Most genres of games at least make some sort of effort to evolve as time passes. Tactical RPGs are one of the few genres that, seemingly, refuses to burn the box and make a new one. Only a handful of tactical RPGs over the last fifteen years have even attempted such a task, at least with any merit. Sure, some have tried, but most attempts to redefine the tactical RPG genre seem sadly contrived, feeling more like a gimmick than an actual improvement (let alone a thoughtful one). As a genre that's supposed to be centered on the essence of tactical mastery, few developments surface which actually improve the tactical depth of this genre, and most attempts actually depreciate the tactical value of the genre. Regardless, this is my list of the top 10 innovative tactical RPGs, with their innovations having an emphasis on actual tactical value.

While not technically being a tactical RPG, this game made the list simply because I couldn't think of a tenth game with innovative concepts. In practice, Dynasty Tactics plays very much like a tactical RPG: It is turn based, revolves around tactics, features some unit customization and even level gaining mechanisms. The big innovation DT had was to employ actual existing tactics on the battlefield. You were capable of executing moves like feint (which feigns retreat and forces the enemy to pursue), charge (which pushes the enemy back a square and forces you to occupy their position), flank (which lowers enemy morale and forces them to advance a square to escape your tactic), ambush (which can only be executed from forests and causes your enemy to retreat back a square and become confused) and countless others. In addition, these tactics could be chained together which allowed you to plan intricate attacks to massively manipulate your enemy's facing, position or even just plain old destroy them. Sadly, I haven't seen this great and unique feature represented so extensively in any other game. The fact that this game isn't technically a tactical RPG is what places it in tenth, otherwise it would be up near the top of the list.

I hadn't played Bahamut Lagoon until about a year ago, and I was honestly surprised to see their innovation that hasn't been used to it's full extent by any other tactical RPG since it was developed. Each of your characters was assigned a dragon which accompanied them in battle. You couldn't control your dragon, instead it would act of it's own volition. Granted, this could be a terrible thing or a great thing, as any of us FFT players have seen the guests roam around aimlessly with no regard for their own safety. In addition, you could feed your dragons various items in an attempt to make them evolve into better, more powerful dragons. While not the greatest innovation, it was an honest effort made over a decade ago, which says more than many modern games.

While not ground-breaking, Gladius is the only tactical RPG that I've seen include 2-player in it's entirety. I'm not talking about death matches, I'm talking about two groups of units controlled by two players who are trying to achieve the same goal cooperatively. It embodies the very essence of tactics, in my opinion. When two minds who have several soldiers under their control act in tandem to achieve a certain objective it represents the complexities of tactical simulation. Each player has to focus on self-preservation while simultaneously weighing what consequences their actions could have on their partner's units. Would you sacrifice one of your units so that one of your partner's could survive? Those are the complexities of tactical encounters. Gladius' entire story could be played through with two players, from start to end. The downfall of this is that the point of Gladius was to win coloseum battles, which doesn't provide much depth. If applied to a more traditional tactical RPG though, the effect would be very pleasing.

I doubt it's the first tactical RPG that did it, but it's the first one I can think of. This game cast away the old and tired grid based movement, and instead utilized radii for movement and varying attack ranges depending on which attack you were executing. Your archer's arrows had a narrow, straight path while some melee units could execute wide slashes that would hit a cone shaped area. The only real flaw with the non-grid system is that forming an inpenetrable wall (to obstruct enemy movement and such) was nearly impossible, and if you're obsessive compulsive you could find yourself wasting a lot of time lining your attack up just right so it would hit several enemies. Regardless, both are problems that could easily be remedied and this system has yet to become the norm (or really used at all) in tactical RPGs.

A more or less standard tactical RPG, Jeane d'Arc had a couple things that really stood out about it. First off was the transformations that certain characters could achieve after defeating so many enemies. Each form a unit could transform into had varying benefits and some even had drawbacks in certain situations. The main innovative idea involved in the transforming was that while transformed you would get an extra turn if you defeated a unit. If the battlefield was set up properly you could transform into a powerful form and in a single turn tear through half the enemy's forces. Other than transforming, Jeane d'Arc provided something more beneficial to it's tactical value rather than it's fantasy elements. What I speak of is deploying and climbing ladders, as well as manipulating buttons and levers to open gates and the like. While it was utilized very little throughout the course of the game it still gave a better feeling when you were laying siege to enemy strongholds. I mean, tactically speaking, why would your enemy drop their drawbridge and lift their portcullis to allow you in their castle's enciente when they only have a handful of soldiers guarding the entrance? They wouldn't. Deploying and climbing ladders remedied this fundamental flaw with tactical RPGs.

With the GBA installment of Tactics Ogre came the interesting concept of rewarding a character based on a certain action they continually practice. As you did certain things time and time again you would unlock emblems that granted a certain benefit or disadvantage to your character permanently. If you continually attacked enemies head on you would get an emblem that raised your strength. If you gained a lot of levels while in training as opposed to actual combat you would get the Bogus Hero emblem, which prevented you from getting critical hits. If you often persuaded enemies to join your cause, you would get an emblem that made you more persuasive. You fight a lot with your bare fists, then your bare fist attack power raises greatly. Even if you got hit really hard you might get a permanent -10 intelligence penalty. There are many more emblems, but this is a great concept, since it makes your characters really get molded by the events of battles they are involved in. A very thoughtful innovation. In addition, the weapon system in this game was very thoughtful. Almost all the weapons in the game had nearly the same attack power, effectively making elemental weapons you obtained early on still useful in the end of the game. Really, weapons can only become so powerful, so it seems to make more sense that each weapon wouldn't necessarily be more powerful than another, but just better for a particular situation. This is a very important innovation, in my opinion, which I haven't seen adapted elsewhere.

Final Fantasy Tactics had a lot of innovations when it was released. First off, you could mount chocobos and ride them during battle. This had very obvious drawbacks, but was an interesting concept that hasn't been adequately represented since it's conception. The extended time spent chanting a spell was another big innovation, which gave casting in combat an entirely new feel. You couldn't just shoot off that high level summon without any effort, you had to spend the appropriate time chanting the incantation to harness the power of magic. FFT also leaned away slightly from some of the RPG elements involved, relying on less stats than usual and instilling a greater importance on equipment. And finally, this game finally incorporated more than just physically attacking with swords and other melee weapons. I mean, melee combat in small numbers isn't just two idiots swinging at each other the same way over and over. You might want to damage your opponent's equipment, or cut them in a vital spot to diminish their ability to do a certain action, or a host of other things.

This is a tactical RPG that gets an unfairly bad rap. Stella Deus utilized an AP (action points) system and statistic system that I never imagined; both of which are innovations that are hard to notice until later in the game. In this game things weren't so cut and dry, you weren't restricted to just moving and performing an action before your turn was over. You could spend all your AP or as little as you desired, whether you want to do a lot in a turn or get your next turn quicker. It takes a certain amount of AP to move each square, which is denoted by your movement stat (which gets better as you gain levels). After moving you could spend whatever AP you had left in whatever way you saw fit. You want to run in and attack an enemy once then head back to where you started? No problem. Like moving, attacking cost a certain amount of AP which was determined by your weapon type. Attacking with a dagger took less AP than with a spear, so while your dagger user was weaker he might actually end up being able to attack several more times per turn, or move then attack target A, move to target B and attack them as well. Obviously, this added a whole new tactical element, while simultaneously balancing the worth of your characters. It was often better to bring fast and versatile characters, as opposed to slow power-houses. Also, Stella Deus features extremely fast gameplay, offering simplified controls designed to quicken the pace of the game. Rather than clicking through a menu to issue orders, you would just start pushing the direction you wanted to move. Want to attack? Don't open your menu and scroll to the attack command, just press the attack button. There are too many innovative and refreshing things about Stella Deus to fit into this amount of space, but be sure almost all of them add to tactical value. The rest generally remedy pacing issues which are easy to spot in most tactical RPGs.

Being released a few years after FFT (in the U.S.) is what I consider to be the cause of most gamers over-looking or misjudging this game. This game breaks from the mold in a similar way to Stella Deus and Disgaea. The main innovation is to not only feature an AP (action points) gauge, but to also utilize an FP (fatigue points) gauge. While your AP was used for movement and some attacks, other attacks and actions would draw from your FP. Once FP had been depleted your ATAC (mech) would become overheated and worthless. This forced you to exercise restraint, and stopped you from just launching your most powerful attacks every turn. Attacks were designed to utilize this system tactically. Some attacks would use a lot of AP, meaning you wouldn't be able to move far or at all and use them in the same turn. Other attacks consumed a lot of FP, which forced you to risk overheating. Also, like some Super Robot Wars games, when attacked you had several options. You could choose to defend, avoid, or counterattack, all of which consumed varying amounts of FP. Makes a little more sense from a tactical standpoint, as sometimes you don't want to counterattack for varying reasons, and other times you might prefer to try and evade an attack rather than defend against it.

As much as I hate putting this as number one on this list (I'm not a big fan of NIS because of their mini-game addiction), it deserves to be number one for the most innovative tactical RPGs. While this game only had two features I found to be highly innovative in terms of amping up the tactical value, they were big innovations. The attacks in Disgaea were thoughtful and at times complex or very specific with their prerequisites. Many attacks you could execute would require certain tiles of the map to be unoccupied, so that you could stand on them for a portion of the attack. Sometimes you might actually end up standing on a different tile than where you began. Other times you might slash through a line of enemies and hop back to your starting position, this requires the tile behind the line of enemies to be unoccupied. This makes a lot of sense to me, and adds a lot to the gameplay. This forces you to adapt to the specific situation you're in, and sometimes prevents you from using the desired attack. Also, you might want to execute some attacks in a certain fashion solely for the purpose of repositioning your unit on the battlefield. Very related to this is the system that magic operates on. When casting a spell you have many options as to it's area of effect. This allows casters to be more versatile and more useful overall. A good addition is the checks and balances system for the magic spells: The spell would have to be the appropriate level, and targeting a larger area of effect would consume more MP when casting.

With all the great innovations on this list, it is somewhat depressing to compare against the vast majority of tactical RPGs that make no attempt to revitalize the genre. If you like tactical RPGs and are looking for something unique that preserves the concept of tactical RPGs instead of the same old cookie cutter games, try out some of these games you haven't played. While some of these games aren't that fun, they still deserve respect and attention for their attempt to expand on a genre that is becoming more mundane with each new release.

List by FeralBerserker (04/17/2009)

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