Turn-based RPGs are a sub-genre of RPG where gameplay is conducted in turns (player turns, certainly, and sometimes also enemy turns). I’m mostly familiar with the single-player kind you play on a computer (browser games or video games) but I believe the mechanic has its origins in (usually multiplayer) tabletop RPGs. The subgenre forms absolutely one of my favourite types of games to play, with some caveats (I don’t like every game in the genre just because I like the genre, and there are some pitfalls I think are very common within it, like excessive complexity and not introducing this complexity gradually but dumping it all on the player turn 0).
When I started playing turn-based RPGs, it was largely out of necessity: when I was a kid we didn’t have any gaming consoles and only Linux computers, so I was pretty much restricted to browser games (or the FOSS games in Fedora’s repositories). Neopets actually had a couple of turn-based RPGs in their site – NeoQuest and NeoQuest II – that I’m pretty sure were my first exposure to the genre (and of course I soaked them up 😂). When I was a little older I came across Kingdom of Loathing, which I still keep coming back to as probably having the best replayability (and one of the best combat systems) of any turn-based RPG I know.
Towards the end of the 2010s I was able to play a bunch more turn-based RPGs, once I realised how much more viable gaming on Linux is these days. Some of the ones I’d highlight (because I really enjoyed them) would be West of Loathing, Earthlock, Signs of the Sojourner, and SteamWorld Quest. There are also a few fun ones made with the RPG Maker software – like Heartbeat, Skyborn and Echoes of Aetheria – which are full of charm despite some jank that seems to be inherent to that engine. There are some subsubgenres within turn-based RPGs, of course, like tactical RPGs (where your characters’, and their enemies’, placements on terrain matter) and deckbuilders (where your skills are cards that have to be drawn from a deck in order for you to play them). And there are some that are roguelikes as well as turn-based RPGs, which I have mixed feelings about. Generally I find it frustrating to just die over and over again – I wouldn’t say I enjoy difficult games. But the aspect where you do runs and there’s variety between them, and you can mix things up with different playstyles or whatever, that part appeals.
These days, action RPGs are a way more popular genre among game studios than turn-based RPGs are. I don’t play those, because I have a disability that gives me limited mobility in my right hand, and so I can’t operate a controller, or rest fingers on enough damn keys on my keyboard (or have one hand on keyboard and the other on mouse), in order to play those kind of games where time-sensitive finger movements from both hands at once are required. This is even though there are loads of action RPGs that I’d love to play if I could! Basically, that subgenre is not accessible to me, while turn-based RPGs are.
At the text-based end of the turn-based RPG spectrum, this genre shades into interactive fiction, which I also find pretty enjoyable.
Blog Posts On This Topic
- Thoughts on Turn-Based RPGs (a lot of this wiki page is derived from that post)