I’ve been a fan of tactical RPGs for years… It started when I first played Final Fantasy Tactics (you can read my review of it here), only for my interest to grow when I found other games in the genre. There is just something fun and exciting (for me) about having to carefully plan out each move your characters make. In fact, the more unforgiving a tactical RPG is, the more I enjoy it!
These type of RPGs really aren’t for everyone, though. They are slow, require a lot of planning and strategy, often have a huge amount of customisation that takes a lot of time, and are extremely long. If you’re looking for an easy and relaxing, turn-based RPG then tactical RPGs probably aren’t what you are looking for. However, if you want some really deep gaming that will force you to use your head, then these are my top 7 tactical RPGs so far!
7. Ring of Red
Starting this list off, we have a rather underrated little PS2 tactical RPG by the name of Ring of Red. The game didn’t achieve any particular heights of popularity, mostly due to the slightly confusing translation. However, that shouldn’t take away from the fun and adrenaline that you get from playing the game. Ring of Red is a mech-based game that features a highly militarised gameplay style.
You move your party members (in their war machines) around the battlefield to engage enemies. Then, when you choose to attack, the game will switch to a 3D view of you and your enemy in combat with one another.
The storyline is also really good! However, the poor translation may leave you not really knowing what is going on at any one time. That’s why Ring of Red didn’t score higher up on this list.
6. Fire Emblem Awakening
Trying to choose which of the Fire Emblem games to put on this list was really hard. Every single one of these is a great tactical RPG and I could easily make a list post about the top Fire Emblem games by themselves (there’s an idea). However, after much deliberation, I decided to feature Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. But first, let’s take a look at the common gameplay mechanics of the series in general…
As mentioned early, I enjoy games that are challenging and punishing – that completely describes the Fire Emblem series. For example, the games feature a permanent death mechanic for each unit you have in your party. This means that, once they are defeated in combat, they are dead. You no longer have access to them for the rest of the game. This puts a huge amount of pressure on you to make sure your tactical strategy is as sound as possible.
In terms of Fire Emblem Awakening, the game continues the overarching storyline of the series but does so with such finesse that it deserves to be singled out from the rest of the series, in my opinion. One of the coolest parts of the gameplay for Awakening is that it also gives you the option to view individual fight scenes in fight person. This gives a much more personal perspective to the combat that really makes the game stand out.
5. Disgaea 2
Okay, so let me preface this with the fact that Disgaea 5 is probably the better game in the Disgaea series. It was more polished, due to the fact that the developers had a bunch of other games to improve their skills with beforehand (not that they needed it). However, as this is a list of my top 7 tactical RPGs, I’m also putting personal opinion into this as well. That’s why I chose to feature Disgaea 2 instead.
The reason for this is that, as it contains all of the tactical RPG gameplay that other Disgaea games have, it was also the game that introduced me to the series. Think of it like Final Fantasy; you always love the first game in the series that you played.
Disgaea 2 was one of my favourite RPGs on the PlayStation 2 and will forever have a place in my heart because of that. It may not be the most polished and modernised of the series, but it remains the most entertaining and enjoyable for me.
4. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
For the fourth entry on this list of my top 7 tactical RPGs, we are jumping back to the Super Nintendo! Tactics Ogre was actually released on a few different platforms over time, including the Sega Saturn and PSP. That, alone, should explain just how amazing this game really is. It also acted as the inspiration for Final Fantasy Tactics – a number of the Tactics Ogre developers actually worked on Final Fantasy Tactics as well.
It is hard to explain much about Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together without spoiling a part of the story. It is full of great twists and turns, as well as branching storylines depending on your actions. Considering all of this, as well as the fact that this first came out on the SNES, is crazy.
3. Front Mission 3
Square has been able to churn out high-quality RPGs for decades now, and the tactical RPG genre is no exception. Front Mission as a whole is a great series that features incredibly rich world building. In fact, the upcoming PS4 game Left Alive takes place within the Front Mission world, showing you just how special (and popular) this game series is. Front Mission 3, however, remains my personal favourite.
The game (as with all in the series) features a host of different mecha (giant, militarised robots) that your characters pilot. However, these aren’t you Super Robots like the Megazord or Mazinger. Instead, the mecha in Front Mission are most like those in Gundam or Battletech; they are referred to as Real Robots, as they are mass produced war machines that are just like tanks. In the game, you can customise your mechs to a huge amount, and the battles will play out differently depending on the tactics that you use.
On top of this, the storyline of Front Mission 3 is awesome, truly befitting an RPG made by the likes of Square. You need to check this game out if you haven’t already!
2. Valkyria Chronicles
Coming in at the number 2 spot is a PS3 game that didn’t get a huge amount of interest when it first released, but eventually become popular enough to get a bunch of sequels and an HD remaster; Valkyria Chronicles. If you like the idea of a game’s art style resembling a hand-drawn anime, then straight away, this is the game for you. Visually, it is an utter masterpiece. But the brilliance of Valkyria Chronicles isn’t skin deep!
The game mixes tactical RPG gameplay with that of a third-person military shooter in a way that feels both natural and exciting. You move your characters around freely, but can only move or act if you have action points left. This creates a wonderfully strategic take on the military shooter idea, creating some very interesting moments. On top of this, the game is hard! And but that I mean unforgiving. If you make one serious mistake with your strategy, you are almost certainly going to lose the battle. I love this, as it gives you a sense of tension and adrenaline. In fact, you should check out my Let’s Play of the HD Remake to get an idea of just how awesome Valkyria Chronicles really is!
Whilst the sequels may not have been able to hold on to the magic of the first game, I would definitely recommend getting your hands on this one. You can find it on PS3, PS4 and Steam for PC, so you’ve got a lot of choice in how to play this epic game! Plus, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is coming out soon, and it looks set to be a return to form for the series.
1. Final Fantasy Tactics
And so here we are; my number one favourite tactical RPG of all time. Unsurprisingly, it is also one of my favourite games ever (beaten only be Koudelka) – Final Fantasy Tactics. As mentioned at the start of this post, it was Final Fantasy Tactics that first introduced me to the tactical RPG genre. As we all know, your first experience of something will leave a lasting effect, and that is exactly what happened here. But don’t let that take away from the magnificence that is Final Fantasy Tactics!
The game features an incredibly rich storyline that covers social inequality, blindly following religion and political intrigue. I mean, it pretty much has all of the main controversial topics covered in just one game. Yet, it pulls this off brilliantly against the backdrop of a middle ages world. All of the main characters feel unique and fleshed out, with their own backstories and motivations. The world is also very believable, despite being a fantasy land filled with monsters and demonic entities. I could talk about Final Fantasy Tactics all day, but it would probably be better to let you know that I published a review of it here.
Final Fantasy Tactics is an amazing game that will always have a very strong place in my heart. If you haven’t played the original PSX game or the PSP remake (War of the Lions), then I would highly recommend that you give it a try!
And That’s All Folks
Well, there you have it. That was my personal top 7 tactical RPGs so far. There are, of course, a tonne more of them out there and I haven’t played all of them yet… However, I do intend to eventually, so that may lead to a sequel list with updated games. But for now, I would highly recommend that you go and give each of these a try!
Do you have a favourite tactical RPG? Let me know in the comments below!