|Tactical role-playing video games|
Tactical role-playing video games (abbreviated as Tactical RPGs; sometimes referred to as Strategy RPGs, or SRPG) are video games which incorporate elements of traditional computer or console role-playing games and strategy games. In Japan, these games are known as "Simulation RPGs" (シミュレーションロールプレイングゲーム), a designation which might seem peculiar to native English speakers. This stems from the Japanese usage of "simulation" as a short hand for "strategy simulation game". Further, in Japan, the term TRPG refers exclusively to tabletop role-playing games.
This sub-genre of role-playing game principally refers to games which incorporate elements from strategy games as an alternative to traditional role-playing game (RPG) systems. Like standard RPGs, the player controls a finite party and battles a similar number of enemies. And like other RPGs, death is usually temporary. But this genre incorporates strategic gameplay such as tactical movement on an isometric grid. Unlike other video game genres, tactical RPGs tend not to feature multiplayer play.
A distinct difference between tactical RPGs and traditional RPGs is the lack of exploration. For instance, Final Fantasy Tactics does away with the typical third-person exploration to towns and dungeons that are typical in a Final Fantasy game. Instead of exploration, there is an emphasis on battle strategy. Players are able to build and train characters to use in battle, utilizing different classes, including warriors and magic users, depending on the game. Characters gain experience points from battle and grow stronger and games like Final Fantasy Tactics award characters secondary experience points which can be used to advance in specific character classes. Battles will have specific winning conditions, such as defeating all the enemies on the map, that the player must accomplish before the next map will become available. In between battles, players can access their characters to equip them, change classes, train them, depending on the game.
A number of early role-playing games used a highly tactical form of combat, most notably The Dragon and Princess (1982), Ultima III: Exodus (1983) and Bokosuka Wars (1983), which featured early use of party-based, tiled combat.
Tactical RPGs are descendants of traditional strategy games, such as chess, and table-top role-playing and war games, such as Chainmail, which were mainly tactical in their original form. The format of a tactical RPG video game is also like a traditional RPG in its appearance, pacing and rule structure. Likewise, early table-top strategy wargames like Chainmail are descended from skirmish wargames, which were primarily concerned with combat.
Japan's earliest RPGs were released by Koei, the first being The Dragon and Princess (ドラゴン＆プリンセス) for the PC-8001 in 1982. It featured adventure game elements and revolved around rescuing a kidnapped princess. One of its most interesting features was its combat system: Following a random encounter, the game transitions from a text adventure interface to a separate battle screen, where a tactical turn-based combat system is used, a year before Ultima III: Exodus.  Later in 1983, Koei noted that the game's hybrid adventure-strategy-RPG gameplay arose because there was uncertainty at the time over what a "true" RPG was.  This early hybrid attempt in turn laid the foundations for the strategy RPG genre.
Bokosuka Wars, a computer game developed by Koji Sumii for the Sharp X1 computer in 1983 and ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console by ASCII in 1985, was also responsible for laying the foundations for the tactical RPG genre, or "simulation RPG" genre as it is known in Japan, with its blend of role-playing and strategy game elements. The game revolves around a king who must recruit soldiers and lead his army against overwhelming enemy forces, while each unit gains experience and levels up along the way. It is also considered to be an early prototype real-time strategy game. Another notable early example released in 1983 was the Koei game Nobunaga's Ambition, which featured a blend of role-playing, turn-based grand strategy, tactical turn-based combat (using hex grids), and management simulation elements, a trend that continued with its sequels and other Koei games such as 1989's Bandit Kings of Ancient China as well as the Capcom game Destiny of an Emperor released that same year.
Another notable early example of the genre was Kure Software Koubou's 1988 NEC PC-88 strategy RPG, Silver Ghost, which was cited by Camelot Software Planning's Hiroyuki Takahashi as inspiration for the Shining series of tactical RPGs. According to Takahashi, Silver Ghost was "a simulation action type of game where you had to direct, oversee and command multiple characters." Unlike later tactical RPGs, however, Silver Ghost was not turn-based, but instead used real-time strategy and action role-playing game elements. It also featured a point-and-click interface, to control the characters using a cursor. A similar game released by Kure Software Koubo that same year was First Queen, a unique hybrid between a real-time strategy, action RPG, and strategy RPG. Like an RPG, the player can explore the world, purchase items, and level up, and like a strategy video game, it focuses on recruiting soldiers and fighting against large armies rather than small parties. The game's "Gochyakyara" ("Multiple Characters") system let the player control one character at a time while the others are controlled by computer AI that follow the leader, and where battles are large-scale with characters sometimes filling an entire screen.
However, the genre did not become prolific until Nintendo released and published the game that set the template for tactical wargame RPGs, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi, created and developed by Intelligent Systems for the NES. Released in Japan in 1990, Fire Emblem was an archetype for the whole genre, establishing gameplay elements that are still used in tactical RPGs today, though some of these elements were influenced by earlier RPGs and strategy games. Combining the basic concepts from games like Dragon Quest and simple turn-based strategy elements, Nintendo created a hit, which spawned many sequels and imitators. It introduced unique features such as how the characters were not interchangeable pawns but each of them were unique, in terms of both class and stats, and how a character who runs out of hit points would usually remain dead forever. The latter mechanic was used to introduce a non-linear storyline to the genre, where different multiple endings are possible depending on which characters are alive or dead, a concept still used in recent games such as Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, and Final Promise Story. The highly tactical turn-based combat of Fire Emblem is also similar in many ways to the combat in the later third and fourth editions]] of Dungeons & Dragons released in the 2000s, right down to the support for permanent character death, though Fire Emblem is more realistic, as magic users and magical weapons are rare while most opponents are human characters rather than monsters. However, it was not until the release of Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken for the Game Boy Advance, many years later, that the Fire Emblem series was introduced to Western gamers, who until then were more familiar with other tactical RPGs influenced by Fire Emblem, including the Shining and Ogre series, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Nippon Ichi games like Disgaea.
During the 16-bit era, among the first imitators was Langrisser by NCS/Masaya, first released for the Mega Drive / Genesis in 1991. It was translated for North American release and retitled Warsong. The Langrisser series differed from Fire Emblem in that it used a general-soldier structure instead of controlling main characters. Langrisser, too, spawned many sequels, none of which were brought to North America. Langrisser set itself apart from other tactical RPGs in its time with larger-scale battles, where the player could control over thirty units at one time and fight against scores of enemies. Since Der Langrisser in 1994, the series offered non-linear branching paths and multiple endings. The player's choices and actions affected which of four different paths they followed, either aligning themselves with one of three different factions or fighting against all of them. Each of the four paths leads to a different ending and there are over 75 possible scenarios. Langrisser III introduced a relationship system similar to dating sims. Depending on the player's choices and actions, the feelings of the female allies will change towards the player character, who will end up with the female ally he is closest with.
Master of Monsters was a unique title by SystemSoft. Where Langrisser and Fire Emblem used a square-based grid, Master of Monsters used a hexagonal grid. Players could choose one of four different Lords to defend their Towers and areas on the grid by building an army of creatures to destroy the opposing armies. This game had a sequel for the PlayStation called Master of Monsters: Disciples of Gaia, which had limited success and was criticized for its slow gameplay.
The first game in the long-running Super Robot Wars series is another early example of the genre, initially released for the Game Boy in 1991. Another influential early tactical RPG was Sega's Shining Force for the Sega Genesis, which was released in 1992. Shining Force used even more console RPG elements than earlier games, allowing the player to walk around towns and talk to people and buy weapons. One game released solely in Japan for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Bahamut Lagoon, began Squaresoft's (now Square Enix) famous line of tactical RPGs.
Four games from the Ogre Battle series have been released in North America: Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen was released for the SNES and is more of a real-time strategy game in which the player forms computer role-playing game-like character parties that are moved around a map in real-time. When two parties meet, the combat plays out with minimal user interaction. A later release, Tactics Ogre, was originally a SNES game that was not released outside of Japan. It was later ported to the PlayStation, along with Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. Both of the PlayStation re-releases were marketed in North America by Atlus, as was Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber for the Nintendo 64.
Tactics Ogre's gameplay is more similar to the genre of tactical RPGs that Final Fantasy Tactics belongs to, complete with battles taking place on isometric grids. It was also the first to bear the name "Tactics" in the title, a term gamers would come to associate with the genre. Not only are characters moved individually on a grid, but the view is isometric, and the order of combat is calculated for each character individually. Although this game defined the genre in many ways, it is not widely recognized by American gamers because it was released to American audiences several years later. Final Fantasy Tactics shared some staff members with Tactics Ogre and shares many of its gameplay elements. A prequel to the original Tactics Ogre, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis was later released for the Game Boy Advance.
Vandal Hearts was an early PlayStation title that helped popularize tactical RPGs in the US. It was released by Konami and featured a 3D isometric map that could be rotated by the player. A sequel was subsequently released, also for the PlayStation, and Konami has announced a third title in development for the Nintendo DS. Final Fantasy Tactics was arguably the most responsible for bringing tactical RPGs to North America. Developed by former employees of Quest, the developer responsible for the Ogre Battle series, it combined many elements of the Final Fantasy series with Tactics Ogre-style gameplay.
A loyal American fan-base has been established by Nippon Ichi, makers of the popular PlayStation 2 games La Pucelle: Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Of these games, Disgaea has been the most successful to date, and was the second Nippon Ichi game released in North America (the first being Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, published by Atlus) even though La Pucelle was developed and released first in Japan. Throughout this generation, companies have recognized the large audience and popularity of these types of games, particularly Atlus and Nintendo. La Pucelle: Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, which Atlus re-released due to high demand, have become cult hits for the PlayStation 2.
It's also noteworthy to include one of the first 32-bit tactical RPGs, Guardian War, which was released in 1993 on the Panasonic 3DO. While the game lacked in story it included many game mechanics that are seen throughout all of the 32-bit tactical RPGs; like isometric camera rotation, interchangeable and hybridization of "jobs" or "classes" for each character, the combination of moves between characters, and the capture of NPCs and having them play on your side.
SEGA's Valkyria Chronicles (2008) for the PlayStation 3 utilizes the seventh-generation console processing power by using a distinctive anime/watercolor art style, as well as incorporating third-person shooter elements. After selecting a character in the overhead map view, the player manually controls him/her from a third person view. This mechanic allows for, among others: free movement to a certain range, manual aiming with extra damage for headshots, a limited cover system, and real-time hazards, such as interception fire and landmines. The game has been described as "the missing link between Final Fantasy Tactics and Full Spectrum Warrior."
Tactical RPGs on the PC
Many Western PC games have utilized this genre for years, as well. Differences include a tendency toward stronger military themes without many of the fantasy elements found in their console (and mainly Japanese) counterparts, as well as greater tactical detail and freedom when interacting with the surrounding environment. Notable examples include the Jagged Alliance and Silent Storm series, with many titles owing considerably to X-COM and its sequels. Outside of consoles, new tactical and squad-tactics games are few and far between, however.
Other examples include:
- Rebelstar (1984) and Laser Squad (1988) were precursors to X-COM created by the same developer, Julian Gollop. They did not, however, feature the (admittedly very minor) statistical character development and strategic map of the later series.
- Incubation: Time Is Running Out (1997), part of the Battle Isle series, was one of the first strategy titles to use fully 3D graphics and support hardware acceleration on the 3dfx Voodoo.
- Vantage Master is a series of tactical RPGs similar to Master of Monsters developed and published by Nihon Falcom for Windows beginning in 1997. The first game in the series was never released outside of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The latest game, VM Japan, was published in 2002.
- Gorky 17 (1999, a.k.a. Odium) is a tactical RPG by Polish developer Metropolis Software featuring elements from survival horror. It is also the first title in a series featuring the main character, Cole Sullivan. Later titles in the series were third-person shooters.
- Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (2001) is a spin-off of the Fallout series of CRPGs by Interplay Entertainment developed by Australian company Micro Forté. Included with the game was a table-top miniatures game based on the Fallout universe, called Fallout: Warfare.
- Shadow Watch (2000) is a video game adaptation of the Tom Clancy's Power Plays novel of the same name developed by Red Storm Entertainment. It has also been compared to X-COM, though it features a different action point system and is missing the latter game's upgradable units.
- Freedom Force (2002) and its sequel, Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich (2005) - both by Irrational Games - are some examples of tactical RPGs that are played in real-time instead of turns.
- Soldiers of Anarchy (2002) is a squad-based real-time tactics computer game by German developer Silver Style Entertainment. Gameplay involves squad tactics, vehicles and a wide variety of weapons and ammo.
- The UFO series of games, UFO: Aftermath, UFO: Aftershock and UFO: Afterlight, by Czech developer ALTAR Interactive are an X-COM-inspired series of games that feature real-time play.
- Paradise Cracked (2003) is a tactical RPG by Russian developer Game Factory Interactive. It received low scores from reviewers and critics.
- The Battle for Wesnoth (2005) is an open-source, multi-platform tactical RPG inspired by Master of Monsters and Warsong.
- Hammer & Sickle (2005) is a tactical RPG co-developed by Russian companies Novik & Co and Nival Interactive, and published by CDV. It is set in the Silent Storm universe and follows the events in the main series. It also utilizes the Silent Storm engine.
- Night Watch (2006) and its sequel, Day Watch (2007), by Russian company Nival Interactive and utilizing Nival's Silent Storm engine, are based on the Russian novels and films of the same name.
- Brigade E5: New Jagged Union (2006) is a real-time title by Russian developer Apeiron that bears strong resemblance to Jagged Alliance 2. It incorporates an innovative real-time/turn based hybrid system the company calls "Smart Pause Mode" in an attempt to add further realism to the genre. A sequel, simply titled 7.62, was released in 2007.
- UFO: Extraterrestrials (2007) is another X-COM-inspired tactical game, this time by Czech developer Chaos Concept. It received very mixed reviews.
- Project Xenocide and UFO: Alien Invasion (UFO: Alien Invasion is currently in development) are modern, open source homages to X-COM.
Other games feature similar mechanics, but typically belong in other genres. Tactical wargames such as the Steel Panthers series (1995–2006) sometimes combine tactical military combat with RPG-derived unit advancement. Avalon Hill's Squad Leader (2000), a man-to-man wargame utilizing the Soldiers at War engine, has also been compared (unfavorably) to X-COM and Jagged Alliance.
Some CRPGs, such as parts of the Ultima series; Wizard's Crown (1985) and The Eternal Dagger (1987); Pyrrhic Tales: Prelude to Darkness (2002); the Exile (1995–1997), Nethergate (1998–2007), Avernum (2000–2009) and Geneforge (2001–2009) series by Spiderweb Software; and the Gold Box games of the late '80s and early '90s (many of which were later ported to Japanese video game systems); also featured a heavy form of tactical combat. The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003) hearkens back to tactical RPGs' table-top roots by implementing the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition ruleset.
Tir-nan-óg (beginning in 1984) is a series of role-playing video games that premièred in Japan on the PC98 and later released for Windows. The latest title in the series is also being released for the PlayStation 2 and PSP. The X-COM series also possesses a strategic layer, complete with strategic map and research tree. Knights in the Nightmare (2009) combines elements of traditional tactical RPGs with bullet hell–style shoot 'em up gameplay. Heroes of Jin Yong (1996) is a Taiwanese role-playing game based on the popular historical novels by Jin Yong featuring a number of melee and ranged kung fu skills to train and develop, as well as a grid-based movement system.
Massively multi-player online gaming
Several MMOs have combined multi-player online gaming with tactical turn-based combat. Examples include, Dofus (2005), The Continuum (2008), and the Russian game Total Influence (2009?). Tactica Online was a planned MMORPG that would have featured tactical combat, had development not been cancelled. Strugarden is a Japan/Korea-exclusive 3D MMORPG which uniquely employs separate movement and attack rounds. Gunrox (2008) and Poxnora (2006) are some other "new games on the block".
Many tactical RPGs can be both extremely time-consuming and extremely difficult. Hence, the appeal of most tactical RPGs is to hardcore, not casual, computer and video game players. Tactical RPGs are quite popular in Japan but have not enjoyed the same degree of success in North America. The audience for tactical RPGs has grown substantially after the mid-90s, and PS1 and PS2 titles including Suikoden Tactics, Vanguard Bandits, and Disgaea have enjoyed a surprising measure of popularity, as have hand-held war games including Fire Emblem. Older TRPGs are also being re-released via software emulation, such as on the Wii's Virtual Console. Japanese console games such as these are no longer nearly as rare a commodity in North America as they were during the 1990s.
Western tactical RPGs for the PC are less popular, however. Most western developers focus rather on developing real-time and turn-based strategy games, when developing PC games; and according to one developer, it is becoming increasingly difficult in recent years to develop tactical RPGs for the PC in the West. Several, however, have been developed in Eastern Europe with mixed results, such as Silent Storm.
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