Thanks to the Fire Emblem series gaining mainstream popularity, tactical/strategy RPGs are finally gaining the appreciation they deserve. The genre has been around a long time with Fire Emblem itself being nearly 30 years old. It’s a genre that plays and feels like a combination of tabletop RPG and chess. Beginning on 8-bit systems with games like Ultima III: Exodus and Koei's The Dragon and the Princess in the early 1980s.
Yet, despite not becoming a major hit outside of Japan it was Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series that set the standard for turn-based tactical RPGs. It isn't the only series one should try in the genre, however, there are many other great tactics titles wanted to be played. Here are ten that should be on every SRPG fan's to-play list now.
10 Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
On the surface, a crossover game starring the Mario Bros. And the Raving Rabbids may seem like a strange choice for tactics game but Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle made this work brilliantly. In addition, lead producer Xavier Manzanares stated in an interview with Usgamer that Intelligent System’s Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series was an inspiration for Mario + Rabbids.
Of course, being a game based within the Mario universe one can’t expect it to be a game with a deep and involved story. However, with varied maps, a great soundtrack, and a fun multiplayer mode Mario + Rabbids is another great tactics title on the Nintendo Switch.
9 Eternal Poison
Eternal Poison was developed by RPG masters Atlus and released toward the end of the PlayStation 2’s life cycle. It’s a tactical RPG that went very much under the radar because of a limited release and some reviewer couldn't get past its brutal difficulty.
However, gamers with enough patience will find this Gothic fantasy SRPG perfect for those that enjoy the highest difficulty settings in Fire Emblem.
Eternal Poison features multiple paths and playthroughs in order to see everything and there’s an incredible amount of depth in the story. Like Fire Emblem all executed attacks on the grid-based battlefield have a corresponding cutscene. In addition, players need to make sure their characters are always busy in combat in order to level up as there’s no grinding or do-overs.
8 The XCom Series
Unlike the Fire Emblem series, XCom isn’t inspired by anime and it isn’t set in a Tolkienesque medieval universe. The game's setting is a near-future post-apocalyptic world where aliens have invaded the earth.
However, fans of the Fire Emblem series and tactical RPGs, in general, will feel right at home. It’s a turn-based strategy game where the stakes are incredibly high and the player will lose characters that they have become attached to in battle. Additionally, the characters are player-created with customizable biographies and backstories. As a result, connections to their characters and their loss on the battlefield seem more personal if and when they happen.
7 The Advance Wars Series
Developed by Intelligent Systems, Advance Wars is seen as a sister series to Fire Emblem due to their similarities in gameplay mechanics. However, Advance Wars is a pure strategy game without the JRPG style drama and character growth systems.
The storylines in the Advance Wars games may not be as deep but they’re enjoyable in their own right. More importantly, the tactical gameplay is incredibly addictive and whether playing the Game Boy Advance or DS iterations gamers will be glued to their screens for hours.
6 The Valkyria Chronicles Series
At first glance, Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles series may not look like it would share much of a resemblance to the Fire Emblem series. While it’s still a turn-based strategy this title doesn’t use a traditional grid-based system. In addition, the series mixes in real-time aiming and third-person movement and a beautiful and timeless art style.
What Valkyria Chronicles shares in common with Fire Emblem are its character interactions and development, the class systems, and a permadeath feature. With a heartfelt and emotional story taking place in an alternate universe, First World War setting Fire Emblem fans will love what has been one of the best SRPGs in the last two generations.
5 The Growlanser Series
The Growlanser series like Valkyria Chronicles plays quite differently to strategy games that employ a grid-based combat system. It is still at its heart a turn-based tactics game where the player is issuing commands to their warriors on the fly in a similar manner to the Active Time Battle system in Final Fantasy.
Fire Emblem fans will also enjoy the dating sim elements where player choices will have a direct or indirect impact on character relationships. These relationships will also have an effect on the game’s cutscenes, story choices, and endings. Despite some differences to standard SRPGs, fans will feel right at home with the Growlanser series.
4 Fell Seal: Arbiters Mark
Developed by 6 Eyes Studio Fell Seal: Arbiters mark was successfully funded by a Kickstarter project and openly uses the likes of Final Fantasy: Tactics and Tactics Ogre as its primary inspirations. Additionally, anyone familiar with Konami’s Vandal Hearts series will feel right at home with this title too.
Fell Seal has a superbly written and mature story with excellent characters. The character class options are incredibly layered, deep, and like Fire Emblem immediately accessible. The game’s available on the Switch, Xbox, PS4, and PC and is a must-have for SRPG fans.
3 Vandal Hearts
In many ways, Konami’s Vandal Hearts – released for PS1 – is like an entry-level tactical RPG especially compared to the likes of Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy: Tactics, and indeed Fire Emblem. Even they play similarly using a grid-based combat system, there’s very little in the way of grinding and there’s no branching storyline.
What is special about Vandal Hearts though, is the dark storyline rivaling the quality of writing seen in Konami’s Suikoden RPG series albeit on a much smaller scale. In addition, there’s an element of rock, paper, scissors to the character classes too. For example, airmen beat knights, archers beat airmen and knights beat archers. It's sequel Vandal Hearts II also has a good dark storyline with standout characters but the gameplay is less accessible.
2 The Banner Saga Trilogy
Like Fell Seal: Arbiters Mark, The Banner Saga was a Kickstarter success story that harkens back to the turn-based tactical RPGs of yesteryear. The story of The Banner Saga spans three games and is set a Norse mythology-based fantasy where humans and giants unite against an ancient evil known as the Dredge.
Similarly to Fire Emblem, the choices players make throughout the game are vastly important and there’s the potential for losing a character permanently if a battle is lost. In addition, the story is told through beautifully animated cutscenes that resemble Disney's Sleeping Beauty, and the stunning Ralph Bakshi animated classics like Fire and Ice and the 1978 Lord of the Rings movie. All three games can be picked up together on disc or as part of the Xbox Game Pass.
1 Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Where games like Vandal Hearts and Mario + Rabbids are a simplistic and easy starting point in the tactics genre, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the complete opposite end of that spectrum. It’s a seriously deep, intricate and time-intensive game but it’s an incredibly rewarding one too.
Every decision (chaos, law, and neutral) made in the politically motived story will have consequences and its impact on plot and gameplay is meaningful. Additionally, Fire Emblem fans will love the endless customization options, character class systems, and abilities. There’s a huge amount of depth and flexibility, and perhaps more than any other SRPG available, players can experiment with everything the game has to offer to suit their needs.