4 years ago I was beginning to tire of videogames. I felt like once you'd played one Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed you'd played them all. For me, games had gotten stale. I tried switching things up. Started playing more RPGs but you can only go on a quest to save the world with a bunch of other young two dimensional characters so many times. I tried playing more platformers but after a few Mario and Kirby clones, I lost interest. I switched to strategy games and that finally hit the spot but there just aren't a lot of good strategy games releasing in a year. You get a Civilization or StarCraft once and a while but after that it kinda goes dry.
Thats when I started using emulators. A friend of mine suggested I try out some GameBoy Advance games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. At first, I thought these couldn't possibly hold my interest. These games were 10 years old (at the time) and on a portable system (which I thought of as inferior as far as gaming devices go). I'm so glad I was wrong. Soon after, I got a PSP and played masterpieces like Final Fantasy Tactics, Jeanne D'Arc and Tactics Ogre. For the first time in a long time, I was in gaming bliss!
Maybe in the current drought of good games to play, you are feeling like I did back then? Maybe all you see is remasters of old games you liked and not anything especially new or exciting? I'm here to say sit down and try some Fire Emblem. It might just renew your love for gaming. Over the last few years I have played so many Strategy RPGs and, while I'm not an expert on the matter, I thought it would be a good time to lay down the best 10 SRPGs that I've ever played as a guide to others. So here we go...
#10 Jeanne D'Arc (PSP)
Developed by the illustrious RPG studio Level 5, his little gem is largely forgotten and that's a damn shame. It tells an alternate version of the real life historical figure Joan of Arc but mixes it up with demons controlling the British Royalty. It's plot is okay but the gameplay is where the game really shines. I love the layout of overworld of France and the anime cutscenes are pretty well done. More people need to be talking about this game.
#9 Shining Force II (Genesis/Mega Drive)
I was tempted to put the whole Shining Force saga on here but I feel that Shining Force II is the pinnacle of the series. Its worth mentioning that SF is the first SRPG released in the west but don't let the old Genesis graphics fool you, this game has serious depth and some of the levels are simply genius (the laser eye bridge battle in the first SF game comes to mind). But this game makes up for its graphical presentation with endearing characters and excellent gameplay. Just do yourself a favor and play through the whole series (starting with the GBA remake of SF1.)
#8 Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
The game that saved the franchise. Fire Emblem was due for the chopping block and if it wasn't for the explosive sales of this entry in the famous Fire Emblem series, there would not be a Fire Emblem Fates for us SRPG fans to play right now. While the game gets high praise from many, I feel it has several issues that make it inferior to previous entries in the series. The story is somewhat bland and the character classes are badly imbalanced. Still a fantastic game and totally sold me on the 3DS.
#7 XCOM Enemy Unknown (PC/360/PS3/iOS/Android)
Whats this? A western developed SRPG? To be fair, its more of a strategy title but it has many RPG elements like character leveling (ranking in this case). Developed by Firaxis Games and released in 2012, I quickly became a hardcore fan of the series. While the modern XCOM is more streamlined and accessible, the older games are far more difficult and darkly challenging. The story is almost an afterthought here: aliens are invading - stop them. The tactical depth and customization of this game deserves tremendous praise. Best played on PC, FYI.
#6 Advance Wars: Dual Strike (DS)
Another series I was tempted to just put the whole saga on this list. Made by the same studio that makes Fire Emblem, Advance Wars is more of a straight strategy game than a SRPG. But the story telling and charming characters will win you over in no time. Dual Strike is the pinnacle of the series but all 4 games are worth your money and time. Unfortunately the success of Fire Emblem has had an adverse effect and seemingly cancelled this franchise. The 4th game tried to reboot the series and ended up badly dividing the fan base. (I still loved it though!)
#5 Vandal Hearts (PS1)
Recommended to me by an old friend and retrogamer, this one turned out to be way better than I expected. I have yet to play the sequels but the first Vandal Hearts is a genuine masterpiece with a tragic story and sharp and expressive 2D sprites. I love how archers can completely own the battlefield if you can get them up on a hilltop. The strategical depth of this game and gruesome bloody kills sets this game in a class all by itself. Konami really shouldn't have let this franchise die but I guess you could say the same for EVERY Konami franchise at this point lol... :'(
#4 Fire Emblem AKA Fire Emblem Blazing Sword (GBA)
The first Fire Emblem game to come to the west (7th in chronology) and the first one I played. Holy Moley is this game amazing. From the excellent 2D sprite art to the trinity of awesome lead characters, this game is a must play for EVERY SRPG fan. Do whatever it takes, buy it if you can, emulate it if you must, but PLAY THIS GAME! I don't want to spoil anything so I won't say much. Just know that for the longest time, this was my favorite in the series.
#3 Valkyria Chronicles (PS3, PC, PS4 soon)
After Sega left the Shining Force saga to whither and die they decided to try starting a new SRPG franchise during the 7th generation. Valkyria Chronicles is like a mashup of Shining Force and an alternate WWII 3rd person shooter. This was the game that sold me on the PS3 and I don't regret my purchase in the slightest. The watercolor style graphics and awesome story make this game a must play for every SRPG fan and if you haven't played it yet, you'll get your chance when the HD remake arrives on PS4 on May 17th. I bought it on PS3, I bought it on Steam and I'll buy it again on PS4. Such is the awesome power of this masterpiece.
#2 Fire Emblem Path of Radiance (GCN)
And now we come to the greatest Fire Emblem game of them all. The absolute pinnacle of the series. The story of Ike and his band of mercenaries struck a chord with me that no Fire Emblem game has before. Perhaps its because Ike is not a "Lord" like most FE protagonists but just a commoner who is pulled into a massive conflict that's way above his pay grade. Maybe it's characters like the selfish mage Soren or the games' handling of themes like racism that made me care. Or maybe it's the villains like the badass Black Knight or the evil king of Daein that made me root for the heroes all the more. Whatever it was, the story mattered to me and the gameplay was no slouch either boasting a strong but fair difficulty and plenty of secrets. Yes, the sequel screwed things up but that doesn't make the original any less awesome. If ever a game needed an HD remake, this is it. The game commands ridiculous prices online (over $100!) but don't let that stop you. Find a way to play this game. You won't regret it.
Before I get to #1, here are some honorable mentions:
Honorable Mentions: Shining Force III trilogy (Saturn)
As I said before, the entire Shining Force series should be on this list but in the interest of diversity I picked only the best one to be here but that shouldn't stop you from playing this trilogy of SRPGs known collectively as SF III. Only the 1st game was released in the west but thank heaven for fan translations! This website has you covered: http://sf3trans.shiningforc...
Honorable Mentions: XCOM 2 (PC)
Just released last month with way too many crippling bugs and glitches, XCOM 2 is a diamond in the rough. Hopefully things can be smoothed out (and console versions released) so that more people can play this amazing sequel.
Honorable Mentions: Fire Emblem The Sacred Stones (GBA)
I thought 3 games in the FE series was enough for a top 10 list but still this game deserves your attention. Its shorter than FE7 and harder to come by in the wild but there's something about that 2D sprite work that keeps me coming back. Worth your time.
#1 Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PS1, PSP, iOS, Android)
This was the game that saved my love of gaming. Not only is this the greatest SRPG I've ever played but its also the best Final Fantasy I've ever played. That isn't to say that this game is perfect. Far from it. You can totally break this game with its unbalanced classes but somehow that makes the game even more fun not less. The story is pure Game of Thrones before GoT was even a thing (well... the first book was out but it wasn't well known yet). The gameplay is extremely addictive with the job system from Final Fantasy providing more depth than most SRPGs ever see. There's just too much to say about this game but that would be time you could use actually playing it! The PSP re-release is the one to buy though with its refined translation, extra jobs and characters and gorgeous cut scenes. I make it a point to replay this game every year. Do whatever you have to do. Let this game be a part of your life and you will not regret it.
That's it for this blog. What are your favorite Strategy RPGs? I know I still have a few to try like Disgaea and Codename S.T.E.A.M. Let me know in the comments below and thanks for reading!