Turn-based games I actually love

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PurpleShyGuy

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Edited By PurpleShyGuy

A whole three in fact!

Turn-based gameplay has certainly fallen from the limelight over the generations, and for me, my relationship with it has not always been favourable. I know that every genre has its good, mediocre and awful, but I always run into the same issues with turn-based games time and time again. One of those problems is the unbearable runtime, with Persona 5 being a great example of a game that you could easily cut in half and get a far more palatable experience. Instead, you are plagued by identical hallways, with identical enemies, that you dispatch with identical tactics. Dungeons felt like battles of attrition that grated more and more on my patience the further I progressed. I mean holy hell, going through Shido’s palace was like breaking a brick wall down with a spoon.

And then you get the Bravely Default 2 demo, which illustrates my other gripe perfectly: the insane difficulty spikes. It started fine as these things tend to do, I gained XP, learnt abilities, amassed gold for new equipment, and was having fun. Then I decided to explore some nearby ruins I was being pointed to by my quest marker…and proceeded to get absolutely destroyed. “Oh, no no no no,” said the game, as it made its intentions clear that I would have to do some grinding before I could even stand a chance. And yes, I know that the demo was made harder, but for what purpose, so I would need to grind more? If we have an option to speed up battles, perhaps the developer should consider why people want to rush through them in the first place.

So what are some good turn-based games? Well, Into the Breach for starters, which focuses on offering short but hugely repayable bursts of strategic mech vs. bug action. Contrary to developer Subset Games’ previous game, Into the Breach cuts out the ambiguity pretty much completely. You’ll always know what the outcome of an action will be, but to make things interesting, every action comes with a difficult choice – especially when battles start to get more complex. Do you deal damage to the Vek directly to finish them off quick, or do you use your mech to block an emerging Vek to keep their numbers low, or do you use your mech to shield a building full of civilians? These options keep you constantly guessing, and due to the overwhelming number of Vek that can appear, sacrifices will need to be made.

The fight for survival has never been this adorable.
The fight for survival has never been this adorable.

So while you know the immediate consequences of your decision, a win is never a certainty. Even on the standard difficulty, the Vek are surprisingly adept at working themselves into positions that can give you a real headache. Such as when the bastards blocked one of my mechs into a corner, reducing my freedom to attack. I’ve seen Into the Breach get compared to chess, and I can definitely see that since the key of the game is to outmanoeuvre the enemy. And these intense battles matched with its brevity make Into the Breach a wonderfully addictive game.

Moving on to a game for people who hate themselves: Darkest Dungeon provides some of the most stress-inducing turn-based battles I’ve ever come across – both for you and your party of heroes. Even if you’ve never played Darkest Dungeon, I’m sure you know of its stress meter. As you push through all manner of mind-breaking horrors, your party begins to slowly lose their grip on their mental faculties. Left untreated, they’ll start attacking at random, or start attacking each other, or just cower in fear. But unlike in Persona 5 where running out of SP (Persona’s magic currency) pretty much meant you had to return back to base, Darkest Dungeon allows you to make the choice to carry on despite the odds.

Bet you didn't know Grey Fox was a Darkest Dungeon fan, did you?
Bet you didn't know Grey Fox was a Darkest Dungeon fan, did you?

And choices make this game shine, because everything needs to be weighed and considered. You have to decide on the most effective team composition, decide on who has the best quirks for the area you're going to, decide on how many supplies you want to take and how much space you want to leave for treasure – and this is all before you even enter the dungeon. Inside you’ll have to make the call on whether you’re going to take out the enemy that does the most damage, the enemy that can stun you, the enemy that causes the most stress and so on. It places an importance on the choices you make, because a bad one can have serious ramifications. The random nature of the game can also be its greatest positive and its greatest negative, but these moments of unexpected disaster can make for some truly exciting fights. And if Darkest Dungeon isn’t playing on your anxiety, then it isn’t doing its job.

Lastly, Paper Mario, which unlike a lot of JRPGs, can be completed in the very reasonable time of just over 20 hours. And unlike Into the Breach and Darkest Dungeon, Paper Mario isn’t exactly going to have you sweating the consequences on whether to stomp on the Goomba, or to stomp on the Koopa. However, it is going to win you over with its effortless charm and its simple yet satisfying turn-based combat. While not the hardest game ever conceived, I never felt like it was a necessity to grind in Paper Mario either. There are optional bosses which can prove tough, but these give you plenty of warning before attacking. You can pretty much see a mile off that Anti Guy will wreak your shit if you aren’t careful, for instance. The whole experience is so smooth that I could easily boot up my N64 for another play-through.

For when you get tired of a smiling flower's bullshit.
For when you get tired of a smiling flower's bullshit.

The turn-based mechanics cheat a little by rewarding well-timed button presses with extra damage, but I would say it is a decision that enhances player engagement without sacrificing strategy. Turn-based gameplay has had a rocky partnership when it comes to real-time elements being mixed in. Such games as Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch ended up with an absolute mess of a combat system. It bounced between both extremes where you could either get stun-locked to death before you could even make a move, or the enemy could try in vain to hit you as you gleefully ran around the arena. Paper Mario’s attempt to liven up turn-based combat might seem gimmicky, but sometimes a gimmick or two is appreciated, and it arguably adds a layer of skill as you are required to time each hit.

As I look back on why I put some turn-based games over others, the good ones either place a huge importance on the choices you make, or don’t pad out the runtime with mind-numbing grinding. Persona 5 and Bravely Default 2 actually have fun combat mechanics, but that fun only lasts up to a certain point. It is quite evident that people delight in the grind, and I guess there is a comforting familiarity to be found, I had the same experience with the decent-but-not-spectacular Driveclub. But for me, a game that lasts a 100 hours is like eating an entire cake: probably not worth it in the long run.

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Giant_Gamer

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Into the breach is my best turn based game so far and I'm glad you like it too. Because, i really can't handle the rage when i lose because of a bad coin flip...

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bakoomerang

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Into the Breach is so good! According to Steam I have spent 129 hours of my life playing it :D

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Bonbonetti

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Fully agree on Into the Breach, a really good and compact strategy game. I haven't really found anything that offers a similar experience to this, so I hope they plan on making more of it.

Otherwise, turn-based gameplay is still alive and thriving: Gears Tactics, Civilization 6, Octopath Traveler, Dragon Quest XI, Total War "Anything", XCOM, Battletech, Divinity Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Endless Space, Disco Elysium (some extent) ... and those are just the bigger ones. For each of these there are at least a dozen Indie titles competing for attention. So I don't feel it has decreased in popularity, since we have more developers doing them now than we've ever had before, thanks to all Indie devs. So it's very much alive, for people who are looking for it.

When it comes to turn-based combat, one thing I don't like is having timed choices. Few games actually have this feature but it annoys me greatly. Lost Sphear was one of these games, where you had to make a combat choice within 1-2 seconds. That kind of thing goes against the whole point of turn-based gameplay in my opinion, which is to allow you to sit and think about your next move(s).

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PurpleShyGuy

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@bonbonetti: I don't think turn-based games are dead, as you mentioned indies have really picked up the slack. But I'm talking about mass appeal here, because back in the day games like the original Final Fantasy 7 were huge. Today, there really aren't any turn-based games that reach the level of a Call of Duty or an Assassin Creed in terms of attention and popularity. Even Gears Tactics, one of the bigger titles of the genre has only been released on PC, the implication that the more causal audience on Xbox wouldn't rush out to buy it (though it looks likely it will come out later on console).

Popularity doesn't equate quality, however. And in a way, I'm glad that most turn-based games are not at the forefront of gaming, because the last thing I want is microtransactions in Xcom.

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PurpleShyGuy

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@giant_gamer: The biggest gripe I had with FTL was its random nature, with the difference in coming out positive or negative sometimes down to pure luck.

Into the Breach really took me by surprise in how much more I liked it.

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rkk667

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Thanks for this, they can be hard to find sometimes even when you do love them ;)

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OldeBlueEyes

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Great post and a great read. This post is what is finally getting me to download my free copy of Into the Breach from EGS.

Just to contribute, one of my favorite turn-based games of late is Endless Space 2. Just very zen, cool music, and some great art/worldbuilding.