One of the biggest, most appealing aspects of role-playing games is the combat system. As these battle portions typically comprise a large chunk of the gameplay experience, an interesting, creative, or otherwise enjoyable battle system can make or break an RPG.
There's certainly a diversity of unique styles - from strategic turn-based battles to thrilling action-based hack-fests to intricate magic systems. While many RPGs adhere to more traditional combat, a number have truly excelled in creating an interesting, satisfying experience for the player, keeping them engaged and coming back for more.
So let's grab our swords and conjure our spells as we take a look at the ten best, most inventive battle systems in RPGs.
10 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age
Square Enix's latest Dragon Quest epic serves as a perfect blend of the innovative and familiar when it comes to its intuitive combat. On the one hand, the game adheres to a pretty strict and palatable turn-based system.
At the same time, there's enough variety and tactical elements that the game rarely gets old, despite the frequency of fights. The inclusion of various preset tactics (like emphasizing healing) in addition to enhancing "pep powers" allows you to mix things up a bit.
The game also steers clear from more archaic tropes that tend to bog down some older JRPGs, thanks to DQXI ditching random encounters and allowing for movement in a 3D space when engaged. These inclusions create a more freeing, dynamic experience that feels both classic and modern.
9 Secret Of Mana
There are few games that manage to merge exciting, easy-to-grasp combat with a sense of depth like Secret of Mana. This majestic ARPG boils things down to a fast-paced free-flowing battle mechanic that's endlessly fun to take part in. The real-time combat feels super satisfying with its swiftness and tactical nature.
On the flipside, there is plenty going on to keep you on your toes and planning your next move. Not only can your weapons be charged to produce more impactful hits, but your companions can also bust out various elemental powers which can greatly alter the outcome of battles. It's largely an exciting cat and mouse game as you must study the patterns of baddies and react accordingly.
8 Tales Of Destiny
The Tales series has typically been known for its fast-paced, enjoyable combat which feels as much like Super Smash Bros. as it does a JRPG, perhaps even moreso. Yet, ToD is particularly groundbreaking in its pioneering the ability to allow for up to 4 players to take on action-packed battles, besting Secret of Mana's 3.
While future Tales games would up the ante in terms of visual flair, this entry has a particularly satisfying battle system that never gets too overwhelming, despite its myriad of awesome spells and rewarding combo system.
7 Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Star Ocean is often praised as a very underrated series, thanks in part to its imaginative and enriching sci-fi themes and narratives. Yet, it's also known for its epic, chaotic battle system - and we mean "chaotic" in the best way possible.
The Last Hope, the fourth installment in this renowned JRPG series, particularly tosses all sorts of elements at you simultaneously, keeping you on the edge of your seat. You've got a party of up to 4 heroes fighting in a 3D arena in real-time, and the game offers an impressive amount of freedom and versatility in what you can pull off. The plethora of satisfying moves, heart-pumping action, and a neat system of bonuses round out one of the most enjoyable battle systems in RPGs.
6 Octopath Traveler
Much like with Dragon Quest XI, Square Enix has excelled in running with a more traditional turn-based system when it comes to Octopath Traveler, while adding some inventive twists to keep things interesting. This charming retro-themed JRPG embeds elements of strategy to a seemingly binary system of combat. This is thanks to its display of enemy weakness, giving you a chance to exploit them and break their defenses, stunning them.
You've also got a vast array of character classes to play with, each holding their own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Even more satisfying, though, is the unique Boost system, which allows you to stockpile boost points that can be unleashed later, enhancing your attacks.
5 Super Mario RPG
In yet another example of a great turn-based mechanic, Super Mario RPG leans on the simple, yet crisp and satisfying system of timed hits, which beef up the potency of your attacks and special moves. It's a subtle inclusion, but an effective one, as it adds a sense of tactility and feels a bit like a minigame within a game.
Few things are more enjoyable than notching a perfectly timed Lazy Shell kick, or hopping on the head of an enemy several times in a row by hitting rhythmically-timed jumps with Mario.
4 Resonance Of Fate
Similar to the likes of Mass Effect and the more modern Fallout games by Bethesda, the underrated Resonance of Fate fuses thrilling gunfights with methodical RPG combat. Though this game is particularly distinct in its nice blend of tactics and action, settling on a combo of real-time and turn-based mechanics throughout.
The action is free-flowing and the stylish character stunts are fun to watch, but there's also an impressive palette of strategic moves at your disposal, limited only by your "action points." As a result of this innovative system, there's rarely a dull moment to be had as you fire away and perform insane, acrobatic moves against foes.
3 Final Fantasy VII
This timeless RPG classic adheres to a system of combat that seems rather standard at first glance - especially compared to the neat, flashy battles of, say, FFX. Yet, this gem holds a"coup de gras" that makes for an interesting and rewarding mechanic.
Final Fantasy VII's system of "Materia" provides a ton of versatility and adds a degree of tactility to the combat. With these magic items, you can customize your gear by slotting them into weapons and armor as you progress. This offers a vast array of potential effects and conditions during your battles, and allows you to focus on enhancing your stats in different areas.
2 Xenoblade Chronicles 2
You could say the original Xenoblade certainly pushed some boundaries in its own way, given the depth of its unique combat. Yet, this Switch sequel improved on this dynamic system by ramping up the pacing and adding some accessibility, while somehow making it even more in-depth.
There is just so much going on in this system of combat, to the point where you'll still be picking up subtle strategies and learning new features several hours into the game. Much of the enjoyment comes from the constant free-flowing action largely based around elemental advantages, coupling attacks, and timed hits.
Though the crux of the depth has to be the "Blade" system; a cool sort of conceptual blend of Pokémon, in-game weapons, and magical abilities. These can be mixed and matched according to your style and the enemies you're facing. If you're willing to learn Xenoblade 2's distinct, intricate system, this is one of the most fun RPG battle systems you'll experience.
1 Grandia II
While our previous entry is nearly unmatched in terms of entertaining, interesting combat systems, it can get a tad convoluted at times. The Grandia series manages to nail that same thrilling, rewarding action-based combat, while still injecting tactical elements that aren't overwhelming.
This sequel to the Saturn RPG particularly shines with its more dynamic, refined version of the original.
The enjoyment in Grandia II's inventive battle system lies in its emphasis on the combatant's position on an "action bar" in the lower right screen, which clearly illustrates who engages next. The goal, in a nutshell, is to disrupt the enemy's progress by targetting the foe whose icon sits closest to the right side of the bar, as a successful hit will knock them back. It's fairly straightforward, but immensely entertaining.