Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to the RPG Reload, the regular feature where our battles to the death are usually turn-based. In each of these columns, we take a look at some aspect of RPG gaming on iOS. Often, it's in the form of a replay or a retrospective, but today I want to try out something new. In the last couple of months, we went through the history of tactical RPGs, from Dungeons & Dragons to Fire Emblem Echoes. Although I felt that was finished with the end of the historical line, so to speak, I got to thinking this week that these trips through history present us with an opportunity to do something that is often requested of us here at TouchArcade: lists of the best examples of each gaming genre. Consider this, then, your starter set for tactical RPGs on iOS. Are there other excellent ones? You bet! This is just my opinion, after all. But this gives you a place to get started in the genre with some assurance of reasonable quality.

(Revised October 20th, 2017 - Added: Final Fantasy Tactics, XCOM Enemy Within, Warhammer Quest 2; Removed: Swords of Anima, Princess and Knight, Warhammer Quest)

One caveat: I'm only including games that include 64-bit support at the time of writing. The deadline for 32-bit apps has passed, so this list wouldn't be terribly useful if I included those.

I've limited myself to 10 games for this list, and rather than go through the headache of trying to rank them in a particular order, I'm just going to list them alphabetically.


Banner Saga

Banner Saga, $9.99 Banner Saga has outstanding production values given the size of its developer, but it's more than just a pretty face. With an emphasis on softening up multiple enemies rather than focusing on killing them off one by one, the battles in Banner Saga have a tempo all their own. The game also features some interesting simulation game elements, as you need to manage your caravan as it makes its way across the land. There are also some larger-scale battles that use a different gameplay system, which helps to break up the regular battles. All of that is wrapped up in a dark, well-told story where bad things can and do happen at any time. The sequel is also excellent.


Demon's Rise

Demon's Rise, $7.99 You won't find much of a story to speak of in Demon's Rise, but you will find a great tactical RPG toy box. There are tons of potential party members to choose from for your team, and you can find and buy all sorts of equipment to enhance them. The main campaign is fairly lengthy, and there's a healthy amount of side missions, too. The battle system mechanics draw heavily from Western TRPGs, with elements like cover and mental state being critical considerations if you want to win. The off-beat party options are the biggest thing that separate Demon's Rise from the pack, though. There are so many interesting, viable parties to play around with that it's hard to pick. The sequel is also worth checking out.


Final Fantasy Tactics

FINAL FANTASY TACTICS: THE WAR OF THE LIONS, $13.99 For many Western fans of the TRPG genre, Final Fantasy Tactics was their entry point and still stands tall as one of the best in the genre. Its enjoyable job system, twisting narrative, and wonderful soundtrack help it hold that claim even 20 years after its initial release. The mobile version is a fixed-up port of the PSP War of the Lions remake, and is to date the best version of this game you can get. If you only own one game on this list, I think you could make a strong case for this being it.


Fire Emblem Heroes

Fire Emblem Heroes, Free Even with me being as big a Fire Emblem fan as I am, I probably wouldn't have even considered the launch version of Fire Emblem Heroes for this list. But I have to hand it to Nintendo, DeNA, and Intelligent Systems. They've been listening to fans and making great additions and changes to the game in the last several months, implementing rules and modes that require good strategic thinking to win. While it's nowhere near as involved as, well, any of the normal Fire Emblem games, I can certainly appreciate the game's attempt to shrink a traditionally long-winded genre into bite-sized sessions.


Heroes of Steel RPG

Heroes of Steel RPG Elite, $0.99 While it leans a little more heavily into the RPG genre than some of the others on this list, the tactical battles in Heroes of Steel make up the bulk of its gameplay and should be quite familiar to anyone who enjoys the TRPG genre. Since you have a relatively small party of four characters to work with here, the battles are of a slightly smaller scale than some other games in the genre, but with lots of opportunities to build your characters as you see fit, there are enough options on the table to satisfy. This is a very long game that is still being added to by its developer, so there's plenty to do, as well.


Steamworld Heist

SteamWorld Heist, $9.99 Okay, SteamWorld Heist isn't exactly a conventional TRPG, but that's part of what makes it so brilliant. You take your team of space-bots through a bunch of side-scrolling stages of turn-based action. When it's time to start shooting, you'll have to line up your shot yourself. Aim well and you can do some pretty spiffy ricochets. The fresh gameplay combined with tons of humor and charm make this a must-own for TRPG fans.


Tactics Maiden

Tactics Maiden, Free I will never, ever stop extolling the virtues of Tactics Maiden and its sister series Kingturn. These are fantastic TRPGs that use a lot of conventional elements but feel completely different from the usual thanks to their strong focus on taking and holding certain checkpoints on each map. It makes every battle feel like a tug of war. The story's pretty good, too. There's a ton of content in this one, and you can even try it out for free before buying the rest. Hard to argue with that.


Templar Battleforce RPG

Templar Battleforce Elite, $4.99 While I was making a concerted effort to try to keep developers to one entry each on this list, I feel like Templar Battleforce is different enough from Heroes of Steel to merit both of them being on here. Clearly inspired by Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K universe, Templar Battleforce manages to one-up that series's own high-quality TRPG entry in terms of overall quality. Space marines, high-powered weaponry, and enough aliens and ne'er-do-wells to shake a (boom)stick at. What could possibly go wrong?


Warhammer Quest 2

Warhammer Quest 2, $4.99 Warhammer Quest 2 is in a lot of ways a new coat of paint on top of the first game, but that's hardly a bad thing. The developers at Perchang made a lot of excellent turn-based strategy games at their previous company Rodeo Games, and the Hero Quest-inspired Warhammer Quest might have been the best of the lot. It only makes sense, then, that the upgraded sequel deserves a spot on this list. As with Heroes of Steel, there's quite a bit of standard RPG mixed in here, but the battles and scenarios are truly grand.


XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM®: Enemy Within, $9.99 XCOM is one of the most famous brands in the tactical turn-based genre, but it seemed like a combination of mismanagement and financial issues had killed the series. Fortunately, 2K Games hooked the franchise up with Firaxis and let them make a true successor to the original games instead of a first-person shooter or what-have-you. The result was XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and it was stunning. XCOM: Enemy Within is the expanded version of the game, and on iOS it replaced the release of the original. 2K Games isn't the most reliable of publishers on mobile, but the game is more than good enough to put up with their chicanery.


Again, this is just my personal list. If something you really love is missing, it's possible I forgot it or that I've ruled it out as a tactical RPG for one arbitrary reason or another. For example, Ravenmark [$9.99] is an incredible strategy game, but there's no leveling up or gathering of experience points involved. That said, if you want to make the case for anything in particular, please leave it in the comments below. There's a good chance I'll be revisiting this list in the future to update it now and then.

That's all for this week. I'll be back next week with a Classic Reload. A gentle reminder that the June 2017 RPG Reload Play-Along is now the June-July 2017 RPG Reload Play-Along so that players could have a little extra time to clear Final Fantasy 5 [$14.99]. That means it's not too late to join in on the thread if you want to play with everyone! Oh, and if you're wondering what happened to the RPG Reload File on Anodyne that I mentioned last week, I've had to postpone it to a later date. Somebody was playing Fire Emblem Echoes all week in his free time. Very naughty. Sorry about that, and thanks for reading!

Next Week's Reload: Punch Quest [Free]

  • Phoenix24

    I own 5 of these and have to put WHQ at the top, even though it's one of the oldest. Awesome that it has been updated to future proof it, unlike my Cave and Square Enix collection 😔

    • Qaioud

      +1

  • Matthew Lohmeyer

    Two TRPG series I have wanted on mobile since the beginning of the App Store are the Tactics Ogre games and Disgaea games. If only Atlus/SE and NISAmerica would make it so...

  • icepulse

    The omission of The Last Warlock is unforgivable. It's definitely far better than just about anything else on this list. The freedom that comes from the in-the-field crafting, Harvesting and summoning is unparalleled. Summoning gryphons, mounting them, and flying over high castle walls... sending bats out to utilize sonar, revealing hidden map areas... there's nothing else that even comes close.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      It's a wonderful strategy game, one I've advocated for plenty in the past. But it's not an RPG, so it doesn't fit on this list any more than something like Advance Wars would.

      • Sonic Sloth

        No objection to your list, but I feel the need to say that The Last Warlock is an RPG. It is not pure strategy like Advance Wars. Your character persists and is levelled up with new abilities and spells. Your choice of creatures (flying, swimming, undead, mounts, humanoid, animal) changes the strategy of each quest. The continuity of character is the prime definition of an RPG.

        If Warlock is not an RPG, then neither are the games I grew up with like
        Eye of the Beholder or Lords of Chaos. Which then questions their
        spiritual successors, Legend of Grimrock and the XCom series and even Warhammer Quest for that matter 🙂

        Having said that, RPGs cover a huge swathe of games with sub-genres and personal preferences. Picking ten is an impossible task so I appreciate I'm only making a minor objection to terminology here.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        I may be misremembering. I forgot that the character persists from map to map. So it would fit on here. Perhaps in the next revision of the list.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        And it's bizarre that I forgot that, given I gave the game a Best RPG award that year, come to think of it. I blame utter exhaustion.

      • icepulse

        Victory!!

      • Shaun Musgrave

        I'm going to add it to the list on the next revision. So yes, victory!

      • etienne

        Shaun, have you heard of star Chindy?

  • RinoaHeartily

    Oh my god XCom! The dev needs to do something!! It should be way up on TOP

    • Duane Locsin

      I know.

      It's been an excellent console class game on iOS, and I will no longer be able to play it much longer on a large 12.9 screen soon, because I do update my devices.

      The necessary APPocalypse will have its casualties.

  • ludka33

    I have to put a word in for Kingturn. Least flashy, but you can't beat the overall experience.

  • peon2000

    Anyone else think it's odd that FF tactics just went on sale, yet will be gone soon unless they actually update it?

    • ludka33

      What do you mean? I have FFT on my ipad. Am I in danger of losing it? Will it no longer work with new ios versions or something?

      • Shaun Musgrave

        At the moment, Final Fantasy Tactics is not 64-but compatible. That means it will not work on iOS 11 and up.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        And by 64-but, I mean 64-bit. I'm reasonably sure there are 64 butts in the game.

      • ludka33

        Son of a diddley...

        As to 64 butts: hubba hubba.

  • Lee

    Great list. The random daily missions and crafted armor of Hunters 2 makes that game have unlimited play. I feel that deserves a spot as well, even if you have WHQ. Hunters 2 is my most played iOS game to date.

    • ashmike3

      Hunters 2 is 64 bit?

      • brantov

        yes.

    • gmattergames

      Ahhh Hunters, the original Heroequest-like on iOS. At least the first that was really well done; like it better than Warhammer Quest, which felt sluggish and clunky compared to Rodeos first games.

      • ashmike3

        I don't see the 64 bit update in the version history. Do you know if it's 64 bit?

      • Jake7905

        I believe anything updated by June 2015 or later has to be 64 bit, based on Apple's rules. So it may not specially say it's a 64 bit update, but if it was updated June 2015 or later, it by definition has to be 64 bit. At least that's what Google tells me.

    • RinoaHeartily

      Why did Shaun leave out hunter 2?? Oh my god Shaun!!!

  • Psac42

    The two Shadowrun games might be worthy of the list, although they lean much more towards the RPG side than tactics. Don't know about 64 bit though.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Sadly, they're 32-bit only and the developer has stated in no uncertain terms that they will not be updated.

    • Talbs

      Yeh they are way more on the RPG side. So much so I aliken them to a point and click adventure even more than I do an RPG. They are basically a choose your own adventure story where the choices barely even matter at all.

  • klink

    I would think FFT is going to updated by Square. It's got to bring constant revenue. XCOM unfortunately is probably a goner since 2K closed down the Chinese studio that did their mobile ports. Which is really unfortunate because they did a fabulous job.

  • Duane Locsin

    Another thing I noticed with those great tactical rpgs they are almost all paid.

    I weep however for the loss of XCOM if it doesn't get updated and survive the Appocalypse.

    When it comes to the necessary spring cleaning, valuable items can end up mixing and being tossed out with the junk.

  • etienne

    Well it seems like my comment didn't get approved, so I'll just shout out 'Star Chindy'. It's a pretty sweet roguelike that's half spaceship rts and half turnbased rpg where you plot out your squad's moves each turn while trying to predict your enemies movements. It's brutally hard on normal, but once you get the hang things, the universe will suck you in.

    • etienne

      If you like Out There, FTL, or X-Com (why else would you be reading this article), check it out.

      • Far_Out

        Look really good, thanks for the tip

      • etienne

        It's my favorite time sink. I still go back to it from time to time. There's a story mode and an endless mode/survival mode to see how far you can get.

  • Jake7905

    I absolutely this list; the 3 game's I don't own here just jumped onto my wishlist, based on the fact that the 7 I do own are some of my personal favorites. Plus, the author has mad street cred. So, here's hoping to see more Musgrave Top 10 lists in the future.

    • Jake7905

      I'd also like to pay my last respects to XCOM & FF Tactics. It's sad when the good one's go.

  • OrangutanKungfu

    I have just the four of these, plus the honorary member FF Tactics. I am thoroughly enjoying Warbits at the moment (yes, I know it's not a TRPG), which is definitely sparking my enthusiasm for more strategy. As FF Tactics turns 20 this summer (20!), I feel I'll have to take it on.

  • pajman sarafzadeh

    two big ones that were overlooked, Xcom enemy within and Final Fantasy tactics.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      I know it's a long article, but paragraph 2. 😛

      • pajman sarafzadeh

        You chose to ignore the games that may not be supported down the line. Fair enough. I hope those two games do get a 64 bit patch but i suspect neither are still featured by there developers. I do feel they are best in class games and it would be a pity to lose them.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        I do too. If they get updates, I will be adding them to this list, no question. It's just that at the moment, neither of those games will be functional come September for many readers.

    • OrangutanKungfu

      That made me laugh. I assume it was deliberate!

  • Nom

    I'm sorry Invisible Inc never made a big splash, because it's a blast. 🙁

  • Morgan Leecy

    These lists should be banned as the are always missing something we feel should be on there and include ones we hate and after reading end in frustration. I know it had universal acclaim but banner saga is only one of two 2 games I have requested a refund on. Warhammer quest is awesome as is steam world, but where are the many great games such as Rune Raiders, XCom, dungeon crawlers..

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.

      • Morgan Leecy

        A little sarcasm, but i did get a refund on Banner saga, still no idea what the fuss was about

    • Morgan Leecy

      Lords of MIdnight (remake), Doomdarks revenge (remake).. the list grows.. and grows, desktop dungeons... and grows more

      • Morgan Leecy

        Fortunatly these two have been (just) updated to 64 bit, but will be the last updates...

    • Shaun Musgrave

      The list is my own personal opinion, which I tried to be clear about. XCOM and Rune Raiders are not included because, as I stated in paragraph 2, I am not including games without 64-bit compatibility. They're dead apps walking, and I don't want to encourage people to buy them when they've only got a few months left of life. As for dungeon crawlers, they're a separate genre of RPG which will get their own list one day provided I'm silly enough to keep doing this sort of thing. Many of your suggestions in the below comment are not TRPGs. They'll get their shot when I cover their respective sub-genres.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        This all said, I agree in hindsight that this kind of article has problems inasmuch as people seem less likely to read what I wrote before heading to comments. Usually people just ignore the Reload articles altogether. I think this is progress?

      • Morgan Leecy

        Fair point! Apologies if my glib tone came across as serious, not my intent. Top 10 lists are always personal opinion, and if you find someone who agrees the universe will likely implode! keep up the great work Sean! The 32bit apocalypse is a crime!

  • thesinmaster

    And what about Ravenmark?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Second-last paragraph. No experience points or persistent leveling up, so I'd consider it a straight-up turn-based strategy game. It will get its chance should I decide to do a list for that genre.

  • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

    What does the first amendment have to do with a list of iOS games?

    • Morgan Leecy

      Why not go target some other disagreers, or am i the reader you have chosen to drive away tonight with hair splitting bs?

  • etienne

    What about ticket to earth?

  • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

    Thanks Shaun. I'm incredibly stoked that one of my games made the list. It was a great article and I look forward to playing some of the others you highlighted.