So you are finished with Fire Emblem Fates? Now that you’re addicted, you need something more? Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about? The Tactical RPG, or sometimes referred to as SRPG, genre is very well established with releases all the way back into the 80’s. While the Fire Emblem is probably the most recognizable, and the best in many ways, there are plenty of other great titles out there.
But first, what is a tactical RPG?
Typically the main draw of any RPG, and especially so with JRPGs, is the epic story. As the name “Role Playing Game” suggests, you are assuming the role of a hero, so obviously the narrative plays an integral role. Most rely on turn based combat and a traditional leveling system where statistics rise as levels are gained and enemies are defeated. Obviously the genre has evolved in many different directions, but it’s all essentially a new coat of paint on the same concept.
Tactical RPGs are very much the same to any other RPG in most regards. Telling the tale of a hero and his band of comrades as they go on a journey to save the world. The main difference is that you are not so much in the role of the hero as you are the army as a whole. Combat becomes the emphasis. As apposed to jamming the attack button, you are tasked with moving and positioning your forces. The battlefield becomes just as important as character’s stats and abilities, and each skirmish becomes a puzzle with countless different solutions. The added complexity makes every playthrough unique, and while story still plays a major roll, it takes a back seat to the combat in most cases.
So whether you are looking for more or are just getting started, these are the games that are absolute must plays for anyone interested in the tactical RPG genre.
Final Fantasy Tactics
I might as well get the obvious one out of the way. As a monument that stands firmly in my top five games of all time list, Final Fantasy Tactics is without a doubt, a masterpiece.
Final Fantasy Tactics takes place in the kingdom of Ivalice, and follows the story of Ramza Beoulve, a highborn squire who finds himself thrust into the middle of an intricate military conflict known as The Lion War. With a plot that twists itself into a pretzel on more than one occasion, this game’s story is just as good as anything out there, and will keep you anxious to reach each new plot point. The sound track is mind blowing, with a score consisting of several beautiful symphonic pieces that set the tone for whatever battle you find yourself engaged in, and sound effects that place it among the best ever made.
What truly makes this game special is the depth of its combat system. You are given access to 20 different basic classes, all with their own set of skills that each of your characters can learn from. Skills that your characters master from whatever job you assign them can carry over with each promotion or re-assignment, giving nearly infinite possibilities to tailor your forces. The battle field is partitioned into a grid, as is typical in most tactical RPGs, but the variety of obstacles in the terrain make each fight an interesting challenge as you struggle to capture the strategic advantage. I could go on all day about this game, but you have to experience it for yourself. The game was originally released for the Playstation, and has since been remastered for the PSP as Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions.
FFT is a tough act to follow, but I think this one holds it own. Flying under the radar of most due to its PSP exclusivity, Jeanne d’Arc is not a game to be ignored. In fact, it makes a strong case for being one of the best games on the PSP, period.
The story follows Jeanne, who is modeled after Joan of Arc, the legendary heroine of France during the hundred year war. Obviously the inclusion of monsters and demons make this game far from historically accurate, but its apparent that the developers did their homework all the same, as the story runs surprisingly inline with that of legend. All together its incredibly gripping and sports a cast of characters that you really grow to care for.
Perhaps not the game with the most in depth combat on this list, but it’s still enjoyable, challenging, and even throws in a couple unique and interesting surprises. The visual style of this game is nothing that breaks new ground, but its incredibly polished. The crystal clear visuals during battle make it easy to identify friend and foe, and the anime cut scenes are very well done. The soundtrack has a distinctly French sound, and when combined with the voice acting, it creates a wonderfully immersive experience.
Whether you are interested in another take on the legend of Joan of Arc, looking for a challenge, or just want a reason to dust off your PSP. This is an absolute must play.
Disgaea is easily the game on this list that is the most “anime.” A lot of you may recognize one of the three leads in Laharal, Etna, and Flonne (dont forget about the Prinnies dood!). The story is just as hilarious as it is outrageous. Taking place in the Underworld, you assume the role of the former overlords son, Laharl. Now that his father is dead, all of the demons are now vying for his position, and you have to show them who’s boss in the only way demons understand… by crushing them into submission.
The combat in Disgaea follows the outrageous nature of the story. Instead of being realistic and relying on teamwork, this game practically begs you to break it. You can easily level you characters into battlefield gods with abilities that will annihilate large swaths of the map. Lifting and throwing your enemies and allies is actually a necessary strategy, and the Prinnies… well… lift and throw them, see what happens. Interestingly, while maybe outrageous, its also every bit as deep as Final Fantasy Tactics, and even allows you create and level monsters to fight alongside your forces. There is an item world where you essentially go inside a dungeon within one of your items. As you complete the floors, your item levels up, becoming stronger. You wanna talk depth? You could easily dump hundreds of hours into this game and not come close to doing everything that’s possible.
I wouldn’t say that the graphics are a strength of Disgaea. I mean don’t get me wrong, the character art is great, but overall the game looks pretty dated. If you’re not aware, I’m actually speaking of the original in a series here. I personally think the first is the best due to its characters, but if you are looking for better graphics, playing one of the more recent games may better suit you. All of them are great.
Disgaea was originally on the PS2, but has recently been released on the PC. What luck!
Tossing out the grid, this is a departure from the rest of the games on this list, but no less a tactical RPG. Valkyria Chronicles is perhaps an example of the genres evolution, and an absolute must play for fans of video games in general.
The game takes place in the fictional continent of Europa, and is loosely based on the early years of World War II. You take control of a band of militia who has formed with the purpose of repelling the army invading their neutral nation of Gallia. Now thrust in the middle of a large scale conflict with little resources, the odds are stacked against you, and the use of clever tactics and determination will be your only saving grace. This games story is fantastic. The plight of the main characters Welkin and Alicia as they fight to defend their homeland is incredibly heartfelt, and there are several potent emotional punches throughout.
As I mentioned before, Valkyria Chronicles ditches the grid map for measuring movement, and replaces it with an action bar that limits the distance each character can run throughout the open terrain. As with other Tactical RPGs, you are given one attack per character, per turn, but aiming becomes an important aspect since all of your targets have weak points. The tactical portion of this game presents some unique challenges, as you must position your forces where they can safely yet effectively perform their ideal task while covering them with overwatch fire. Death is permanent, but you have access to a pretty large squad. While losing a couple troops may not hinder the overall effort too much, each member of the militia is a character with a unique personally, so any death carries an emotional sting.
The main reason I’m recommending the first of the Valkyria Chronicles series is because of its beautiful art style. The entire game looks like colored pencil sketches come to life. The soft, yet weathered effect this creates is an interesting contrast to the horrors of war. Overall, its really hard to find anything bad to say about this game. Just play it. It’s on the PS3 and Steam.
La Pucelle: Tactics
A product of a young Nippon Ichi Software, and one of their first releases here in North America; La Pucelle: Tactics is a tremendous preview, and most likely helped springboard the company into their future of success. The story follows Prier and her younger brother Culotte who have joined the churches elite group of demon hunters, La Pucelle. Prier’s selfish attitude and short temper somehow make her rather endearing. Without spoiling anything, she becomes a fairly important character later in the Disgaea series, so for the completionist, playing this game is an absolute must.
While La Pucelle’s combat shares some similarities with its cousin Disgaea, it also has some very interesting and unique mechanics. Prier and her group of demon hunters are tasked with closing, and redirecting the dark energy that spills from dark portals, as well as purifying said dark portals and their accompanying monsters. Monsters that are purified can then join your party and be trained to fight alongside of you. A similarity with the Fire Emblem series, the combat takes place off the map in what looks like a classic turn based RPG screen, where you and your surrounding allies face off against the monsters. I mentioned puzzles, earlier when I was talking about tactical RPGs; NIS games add those aspects to their games better than anyone.
Once again, I have to give the disclaimer that as something from the PS2 era, this game is dated. As with many of the games on this list, the graphics are not a strong point. Trust me though, once you get used to it, you’re in for a treat.
I want to make sure I’m absolutely clear about this… I love the Fire Emblem series, and if you have the opportunity to go back and play any of the older games, I would wholly recommend you do that. I know Awakening and Fates have brought a new group of fans into this genre, and if you actually enjoyed the combat and story elements of those games, you will enjoy the older ones.
Each of the games on this list should provide their own unique challenges, and each of them fit into a slightly different niche. Try to pick the one that sounds the most interesting to you. Unfortunately you wont be making your characters kiss and make babies in any of these, but I’m confident if you give any of them a fair chance, the stories and characters will hook you all the same.
So, what do you guys think? Did I miss one of your favorites? I’ll look forward to hearing from you in the comments!