Top 10 Turn-based RPGs

A long-standing genre of games that still emphasizes the importance of challenge, mixed with deep story, is the widely popular turn-based RPG. Providing tactful elements and a variety of ways to get through encounters, these games tend to be engaging adventures that offer difficulty and reward. Following a party of heroes thrust into a situation, it is up to the player to route their way through the perilous world that is set in harming and hindering the end goal.

Some of the most beloved story-driven games have been developed through these means and are treasured to this day. Many companies, such as Square Enix and Bioware, have gotten there standing in today’s game market from creating past gems. There is great importance looking back to the past and uncovering what truly made these series well-loved and praised for excellence. I want to take the opportunity to glance back at and give consensus on the top 10 turn-based RPGs.

10. Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon, Jester, Campfire, Turn-based rpg

Created by Red Hook Studios and currently available on steam, Darkest Dungeon reminisces on many turn-based crpgs and captures the brutal, treacherous feel of exploring dark, decrepit dungeons. Mixing the luck-based mechanics of a roguelike with the essence of a turn-based strategy forms a difficult campaign to venture across. The game opens up with the player receiving a call-to-action from their relative, explaining the old estate is not what it used to be. In order to restore the great lands of past family, one must venture to the estate and clear out all that threaten it. There are 16 heroes to recruit and mobilize for the treacherous path. All have quirks and advantages to being stationed in specific positions. It is imperative to their survival that the band of four heroes compliment each others’ weaknesses and are positioned correctly for the utmost chance of survival. Unfortunately, there is no true way to prepare for all to come, for many horrors lurk within the Gothic tombs. Many instances within the adventure can lower or raise the sanity of your fellow companions, granting an affliction upon them when their sanity breaks and become riddled with madness. A gloomy, heart-breaking (literally) trek through vast, sprawling environments full of hazards and difficult encounters make this game a lovely grind for those that love a challenge.

 

9. Hyperdimension Neptunia

Hyperdimension Neptunia, Neptune, Compa, Turn-based rpg

The console war is a recurring battle between the game industry’s highest performers, all trying to solidify their place at the top of the market. With this inspiration at hand, Idea Factory created the game known as Hyperdimension Neptunia. Taking place in the world of Gamindustri, four nations separate the lands: Planeptune (the cancelled Sega Saturn), Lastation (Playstation), Lowee (the Wii) and Leenbox (Xbox). The four goddesses, also known as the Console Patron Units (CPU), are worshiped at their personal Basilicom located within their separate kingdoms. In the game, the player witnesses the story of Neptune who cannot remember past events about the Console War and seeks to uncover them with the aid of the nurse-in-training, Compa. After an initial fight with a strong foe, Neptune unlocks her HDD form, Purple Heart, and uses this power to rid the lands of threats. Although the game is presented as a visual novel, it provides randomized 3D dungeons to explore. Within these dungeons players encounter many threats, treasure and obstacles that are cleared with certain dungeon skills each character in the party has at their disposal. The ridiculous nature of this game alone cements a place on this list. With such a mock of a story concept and the skeleton of a turn-based RPG, Hyperdimension Neptunia is a creative and engaging adventure.

8. Earthbound

Earthbound, Ness, Poo, Isaac, Nintendo, Turn-based Rpg

Hailed from the SNES and co-created by Ape Inc. and HAL laboratories comes the beloved, classic tale of children exploring the lands and trying to stop the plans of a great cosmic threat. Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stars Ness, the lovable, PSI-wielder boy who starts his adventure investigating the crash site of a meteorite aided by his neighbor, Pokey. Upon reaching the meteorite, the two kids discover Giygas, a cosmic alien threat, that plagues the world with hatred, causing the fabric of all animals, humans, and even objects to form into monstrous entities. Knowing this, Ness, along with other kids, sets out to set the world right.

What sets this game apart from other RPGs is it is controlled in a landscape with oblique projection. The world is seamless, with no need of overhead maps of the past, and has many areas to explore. Through the adventure, the encounters faced are not randomized. Instead, physical contact with the enemy will initiate a battle. With this knowledge in mind, it is possible to get first strike attacks by sneaking up behind an enemy. Ness is never far from home, for his father offers support through depositing money after every successful battle into a personal account that can be withdrawn from ATMs. Earthbound is a homey and quirky adventure of kids saving the world from an unnatural threat is the full experience this game gives. And a truly gripping journey unfolds.

 

7. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Super Mario Rpg: Legend of the Seven Stars, Mario, Bowser, Bowser's Castle, Exor

Before Square Enix, there was a company named Square Co. that developed Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars for the SNES. The iconic, grandiose plumber of the Mushroom Kingdom embarks on a journey across the realm to save it from an impending evil. Mario barges into the fortress of Bowser’s Castle to rescue the beloved Princess Peach from the evil clutches of King Koopa. As their climactic fight ensues, a giant sword named Exor falls from the sky and sheathes itself within the castle. This landing spirals the three in different directions. Mario seeks the Princess and uncovers the great presence of Exor. His good heart and charismatic charm grant him allies across the lands to stop this evil force.

Introducing the action command wheel that allowed players to choose what to perform on their turn brought a fresh take on the plumber’s past experiences. Time-based action commands were implemented within every attack animations that, when activated correctly, provided a boost to the effectiveness of that move. This feature became a mainstay within the games to follow. This isometric 3D platformer is mixed with the elements of a classic RPG, resulting in a tale that both Mario and RPG fans can love together.

6. Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve, Eve, Square, Hideaki Sena, Turn-based Rpg

Created by Square Electronic Arts in the US, Square in Japan, comes Parasite Eve, the video-game adaptation sequel to Hideaki Sena’s novel by the same name. A fresh and unique take on this genre that presented itself as a horror survival game. Taking place within a 7-day time frame in New York City, the story follows Aya Brea, a rookie NYPD officer. While attending a blind date at the opera house, the crowd surrounding her spontaneously combusts during the performance. Unscathed, Aya rushes to center stage to confront the performer who also remains unharmed. The actress exclaims that Aya’s mitochondria is not fully developed yet and then proceeds to hurry backstage. Aya gives chase to the now mutated actress who goes by the name Eve.

Figuring out how this parasite spreads and locating Eve are key concepts presented while the parasite slowly develops within Aya. Players who spaced-out in biology classes will quickly understand that the mitochondria is in fact the powerhouse of the cell. As far as combat is concerned, this game represents the loved Active Time Bar mechanics, mixing in the ability to dodge attacks when waiting for the next turn to strike. There are many survival horror functionalities and even a new game plus mode called “EX Mode.” Parasite Eve is a thrilling investigation adventure to be added to this list and a unique take on the genre.

5. Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger, Campfire, Crono, Marle, Lucca, Frog, Robo, Ayla, Magus, Turn-based Rpg

Yet another title published by Square and released for the SNES, arises the highly-acclaimed Chrono Trigger. The time-traveling adventure that twists the fabric of reality itself is truly a classic within this genre. Located on a world similar to Earth in the year AD 1000, protagonist Crono and his friend, Marle watch the demonstration of a teleporter at the Millennial Fair. Guided by their friend Lucca and her father, an unfortunate accident occurs. When Marle tests the machine her pendant interferes with the device, forming a time portal. Hurriedly, Crono and Lucca recreate the time portal and follow the trace of Marle to the year of AD 600. Marle has vanished and is mistaken as an ancestor of this time. Crono and Lucca trek across the old world to rescue their friend.

The classic overworld map is how destinations are chosen and 2D planes allow players to explore said locations. Using an upgrade version of the Active Time Battle system, this generates a sense of pressure within turns of combat. Random encounters are discarded for more classic forms of combat, showing its roots in the Japanese style of RPG game design. Unique to this game is the Tech System with special abilities. That, coupled with the new game+ feature, creates a more difficult journey while keeping the save file for the 1st completion. History-defining and a set-piece for functions represented in games to come, Chrono Trigger is a wonderful experience.

4. Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X, Tidus, Rikku, Wakka, Auron, Yuna, Lulu, Fianl Fantasy

Capturing the old titles within the saga while ushering-in a new age of graphics, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy X is an important thread in the tapestry of turn-based RPGs. Implementations such as voice acting and 3D rendered worlds were first of the series, all while breaking off from the main combat system of Active Time Battle to a timeless turn-based style. Starting off in the futuristic metropolitan city of Zanarkand, the journey follows Tidus the famous Blitzball player. On his way to the underwater sports arena and inundated by a swarm of fans, the city is attacked by an ancient entity known as Sin. With the help of an old friend, Auron, they both try to escape the wrath of Sin. When hope of survival is lost, Tidus and Auron are transported to the fantastical world of Spira. Strangers to this land, and from a city that existed a 1000 years ago, Tidus and his companions venture forth in search of answers from Sin. Random encounters are present within the overworld of this game, along with dynamic turn-based combat. A large landscape with diverse climates among three subcontinents and surrounding islands, along with the many colorful characters, make Final Fantasy X a welcomed addition to this list.

3. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Fawful, Bowser, Mario, Luigi, I have fury!

The success of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars brought forth a new series of Mario & Luigi RPGs. Developed by AlphaDream for the Gameboy Advance, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga improved every aspect of the game on which it’s based and distinguished itself from other turn-based RPGs.

In the opening scene of the game, the voice of Princess Peach is stolen by the rival Beanbean Kingdom. Two representatives of this empire, Cackletta and Fawful, whisk themselves back to the comfort of their realm. Mari & Luigi give chase to the two criminals with the help of Bowser and his flying airship. A whimsical adventure unfolds, following the two brothers and their trek through an unknown land. What makes this game stand out from others is the ability to simultaneously control the brothers in order to get past obstacles and defeat enemies. Along with returning offensive mechanics, a new defensive system was introduced in Superstar Saga. Pressing the appropriate button at the right time can diminish or out-right deny damage from enemy attacks. “Bro attacks” are present in the game and serve as the casting ability, representing the bond between these two. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a witty take on the turn-based RPG genre and an enjoyable experience for all fans of the Mario universe.

2. Divinity: Original Sin 2

Divinity: Original Sin 2, Larian Studios, Fort Joy, Turn-based Rpg

Recently released from the minds of Larian Studios comes the successfully kickstarted Divinity: Original Sin 2. The essence of CRPGs mixed with the freedom of tabletop RPGs brings forth a giant within this genre. It was a tough call whether or not to present this choice as number 1 on this list, however I stand by the decision for this to be 2nd. Divinity contains a rich character creation system, including 5 unique races and a plethora of skill schools with no restrictions; the creation tool has a lot to offer.

Players’ characters are designated as a Sorcerer who has been captured and is being transported to Fort Joy, a prison and rehabilitation grounds for Sorcerers. The magisters who control the island believe Sorcerers are causing the recent activity of an ancient threat know as the Voidwoken. Cast upon this island by shipwreck, escape is the only goal. Combat within in this game is difficult and tactful, requiring careful consideration of each move to survive the trials. No punches are pulled. Even during the opening segments of the game, where gear is hard to come by, a state of euphoria is gained through every strife. This game has proven CRPGs can still be challenging and rewarding. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a lovely game, with an enjoyably re-playable adventure to boot.

1. Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 Golden, Persona 4, Yosuke Hanamura, Kanji Tatsumi, Nanako Dojima, Ryotaru Dojima, Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi, Rise Kujikawa, Teddy, Naoto Shirogane, Yuu Narukami

Atlus, the developer behind this masterpiece, is a rising star within today’s gaming scene. With its recent release of Persona 5 being highly successful, Atlus is finally receiving the recognition they deserve. An updated version of Persona 4, this edition added many new events, locations and features that monumentally craft a perfect journey.

Moving to the rural landscape of Inaba is the main character of this journey. Though here for only a school year, the time will be quickly filled by the ever-looming threat of a chain of murders that must be solved. As introduced to Igor and the residents of the Velvet Room, a realm between mind and matter, a destiny is set upon the main character. Through researching the rumored Midnight Channel, it is discovered the main character possesses the power to go into the TV. This leads the character, along with friends, to explore the other side. Believing this place holds the truth of the murders, the investigation team seeks to explore the landscape and save captured victims. The labyrinth-like floors of many different dungeons designed around the concept of the human mind, is the bulk of combat within this game. The true allure of this game is the complex, emotional social links presented within the time of the game outside the TV World. Many activities are presented to the character of how they wish to spend their school year whether it’s finding a true love, or excessively studying for midterms. The choice offered affecting the combat within the dungeons creates a free-form simulation of life.