Tactical RPG, also known as SRPG, is a genre that’s been present on the market for over 30 years. They’re most commonly associated with Japan and gaming consoles. It’s a natural consequence, as the genre was popularized by the Fire Emblem series, which didn’t come to Europe until 2004. That’s why SRPG, while highly popular in Japan, remains on the sidelines of western gaming. In recent years, however, it seems like the situation is slowly changing.
Thanks to indie titles such as The Banner Saga or Invisible, Inc. and the latest installments of the Fire Emblem series on Nintendo 3DS, more and more people are picking up interest in tactical RPGs. That’s why we’ve decided to prepare for you a list of the best representatives of the genre, according to our staff.
Quite a lot has changed since we published this text, so we've prepared an update that expands and completes the article with new games. First of all, the line between tRPG (tactical RPG) and sRPG (strategy RPG) has blurred, so we preferred to complement the article with what we think are the missing games – this way, everyone will find something of interest, both fans of Japanese, tactical productions, and those who prefer grand RPGs, defined which tactical, turn-based combat. The update was prepared by Paul Musiolik.
33. Odium (Gorky 17)
- Developer: Metropolis Software
- Platform: PC
- Release date: 29.09.1999
This Polish spot on the otherwise exclusively Japanese field may at first seem out of place. Well, it isn’t, as this combination of survival horror and SRPG certainly meets the requirements to be included on our list.
Odium presents a political-fiction scenario – mysterious experiments are taking place in a military base somewhere in Poland. Three NATO soldiers are dispatched to examine the situation and discover the source of the strange creatures that have been seen roaming the area of Lubin city.
Mixing survival horror, turn-based combat, and all the other good stuff we usually see in tactical RPG turned out to be a superb idea. The dark atmosphere of a city overrun by monsters is also a good match for the classic SRPG combat system.
Odium has seen two sequels, which, sadly, have little in common with the original. Both games have dropped tactical RPG and survival horror elements, becoming pureblood stealth games in the process, more like Metal Gear Solid than anything else. It’s a shame, because the original premise was very promising.
- More on Odium
32. Chroma Squad
- Developer: Behold
- Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, iOS (planned)
- Release date: 30.04.2015
Now it’s time for a game from Brazil. Chroma Squad is a rather interesting combination of Power Rangers-like party with tactical roleplay.
The title enables us to take part in a production of a sentai show (that’s the proper term for the genre, in case you ever wondered). Our task is to engage in battles with monsters, making the encounters as attractive and compelling as possible to gather a large fanbase. The work from developer Behold is a striking shout-out to the iconic TV show, Power Rangers. The creators, however, also did their share of work, focusing on the production process rather than simply copying the premise.
Chroma Squad combines turn-based combat with TV channel management mechanics. We need to take care of assembling and maintaining the right recording equipment and conquer enough hearts and minds to keep our show on the broadcast schedule.
One element that sets the game apart from other games on our list are the special battles. During the climax of each episode, we have a chance to play a minigame in which our robot battles a giant monster. Thanks to this little trick, we can almost feel like years ago, when watching Power Rangers used to be cool.
- More on Chroma Squad
31. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
- Developer: Micro Forte
- Platform: PC
- Release date: 15.03.2001
Fallout Tactics is a spin-off to the legendary RPG series, focusing on action and tactics as we command a party of characters. Not all fans welcomed the changes, though. The final result, however, was a great tactical RPG that deserves a place among the best in the genre.
Bortherhood of Steel drops the usual American west coast setting in favor of the Chicago area. This allows us to learn yet another piece of the puzzle that is the situation in USA after the nuclear war. We play as a new recruit in the ranks of the eponymous Brotherhood of Steel, who, along with his team, tries to secure what is left of the pre-war civilization.
Fallout Tactics enables us to battle enemies in an RTS-like combat mode. This results in a much more dynamic gameplay than in the two previous installments of the Fallout series. Long dialogues were replaced with battles against superior enemy forces. The changes set the game apart from the original titles – it became a terrific SRPG.
- More on Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
30. Fae Tactics
- Developer: EndlessFluff Games
- Platforms: PC
- Release date: July 31, 2020
Fae Tactics is one of many indie productions that draws heavily from the Final Fantasy Tactics cult following. Independent studio Endless Fluff Games didn't really shoot for originality and gave us isometric perspective, turn-based combat, and standard character development with levels and experience points.
The setting doesn't deviate from the standard either. A fantastic land inhabited by both humans and the fantastic, eponymous Fae. The story begins when the barrier separating the two worlds is destroyed. As is common in these types of games – things get serious, the world gets destroyed and the game begins with the survivors scrambling for survival.
The title may appeal to people who want uncomplicated gameplay and enjoy two-dimensional visuals with hand-drawn sprites. Currently, the production is only available on the PC, but it will also arrive to Switch.
- More on Fae Tactics.
29. Project X Zone
- Developers: Banpresto, Monolith Soft
- Platform: Nintendo 3DS
- Release date: 05.07.2013
Every kid knows what a perfect game is. It’s a title that combines everthing that’s awesome from several other more or less awesome games, often mixing settings and characters unable to meet otherwise. It also doesn’t exist. What used to be impossible is slowly becoming a common occurence, though. We’ve had a bunch of titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom, Mario and Sonic or PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale that enabled characters from separate franchises to fight it out. None of them, however, can compare to Project X Zone. It’s the only title featuring characters created by Sega, Bandai Namco, and Capcom on one screen.
Project X Zone is, in fact, a kind of sequel to a Japan-only game Namco X Capcom. The plot of the game is nothing more than an excuse to gather as many characters from various franchises as possible. We are treated to an infodump about various dimentions and some kind of multiverse-wide conspiracy. No wonder the plot quickly takes the back seat, focusing on character interactions instead. Rather than follow the story, we simply wonder which characters, and from which franchise, we’re going to see next.
The game that may at first seem like a fanservice heaven surprises us with truly interesting gameplay. After the attack command, we are taken on a Street Fighter-like arena, where we can duke it out like in yet another installment of Marvel vs. Capcom.
Project X Zone is a good choice when dipping one’s toes in the SRPG genre. The fact that the game employs a combat system straight from a 2D brawler makes it easier to introduce unaccustomed players to the classic battle flow of a tactical RPG.
- More on Project X Zone
28. Resonance of Fate
- Developer: tri-Ace
- Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
- Release date: 26.03.2010
Resonance of Fate is certainly on of the more unusual tactical RPGs to find its way to our list. A combination of action RPG elements with SRPG mechanics resulted in a most unique title, held in high esteem by the fans up to this day.
The game takes place in the future, in a world where pollution has reached critical levels and threatens to wipe out humanity. To prevent it, the Tower was built – a barrier protecting people from the polluted air and at the same time a home to the survivors. A three-man team of hunters undertakes many quests to preserve order and keep the last stronghold of civilization safe.
Resonance of Fate is distinguished by an unusual combat system. Developer tri-Ace has invested in a mix of turn-based system with action points and spectacular attack sequences, pulled straight from the movie Matrix. Character placement in relation to their teammates on the battlefield is crucial. The tactical aspects are provided by a system featuring two types of projectiles. One of them is harmless to enemies, but increases the power and damage output of the other one. Additionally, the audiovisuals are easily the best among the games on our list, engaging the player much better than the competition.
- More on Resonance of Fate
27. Banner of the Maid
- Developer: Azure Flame Studio
- Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
- Release Date: May 28, 2019
Despite strong inspirations from Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre series, Banner of the Maid is a game worth giving a chance to, even if you don't really enjoy the manga style. Japanese Azure Flame Studio decided to cast Pauline, the younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, as the main character.
The gameplay draws heavily from the classics of the genre. The battlefield is viewed from an isometric view, the units sent into battle move across square fields, and our goal is of course to defeat the enemy. The timing and attack animations are instead inspired by the Fire Emblem series. Apart from combat, we spend lots of time watching story cut scenes, which were presented in the form of a visual novel.
Without a doubt, what sets Banner of the Maid apart is time and place of action. While the French Revolution was already touched upon in Jeanne D'Arc, it was done in a heavily fantastical way. Here, despite the manga style, efforts were made to stay within the historical framework by inviting characters known from history books.
- More on Banner of the Maid.
26. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
- Developer: 6 Eyes Studio
- Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
- Release Date: April 30, 2019
Like Fae Tactics, the inspirations for Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark came from Squaresoft's cult game. Here, too, we have turn-based combat, characters able to switch classes, and a story full of intrigue, religious themes, and questions on morality.
Shortly after its release, the game could not boast polished content. Fortunately, the developers actively supported their production by providing new content and improving quite a few game systems. The game also features the ability to automatically play out combat sequences, by allowing players to set up their own algorithms for combat behavior. This is useful for farming.
Fell Seal also got a small expansion pack, which allows you to catch, breed and team up with monsters you've fought before. If you don't have enough after spending dozens of hours on the core experience, the downloadable content will take care of you for a few extra hours.
- More on Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mask.
- Developer: LucasArts
- Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
- Release date: 28.11.2003
When hearing the name LucasArts, most players will recall the legendary adventure games or the great productions set in the Star Wars universe. Additionally, however, the studio founded by George Lucas can also boast a truly interesting SRPG title.
Gladius is a game set in a fictional version of the Roman Empire, where mythical creatures roam the woods, and the most popular form of entertainment are gladiator fights. The game’s two campaigns allow us to see the setting from different perspectives. One of the protagonists is a young man who inherits a gladiator school from his father. The second hero of the game is the daughter of a barbarian tribal chief. The girl tries to escape her fate by competing in fights on giant battle arenas. Both campaigns are very interesting and will provide many hours of top-notch fun for the fans of the genre.
A big asset of the game comes in the form of local multiplayer. Gladius offers both cooperation and pvp modes. That’s not a common thing to be seen in a SRPG, and LucasArts needs to be given credit for making sure both modes are sufficiently polished. The co-op mode is a solid element, and the pvp is a great occasion to test our gladiator.
- More on Gladius
24. Jeanne d’Arc
- Developer: Level-5
- Platform: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita
- Release date: 22.11.2006
Jeanne d’Arc is one of the games that really took their time before they became available in Europe. The RPG from the masters at Level-5 was well worth the wait, however.
Jeanne d’Arc is a tactical role-playing game telling the story of the Virgin of Orleans. Level-5 decided to drop the historical facts in favor of a fantastical world full of monsters and magical creatures. The game does feature historical characters and actual events, such as the Hundred Years' War, but also adds such curious things as Henry VI of England being possessed by demons. In fact, the title has little in common with well-established historical facts. What we do get, however, is the unique chance of seeing the history of Europe from the perspective of Japanese game developers.
Jeanne d’Arc is a great game, and a perfect choice as an introduction before some more complex representatives of the genre, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, are served. The game features enough interesting elements to get the player’s attention. At the same time, we are never buried under a ton of systems and complicated mechanics.
- More on Jeanne d’Arc
23. SteamWorld Heist
- Developer: Image & Form
- Platform: PC, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, iOS
- Release date: 10.12.2015
The third installment of the brilliant SteamWorld series allows us to taste the life as a space robo-pirate, and it’s so good that it deserves to take number 18 on our list.
This Swedish game offers a hodgepodge of western, robots, pirates, and insterstellar travel. We play as a female robot captain of a smuggler ship, and our task is to rob enemy vessels along with our ragtag crew.
SteamWorld’s main strength lies in its uniqueness. The game features a 2D side view, like in one of the older installments of Super Mario. This unusual perspective was combined with manual aim mechanics. Our precision is what decides whether we kill an enemy or shoot one of our own men by accident. This makes it perfectly viable to call the game from Image & Form an SRPG variation on the cult classic Worms series.
SteamWorld Heist is much more approachable than most other representatives of the genre. Its wonderful visuals, wacky atmosphere and gameplay enable virtually anyone to enjoy this title. That said, the devs haven’t forgotten about the seasoned veterans as well, providing a lot of difficult levels that can be dealt with only by them.
- More on SteamWorld Heist