The 10 Best Strategy/RPGs You Can Purchase Now
The strategy/RPG has always been a niche genre, which is ironic since it's a hybrid of two popular genres in Japan. Great series like Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Shining Force have no doubt put it on gamers' radar, but the genre is like a diamond in the rough with only a few releases every year. Therefore, I decided to compile a list of old and new games that are easily available that stand as the best the genre has to offer. After all, don't we all love to really contemplate each turn to maximize its full potential?
Note: For list variety, only one entry from each series was eligible. The list is not in any specific order.
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
Fire Emblem helped popularize the strategy/RPG genre, so it's only fitting that it's still innovating it to this day. The latest entry, Fire Emblem Awakening, is one of the franchise's most solid games to date. It keeps the classic grid-based gameplay and rock, paper, scissors model for weapons, where swords are advantageous against axes, lances best swords, and axes defeat lances. Let's not forget about the permadeath, should you enable it (you should). Awakening's best feature is how it puts relationship-building front and center with support conversations. If you get a pair's level high enough by engaging them in conversations and pairing them on the battlefield, it opens the option to marry them, and later their child will join your fight.
For more information, read our review.
Disgaea 4 (PlayStation 3, Vita)
Do you like a little offbeat humor to go with your hard-thought turns? Then the Disgaea series is for you. The fourth entry is the franchise's best offering and delves into the world of politics and corruption on top of all the zany jokes you've come to expect. It still has plenty to keep you busy as you make your way to level 9,999, but it also adds enhancements like enemy geo-blocks (that move) to shake things up. The Vita version lacks the online functionality of its PS3 sibling, but it includes all the DLC and a few different features, such as a new scenario and magic tier. Disgaea 4 is one of the most over-the-top entries yet, and it has an insane amount of content to match.
The Banner Saga (PC, iOS)
This viking-themed tactical game comes from a team of developers formerly of BioWare, and they knock it out of the park with their debut game, The Banner Saga. The game pays homage to other classic strategy/RPG games and boasts a beautiful art style and music by Journey's Austin Wintory to complement the tense gameplay. Throw in a mature storyline, where players not only build relationships to form attachments, but also shape the story through their choices. The journey is grim, but worth a trip for how it challenges choice and consequence, while keeping you on the seat of your pants with its thrilling gameplay.
For more information, read our review of the first episode .
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Valkyria Chronicles is such a solid RPG that it made Game Informer's top RPGs of last generation list. It combines a quasi-shooter with strategy and RPG elements and adds a gorgeous art style to boot. The tale tells an alternate history of World War II and ditches the typical isometric grid to use two different points of view, and the third-person view makes you feel like you're right in the middle of battle. The decisions in combat also mount, as different infantry types are strong and weak against others, the terrain can provide advantages or disadvantages, and soldiers have unique personality traits to factor. If you like strategy/RPGs and haven't played Valkyria Chronicles, you must make this one a priority. Despite its 2008 release, you can thankfully still find it at various retailers.
For more information, read our review.
Jeanne d'Arc (PSP, Vita)
Who doesn't want to want to play a strategy/RPG based loosely on the iconic Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years' War? This little gem reimagines history with magic and demons, putting a new spin on the tale. The combat comes from Level-5, who is best known for their action/RPG roots, but the team proved that a strategy game wasn't out of their wheelhouse. You control Jeanne and her party through a semi-accurate map of France, and every character and enemy has a weakness and strength to one of three different affinities. Better yet? Jeanne d'Arc is one of the PSP games that you can download from the PlayStation Store and play on your Vita.
[Up next: Matsuno keeps the storytelling strong, SMT blends traditional and strategy gameplay, and the Dark Souls of strategy/RPGs enters the arena...]
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP, Vita)
Not many games match intense gameplay with an equally satisfying story, but Tactics Ogre does just that. Three ethnic groups are at war over the land of Valeria, but it's the plot twists, plot-changing choices, and personal struggles of lead protagonist Denam Pavel and his friends that keep you invested. The game also has law, neutral, and chaos alignments that are done well, constantly bombarding you with consequences depending on your actions. Do you uphold your alignment if it means killing innocents? The gameplay also has plenty to love. Battles still play out on isometric grids, but you have selectable classes, character speed determines turn order, and a massive customization system for your army of sixty. If you dig having some moral dilemmas along the way, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is another PSP game that can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store and played on your Vita.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP, iOS, Vita)
Final Fantasy Tactics shares some similarities to Tactics Ogre, which shouldn't be surprising because it's made by the same director, Yasumi Matsuno. Tactics doesn't have branching story paths, but it does feature a political storyline that is a lot more serious and grim than previous Final Fantasy games. The plot follows childhood friends Ramza Beoulve and Delita Heiral, who hail from different social backgrounds. You experience the plot through Ramza's perspective and see how conflicts have pulled both characters in different directions and shaped their values. The War of the Lions remake gets the nod for having a superior translation and is the best for getting the most out of this powerful story. It also boasts more characters, new cutscenes, and new jobs. You must experience this classic if you haven't yet. The game recently made its way to iOS, but you can also download it from the PlayStation Store for your Vita, so no excuses.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS)
Usually if a game has the "Shin Megami Tensei" stamp on it, you know you're getting a quality experience. Devil Survivor is no different and it sticks closely to what you expect from the name: Demons are taking over (some whom ally with you), you play as high school students in modern-day Tokyo, and you explore several of its districts. The game offers branching paths based on your choices, and the tactical combat is with a more intimate party, featuring one leader and two supporting characters. Unique to Devil Survivor is the fact that attacking an enemy isn't a simple animation - you enter a round of combat and select commands like a traditional RPG. Not many strategy/RPGs are grounded in reality like Devil Survivor, so you owe it to yourself if you want a more modern tale and setting. The game has six different endings and was created to introduce new players to the genre; therefore, you shouldn't be afraid to give it a shot. A new 8th day was also added to the 3DS version.
Natural Doctrine (PS4, PS3, Vita)
I have a few warnings to give out before I can recommend Natural Doctrine. First off, even though you can get it on your PS4, don't expect mind-blowing graphics. Also, do you like a challenge a la Dark Souls? This matters a lot, as this game sets out to crush your soul (no pun intended) repeatedly. Natural Doctrine was made for the hardcore, and it doesn't take that term lightly. You have to really love a challenge and learning from your mistakes to get the most out of it. See, if you even let one combatant die, it's game over. Later in the game, you can even lose some characters permanently depending on your actions. Talk about really having to think about your grid placement before you execute your turn. The plot is full of RPG clichés, but the relentless challenge and online battles keep hardcore players fulfilled.
Front Mission 3 (PS3, PSP, Vita)
As much as I'd like to put the much-superior Front Mission 5 on this list, the PS2 game never saw a North American release. Still, Front Mission 3 stands as a fantastic example of the endless customization available in many tactical RPGs. Each Wanzer mech's body, legs, and left and right arms are customizable separately, allowing you to create a spider-walking ultra tank or a hovering, lightly armored sniper. Combine this with a political story in the near future and an early-branching path, lending plenty of replay value and ability to play the game how you want to. Now if only we could convince Square Enix for a new entry that's not a shooter. Front Mission 3 is available as a PSone Classic, so you can download it on a variety of Sony systems.
What are some of your favorite strategy/RPGs? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.