Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

As legendary RPGs moved on, turn-based games found new life in 2021

As a die-hard fan of “turn-based” games, 2021 was a monumental year for me. Some of the best games that came out in 2021 adopted mechanics once reserved for RPGs. However, this year truly felt like a shift for that style of play (which has players waiting to take their turn, as opposed to smashing buttons to fight in real time).

While we saw some excellent games utilize the idea this year, the collective old guard of turn-based games walked away from this timeless mechanic, leaving space for new games to carry on the torch.

Strategy and patience

My love for turn-based games started when I was very young. I owned a Game Boy and many of the handheld’s greatest hits were turn-based. That includes classics like Pokémon Red, Dragon Quest III, and Dragon Warrior Monster. That rabbit hole went deeper the older I got and I started to branch out and play even more games in the genre, like Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories, Fire Emblem, and Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. My cup runneth over. I’ve been obsessed with that play style since the beginning of my gaming career and I have seen it evolve from a mechanic of necessity to something that is unique and intentional.

Darkest Dungeon II combat.

Turn-based games often get a bad rap for being too slow or too boring, especially in modern times. Why play a game where you have to take turns smacking each other when Hyrule Warriors has a myriad of enemies you can chop up and slay in less than a second? Turn-based games can’t compete with the frenetic violence of certain action games. Instead, they offer an alternative built around strategy and patience. It gives players a chance to soak in all of what is happening on screen and the time to properly prepare their action. Knowing full well you will beat a boss or another tough enemy in only a couple of turns feels amazing. It’s like watching dominos fall.

Inscryption is a perfect example of a 2021 turn-based game shining brightly. It uses slow-paced deckbuilding mechanics to create atmosphere and tension. It’s brilliant and what it does could not be accomplished in a real-time game. Even games like Bravely Default II and Darkest Dungeon II show that turn-based games still have something new to offer their audience. The Bravely Default series addresses the criticism of slow combat with it’s Brave system, which allows players to execute multiple actions in one turn. Bravely Default II brings more class combinations that allow for devastating combos that can be pulled off in one turn. Darkest Dungeon II does the inverse, with each turn so heavily weighted that it can spell out success or total failure, which makes every turn more impactful.

All of these games confidently stand behind their systems, even as big RPGs drop turn-based combat one at a time.

Cloud battling in FF7R

Your turn

Earlier this year during the anniversary stream for the Dragon Quest series, we got to see a little teaser for Dragon Quest XII, a game that will boldly help map out the future for the series. It was confirmed that Dragon Quest XII will, in fact, not be turn-based. This series has been a foundation for turn-based games and the newest one, the one that is promised to reimagine the series, will leave a core mechanic in the past.

It’s not the first iconic RPG series to ditch turn-based combat. Final Fantasy VII Remake, which came out last year, also removed the turn-based gameplay and offered a more frenetic and fast-paced style. This year’s Game Awards-winning Tales of Arise also switched to real-time combat. Seeing so many high-profile games walk away from my favorite playing style naturally has me worried. Instead of trying to find new ways to innovate on the genre, they have decided to ditch it entirely.

Lemnis Gate combat.

While my concerns are definitely real, it is not as hopeless as I feared. Even with the biggest franchises ditching turn-based mechanics, new games filled the gaps. Ruined King: A League of Legends Story masterfully used Airship Syndicate’s iconic RPG mechanics from Battle Chasers: Night War to create a unique feel to the combat that’s reminiscent of League of Legends’ lane battles. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin doubled down on the success of its predecessor to prove that Monster Hunter can survive and thrive as a turn-based game. And beyond RPGs, Lemnis Gate showed the gaming world that a first-person shooter can even work as a turn-based game.

As much as it breaks my heart that Dragon Quest is going the action-RPG route, I’m confident that turn-based games aren’t going anywhere. This year proved that game developers still have plenty of ways to keep the playing style from getting stale. Maybe it is OK that Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy are moving away from turns. They have both paid their dues and helped make the mechanic a staple in video game language. Now it’s time to see how many ways it can be twisted on its head.

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Zucosky
Andrew has been playing video games since he was a small boy, and he finally got good at them like a week ago. He has been in…
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse features an incredible video game Easter egg
Miles Morales falls through a multiverse portal in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is out now and it contains a wealth of Easter eggs for video fans to obsess over. It's full of references to Spidey's history, from his comic books to cartoons and beyond. The animated sequel even includes some nods to the franchise's video game history, leading to one of its best (and most obscure) references: Spider-Man for the Atari 2600.

(A quick heads up if you're afraid of spoilers: This article contains some very light story details for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.)

Read more
Best gaming laptop deals: Portable gaming rigs from $600
The Alienware x17 R2 Gaming Laptop viewed from the back.

If you're keen to game while on the move, you need a sweet gaming laptop. Regular laptop deals won't cut it as you need something with a dedicated graphics card and maybe even something with some cool gamer looks too. Gaming laptops aren't cheap but that doesn't mean there aren't some great deals around. If you're looking to invest in a cool new gaming laptop, we've picked out the current best deals around right now. We've considered different budgets as well as different requirements so there's something for everyone below. Take a look and see what appeals to you.
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 -- $600, was $900

Known as one of the best laptop brands for both gaming and business purposes, Lenovo knows how to make a robust system. The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 packs a lot into its great price tag. It has an AMD Ryzen 5 5600H processor, 8GB of memory and 256GB of SSD storage. More storage space would be nice but if you're fine just having a few games installed at once, this won't slow you down. It also has an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics card which is great for playing the latest games if you don't mind tweaking the detail level. As well as that, there's a 15.6-inch full HD screen, white backlit keyboard and a cool-looking style to the laptop.

Read more
Nintendo Switch’s weirdest launch game is getting a surprise sequel
Key art for Everybody 1-2-Switch!

Nintendo has quietly announced Everybody 1-2-Switch!, a sequel to one of the oddest launch titles for Nintendo Switch.
1-2-Switch! was a Nintendo Switch launch title that served as a tech demo of sorts for the Joy-Con controllers, with players completing minigames based on direction from actors in live-action clips. It's a very quirky and critically divisive Nintendo Switch game, so it's a bit surprising to see a follow-up. According to the eShop listing for Everybody 1-2-Switch!, this game lets players use their Joy-Cons or smartphones to complete a variety of team-based minigames. And that's about all we've seen or know about this $30 game ahead of its June 30 launch alongside some new pastel Joy-Cons.

Everybody 1-2-Switch!'s announcement was quite unorthodox for Nintendo. It simply tweeted about the game's existence and opened up preorders on the eShop. This all happened with no reveal trailer less than a month before the game's launch. It's unknown why Nintendo's taking this approach instead of including the game in a Nintendo Direct or other major showcase, but a 2022 report from Fanbyte may reveal the answer. According to that report, Everybody 1-2-Switch! tested horribly, and Nintendo worried that the game could "damage the company’s reputation as a great software developer." 
Almost a year after that report, it seems that the game has improved enough to release, or maybe Nintendo is just willing to take the hit after the impressive launch and critical reception of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Either way, this is a weird sequel to a weird Nintendo Switch launch game that's being mutedly marketed so it doesn't elicit much hype. We'll just have to wait and play it for ourselves if we want to know whether Everybody 1-2-Switch! is an enjoyable game or not.
Everybody 1-2-Switch! will be released physically and digitally for Nintendo Switch on June 30.

Read more