by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
This might be the hardest list I’ve ever written to date, because there are just so damn many of them, and there will be franchises that are not represented in this list. Not out of malice, but I simply did not play as many of them/play them as frequently. Turn-based RPGs come in many flavors, but the genre feels like it was more or less created with Fire Emblem. That’s a series that I enjoy but simply have not completed many of them. What makes turn-based strategy/RPGs fun though? Being able to take my time and think is seriously a big deal because I often get distracted, or really have to consider what I’m doing. Every turn could be the last, and there’s always a wealth of replay value. Different team compositions, other characters that go unused, other factions. My first real strategy game was Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire on the SNES, and that was where I fell in love with turn-based games forever.
I had played RPGs before that, like Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy II, Might & Magic, a few others. But I had never really played a strategy game like that before and did not play another until Civilization II, or Master of Magic. The style of gameplay was new to me, and the idea of having so much control and had tactical command of my characters made it more enjoyable. I had a greater emotional connection to the characters in turn-based strategy RPGs. Characters that could die permanently made me want to fight harder to keep them. Not all strategy games share that style, though. That’s primarily a Fire Emblem/Final Fantasy Tactics feature, but it crops up from time to time. These games just always felt a bit deeper. I want to point out that while no Fire Emblem game is on this list, Fire Emblem: Three Houses certainly gets an honorable mention. The review is coming soon, but I love it. Fire Emblem: Three Houses may be one of my Games of the Year.
5. Shining Force (SEGA Genesis): Now, before I found Shining Force for the SEGA, I was under the impression that the SEGA was all about sports and platformers. That was it, they had nothing else. Fighting games on the console were inferior mostly, and it just had no RPGs that I, at the time was aware of. Then I found Shining Force! Shining Force is actually the first turn-based strategy RPG that I played; while RTK IV was my very first strategy game in general, in the turn-based strategy RPG genre, Shining Force was my first. It wasn’t enough to take me away from the Super Nintendo, because frankly, I couldn’t afford another console, I would play it any time I could at a friends house. The characters had so much personality, the maps were massive, and there was so much challenge in finding the perfect team, or locating the hidden characters. Hidden characters were new to me too, until Final Fantasy III anyway. Shining Force changed my perception of the SEGA Genesis console, and that was important for me at that younger age.
4. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (PSX): Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen was sort of an interesting beast, as far as strategy games go. The strategy part wasn’t simply putting together a team, it was finding the right team. You have no control over the characters once they are in a battle, after all. In Ogre Battle, you put together squads and march them across the map to liberate villagers, uncover secrets, and do battle with other squads. Each squad has a front and back row, and each unit has x or y ability, depending on the row they’re in. These abilities only have a certain amount of charges, and when everyone has done their thing, the battle is over (for now). But you can influence the fight using the Tarot Cards, which also have a nice wide array of abilities to use. Ogre Battle just had so many damn units, and a variety of starting character, based on how you answer a series of morality-themed questions. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is also had plenty of endings based on what you did, including being able to sell your soul to a Demon! Come on, this game had absolutely everything. Now on a personal level, I like Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together more, but I liked the FFT-style grid-based gameplay more. But Ogre Battle is definitely in a league of its own.
3. Super Robot Wars V (Playstation 4): The Super Robot Wars franchise is a series that by all rights, deserve to be at the top of this list. Super Robot Wars is a franchise where a ton of giant robot anime come together in insane, long turn-based battles. Gundam, Evangelion, Cross Ange, Mazinger Z, so many more. The characters are faithfully represented, and while the stories are pretty standard “new/different dimension” stuff, the gameplay and the character interactions are what really makes Super Robot Wars games shine. So why Super Robot Wars V? This is the one that brought the series back to my attention. Before this one, I could not find a Super Robot Wars game in English, other than the OG games (Original Generation), and that’s not really what I was after. I wanted the games that had Mobile Suit Gundam characters in them. Cowboy Bebop, Big O, et cetera. That’s why I shine a highlight on this particular Super Robot Wars game. It’s challenging, it has replay value, like most games in this genre, and it also brought a few anime to my attention that I have not seen, and now wish to. I wanted to include Super Robot Wars T, but I have yet to add it to my collection.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation): Final Fantasy Tactics is a game is a huge part of my life forever, for good or ill. The characters really made FFT stand out amongst the other tactics games, as well as the deep, soul-breaking story. This is probably the first religion-centric game I played, that instead of painted religion as necessary and good, painted the Orbonne Church as a vile, horrible order. Sure, they put on a good face, but there was no good coming from the Church. You really had a chance to question religion in the game, and for many people I knew at the time, in their personal lives. You got to build a team of characters that could be anything you want, but the major/hidden NPCs were just. so. damn. powerful. The story was compelling, people die, get betrayed, and important global institutions reveal their true colors. Final Fantasy Tactics just had it all. Not all of the job classes were good, in my opinion though. The charge system, where you had to wait for abilities to go off was very much hit-or-miss. But the story, the characters, and the feel of this game were undeniably golden.
1. Disgaea (Playstation 2): The Playstation consoles really are the kings of strategy games, huh? They just had so many options to pick from. Disgaea was the first strategy RPG that I sank hundreds of hours into. It really blew me away that we were playing supposed antagonists, though we found that the holy characters were pretty damn evil too. Nobody was what they seemed. Except for Laharl, I guess. He was just a badass little jerk who killed stuff and was a Demon. There were so many ways to break the game, do ridiculous damage, challenge tons of post-game content, and build literally any team I wanted. If I wanted an adorable magical girl or a succubus, I had it. Weird zombies or dragons? Got those too! Disgaea cleverly intertwined heartbreak and comedy, hilarious writing, and moments that really tugged at the heartstrings. Disgaea 1 remains the closest to perfection the series has ever achieved, and the one I enjoy the most. Disgaea 5 is very close, as is the off-shoot Makai Kingdom. You can also play Disgaea on virtually every console these days. PC, Switch, PS4, almost everywhere.