Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 03, 2009
Tactical RPGs - the lost genre

I spent my holidays without a PC, just checking my e-mail once or twice a week in an internet café. But I own a PSP handheld console just for occasions like that, and brought that one with 7 games. But I ended up playing only one game for the whole 3 weeks: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. Played it through completely, and then started over to replay the first half without all the stupid newbie mistakes one is bound to make in a complicated game like this. Immense fun, and great value for money. And on my way home it struck me: Why isn't there anything like Final Fantasy Tactics on the PC?

Final Fantasy Tactics is part of a genre called tactical role-playing games, and there are tons of games of that kind: The Disgae series, the Fire Emblem series, and many single titles. But most of them are Japanese, and not always available in the US/Europe, and nearly all of them are for various video game consoles. On the PC there are similar games, like Fallout Tactics, the X-COM / UFO series, or the Jagged Alliance series, plus remakes. But none of them are fantasy games, or come anywhere near the quality of storytelling of a Final Fantasy Tactics.

Turn-based strategy games have pretty much died out on the PC, with only some small companies and indie developers still producing any new ones, and then it's often remakes, like the new King's Bounty. The big companies all decided that real time strategy games with lots of action, flashy graphics, and not much need for actual tactical thinking, are selling better. So nobody ever bothered to make a big, triple A, tactical fantasy RPG for Windows. That's a shame, I think PC players aren't any less able to appreciate deep, sophisticated strategy game than console players.

Apparently there are some tactical fantasy RPGs available as Free2Play online games. Of course being MMOs there won't be much storytelling. But Atlantica Online got some good reviews from various bloggers, so I'm currently downloading that one. I'll try it out in the coming weeks. I also remember having once had a short look at Pox Nora when it was still in beta, and it seems to have grown a lot, and is now owned by SOE.

Are there any tactical RPGs for the PC that you would recommend, beyond those I already mentioned?
This is my single favorite genre of games, as well. I haven't played a lot of them, but I really enjoy them when I do play them. I've always wanted to play an MMO that leverages a deep turn-based tactical RPG combat system and I'm in the process of designing one in my spare time.

I played AO hoping that it would scratch that itch. AO is not even remotely comparable to even the weakest tactical RPG. Character progression has little variation and is ludicrously vertical. The number of tactical variations and overarching strategies in AO pale in comparison to the kind of decisions you have to make when playing a deep tactical RPG. AO is a grindfest.
I tried Atlantica Online and found it so visually unattractive I didn't last much over an hour.

I don;t actually know what you mean by a "tactical" rpg, though, never having heard of most of the games you list, far less played them.

Would Baldur's gate have been a "tactical rpg"? I loved how you could pause the action at any time and think through the possible options and outcomes.

I can't see how you could possibly do that in an MMO, though, except with a timer, such as Wizard101 uses. And as soon as you impose a time-limit per turn you have a different genre again. In Baldur's Gate I would literally leave it paused in mid-fight and go and have a bath or go for a walk while thinking out my next move. Can't see how that could ever happen in an MMO.
My fav genre too.

I've been looking for tactical RPGs for PC a long while, but no success yet.

You can try Ultimate Tactics
A flash game. Too simple imho.

You may find interesting Silent Storm and sequels. They're probably cheap by now.

There are a few, more complex, real-time-with-pause games like Brigade E5 or 7.62. But tbh I've never been able to enjoy them, horrible camera controls.

There are a few more. Take a look at this post in the RPGCodex forums:
You'd probably like Battle for Wesnoth. It's for Windows/Linux/MacOS. It's free, it's fantasy, and it's quite good. There are a number of campaigns and they feature persistent unit growth. Have fun!
We really lact a good Tactical RPG MMO...

I would like to point out to Dofus which is actually quite good in the tactical RPG genre (but it's not aimed to be AAA)

I also tried AO and I completely agree with the comments from evizaer on very limited strategic choice. On the top of it, the 30sec time/turn combined with strange controls and camera angles does not allow to give much strategic thinking
Wizardry 8 is a game I revisit from time to time when I want something a little different. It has a turn-based combat mode that allows you time to think about strategy and by varying the classes in your party (and the NPC's that tag along) I find the replayability to be pretty high. The playable world was huge for its time and the freedom to go wherever the player wanted with few exceptions was mind-blowing. The game is fairly old now (2001) but I have yet to find another game like it.
I'll toss in a coin for Silent Storm. It's a fun game. And with these games, it's more about thinking then about having fast reflexes.

I also have heard a lot of good things about Freedom Force. It's on my (huge) "to play" list.
I personally enjoyed Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis for the Game Boy Advance. Its similar to FF Tactics, but to me had a better feel. Thought, I was a bit tired of FF at the time I originally played it :P
Seconded for Freedom Force. It isn't tactical in the fashion of FFT in that it is real time, but the spin on super heroes meets pause-able real time strat makes for a fun night or two for sure. ;)
I've also never been clear on the precise definition of "tactical RPG." Is that just a synonym for "turn-based," or is it a specific subgenre of turn-based games?

Among recent games, Neverwinter Nights 2 is fairly tactical, although it's real-time-with-pause rather than turn based. It plays like the old Baldur's Gate games.

One of my favorites from long ago was Warlords, a series of fantasy turn-based strategy games (made by the same guy who made Puzzle Quest). They've since morphed into an RTS series, although the old turn-based games may still be available.
I'd say to be a tactical RPG, you need several elements:

- You control several individual characters, each with his separate character development, class, abilities etc., not a stack of units like in Warlords or Heroes of Might and Magic.

- You give those characters individual commands in battle, preferably turn-based, but there might be a turn time limit to make it pseudo real-time.

- The battlefield has some sort of grid, usually square, sometimes hex. Thus a good part of the tactics involve where you place your characters, blocking movement etc. Thus games like the regular Final Fantasy games, where your characters and the enemies just line up face to face and don't move, are not tactical RPGs.
While AO is a good F2P MMO, it won't fill the tactical RPG role you are looking for. The combat is deep for an MMO (In terms of class choice, skill assignment, party location setup), but has little compared to FFT. And as most F2P games, after 20-30 hours it's either hard grind or cash shop.

Pox Nora is an interesting combo of MtG and FFT. The bad part is like MtG, you need a deck of rares to really be competitive, which of course costs a ton of money. On top of that, since cards level, you need to play a bunch of games as well to get your deck up to speed. That said, the actual tactics behind everything are solid (or where a year ago when I played), and as I remember it the online aspect was nice as well. Certainly worth a shot.

Blood Bowl, while based very loosely around football, is actually a great turn based strategy game set in the Warhammer IP, and the multiplayer is both deep and challenging. Since it has years of tabletop balance behind it, it's fairly solid. No storyline of course.
You could check Fantasy Wars. I enjoyed it (but was bored from its sequel/addon). It's more like wargame with rpg elements though.
I don't know if it counts, but the original Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics were nice strategy RPGs for their time.

Interplay also released a "trilogy set" for them recently, so you may want to pick them up if they're available where you are.
FFT was always my favorite tactical RPG on the PlayStation and consoles in general. It was rich in story, had nifty play mechanics, and more than a nod to the FF franchise of my youth.

I guess one reason the TRPG is so scarce on the PC is because it's easier to hack the game on a PC than a console. It takes the replay value away when you can hack resources, levels, units, etc.

Hacking is/was possible on consoles, but it required the use of specific hardware and software to do it, not just a hex or text editor.
I'd recommend Neverwinter Nights 2 if you haven't already tried it. It plays like Baldur's Gate--it's not turn based but you can pause and issue orders separately to each member of your party. It also has a good story and lots of downloadable mods.

Temple of Elemental Evil would also fit the bill. It has classical turn-based combat and is very tactical (although it hasn't got much of a story).
Have you tried Blood Bowl? It won't have the story telling that you may be looking for. It does however have turn based game play, a team to level up and a campaign in single player.

The skills you learn in single player are applicable in multi-player as well.

If this is your cup of tea, it would be worth a wait to grab it on steam.

BTW, Welcome back! Really glad you are blogging again!
Etherlords and Etherlords2 are older PC games but I really enjoyed them. They are turn-based fantasy RPG games that are kinda like playing MTG. The only problem is the games came with a lot of bugs so you have to make sure you install all the patches.
"why isnt there anything like this for the PC?" We're working on it Tobold, we're working on it.
Since you mentioned it, what turned-based games are still out there?

I really like turn-based games, for many reasons: I still remember the paper-based wargames of Avalon Hill, SPI GDW, et al. If it is turn-based, it can't be a twitchfest, and turn-based allows for interruptions for phone calls, bathroom breaks and acquiring a new Coke Zero.
Massive Assault Network 2 - they have a "demo" version that allows unlimted play on a single map. You can play against a computer character or online.

There is no time limit on turns because the game is essentially done through email. You do all your moves for your turn then submit. At which point your opponent receives the turns from the MAN2 servers and then goes about his/her business.

Worth a download and a play at least.
I've often seen these called SRPGs or strategic RPGs. Final Fantasy tactics is easily my favorite game ever (maybe tied with Fallout 2).

The Disgaea games are very much like it, but with the volume turned up to 11 and many tongue-in-cheek jokes. The same team that made Disgaea has a handful of other strategy RPGs like Makai Kingdom or whatever. But these are all console-only.

I wish there were more in this genre. I completely love it.
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

Its tactical and RP, and very deep.

BUT if you die .....
Mmm... FFT. TRPGs are far and away my favorite style of games. Atlantica Online scratched that itch a little bit, as did Dofus, but I ultimately wound up displeased with them. They are competent, but nothing spectacular.

I've had to turn to TO:KoL on the GBA and FFTA and FFTA2 on the DS for my fix. Yummy, yummy goodness. I recently acquired Disgaea for the DS as well, and am looking forward to that.

At least, once I finish my current fixation, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. I loved VP and VP2, so to find a handheld tactical game in the VP universe complete with a great story hook made me very happy. It turns out that the game really is great fun, and while it's not quite like what you'd expect coming from FFT, it's an excellent game.

I'm not so sure on the PC, though. I'm tired of sitting at the desk, since I have a desk job, and I'm totally burned out on MMOs. That bleeds over to PC gaming as a halo effect. Still, I've heard good about Battle for Wesnoth and King's Bounty. I've also had the free Titans of Steel game around for a while, meaning to install it... it may be a good game to tinker with if you have a BattleTech bone in your body.
Just have to say, The first and second Fire Emblem games for the GBA were amazing. Well worth the $20 or so that it costed when I bought them.
I quite liked Dragonshard, although some reviewers didn't! It's a D&D RTS game, but there's also a RPG element to it.
I will throw in support as well for the Disgaea series. It really is the pinnacle of tactical rpgs. Now if only they added online map control/territory battles or something hmm...
I don't think they have any 'fantasy' games, I'm at work and can't check, but Matrix Games ( are doing a pretty good job of keeping the turn based PC game alive. Mostly WWII, Civil War etc games.

My favorite is War in the Pacific which could easily keep your evenings booked solid for a year or more.
My favorite genere too.

I like a lot Shinning Force series, I think I finished Shinning Force II more than 10 times. I'm not sure if it is legal or not (I think not), but it is possible to play it in a PC. Shinning Force III it's also a great game.
I think the reason why is that they have stagnated on console-tactical RPGS are very much the FPS of the japanese market.

It's very rare for them to innovate-i can count ten or more on my DS alone that ape final fantasy tactics in visual style, and are identical or close to it in play. They also tend to be very technical and user unfriendly.

I think you are big on them because it is new to you, and you are playing a remake of the seminal work, one fixed of its flaws. They can be pretty good-I recommend phantom brave if you also have a ps2 or wii, it's better than disgaea with a very sad story to it.
I've been playing WAKFU at their open beta session, but currently they upgrading the game (its getting better) and goes closed beta.... this is a good mmorpg, worth to try...
I'll second Dblade's recommendation of Phantom Brave.
Two life changing words for you:
Dofus Arena.

Best tactical game ever.
Imagine Final Fantasy Tactics, but all PvP and way better in every way.

- SpeakEnglishToMe (my sn)
Valkurian Chronicles on the PS3 is an AWESOME tactics game! It takes the normal format and adds some REALLY cool elements like aiming and stuff. Try it out!
I like SRW Super Robot Wars(its for the Game Boy Advance in US and theres only 2,look for SRT Super Robot Taisen US name) whats great about it is u can spend the money u earn to upgrade ur characters the way u want them to be. Plus u can change what robot they use depending on the person.
This post is pretty old but I found it, so maybe others will too. :) I recently started work on an online tactical RPG with gameplay similar to Final Fantasy Tactics... If anyone is interested, you can check out the latest updates at my site

If you want to discuss the game in more detail, feel free to sign up for the forum and make a thread.
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