One Gamer’s Perspective: Has the age of turn-based RPGs come and gone?

With the release of Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) this past November, we’ve come to see another evolutionary step within the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) genre. Japanese role playing games are often very stylized, thus easy to pick out from a crowd; usually having a spiky haired and emotional protagonist with a big sword on an epic quest with a bunch of companions. These tropes of JRPGS are often associated with the core concept of turn-based RPGs. This style of game usually revolves around the player and the game each taking turns attacking, defending, summoning or healing themselves or their teammates.  Final Fantasy used to be the king of turn-based RPGs in the gaming industry’s teenage years, but even the adventure fantasy giant has changed the way they want to play.

Now that we’ve been thoroughly engrossed in three-dimensional gaming, the turn-based style of RPGs have faded in obscurity, to say the least. It wasn’t always this way. The turn-based RPG used to be one of the most popular and celebrated genres in gaming back in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, when graphics and console horsepower could only handle semi-still animated character sprites and models. Now that gaming has nearly matched a level of pseudo-realism in terms of graphics and appearance, the genre is no longer the force it once was, with RPGs favouring to opt into an action/strategy RPG hybrid. To be fair, I’m not trying to bash on contemporary RPGs for their style and direction. I just want to be able to have my cake, and eat it too!

The platforming genre went through a mild renaissance these past few years with a ton of amazing side-scrolling platformers hitting Wii U and Steam, while also seeing the generation give birth to great 3D platformers across all mediums. Some could say that the platforming genre is right there with the RPGs and arcade-puzzle games that really started the video game resurgence in 1987. My point here is that I recognize that genres and styles evolve and change with gamer interests and new technology, but why can’t there be both? It’s clearly been done before!

Nowadays, I find it difficult to name more than just a few franchises that have and are continuing to invest in the turn-based RPG genre. Some examples include the Persona series, the South Park next-gen games, and the obvious Pokémon series. There are various off-shoots of the original formula, like Fire Emblem, and X-COM where the strategic element is a core principle to the game’s style of play, and Ubisoft’s Child of Light, where over-world action elements are critical.

It seems so long ago that turn-based RPGs used to rule the industry. Games like Chrono Trigger, Xenogear, , Dragon Quest, Paper Mario, Secret of Mana, Golden Sun, Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, were all at one point considered to be masterpieces of their craft and templates for games to come. (Keep in mind I didn’t mention a single Pokémon or Final Fantasy game in that list…)

We have some games now expanding on that genre and adding new things to it, since we have had so many great games to look back at with inspiration, but I was always told that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. So at what point did we look at the genre and label it ‘broken’? Ultimately, I wanted to ask where all the turn-based RPGs went, but it might not be quite that simple.

Aside from technical advancements, which are certainly a contributing factor in the change of artistic direction with the genre, I believe that at its height, the turn-based RPG’s popularity is what ultimately soiled its future, and not some mortal flaw in particular.  During its hay-day, the genre was so over saturated that there was very little chance for every game to be unique or truly great; gamers saw that there was so many titles on the shelves of their local video store that they couldn’t decipher which games were good and which games were bad. This is just a theory, but wouldn’t that hurt sales for those games in general? I realize that it’s never a good idea to paint with broad strokes in discussions like this, but if you look at any of the games I listed above, you can find a quick turn-around of sequels that followed in the wake of their original success. It wasn’t just knock-offs or market capitalizers that soiled gamers on the genre, but the recognizable staples that we all know today. I truly believe that it isn’t much of a stretch to wonder if the genre got too close to the sun, and had its candle wax wings slowly melt away from the exposure.

As I said earlier, I love the RPG genre as a whole, I really do. If I didn’t I wouldn’t make a post this long detailing a seemingly non-issue. We have so many great games to play and celebrate today, with different ideas and innovations being introduced each time. Today, I can pick from a variety of different games within different sub-genres of the RPG classification. I should be elated! Yet, the greedy gamer in me wants to see a return to form to what made the genre so great in the first place.

Please feel free to let me know in the comments what some of your favourite turn-based RPGs are, or just RPGs in general. I’d love to hear some classic discourse from fellow lovers of the medium! So if you wanna pause your journey with Noctis in FFXV, and dust off your nostalgic buster sword, feel free to join in on the conversation!

Until next time, it’s been a slice!

– Chris Pie

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8 thoughts on “One Gamer’s Perspective: Has the age of turn-based RPGs come and gone?

  1. Good post! I completely agree and to be honest, the fact the FF15 was NOT a turn-based RPG was one of the biggest reasons I personally did not purchase it. I fell in love with the older Final Fantasy games like FF6 and 7 that were deep into the story, lore and TURN BASED RPG. There are already a lot of great action non-turn based rpg’s out there and the fact that in FF15 abandoned everything it made in the past 13 games (excluding the MMO) is saddening. There is a place for everything,

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  2. Today’s consumers are mirroring what today’s society has become; instantaneous. RPGs are now becoming a thing of the past, where consumers more and more are wanting instant gratification for their decisions instead of being patient with turn based games.

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  3. RPG turn based genre is leaving because the real time action games are more popular with better controls and gameplay and better animations.

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  4. Western and Eastern game developers often use different platforms for these types of games. You see Western turn based RPG’S like X-Com, original Fallout, Baldurs Gate, and Planescape Torment on the PC mostly on the computer as they are mostly isometric, while JRPGs are mostly on consoles as they have been and still are the dominant gaming platform in native Japan.

    That being said, Western turn base isn’t dead as a lot of recent titles have gone on to receive critical acclaim such as Pillars of Eternity, X-Com Enemy Unknown, and Divinity-Original Sin. Japanese turn based franchises still live on and in much more volume now, with Pokémon still selling double digit millions of copies on each of its main series duo of games, Megami Tensei and it’s myriad of spin offs (mainly Persona and Devil Survivor), and the various other Nintendo handheld turn based games like Mario and Luigi, and Fire Emblem.

    Turn based RPG’S aren’t dead, they just smell funny.

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  5. Rpgs arent about turns anymore, baby its all about the action. If I wanted to play a game where I let my opponent hit me Id play dodgeball because action is where its even when its taking relentless amount of balls to the face. Action in a story game only adds to making the experience easier to go and beat the game a much more enjoyable exploration, just look at transformers.

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  6. I would be curious to see how this effects the potential remake or new entry in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic RPG series. Maybe because of this change, it will never happen simply because there is a loss of interest in the turn based RPG.

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  7. I honestly feel bad for this up coming generation thay will never be able to reminisce on the nostalgia of booting up the gameboy and sinking hours into an RPG game like Pokémon. New technology has seemingly pushed the old aside and brought in faster paced, more colourful games thay sometimes lack the depth of what we experienced as kids.

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  8. Good post. While I do love JRPGs that typically do away with turn based gameplay (like the Tales series) it doesn’t mean I’d like to see menu battles done away with altogether. I mean, these days I still get my fix of that with Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Bravely Second and Persona, but it is part of the reason why I wasn’t so keen on jumping into FFXV. :/

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