Tactical RPG (TRPG): History, Games & Comparison

This TRPGs guide will be a complete wiki-style, covering all that you need to know about TRPGs!

Story Highlights
  • TRPGs are Tactical Role-Playing Games that combine elements from both simulation RPGs and tactical games!
  • The main benefit of playing TRPGs will be the critical thinking, strategising and complex puzzles that you will be allowed to experience!
  • The best way to get TRPGs will be to play them on supporting platforms such as Nintendo, Windows, PS, Xbox etc!
  • You do not have to play TRPGs, but they are always there ready for you to try them out!

What Is Tactical RPG (TRPG)?

TRPGs (or Tactical Role Playing Games) are simulation-based video games that combine elements from general RPGs and imbue tactical elements as turn-based games. TRPGs can often be compared with original RPGs. However, they allow players to experience the same RPG experience but with a twist of strategic thinking, character-controlling, and real-time movement among others. 

What Are The Most Popular TRPGs? 

  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses 
  • The Banner Saga 
  • Valkyria Chronicles 
  • Final Fantasy Tactics 
  • Tactics Ogre 
  • Jeanne d’Arc 
  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark 
  • Divinity: Original Sin II
  • Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade 
  • The Disgaea Series 
  • Suikoden Tactics 

History Of TRPGs 

TRPGs A Brief History
A Brief History (Image Captured By Exputer)

Explicit TRPGs take their inspiration from tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons(1974), which featured wargame aspects and allowed players to make their characters in a normal fantasy environment. 

Furthermore, games like Tunnels of Doom(1982) featured a dungeon crawl system similar to control characters and transitionary games like The Dragon and Princess, which featured random encounters followed by TRPG-style content. Gaming systems like the PC-8001 by NEC were the pioneers of the groundwork for TRPGs. 

Purely TRPGs were laid down by Nintendo when Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi(1990) on the NES Famicom. Japanese TRPGs were introduced to the Western media with the introduction of Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade(2003) as well as Final Fantasy Tactics(1998)

Early TRPGs By Competitors

TRPGs Early TRPGs By Competitors
Early TRPGs By Competitors (Image Captured By Us)

Alongside Nintendo, inspirations were taken by Langrisser(the 1990s) for SEGA systems which competed with the original Fire Emblem series. A few small changes to the grid system by SystemSoft by introducing Master of Monsters(1988) using hexagon-shaped grids. 

Sega’s release of Shining Force(1992)a and Ogre Battle: March of The Black Queen(1993) featured real-time aspects in TRPGs and introduced the alignment system. As systems advanced, titles like Vandal Hearts(1996) and Guardian War(1994) were brought to life. 

The early 2000s brought Sakura Wars 3, which used free player movement but limited numbers instead of the usual grid system. Systems like the Nintendo DS released Radiant Historia(2010) brought back the grid system and combo attacks to TRPGs.

TRPGs vs. RPGs

TRPGS vs RPGS (Image Captured By Exputer)

Let’s talk differences; TRPGs was introduced as a combined genre and thus naturally share similarities with traditional RPGs such as party combinations, mob fighting, etc. however, clear differences can be seen, such as: 

  • Strategy: While RPGs will feature exploration and relaxed gameplay alongside strategic elements, TRPGs will use an isometric grid system, which uses a fixed plane to make any items/objects/characters appear in 3D. 
  • Freedom of Movement: In traditional RPGs, players will be free to move wherever they please on the battlefield, whereas TRPGs make players stick to a certain tile and allow minimal movement. 
  • Single-player: Many TRPGs will be considered multiplayer only, an example being Final Fantasy Tactics. At the same time, games like Genshin Impact will focus on single-player aspects with their storyline and rarely use Co-Op aspects though available. 
  • Exploration: Traditional RPGs will almost always feature an open-world environment with vast lands, freedom of movement, and elements like dungeons, while TRPGs focus more on intense battles. 
  • Storyline: Most RPGs will focus on a storyline, with character backgrounds, and rich lore, while most TRPGs will simply be focused on battle. 

Similarities Between TRPGs/RPGs/SRPGs

TRPGs Similarities Between TRPGs RPGs SRPGs
Similarities Between TRPGs RPGs SRPGs (Image Captured By Exputer)

While differences exist between genres, it’s clear as day that TRPGs is just a sub-genre of RPGs and SRPGs and follow a similar step of similarities. 

  • Party Combinations: All genres will typically have the same party combination system, whereby players are made to align team combinations, switch between parties and characters and use them in combat. 
  • Advancements: Leveling up and gaining XP are also typically kept similar between famous TRPGs and RPGs. 
  • Gear: Equipping gear such as runes, artifacts, weapons, armor, and more are almost always kept consistently throughout the genres. 
  • Critical Thinking: Most RPGs involve a certain amount of critical thinking skills when planning moves against enemies, taking them down, and aiming to win battles, and it can be directly correlated with extreme battle-centered TRPGs. 

Famous titles like the Bokosuka Wars(1983) blur and imbue elements of Simulation RPGs, strategic elements (in terms of its real-time gameplay), as well as an ARPG element, while Valkyria Chronicles(2008) had both tactical aspects as well a shooter aspect. 

Other titles will include lore, shooting, basic exploration, and world settings to correlate the massive genre, and eventually, the genres will start merging. 

How A TRPG is Made Good 

While general RPGs solely focus on aspects like lore, extreme graphics, and overall environment, TRPGs focus on aspects like core strategy, minimal movement, and positioning of players across the combat field. The 3 C’s practically rule good TRPGs, choice, combat, and consequences. 


TRPGs Choice
Choice (Image Captured By Exputer)

As said by Warren Spector, “Games create possibility space, spaces that provide compelling problems within an overarching narrative, afford creative opportunities for dealing with problems and then respond to player choices with meaningful consequences” or in simple terms, all the steps that a player can take to get a particular outcome. 

When the player base is given full freedom of choice and is left to their imagination, the possibilities become endless, allowing players to create intricate structures in games like Valhaim. 

Games such as Final Fantasy Tactics are excellent examples because they grant players the ability to go above and beyond when it comes to playthroughs. With different professions and party combinations that can stay on the field, the player base makes a choice. 

This is one of the main reasons why the extensive class systems, weaponry, and job system allow players to be whoever they want and experiment with their game style. You can either go for pre-builds or a goal, such as using a certain class, a certain role, or a certain combination to limit yourself; the point is, you have the upper hand. 


TRPGs Combat
Combat (Image Captured By Exputer)

Almost all TRPGs will share a similar theme whereby players will choose their party members, strategize beforehand and then head into battle. 

Games like the Disgaea series feature the same isometric grid system to allow players to choose members from their party to participate in combat. Another point to be made is the extensive amount of class systems that follow place, 

Taking turns during combat in TRPGs is another aspect that is not discussed enough. Having the ability to strategize and have options and choices allowed during your turn allows for more in-depth combat that sucks the players in. 

Considering the sheer number of systems in TRPGs, if players were kept limited to only one type of attack against enemies, the player base would fall off insanely fast. 

While it’s also pretty standard to have specific attacks since enemies will have certain resistances, heavy armor, already decided attacks that need particular strategies to break them down, e.g., players requiring the use of axes to break down a shield in Battle Brothers, or combat in Fire Emblem, the choice inevitably goes to the player. 

Games like Divinity Original Sin 2 use combat choices that allow players to customize and create their character and even their race, gender, and overall stats. Combine that with the battle tactics offered to players, and each battle seems like a new experience, with positioning, firing enemies, and much more. 


TRPGs Consequences
Consequences (Image Captured By Exputer)

With every choice in combat, the player is given the freedom to explore; there must always be some consequences that follow pace. One term that follows suit is known as the concept of “Permadeath” and is typically seen in many TRPGs. 

Permadeath is simply a concept whereby a character is rendered useless once they lose all their health. Permadeath’s narrative directly splits into two aspects: the character becomes completely unusable, and the player has to create a new unit or a respawn system that takes the place of the character where they regain their health. 

Permadeath is usually the result of poor execution, poor positioning of your unit, poor strategies, and the enemy taking advantage of your shortcomings and killing you off. 

One example once again is Fire Emblem, which follows suit with precise positioning, and considering how squishy some characters are, one wrong move and you lose your character. Since your character is consistently involved in the main storyline, you don’t want to lose your character; you can try several times again. 

Frustration is another aspect that is quite overlooked. Games like Fire Emblem exploit this by forcing players to reload their units if they die a certain number of times and tie together the main storyline as a point to make players grind hard so that important characters aren’t lost to time. 


TRPGs Diversity
Diversity (Image Captured By Exputer)

Another aspect is diversity; while tangled into the same turn-based aspect, TRPGs take on a different experience every time. Advance Wars offers a health system whereby the higher the damage taken by players, the less their damage output will be. Still, the option to attack an enemy is always available. 

Compare this to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where players protect themselves with the cover but have to position themselves rather than fully rely on stealth. 


TRPGs Balance
Balance (Image Captured By Exputer)

Where retro TRPGs are solely focused on tile-based systems, more modern TRPGs allow players to move further distances than accounted for, such as in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, where the use of super jump allows players to reach further enemies. 

Tiered Movement System 

TRPGs Tiered Movement System
Tiered Movement System (Image Captured By Exputer)

While greater distances allow for further reach, characters shouldn’t be made overpowered in movement. Therefore, the use of a tiered movement system is often used. 

It will make players move across tiers and/or tiles and not let the player launch the attack until and unless they are at a certain distance or close to the enemy. 

Rewind System 

TRPGs Rewind System
Rewind System (Image Captured By Exputer)

Character deaths become inevitable in games that rely solely on stealth and proper positioning, and it might seem unfair; therefore, the rewind system is put in place. Games like Fire Emblem account for proper strategy but ensure that the player doesn’t entirely lose their character; hence give them a rewind button to make the character come alive again. 

The rewind system follows many other games that will allow players to head back to the start of their turn. 

Combined Tactics 

TRPGs Combined Tactics
Combined Tactics (Image Captured By Exputer)

While tactical thinking is used for every character in TRPGs, many tactical wargames such as Advance Wars will focus on entire armies rather than individual characters; one wrong move by the entire army and you’re made for. 

However, allowing players to purchase replacement units and build structures in return for money will focus players toward combined efforts to take over armies rather than defeating each unit. 


TRPGs Speed
Speed (Image Captured By Exputer)

Retro TRPGs have a track record of being strung out, lengthy and slow in progress with each level, while games like Wargroove will have the option to get rid of battle animations and make enemies move faster with the click of a button. 

Health boosters, difficulty sliders, and difficulty options are excellent add-ons that players can rely on for easy playability. At the same time, difficult bonus missions and lethal and permadeath levels are perfect for hardcore players. 


TRPGs Rewards
Rewards (Image Captured By Exputer)

Considering the difficulty of TRPGs, games like Into The Breach force players to think outside the box and strategize, such as making your opponent stand on top of enemy spawns to take the damage instead. 

Things like ultimate abilities locked with a cooldown, special skills, and bursts that are to be used a few times or once every turn or battle force players to plan out every move in advance, and with the increased punishments, anytime the player wins, it feels immensely rewarding. 

Why TRPGs Aren’t Extremely Popular 

TRPGs Why TRPGs Aren't Extremely Popular
Why TRPGs Aren’t Extremely Popular (Image Captured By Exputer)

While TRPGs have an excellent game design, some key factors render the popularity of TRPGs useless: 

  • Combined Genre: Firstly, while combining an RPG and a tactics genre might seem enticing, the player base who will equally enjoy both genres at the same time is vastly less as compared to player bases enjoying tactics and RPGs separately. 
  • Extreme Strategy: Some players might enjoy the strategy aspect of TRPGs, but TRPGs will often have extreme strategic moves that might not be enjoyed by the majority of the player base. 
  • Slow Progression: As mentioned before, slow progression seen in retro TRPGs has followed suit, making it extra time-consuming. 

As TRPGs evolve, a few questions arise in people’s minds, such as follows.

Frequently Asked Questions About TRGPs

Are RPGs or TRPGs Better?   

RPGs such as Genshin Impact completely strip away from the isometric grid system and focus heavily on lore, environmental graphics, and sheer exploration. In contrast, TRPGs focus more on battle strategies and critical thinking. It depends on the player and what genre they are willing to try out.   

What Platforms Support TRPGs? 

Retro TRPGs used to be supported by the NES systems as well as the SEGA systems. Recently, nearly every platform, such as Windows, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, and even the Nintendo Switch, support a select few TRPGs.   

Are TRPGs Strictly Tabletop/Turn-Based?  

TRPGs may focus on being tabletop or turn-based, but not necessarily always. Games like Bokosuka Wars(1983) have been known to experiment with an SRPG, Prototype real-time strategy, tower defense, and ARPG genres while being a TRPG by name.       

The Wrap Up 

TRPGs have come a long way since being classified as only tabletop games and feature genres that might have otherwise been looked over. Catering to millions of players worldwide, they have their pros and cons. However, it doesn’t hurt to try a genre out. 

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Matt Hunter

With four years of experience as a tech writer on a multitude of websites, Matt Hunter currently reports to eXputer with the latest in gaming.

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