series and RPGs alike.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader
In this article, it’s essential to mention the talented developers at Owlcat Games, who have gained a reputation for bringing the famous tabletop world of Pathfinder to the digital realm with Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous. Based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, both titles have enjoyed immense success.
Building on this success, the developers have ventured into another equally intriguing world – Warhammer 40k. Their latest game, Rogue Trader, promises a unique open-world experience filled with narrative branching paths that adapt to the player’s choices. Overall, it’s another must-play title for turn based lovers.
Conclusion: Choose Your Next RPG Adventure
Whether a longtime fan of turn-based RPGs or a newcomer to the genre, there are plenty of great games out there to explore. The world of turn-based RPGs has never been so rich with great games to play, and there are just as many coming in the next few months. From classic titles like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger to modern masterpieces like Persona 5 and Divinity: Original Sin II, there’s something for everyone in the world of turn-based RPGs. So, choose your adventure and dive in – you won’t be disappointed!