With the recent release of Disgaea 1 Complete on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, the tactical role-playing games (TRPG) are back on the minds of many. With that in mind, Game Revolution’s Tyler Treese decided to highlight 10 of the best games in the difficult, yet satisfying, genre.
Video games are designed around satisfying the player, but few games can expertly make the player feel like both a genius and a dummy quite like the best tactical role-playing games can. The genre has always made actions matter, and the difference between a character living or dying can be a single choice. It’s part of the reason the genre has been thrilling gamers for decades, and why titles such as The Banner Saga, Darkest Dungeon, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 are so popular today.
While these recent examples are all great, the genre has a rich past. With that said check out some of the best tactical RPGs ever made.
10 Best Tactical RPGs
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Ever since Nippon Ichi Software released the original Disgaea for PlayStation 2, the series has been beloved by TRPG fans. While the writing has always been laugh out loud funny, the gameplay really reached its peak in Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. The 2015 release’s main theme was revenge, so it was only fitting that a new mechanic was introduced where players could become more powerful after losing party members during battle. It successfully iterated upon the already solid fundamentals to make it a fantastic title in every area.
Final Fantasy Tactics
This PlayStation classic was a lot of gamer’s first introduction to the genre due to the franchise’s huge name, and thankfully they were treated to a classic right off the bat. Final Fantasy Tactics‘ versatile job system helped make it immediately engaging, and the isometric view (now a mainstay of the genre) was perfect for setting up strategies. Several stellar sequels have been released over the years including a remake called The War of the Lions, but the original did so much right that it still holds up over 20 years later.
While the genre is quite popular on consoles today, it had quite the boom on personal computers. X-COM: UFO Defense was one of the earliest classics in the genre as it was released in 1994, but Firaxis Games’ reboot series has been equally as lauded. Featuring permanent death for characters, XCOM 2 delivers some of the tensest action that can be found in gaming. Watching a character that you’ve spent dozens of missions building up die is excruciating, but it’s that emotional pull that sums up why XCOM is so dang good.
Shining Force 3
SEGA’s Shining series has taken many twists and turns over the years, but their Saturn classic Shining Force 3 was arguably its highest point. The game can safely be described as an epic tale, as its story spans three separate, yet interconnected, stories. Only by completing all of them can the true ending be viewed. Unfortunately, only the first scenario was ever released in North America, so it isn’t as easy as it should be to experience this classic in full. Even still, the first section is satisfying enough to be worth anyone’s time.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
Originally released on Nintendo DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor blended the classic RPG gameplay of the series with a great tactical element that had players recruiting monsters to battle on their behalf. Featuring several multiple endings, full English voice acting and branching paths, the 3DS enhanced port is a master class of the genre that can easily take up 100 hours of your time. The story, which features a Japanese city under lockdown, is also captivating until the very end with its many twists and turns.
One of the more unique titles on the list, SteamWorld Heist adds an element of player skill to the turn-based gameplay (almost similar to Valkyria Chronicles). Players have to manually line up their gun’s shots, so it takes out a traditional element of luck (accuracy) and allows talented players to really flex their skills. This mechanic, along with a wonderfully balanced gameplay system, helped Heist become the best game yet from the talented Swedish studio Image & Form.
While not a full-blown traditional TRPG, Radiant Historia provides a unique blend of tactical gameplay with a Chrono Trigger-like combat system. It all merges into a highly satisfying battle system that focuses on turn order manipulation. It’s one of Atlus’ best forays in the genre, and the Nintendo 3DS remake is well worth buying.
The PlayStation Portable had a surprisingly great library of tactical RPGs and Level-5’s Jeanne d’Arc is arguably the best of them. The story is loosely based upon the Hundred Years’ War and features a cast of historical figures battling for supremacy. There’s also the great plot element that King Henry VI was possessed by demons and that’s why he decided to attack France (I’m pretty sure this checks out as historically accurate). It’s some of the best, fast-paced action that the PSP has to offer.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series has always been great, but Fire Emblem Awakening truly helped it break out of its niche and into the mainstream. By focusing more on character development and allowing people to turn off permadeath, Intelligent Systems found a way to expand their audience without alienating it. There’s an interesting tale of time travel and struggle to be told, and it’s one of the best games found on 3DS.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Tactics Ogre was another ’90s classic for the Super Famicom. It was developer Quest’s magnum opus and the deep fantasy lore really helped it stand out from its contemporaries. The game was unfortunately exclusive to Japan for decades, but thankfully Square Enix gave its PSP remake a worldwide release, making the landmark title playable by all.