15 Of The Best Turn-Based RPG’s Of All Time

Browse our list of the best turn-based RPGs of all time. While this genre became nearly extinct in the mid-2000’s, they’ve made a strong comeback as of recent. Here are a few turn-based RPGs, both old and new, that you have to play if you want to find out what this genre has to offer.

July 11, 2019

Turn-based role-playing games once dominated the Super Nintendo and PlayStation era of video games. From Final Fantasy to Dragon Quest to the older Phantasy Star games, shops were filled with epic adventures to battle our way through. In recent years, there has been a decided shift towards action-based role-playing games. But, if you long for the days of carefully choosing each character’s actions in a respectable, civilized queue, you should take a look at these great games:

THE CRITERIA

We can almost all agree, for the most part, you could fill an entire top 15 best turn-based RPG list entirely with a certain loosely Fantasy related series that doesn’t understand Finality. With that in mind, we have decided to limit each game series to only one game on this list. Not only does this prevent certain prolific series from filling every slot, but it also gives a wider array of games and developers some time in the light.

WHAT IS A TURN-BASED ROLE PLAYING GAME?

In the simplest terms, a turn-based RPG is a game in which a primary method of interacting with the world (usually combat) is turn-based. I have broken down each game into a few key features that I believe really embody what generally makes a Turn-Based RPG great:

  • Story – Is it well-written and cohesive?
  • Writing – Does the world have strong dialogue and interesting lore?
  • Impact – Do the player’s choices have an effect on the game world?
  • Character Development – Does the game allow character customization?
  • Exploration/Adventure – Is the game linear or does it allow the player to choose their own path?
  • Combat – Is it balanced? Is it intuitive? Is it fun?

Now obviously these aspects are going to be highly subjective, so if you disagree with the choices on this list feel free to let us know. We are always open to new opinions and even games we might not have played yet. Now, let’s get to the list!

15 X-COM: ENEMY UNKNOWN

Initial Release DateOctober 9, 2012
PlatformPC, Linux, OS X, iOS, Android, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360
DeveloperFiraxis Games
Publisher2K Games, Feral Interactive
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
3/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

No turn-based RPG list would be complete without the decade spanning X-Com Series. With its first game released in 1994, the X-Com Series has been around long enough to have its growing pains like any major series. In fact X-Com: Enemy Unknown (2012) shares a portion of its name with the very first X-Com game, UFO: Enemy Unknown.

Story

x com enemy unknown

X-COM: Enemy Unknown, Image Source: Firaxis Games

X-Com: Enemy Unknown takes place in an alternate version of earth where our lovely blue sphere is invaded by aliens. As the commander of an elite paramilitary organization it is your job to develop your base, advance your technology, equip and train your soldiers, and then lose those soldiers when they miss a 99% chance to hit shot and promptly die during the enemy’s turn.

As you advance through the story you will take on harder and more vital missions in order to prevent the loss of your precious world to the alien menace, with the ultimate goal of standing in front of a beleaguered group of humans and declaring that it is the world’s independence day… wait that might be the wrong series.

WRITING

The dialogue and lore of X-Com have been well developed over the 20+ years of its existence. There is a significant amount of solid voice acting and the writing is easy to follow. There were no real concerns regarding the game’s writing aside from a somewhat generic alien invasion plot.

IMPACT

How you invest your limited resources generally changes your play style, but not to any extreme. You could perform certain missions before others to give you access to new technologies or resources that changed how your soldiers or base performed, but largely these decisions changed the chronology of events rather than the entire story. There was a chance to lose certain resources if those areas were destroyed by the aliens, but otherwise, no matter which path you take, you will mostly still end up with the same technologies and resources at the end of the game.

Character Development

In X-Com: Enemy Unknown you control a group of six soldiers (though you will want to have more in reserve) through grid-based maps. Each character will have a class or specialization that they focus on. The Assault class focuses on running and shooting, the Heavy Class uses big guns and bombs, the Support class heals, and the Sniper class snipes.

In addition, you have a random chance of getting Psionic abilities with your characters which can greatly change their play style. Characters level up after gaining experience and there is a skill tree to choose abilities from. You have to choose between two abilities and the choices are mutually exclusive. You can also buy new and better guns, armor, and support items for your soldiers in the desperate hope of keeping them alive.

Exploration/Adventure

There is a certain amount of choice given to each player on which mission they would like to perform, but the game is largely linear. There are mission critical operations that you have to perform or you will lose the game, and even in the operation zone there is usually a “path” that you will have to maneuver in order to reach your objective.

Combat

Combat in X-Com is simultaneously the most cathartic and frustrating I have experienced. When I played through the game on Ironman, every second was spent ensuring that each character had adequate cover and support from their allies, yet invariably things would go awry. This is because the game uses a percentage based hit randomization. Depending on enemy cover, size, defenses, and mystical programming bullshittery your attacks have a certain chance to hit.

Your soldiers will have several abilities available to them, but you will most likely spend a lot of time in over watch, which is a skill used to open fire upon enemies when they enter line of sight. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction when an alien strolls out into the open and is immediately taken down in a hail of bullets. It is less satisfying when all six of your soldiers are set to over watch and every single one of them misses. Do not expect miracles from your soldiers. They will miss 99% chance to hit shots on occasion and it will infuriate you.

Verdict

Do not name your soldiers after people you know if you don’t want to watch them die.

14 South Park: The Stick of Truth

Initial Release DateMarch 4, 2014
PlatformPC, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox 360
DeveloperObsidian Entertainment
PublisherUbisoft
4/5
Story
5/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

South Park is a show that has spanned 22 seasons and almost 300 episodes. It was only natural that the series would make a foray into the world of video games. Most attempts to bring South Park to gamers were terrible, but in 2014 a company renowned for its ability to create compelling role-playing games took the reins of South Park: A Stick of Truth (ASOT). Obsidian Entertainment brought the crude satirical humor of South Park to gamers in a truly hilarious and compelling way.

south park stick of truth

South Park: The Stick of Truth, Image Source: Obsidian Entertainment

Story

ASOT follows the story of “new kid”, an aptly named new arrival to the fictional town of South Park, Colorado. Your character quickly falls in with established and beloved characters from the TV show and begins a quest to recover the Stick of Truth.

Throughout the game, the town undergoes alien invasions, government plots, and Nazi Zombies (no I am not kidding). There is also a particularly memorable scene involving the “New Kid’s” parents, which I won’t spoil but is burned deep into my memory forever.

Writing

The writing for ASOT is undeniably great. If you enjoy the writing in the South Park show, you will enjoy the writing in this game. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were heavily involved in the development in this game and it shows. This game is very much an interactive episode of South Park.

Impact

While the game offers several avenues to obtain collectibles and explore the town, in general, the story is fairly linear. There is not a lot of significant choices that change the outcome of any major events. I wouldn’t say that the player has a lot of impact on the story at all, but do not take that as a criticism. Sometimes you want to be able to adapt a story to your whims, like in Planescape: Torment, but other times you just want to be part of a story unfolding before you.

Character Development

There are four character classes to choose from at the beginning of the game, the three tropes of “fighter”, “mage”, “thief”, and one class truly unique to South Park, the Jew. Throughout the game, you will level up by gaining experience through fights and events. You will also buy new equipment for your character, increasing his or her attack and defense. It is not a very in-depth character development system if I am completely honest, but it serves its purpose.

Exploration/Adventure

The game offers a pretty significant opportunity to explore the town of South Park, without much hand-holding. While some areas will be locked off until you complete certain objectives, in general, you are encouraged to look around and search. This is especially true because there are a significant amount of collectibles in the game. If you are one of those people who need to find and collect everything, you will have lots of things to gather.

Combat

Battles take place in a method very similar to most of the Final Fantasy series. Your characters stand to one side of the screen, the enemies stand to the other and you battle it out across a neutral middle ground. The player has access to normal attacks, ranged attacks, items, special abilities, all the common tools needed to defeat your enemies (also there is fart power).

The New Kid is not alone in his battles, and you can bring along a companion to every fight. In addition, you can also summon special characters during battle to aid you in dire situations (think summons from Final Fantasy). While ASOT did not revolutionize turn-based combat by any means, what it did was bring a beloved comedy franchise to the world of Turn-Based Role-playing in a way that was charming, hilarious, and gross… and hilarious.

Verdict

If you are easily offended, this is not the game for you.

13 WIZARDRY 8

Initial Release DateNovember 14, 2001
PlatformPC, Mac
DeveloperSir-Tech Canada
PublisherSir-Tech
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

The Wizardry series has been a mainstay in the world of role-playing video games since 1981, several years before I was even born. Though I am ashamed to say I have never taken it upon myself to dive into the progenitor Wizardry games, I do remember firing up Wizardry 8 for the first time at the age of 13 and beginning my adventure.

best turn based rpgs wizardry 8 screenshot

Wizardry 8, Image Source: Sir-Tech Canada, now defunct

Story

The story of Wizardry 8 follows a somewhat familiar trope of needing to find three artifacts to ascend to godhood. These artifacts are the Astral Dominae (the key to life), the Destinae Dominus (the key to knowledge), and the Chaos Moliri (the key to change).

In order to gather these powerful artifacts, however, you must explore a compelling world of dangerous enemies, bold allies, and enigmatic observers.

Writing

It has been some years since I played through this game, but I do not recall there being an overly large amount of voice acting. Most of the information is provided through dialogue boxes and the game is extremely lore heavy. If you are not familiar with the Wizardry universe you might get a little bit lost at times, but never to the extent that you are not able to continue playing the game.

Impact

Wizardry 8 is one of those games where your decisions can affect the ending of the game. By that I mean it is your last decision that really decides the outcome of the game, but throughout the journey you will have the chance to help or fight certain people. These people may decide to join you, offer you rewards, or turn on you. Ultimately, the game pulls a Mass Effect 3 with 3 choices at the end, but unlike Mass Effect 3, each choice has a radically different outcome.

Character Development

You begin the game by creating a party of six characters and can have two additional NPC characters join you as you advance through the game. Combat is turn-based and there are 15 classes and 11 races you can choose from, each with their unique strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to create a group to suit nearly any play style. As you murder your way through the world, you will gain experience and level up, gaining access to new abilities and skill points which you can allocate to further customize your party.

Exploration/Adventure

Wizardry 8 is a pretty large game and there are lots of things to find. Scattered throughout the landscape you will meet interesting people, get to know them a little bit, and then kill them. I don’t recall there being many gated areas, there are a few that require you to complete some missions or quests in order to gain access, but for the most part, your exploration is only hindered by the relative level of the monsters waiting for you in those new regions.

Combat

Wizardry 8 is a turn-based role-playing game in its purest form. Your party acts as one cohesive unit. You will assign actions to all of your characters and then the turn will begin. Each person will act in accordance with their speed and then the enemies will go. It is a combat system from a more civilized time. You will not require twitchy reactions and you can plan your moves as carefully as you want.

Verdict

Do not let the dated graphics scare you away from your destinae.

12 LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS IN THE SKY

Initial Release DateJune 24, 2004
PlatformPS Vita, PS3, PSP, PC
DeveloperNihon Calom, MICROVISion Inc.
PublisherNihon Falcom, Marvelous USA Inc. Ghostlight
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
3/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is the first Japanese Role-playing Game (JRPG) style game on this list. It is the first Legend of Heroes Game I played, though the series dates back to 1989 with the game Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes. There are 14 or so Legend of Heroes games split into five subseries, with Trails in the Sky, Trails-Crossbell Arc, and Trails of Cold Steel, being the most recent three series.

legend of heroes trails in the sky

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky , Image Source: Nihon Falcom

Story

The story of Trails in the Sky follows a spunky young girl Estelle Bright and a stoic and broody young boy by the name of Joshua. Desiring adventure you quickly join a cadre known as the Bracers, which your father Cassius is also a member of. Following the Final Fantasy trope, there are special crystals that need to be recovered, a missing father to find, and baddies to thwart.

Writing

I have to say the writing in Trails in the Sky is not quite as baffling as some other JRPG games. The English version is well localized and there were no glaring problems that I noticed. I don’t recall there being a ton of voice acting, and you should expect to read an absolute ton of exposition, lore, and dialogue.

Impact

JRPGs generally follow a very linear story path, and this one is no different. While you can go off and perform a few missions for the Bracer guild and occasionally other NPCs, you should be under no illusion that you have any choice but to advance through the story in the way that the developers have written. Again this is not a bad thing. It allows you the simplicity of being told a story that you can interact with and feel part of.

Character Development

There are a total of seven playable characters in Trails in the Sky, each with their own unique abilities, weapons preferences, and combat styles. As you level up your party, you will gather orbments and quartz which you will use to upgrade your characters, get new skills, and generally improve your party. As with most role-playing games you are also able to buy new weapons, armor, and items for your characters which will increase their statistics accordingly.

Exploration/Adventure

Exploration of Liberl Kingdom, the primary setting for Trails in the Sky, takes place in a top-down third-person perspective and instead of random encounters, enemies appear on the world screen for you to attack or avoid at will. You will generally only be able to explore areas that align with the portion of the story you are in, and some areas will become inaccessible after you advance far enough into the game. With this in mind, if you are the kind of person who needs to hunt down every item and monster, make sure you get everything done before moving on with the main quest.

Combat

Trails in the Sky is somewhat unique in that combat is slightly more tactical than a traditional JRPG game. Instead of groups of sprites on either side of a screen leaping across to pound each other quickly before retreating back to their own line, Trails in the Sky’s combat takes place on a grid where you can maneuver your characters in order to out-range opponents, or close in for devastating attacks. Combat is fully turn-based with a lovely queue showing you when your characters will act and when the enemy will be coming to give you a what for.

Verdict

If you are looking for a compelling and light-hearted JRPG to sink 40 – 100 hours into, this might be just the one for you to pick up.

11 WASTELAND 2

Initial Release DateSeptember 19, 2014
PlatformPS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Linux, Mac OS
DeveloperinXile Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment
PublisherDeep Silver
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Wasteland 2 is a post-apocalyptic turn-based RPG. It was funded through Kickstarter and is a sequel to Wasteland, which was released in 1988. It is one of the first games I Kickstarted and while the initial release had some fairly significant bugs and problems, patches and a Director’s Cut edition released on October 2015, have solved a lot of these concerns.

best turn based rpgs wasteland 2 screenshot

Wasteland 2, Image Source: inXile Entertainment

Story

Wasteland 2 takes place in an alternate history where a global nuclear war has destroyed modern civilization. You take control of a squad of “Desert Rangers” a group dedicated to helping other survivors. You are thrust into a journey of discovery when the body of an experienced ranger is found dead and you take it upon yourself to find out why he was killed and to complete his mission.

The story takes place over two major areas, Arizona, and Los Angeles. Throughout these regions, you will come into contact with nuke-worshipping monks, raiders, nomads, robots, and many other colorful factions. Ultimately your goal is to save your little part of the shattered world from chaos. Good luck.

Writing

The writing in Wasteland 2 was pretty great. There was voice acting for some parts of the game, but not others, and you should expect to read a lot of dialogue boxes if you intend to learn the lore of the world. During the initial release, there were some bugs where some conversation options didn’t appear properly in certain conversations, but it seems that those have been ironed out. The world itself is quite detailed and you should really focus on the details if you want to get the most of the experience.

Impact

A lot of the decisions you make in Wasteland 2 have a significant impact on the game world. In some parts of the game, choices will cause the elimination of entire factions, cause towns to become hostile towards you, or even cause your party to be annihilated. Wasteland 2 is a game where you need to carefully consider your decisions because they will have long-term repercussions throughout your entire playthrough.

Character Development

Wasteland 2 allows you to create four squad members initially and up to three NPC characters will join your group as you continue your journey. Each character can be customized to your specifications with stat points being allocated into C.L.A.S.S.I.C statistics (Coordination, Luck, Awareness, Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Charisma). Each of these statistics benefits your character in some way, and you can choose to specialize in a few or generalize your character.

Further customization occurs in the way of skills. There are three types of skills in the game, Combat, Knowledge, and General, and these will affect what weapons you will focus on, how your characters will approach challenges and puzzles, and how they will interact with the game world in general.

Exploration/Adventure

The wastes of Arizona are fraught with peril, and one should take care while exploring. While you are given the opportunity to journey around at will, you should be aware that some areas will initially be blocked off by radiation clouds, which have no qualms about eliminating your group entirely. In addition, there are random encounters that can take place, which include murderous robots, bandits, raiders, hidden caches, and ruins to explore. Exploration is very much encouraged and you should be prepared to scour every inch of territory to get the most from the game.

Combat

Combat in Wasteland 2 takes place from a tactical perspective with a visible turn order. Combat is grid-based and your characters can attack from range, hide in cover, close to melee, throw grenades and even destroy some of the terrain in order to gain an edge over their enemies. Each character has a set number of action points based on their strength, intelligence, and speed, and this dictates how many things they can do during combat.

Verdict

If you see a turret pointing at you, run.

10 Darkest Dungeon

Initial Release DateJanuary 19, 2016
PlatformNintendo Switch, PS4, PC, iOS, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS
DeveloperRed Hook Studios
PublisherMerge Games
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
3/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Darkest Dungeon is a game that does not hold your hand as you delve into hellish landscapes. It is a game that does not hide the fact that adventurers facing horrific nightmares all the time will invariably be driven to madness. There have been several pieces of DLC released, with most being new character classes. The Crimson Court is one of two significant content DLC, and has both a positive and negative impact on the game in terms of balance, while The Colour of Madness was generally well received.

best turn based rpgs darkest dungeon screenshot

Darkest Dungeon, Image Source: Red Hook Studios

Story

Darkest Dungeon begins when you receive word that you have inherited an estate from a relative. Unfortunately, this estate was built on a giant pit of evil. From portals to dark dimensions, evil creatures have poured out into the world and it is now your job to cleanse your lands of these horrific beings.

The story is told in pieces as you descend through several different dungeons before reaching the game’s namesake, the “Darkest Dungeon”. It is here you come face to face with your destiny. Best of luck.

Writing

The writing in Darkest Dungeon is sufficiently grim and moody, suiting its atmosphere well. The lore is intriguing, but not overbearing, and you will not be spending hours and hours reading a novel throughout the game. The voice acting is well done, though some of the lines used by characters in battle can become repetitive.

Impact

Your choices in the game do not affect the story much. Most of your choices will revolve around your hamlet, specifically which buildings to upgrade, which heroes to train, and how to manage the horrible mental and physical scarring your brave comrades will endure. As this game is somewhat rogue-like and you may find yourself delving back into dungeons you have already completed in search of gold, items, or experience for newer members who have arrived to replace those who met a terrible end.

Character Development

There are 15 classes available in the game, with two additional heroes available through DLC purchases. Each class has their own weapon and armor, which can be upgraded at the blacksmith, and each has their own skill-set that they bring to aid their party during their harrowing journey. Heroes can level up through “Resolve Levels” and these allow the hero to improve their abilities and equipment further, making high Resolve heroes a valuable asset to protect.

Exploration/Adventure

Each “Dungeon” is split up into several rooms which you will need to explore to complete the mission. Each room can contain enemies, traps, treasure, shrines, or even nothing. Through interactions with these events, you can gain experience, buffs, debuffs, or even straight-up death. Some dungeons are linear, while others allow a little more choice in regards to path, but you will not be traipsing across a picturesque landscape searching for collectibles.

Combat

Combat is where Darkest Dungeon shines. It is visceral, challenging, and frustrating at times. Your heroes are set on one side of the screen, while the enemies are set on the other. You will be walking single file in a formation with your right-most character at the front line. Certain abilities can only be used from certain positions in the formation so be sure you have your people set up in the right places.

Enemies or sometimes even your own skills can cause your party order to change, so you have to be pretty careful about what you are doing and a long term strategy for each fight will almost always be more successful than gut reactions. In addition to physical damage and scarring, your characters can also suffer from mental scarring which can make them hesitate, change formation, or even attack your own heroes. No one ever said clearing the land of evil was easy.

Verdict

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

9 Grandia

Initial Release DateDecember 18, 1997
PlatformNintendo Switch, PS, PC, Sega Saturn
DeveloperGame Arts
PublisherESP Software, SCEA, Gungho Online, Ubisoft `
5/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Grandia is the first game in a series spanning 6 games. Released in 1997 in Japan, it was released in North America on October 26, 1999. It is a true-to-form JRPG, in which you play a young adventurer prospect who is drawn into an adventure with the fate of the world at stake.

best turn based rpgs grandia screenshot

Grandia, Image Source: Game Arts

Story

You play as Justin, an aspiring adventurer whose father vanished and whose mom doesn’t want to lose her son. You join up with your friend Sue to investigate a dig site under the laughably inept oversight of the Garlyle Forces and steal a strange device that you have to bring across the world.

You flat out abandon your worried mother, probably leading her to have an emotional breakdown thinking that her entire family has been lost. Good job you jerk… anyway you hop on a boat to another part of the world, meet up with some other allies, fight some baddies, and save the world. It’s a JRPG, don’t expect it to deviate too much from the ‘hero overcomes all odds’ trope.

Writing

Like most games on this list, expect to read a lot. Some of the lore is shown through in-game scenes, but expect to read dialogue boxes a lot. There isn’t much in the way of twists or surprises, but the villains are villainy, the heroes are righteous, and there are some solid comedic scenes.

Character Development

There are two forms of experience in Grandia. The first form is general experience, which will increase your level, but the more important experience is skill experience. Skill experience is gained by using weapons or spells. As you get more experienced using a specific weapon or element type, you will unlock new abilities and moves. In all honesty, I would recommend you take a quick glance at a skill guide before committing to a certain weapon or magic path. It should be noted that leveling up skills will also increase your statistics, such as strength.

Exploration/Adventure

Grandia is a pretty heavily story-driven game. While there is a limited ability to explore areas, you will be spending far more time moving from one story hub to the next. It is not by any means an open world and upon leaving some areas, you will find you cannot go back. Monsters are visible on the world screen and battles begin when your sprite touches the enemy.

Combat

The combat in Grandia is third-person turn-based, but you can interrupt enemy attacks by landing a strike during the period of time when they are charging up their attack. This does not always work, but it’s best to try to interrupt enemies whenever you can.

Verdict

Puff Puff!

8 DRAGON QUEST 11

Initial Release DateJuly 29, 2017
PlatformNintendo 3DS, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
DeveloperSquare Enix
PublisherSquare Enix
5/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Dragon Quest 11 is the latest in a long line of Dragon Quest games that dates back to 1986. The first Dragon Quest game I ever played was on the NES and my brother saved over my game. I was very displeased. The series has come a long way since then, and I firmly believe Dragon Quest 11 is one of the best in the series.

best turn based rpgs dragon quest 11 screenshot

Dragon Quest 11, Image Source: Square Enix

Story

As with most Dragon Quest games, you are “Stoic Hero” and your job is to save the land. The premise of the game never really deviates from this, nor are you ever led to believe you are not the hero.

The game pounds you in the face constantly about how it’s up to you to save the world and that you are the only one who can, so grab your weapon and go give those evil baddies a good what for.

Writing

The writing in Dragon Quest 11 is solid. All of the main cutscenes and some of the normal conversation is voice acted. You will have to do a bit of reading in order to get the most out of the game. What is especially nice is that the game offers a brief summary of what has been going on in the game when you load. So if you put it down for a week or three you can come back, figure out what was going on, and get right back into it. I think more games should have this feature.

Impact

As with a lot of JRPGs, this game is very linear. Aside from the omnipresent option to grind experience and money, you will be given one or two tasks and those are your only tasks. No deviations. You do not have much choice in what will happen in the game –  this is an established story and your only job in it is to experience the journey.

Character Development

Your character is the Luminary, basically an Eldritch Knight. You are equal parts blade-wielding badass, and magic spewing wizard. As you level up you will be able to put points into what is effectively a hex-based talent tree, allowing you to become better at certain aspects of fighting. The Luminary can upgrade two-handed fighting, sword-and-board fighting, and magical abilities.

But you are not the only character with a talent tree, and each of the game’s 6 NPCs that can accompany you has their own skill sets and equipment preferences. As with most JRPGs, you will be upgrading your armor and weapons in every new town, so make sure you go grind a bunch of monsters.

Exploration/Adventure

Dragon Quest 11 hosts a relatively open world, with some areas gated by quest or level requirements. There are quite a few secret items and places to find, and exploration is encouraged. You are prevented from returning to some areas at parts of the game, so it is generally advised you do some heavy exploring before completing main quest objectives.

Combat

While you have the ability to move around the battlefield freely with your character, it offers absolutely no benefit. Combat effectively follows the same pattern as other Dragon Quest and most Final Fantasy games. Your units line up on one side of the fight, while the enemy lines up on the other, and you proceed to beat each other to death with weapons and magic until one side emerges victorious. I will suggest that, if you are familiar with these combat systems, you play on hard mode. Dragon Quest 11 does seem to lean a little on the easy side if you play on normal.

Verdict

Puff Puff!

7 FALLOUT 2

Initial Release DateSeptember 30, 1998
PlatformPC, Mac OS
DeveloperBlack Isle Studios
PublisherInterplay Productions
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

If the developer of Fallout 2 looks familiar, that is probably because you played Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2, or Planescape: Torment. Fallout 2 was released in 1998 and was designed by Chris Avellone and Matthew Norton. It is widely considered to be one of the best role-playing games of all time.

best turn based rpgs fallout 2 screenshot

Fallout 2, Image Source: Black Isle Studios, now defunct

Story

The story of Fallout 2 takes place approximately 80 years after the events of Fallout. The hero (you) is the direct descendant of the Vault Dweller from Fallout and it is your job to retrieve a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK) which can effectively terraform the blasted wasteland into a thriving ecosystem.

Along the way, you will encounter enemies ranging from laughable Rad Roaches to the terrifying Deathclaw and Super Mutants. But you will also meet some friendly people who will give you tasks, rewards, items, and their heartfelt thanks. Sally forth brave hero.

Writing

The writing for Fallout 2 is superb, but don’t expect much voice acting. You will be effectively reading a novel as you play through the game, and you will need to pay attention in order to get the information you are looking for. If you feel that “books are for nerds” and don’t like your gaming eyes to be corrupted by the written word of man, this is not going to be the game for you.

Impact

This is a game where your choices will have a fairly significant impact on the game world. While the ending is pretty set in stone, you will be able to befriend some people, making enemies of others, and ultimately this will affect which areas are safe for you, and those that you may want to avoid.

Character Development

The character development of Fallout 2 is pretty much the same as other Fallout games that you might be familiar with. There are 7 statistics known as S.P.E.C.I.A.L (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck), and you will allocate points into each in order to give your character bonuses. There are also 18 skills you will be able to put points into, and you will not be able to maximize all of them, so choose wisely.

Finally, there are also perks which are not unlike “feats” from Dungeons and Dragons, which you will be able to choose every few levels, and these will provide further bonuses to your character. There are also several companions who can join your party, and (if I remember correctly) you can only bring half your charisma value in party members. So Charisma can be pretty important if you want to drag along some friends.

Exploration/Adventure

Feel free to poke around the Fallout 2 world pretty much at your leisure. Just be sure to save a lot because bad things can be waiting around every corner and it is not enough to rely on hopes and dreams to survive. Some areas will be gated by quests or skill checks, but otherwise, you are free to wander around to your heart’s content.

Combat

Combat in Fallout 2 is turn-based, with each character having a certain number of action points available to them. You will spend your action points moving, attacking, using items, etc. Your companions are not directly controlled by you, but you can set their behavior and tactics in order to ensure they will generally do what you want them to.

Verdict

In Fallout, like real life, do not skimp on Intelligence. Trust me

6 MIGHT AND MAGIC 7

Initial Release DateJune 8, 1999
PlatformPC
DeveloperNew World Computing
Publisher3DO
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

The Might and Magic series dates back to 1986 and was originally a grid-based adventure game. Might and Magic 6, 7, 8, and 9, brought about fluid movement and exploration, before Might and Magic 10 brought the series right back to its grid-based roots. Might and Magic 7 barely etches out Might and Magic 6 as my favorite game in the Might and Magic series, but both are amazing games worthy of playing.

ANACHRONOX rpg gameplay

Story

Might and Magic 7 follows the story of “your party” a group of four brave adventurers who attend an island contest, with the prize being a lordship and your very own manor. No one tells you, of course, that your manor is full of monsters, and your lands are beset by a goblin invasion, but those are just semantics.

As you work to secure your home, you quickly realize that all is not well in the world of Enroth, with Elves and Humans at each other’s throats, and your tiny little dale right in the middle of it all. Things become even more complicated when you have to befriend either angels or demons, which of course causes the other side to hate you as well. Choose wisely, my lords and ladies.

Writing

There are a handful of cut scenes in the game with voice acting but do not expect most information to be provided to you through sound. You will be reading a lot of text. Most of the information you will be given is exposition and lore, but if you enjoy a well-developed world rich in history and intrigue, the writing will be up to your standards.

Impact

There are two to three major choices you have to make in the game that will have a profound impact on how your story will progress and end. There are two major endings and some mid-game events that change based on your choices. Aside from these big decisions (which you will easily be able to identify), there isn’t much in the way of impacting the world. For the most part, the things outside the towns will be your enemies and the things inside the towns will be your friends.

Character Development

You control a group of four heroes pulled from four different races and nine classes. Each race has different starting attributes and you can modify their statistics using a point-buy system during character creation. Unlike Might and Magic 6, where you could master any ability so long as your class could learn it, Might and Magic 7 introduced specialized skill masteries for each class.

Of the 34 or so skills in the game, each class can only achieve grandmaster status in a few, making it important to diversify your party if you want to have access to higher tier spells and masteries. Characters gain experience through battle and quests, but unlike other role-playing games on this list, simply reaching the experience requirement for your next level does not mean you level up. Instead, you have to go find yourself a training center and pay some gold in order to unlock your desperately needed skill points.

Exploration/Adventure

The world of Might and Magic 7 is almost completely open to you from the moment you step off the Emerald Isles (where you begin the game). The only thing preventing you from having free reign to look in every nook and cranny is the legions of monsters waiting to eat your face. There are ways to bypass some of these enemies and go exploring in places that are above your might (or magic), but in general, you are going to want to stick to level-appropriate areas until you get stronger.

Combat

When I added this game to the list, I was aware of the somewhat controversial detail that this is not entirely a turn-based combat game. Easy with the pitchforks and torches. Might and Magic 7, like its predecessor Might and Magic 6 is a hybrid game. You can perform combat in real-time, which is something that becomes more frequent once you unlock a certain class of weapons in the late-game, but for most of the game, you will be fighting in Turn-Based mode.

As your camera mode is locked in first person, and your party is just a floating camera, you will need to be mindful of enemies surrounding you while you hurl arrows, spells, and hack away at your foes. Your group moves as one entity but each character will act independently depending on their speed and initiative.

Verdict

Ancient Weapons are far too powerful.

5 SHADOWRUN: DRAGONFALL

Initial Release Date February 27, 2014
PlatformPC, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android
DeveloperHarebrained Schemes
PublisherHarebrained Schemes
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
3/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

The Shadowrun series is derived from a pen-and-paper role-playing game of the same name. In this dystopian future the world has become a corporatocracy, and also fey races, magic, and dragons have returned to earth. The first Shadowrun game was released in 1993 on the Super Nintendo with other adaptations of the game being released on Sega Genesis, Mega-CD, and Xbox 360. In 2013 Shadowrun: Returns was released and Shadowrun: Dragonfall came out a year later.

best turn based rpgs shadowrun dragonfall screenshot

Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Image Source: Harebrained Schemes

Story

Shadowrun: Dragonfall follows the tale of a Shadowrunner who travels to Berlin to join up with a team in order to raid a data vault inside a mansion. The mission goes wrong and your leader dies. Under heavy attack by security forces your team is forced to flee.

You find out that you were set up, and your teammates elect you to be their new leader. As you journey through the very bleak world, you will begin to uncover pieces of a story rich with intrigue, betrayal, and twists. Also, you get to meet a Dragon. So that is pretty cool.

Writing

The writing in Dragonfall is superb. The world is rich in lore, atmosphere, and detail. A lot of the dialogue is handled by voice acting, but you will have to read some text in order to get the most of the game. I truly hope more Shadowrun games are created by the same writer because Dragonfall took what Shadowrun: Returns was, and made it even better.

Impact

Dragonfall offers a limited scope in which to impact the game world. Most of the time you will be chasing story objectives, which only have one possible outcome, but there are a few decisions you can make that will change the ending of the game. Where Dragonfall shines, however, is that there are usually a few methods in which to overcome the game’s puzzles and events. This allows you to utilize your characters strengths instead of forcing you into a certain play style for every encounter.

Character Development

Shadowrun is a game where you only create one primary character, which you control throughout the game. There are six classes to choose from and five races. In an interesting twist, your choice of Race is actually more important than your choice of class. Certain races have restrictions or bonuses to how much they can advance certain skills or traits. Classes are known as archetypes in this game, or you can simply build your own character, putting your Karma points into whatever you want.

Speaking of Karma points, these are what you will accumulate throughout the game to spend on increasing your abilities. There are 6 statistics in the game (Strength, quickness, body, intelligence, charisma, willpower) and, with the exception of body, each has skills associated with them. You are able (and required) to spend Karma on both primary statistics and skills in order to make your character more powerful.

Exploration/Adventure

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a fairly linear game. While you are able to explore the zones you visit, this game is not open-world by any means. There are a fair number of side quests, hidden caches, or lore-related interactions to find while journeying around, so I would recommend giving each area at least a cursory look over. Most areas will become inaccessible once you finish your mission in them, so do not expect to be able to return after you complete an area.

Combat

Combat in Dragonfall is identical to that of Shadowrun: Returns. You control a squad of weapon toting mercenaries on a grid. Each character has a certain number of action points assigned to them which you can spend to move, attack, use magic, use items, or hack. Combat often takes place over two distinct areas: The real world is where most of your characters will be involved in combat, dishing out and avoiding a hail of gunfire in equal measure. The matrix is where your Decker will spend some of his fights, battling his way through a semi-physical construct of a network, battling defense AI and trying to open doors, wrestle control of turrets, or obtain information or credits.

Verdict

Bring a Decker every time. You will regret it if you don’t.u, run.

4 FINAL FANTASY 9

Initial Release Date July 7, 2000
PlatformPS4, Android, PS, Nintendo Switch, iOS, PC, Xbox One
DeveloperSquare Enix
PublisherSquare Electronic Arts
5/5
Story
4/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

As I mentioned at the beginning of this list. Final Fantasy could fill nearly every slot on this list if given free rein. This series began in 1987 with the release of Final Fantasy on the NES and has expanded to encompass over 30 games. It was a very difficult task to pick one Final Fantasy to place above them all, but I had to go with my heart, and Final Fantasy 9 was my choice (though Final Fantasy 4,5,6,7, and 10 were all close second).

best turn based rpgs final fantasy 9 screenshot

Final Fantasy 9, Image Source: Squaresoft

Story

The story of Final Fantasy 9 begins with you taking control of a young boy with a huge head and a tail and finding out that your mission is to kidnap royalty. The plan seems solid, what could possibly go wrong? Everything. Everything goes wrong.

You find yourself embroiled in a desperate battle to save the world from a strange lady-man with truly breathtaking hips and a clown-queen desperate to conquer her neighbors. All of this culminates with a battle against one of the most ill-defined bosses ever. Not even kidding, you beat what you think is the boss, only to run into another boss that was never once mentioned in the game at any time.

Writing

There is no voice acting in Final Fantasy 9, so get used to reading. All of the lore and information is given to you through beautifully rendered, but voiceless, cut-scenes, and dialogue boxes. The story is solid, if a little convoluted, as with all Final Fantasy games. Zidane and his companions have compelling reasons to journey forth and battle evil, and the game has a beautiful musical score.

Impact

You have no real choices in the game. You are a passenger on the story train all the way to the end. The only ability you have to impact the game world is by choosing to do mini-games like Chocobo Hot-and-Cold, or hunting frogs to unlock abilities for Quina. Neither of these things change the story in a substantial way though.

Character Development

There are 8 primary playable characters in Final Fantasy 9, each of which aligns with a traditional Final Fantasy Class. For example, Zidane is a Thief, Garnet is a White Mage, Vivi is a Black Mage, and so on. Each character has a specific weapon assigned to them, with the exception of Garnet, Vivi, and Eiko, who share some of their weapons. In addition, each character has a class of armor they can wear, either light, medium or heavy, and accessories they can equip.

You might be wondering why it was important to explain all of that. It is because each of these weapons, armor, and accessories has abilities tied to it. By equipping those items you are able to use some or all of the abilities that the piece of equipment possesses. As you kill enemies you will gain AP which will eventually allow you to learn or master the ability and you can then remove the item and still retain the skill. Alongside this item-based skill system, you will also gain normal experience which will increase your character’s statistics.

Exploration/Adventure

Final Fantasy 9 offers two distinct ways of exploring its world. The first you will encounter is field screens, which are effectively pre-rendered backgrounds that your character can navigate, not unlike Final Fantasy 7. The second is the 3d world map, which you interact with in a top-down perspective with a maneuverable camera. The field screens are commonly used in towns, dungeons, and events, while the world screen is used in order to get you to those places. There is a huge amount of exploration possible in Final Fantasy 9, including a treasure hunting mini-game known as Chocobo Hot and Cold.

Combat

The combat system of Final Fantasy 9 is turn-based. You can take your time choosing your actions in order to maximize your chance of winning each fight. Two of the characters can use summoning magic, known as Eidolons in this game, while others will have no magic, but much higher physical attacks. There is a system known as trance in the game, which is similar to the Limit Break from Final Fantasy 7. After taking sufficient damage, or occasionally through game triggers your character will begin to glow and gain access to special commands.

Verdict

Steal… steal everything.

3 Earthbound (Mother 2)

Initial Release Date June 05, 1995
PlatformSNES, Game Boy Advance
DeveloperApe, HAL Laboratory
PublisherNintendo
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

Though EarthBound was originally released on August 27, 1994, it did not make its way to North America until almost a year later. It is the second game in the Mother trilogy and is one of my favorite games of all time.

best turn based rpgs earthbound screenshot

Earthbound, Image Source: Creatures Inc.

Story

EarthBound follows the story of a young boy named Ness (or whatever you want to name him). You investigate the site of a meteor crash with your neighbor Pokey and find that an alien, Giygas, is making everyone, and everything malicious and aggressive.

You are told by a small insect how to stop Giygas, but despite its tremendous might, the insect is killed by a well-placed strike from Pokey’s mother, and you are sent off on an epic journey through several towns and even the inner workings of your own mind.

Writing

EarthBound is witty, amusing, and does not take itself too seriously. You will encounter enemies which are literally animated items with angry faces. There is no voice acting, so you should expect to read all of the lore and information, but being as it is a SNES game, it will not be novel-length. It is a goofy game, and you should anticipate a well-told and compelling story, with some good humor.

Impact

Your actions do not have much impact on the story. In fact, this game is so heavily story driven that I can’t think of a single decision you make that changes the outcome of any event. This is not a criticism, however. Sometimes in order for a story to be told effectively, control has to be taken from the player. Expect to enjoy the story being told to you, but do not expect to have any impact on it.

Character Development

Leveling in EarthBound is linear. After the battle, you will get a certain amount of experience. Once you reach the experience value needed for the next level you will automatically level up, gain some statistic increases, and unlock any skills that were set for that level. There are no choices to be made while leveling up and the only real development you can decide for your character is if you want to grind enemies for extra experience or not.

Exploration/Adventure

The world of EarthBound (also known as Eagleland) is fairly linear. You will travel from your home town of Onett to Twoson to Threed, and so on. Not every village or area is a variation of a number, however, but you will have the opportunity to explore each in detail before moving on to the next one. For most of the game, you are able to travel back to previously explored areas, but I would advise fully exploring each before moving on to the next.

Combat

The combat system in EarthBound is a relatively basic Turn-Based system. You queue up your actions and then everything activates based on an invisible turn order. As this is an older game there is not a lot of animation shown during the fights. Combat is relatively quick, and when your characters become overpowering compared to the enemies you are fighting, fights with weaker enemies are won automatically.

Verdict

Name your favorite thing something funny.

2 CHRONO TRIGGER

Initial Release Date March 11, 1995
PlatformSNES, PS, Nintendo DS, i-mode, iOS, Android, PC, Apple TV
DeveloperSquare
PublisherSquare Enix, Enix
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat

Now we are coming down to the wire, with Chrono Trigger in the second spot. This game has made so many top-ten lists that it should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Chrono Trigger is an iconic role-playing game that is one of the best games ever made.

kotor 1

Chrono Trigger, Image Source: Square

Story

In Chrono Trigger, you follow the story of Chrono, a young silent protagonist, whose mom lets him attend a fair with a wooden sword. If you are like me you will then beat up a robot for a bit to get a real sword, and then you are thrown into an adventure through time.

Your first mission is to save a princess that you needlessly endangered through the use of your friend’s teleporter, and from there you have to stop a world-ending apocalypse. Better get on it.

Writing

The writing in Chrono Trigger is the pinnacle of the Super Nintendo Era of Role-playing Games. There are several twists that can catch you by surprise, and even a touching moment when tragedy strikes your party. There is no voice acting in this game, like most older games, so expect to read a fair amount while you are playing. It is worth every second.

Impact

Interestingly the means by which you beat the game will change the ending. Some of the changes are relatively minor, but some decisions will result in a rather significant difference. Chrono Trigger hosts 12 endings in the base game, and one additional ending in the DS, iOS, and Android versions, each with different requirements based on actions you took during the game. I would recommend looking these up after playing through the game since some of them are fairly complicated to get.

Character Development

As with most Super Nintendo JRPGs, character development is linear. Your characters are given their roles and they will unlock their special abilities as they level up. One interesting thing about Chrono Triggers is that, depending on the combination of characters in your party, you will get access to Double or Triple techs, which combine the abilities of two characters to a more powerful effect. Again I would advise looking these up so that you can try them. There are a lot of combinations in the game.

Exploration/Adventure

Most of the game will take place in field screens, where you will explore dungeons, cities, and forests. Field screens are also where you will encounter enemies, who are, aside from ambushes, visible on the screen so that you can try to avoid or bypass them without fighting. The remainder of the game will take place on the world screen where you will basically be traveling from one city, dungeon, or area of interest to the next.

Combat

The combat in Chrono Trigger is turn-based. You will have an attack bar that will fill up slowly, and when it finishes you will be able to perform an action, or sometimes just wait for other characters to become ready in order to use double or triple techs. While your characters will move around the battle screen, this is simply aesthetic and has no impact on the fight at all.

Verdict

Magus did nothing wrong.

1 DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN 2

Initial Release Date September 14, 2017
PlatformPS4, Xbox One, PC
DeveloperLarian Studios
PublisherBandai Namco Entertainment
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat

Finally, we have reached the end of our list. Fourteen games have come and gone, with my favorite game of all time standing triumphant above them all. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is quite possibly the best game I have ever played, let alone turn-based RPG. Though there were some pretty brutal bugs and problems during the initial release, everything has been patched, and a definitive edition was released, adding a pretty significant amount of content and expanding the world.

best turn based rpgs divinity original sin 2 screenshot

Divinity: Original Sin 2: Larian Studios

Story

The story begins on a boat headed towards Fort Joy, an island prison for individuals who can use “Source” a special brand of magic that has the unfortunate side effect of drawing Voidspawn upon its use. Your boat is attacked by Voidspawn when a powerful Sorcerer breaks free of her bonds and starts wrecking things.

Saved by your god, or sometimes a demon, you wash up on shore, and from there your journey begins in full. You first have to find a way to get your collar off, and then you find out you are a very unique individual. Eventually, you have to save the world one way or another. Good Luck.

Writing

The writing in Divinity: Original Sin 2 is so dense it could fill several books. While there is a very significant amount of voice acting, there is simply too much lore and conversation to be fully voice acted. Expect to read quite a bit. The writing itself is superb and Larian Studios has done a magnificent job of bringing the world to life.

Impact

This is a game where nearly every choice will have some sort of consequence. Helping one person can cause ripples throughout the whole game while killing the wrong person might lock you off from an entire quest chain. I have played through the game 3 times now and I am still discovering things I missed during the previous completions.

Character Development

You get to control everything about the development of your character. There are a lot of choices to make during character creation, but luckily there are only three that have any real bearing on the game itself. The first choice is whether you want to play a story character or a custom character. I would wholly recommend using story characters as they add to the game lore and unlock unique encounters and quests.

If you choose to make a custom character then only your race and gender are of import, as they cannot be changed later unless you use a shape-shifting mask. It is important to choose your skills and statistics wisely for the first portion of the game, but once you leave Fort Joy you have a nearly unlimited ability to adjust your skill and stat points, so do not think that you have to restart the game because you are not happy with your current skills. Just get past Fort Joy and modify your character to your heart’s content. There are 6 stats (Strength, Finesse, Intelligence, Constitution, Memory, and Wits), 17 Combat Abilities, 7 Civil Abilities, and over 40 talents to choose from.

Exploration/Adventure

Divinity Original Sin 2 is a game where you can explore somewhat freely, but it is also a game where level scaling is a bit of a problem. You will generally want to stay in areas close to, or just below your current level. The reason for this is scaling is not linear. In later levels especially you might find that an enemy only one level above you has significantly more physical and magical armor than you do. Despite this, you should absolutely search every nook and cranny of this world. There are so many hidden items, quests, and events that it is nearly impossible to get them all in one playthrough.

Combat

Combat in DOS:2 is visceral, complicated, and highly strategic. Many spells and effects feed off of each other and it will take a few battles to get the hang of it. Combat is entirely turn-based with a turn order at the top of the screen informing you when your characters will be able to act, and when the enemies will take their turn. Turn order is based on initiative. Many spells and abilities can change the entire battlefield. A simple rain spell can turn an easy fight into a stun filled nightmare when lightning spells start hitting the field.

Characters and enemies have two forms of defense, physical and magical armor, that must be bypassed before hit points will be lost. It is important to have a diverse group, as some enemies will be highly susceptible to physical attacks, while others will have low magic defense. Similarly, your characters will have strengths and weaknesses… Sometimes battles take too long.

Verdict

Hail to the Source King.

This brings our list of some of the best turn-based RPGs of all time to an end. What are your favorite titles? Tell us in the comments below!

Eltimar

Eltimar

Contributor

I was introduced to the world of gaming at a pretty young age. My dad would invite his friends over, and they would descend into the basement for hours. At first, I was too young to really grasp the games they were playing; Dungeons and Dragons, Ravenloft, Greyhawk. But it was when they began to shift their focus to computer games, that I became really interested.

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