Tactics RPGs are the meat and potatoes in the diet of video games. Not always flashy and exciting at first glance to those who may not know the genre, but they're often one of the most satisfying meals to sink your teeth into. From controlling Viking armies to repelling alien invasions and even fighting in a faux World War II, there is a wide world of experiences to be had in this genre, and we’ve selected the 10 best. Here is our list of the Top 10 Tactics RPGs of all time.
Stunningly stylish, moody, and challenging with a dark and complex story that only comes into focus little by little, Othercide's noir Lovecraftian world and battles are inimitable. Roguelike elements and a bittersweet sacrifice mechanic lead to developing strong bonds with your "daughters", even knowing that many of them may not make it. And in some cases, you may need to decide who lives and who dies.
Enemy behavior is deterministic, but the diversity of foes and the situations you face them in makes each map a satisfying tangle to unfurl. The terrifying bosses show this off best of all. Othercide is the type of tactical RPG that cleanly weaves strong mechanical and aesthetic ideas into something hauntingly beautiful. It's an outstanding beacon for what this genre has become in the last several years.
9. Triangle Strategy
The newest game on our list, Triangle Strategy, quickly made a name for itself with its challenging gameplay, beautiful 2.5D pixel art, and story of political intrigue. Not content to tackle just classic turn-based RPGs with Octopath Traveler, Square Enix created this spiritual successor to classic tactics games and doubled down on making your choices matter, both on and off the battlefield.
Thrust into a new age of war after a long period of fragile peace, Triangle Strategy starts as many others in the genre do, but quickly differentiates itself with a branching path and a heavy focus on narrative. While its gameplay can seem a bit unforgiving at first, in a somewhat novel move for the genre, accumulated XP carries over even after failed missions, so you won't beat your head against a difficulty wall for too long. Just bring some popcorn. You'll be in those cutscenes for a while!
8. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Path of Radiance will forever hold a special place in our hearts for bringing Fire Emblem back to consoles, and becoming the first console FE to be released in the west since the series’ inception in 1990. But its impact is more significant than that. Path of Radiance stayed true to its predecessors’ core game systems, like the weapons triangle, but upgraded everything from the skills system to the flow of battles.
Its innovations and tweaks have influenced every Fire Emblem game since then. The Battle Preparations and Base screens added important story details and character interactions, while expanded shove and rescue functions made for more strategic combat, and a smart bonus rewards system kept battles flowing by setting turn-limits and providing specific sub goals.
If you only know Path of Radiance because it introduced the world to Ike (of subsequent Smash Bros. fame), you’ll find a criminally underplayed strategy RPG that’s every bit as rewarding today as when it surprised GameCube owners back in 2005.
7. The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga is representing its entire series on this list in a way few other games are. The entire trilogy works as one beautiful whole, adding weight and importance to every hard choice and branching path you pick along the frostbitten road. The Banner Saga delivers a cold and harsh journey, full of challenging tactics battles and tricky decisions that can often feel more like mitigating disaster than trying to outright win.
The Banner Saga also distinguishes itself with its Norse setting and incredible aesthetic – both in its visual artistry and in its fantastic music. Its world is as punishing as it is stunning, and the tactical choices you’re given matter not only in the moment of ensuring you make it to the next fight, but also in the grand tapestry that is the series’ overarching story in the games that follow.
While all three entries in The Banner Saga are fantastic tactical RPGs, we ultimately went with the first game as deserving a spot on this list. The three games are so interconnected – and that interconnectivity is why the franchise as a whole deserves to be recognized – that starting anywhere but the beginning would be a disservice to the work developer Stoic Studio has done.
6. Valkyria Chronicles
The concept of Valkyria Chronicles is a strange thing to describe. It’s a turn-based tactics game full of thoughtful decisions, but you also have to dodge enemy fire in real-time while you move your troops into position and actually aim down the sights before firing. It has a heavy story that isn’t afraid to address the darkest parts of World War 2, but that story is told in an alternate reality full of magic and JRPG melodrama as well.
Its battles are full of engaging puzzles to solve, and it’s a real treat to grow closer to your squad both on and off the battlefield. And while Valkyria Chronicles 4 may have improved and refined its combat in meaningful ways, the original’s excellent story still helps it stand out to this day.
5. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
The long-running Disgaea series is known for its incredible level of depth, quirky antihero characters, and terrific anime art style. For nearly 20 years the series has remained consistently entertaining, so narrowing it down to which entry deserved a spot on this list was no easy task. For the most part, each sequel retained what was great about the previous entry and added its own new tricks and twists. That’s why we settled on Disgaea 5, probably the pinnacle of the series… and Disgaea 6 is generally considered to be a misstep.
With systems upon systems upon systems to master and an entire randomized dungeon to fight your way through inside EVERY ITEM IN THE GAME, Disgaea 5 is a tactical RPG you can play for years. It’s the biggest and best-looking in the series.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Whether you preferred the older tactics-heavy Fire Emblem entries or the more recent handheld titles with streamlined features, Fire Emblem: Three Houses became a melting pot of everything great about the series. Three Houses offers an unprecedented level of customization and automation to let each player get what they wanted out of a tactical RPG. Players are able to choose which side to align with, recruit the allies that resonate best, and completely customize the growth of their skills and abilities — or let the game take care of the nitty gritty details and let you race into strategy battles set on sweeping battlefields and darkened catacombs alike.
Its greatest feat was providing an engaging and compelling experience no matter which choices you made — from dramatic story beats to the most granular of lesson planning for your students-turned-soldiers. Three Houses has raised the bar so high, it's hard to imagine the series moving forward in any other direction.
3. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Tactics Ogre, despite being the predecessor to the more popular Final Fantasy Tactics, has never gained the traction in the west that fans think it deserves. This second game in the Ogre Battle series originally debuted on Super Famicom in Japan, and the PSP remake makes a few changes to the original, including lowering the difficulty and adding the Chariot Tarot system that lets you rewind battles to a specific point to try a different strategy, which is a godsend as battles are tough, and can take quite a while.
The remastered score lends gravitas to the fantasy setting, and character art and dialogue are still top notch, if very classically flavored. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is so ambitious that it can sometimes threaten to break out of the confines of the PSPs small screen and control scheme, but it is definitely an adventure worth experiencing.
2. XCOM 2
Knowing that every turn could be the last for your favorite soldier if your plans go awry gives XCOM 2: War of the Chosen's underdog battle to overthrow an alien occupation of Earth incredible tension and atmosphere. It builds on the streamlined (but still deep) tactical combat and cover systems of its predecessor, letting you create custom squads of specialized soldiers whose abilities can synergize to demolish even the hardest of targets before they can get off a shot.
Of course, the fact that even a 99% chance to hit isn't a sure thing means you always need a backup plan, and its randomized map layouts give it an element of unpredictability. With its expansion adding three adaptable Chosen boss characters and special recruitable soldier classes, XCOM 2 becomes a virtually bottomless pit of thrilling tactical challenge.
1. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
With a new localization, added guest characters, new cutscenes, and new job classes, the War of the Lions re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics adds an incredible amount of value to an already classic game. Final Fantasy Tactics' rich story, fantastic music, and deep gameplay thrives in a portable format, and the setting of Ivalice, created in 1997, is still in use for new Final Fantasy titles today, 25 years later.
While sequels Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 1 and 2 followed on the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS, they never came close to the highs of their big brother, as more streamlined character progression and an annoying Judge system diluted what made the original so special. Somber, triumphant, and still one-of-a-kind, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions wins its spot as our best Tactics RPG of all time.