Whether it is developed in Japan or in the west the role play game genre doesn’t quite reach the same heights as pure action games when it comes to the combat system. However, RPGs can offer unique takes on these systems that pure fighting or shooting games can’t.
More recently, RPGs have incorporated combat systems that often find ways to integrate the need for number-crunching as well as offering a hybrid fighting system that is appealing for all gamers. Japanese developers are looking west to open-world action RPGs like The Witcher and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
At the same time, western RPGs are streamlining their once complicated leveling systems for something more simplistic and straight forward like those seen in JRPGs. Let’s take a look at ten of the best combat systems from the role-playing game genre.
Updated by Michael Llewellyn on January 31, 2021: The year 2020 brought gamers a lot of great RPGs and adventure games to help escape the realities of a very difficult year for many. RPGs offer the kind of escapism that many other genres can’t with their deep stories, characters, and mechanics.
As a result, there was a surprising number of RPGs released in 2020 with some very impressive combat systems. All these games offered something different but were familiar to fans and all are worthy of appearing on a list such as this one when it comes to the best fighting systems in an RPG.
15 Cyberpunk 2077
Released in December 2020, the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 had a troubled launch with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions being riddled with bugs and glitches. It fared a little better on the more powerful Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 but it’s clear the work went into the PC versions of the game.
Even with the issues the game is dealing with, the combat system is very well polished whether one chooses to attack V’s enemies with stealth or by using brute force, Cyberpunk 2077 allows players to be very creative.
14 Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV was released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. It was later released on the PC in 2018 as part of the Royal Edition which included all of the game’s DLC with exception of the Episode Ardyn DLC. The game is something of a controversial entry in the series because a lot of fans accused the combat system of being a mindless button masher.
However, the system is far deeper than it appears and can only fully appreciated in the more difficult encounters. Players can opt for real-time combat or make strategic use of the Wait Mode option which works like a modified version of the ATB (Active Time Battle) System featured in its predecessors. Final Fantasy XV also looks flashy and very reminiscent of the fight scenes from the movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
13 Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Released as a launch title for the Xbox Series and the PlayStation 5 along with current-gen platforms the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is easily one of the best entries in the series.
The combat does take a little time to get used to because the camera system has a knack for panning out a little too far. However, learning to parry, counter, and attacking openings feels very good to pull off. Furthermore, Valhalla becomes even more interesting as more skills become unlocked, creating opportunities for brutal finishers.
12 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC in 2012. It was developed by 38 Studios which featured an RPG dream team of Elder Scrolls’ Ken Rolston, artist Todd McFarlane, and fantasy author R.A. Salvatore.
Reckoning features one of the most accessible and impressive combat systems seen in a western RPG. It plays like a 3D action game similar to the God of War series but allows the player an incredible amount of flexibility in character statistics growth. A remastered version of the game was released in 2020 on the Xbox One and the Ps4 with a Switch version to follow this year in 2021.
11 The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was released in 2015 on the PlayStation4, Xbox One, and PC. It is based on the fantasy novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski which will also see a Netflix series in December 2019 starring Superman actor Henry Cavill.
The combat system in The Witcher 3 is visually impressive and surprisingly simple to pick up. Geralt’s magic system never feels overly complicated and his ability to pull off combinations a simple yet satisfying in their effectiveness. Parrying and defeating a crowd of enemies with skill and timing is both cinematic and very satisfying.
10 Resonance Of Fate
Resonance of Fate was created by Star Ocean developers Tri-Ace. It was originally released in 2010 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before getting a full 4K/HD remaster on the PlayStation 4 in 2018. It was criminally overlooked upon its first release due to Sega choosing to release the game around the same time as Final Fantasy XIII.
The combat system in Resonance of Fate takes inspiration from bullet-time action films like The Matrix and John Woo classics like Hard Boiled. Unlike most JRPG’s the combat combines elements of real-time and turn-based combat which will take players some time to learn. However, those that can master the system will find one of the deepest and most rewarding systems in an RPG.
9 Final Fantasy VII Remake
Released in 2020, the Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of the most hotly anticipated RPGs of all time. The game achieved the impossible by meeting the expectations of a very hardcore and dedicated fanbase with its story, characters, and combat system.
The remake did an amazing job of modernizing the turn-based combat system in the original by both using real-time action yet making it feel familiar. Some boss battles do have a tendency to go on for a long time. But thanks to the challenging combat and the special attacks, Final Fantasy VII never gets boring.
8 Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III was released on the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2016. In terms of the combat system, all of the Souls games are near-perfect. However, it is the third game in the trilogy that perfected the strategic stamina-based fighting system.
The system in Dark Souls III is mechanically more sound than previous titles in the Souls series. The fighting is more responsive, fluid and the satisfaction of timing the perfect parry on even the most powerful enemies is almost unrivaled by any action game.
7 Tales of Graces F
Tales of Graces f was released on the PlayStation 3 in 2010. It was developed by the Namco Tales Studio and has arguably the best and most accessible battle system in the series. All of the Tales games by Namco use a version of the Linear Motion Battle system which unlike most JRPGs works like a real-time beat-em-up system.
The Graces f system feels far more refined and is called the Style-Shift Linear Motion Battle System. Shift between characters is far smoother than previous Tales games and the ability to combine moves by chaining them together is where the fighting system really gets interesting. Battle plays out with the pace and speed of a fighting game rather than what usually seen in a JRPG. Furthermore, a second player can drop in and join the combat for some local play during fights.
Bloodborne was created by Dark Souls developers FromSoftware and was released in 2015. While it shares many of the same mechanics with the Souls games it is far less methodical than its sister series and the combat favors speed, timing, and visceral action.
There’s no playing it safe with Bloodborne players need to be reactive and their only form of defense is the dodge mechanic. A similar system was used Fromsoft’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and just like that game, Bloodborne feels more in line with 3D action games than it does a typical number-crunching RPG like Dark Souls.
5 Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time
Science fiction JRPG Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2003. It was developed by Tri-Ace and features their unique brand of action RPG not often seen in the JRPGs.
The system works similarly to the Tales games where players can switch characters during the battles and move freely around the battlefield and attack in real-time. It’s an arcade-like system that is more welcoming to gamers that would otherwise be put off by the turn-based menu systems found in a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Quest title.
4 Grandia The HD Collection
Grandia The HD Collection is a combined release of the first two games in the Grandia series remastered in HD for the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Game Arts the series is often heralded as having one of the best turn-based combat systems in a JRPG which was way ahead of its time.
Grandia’s combat system is turn-based that features all of the party member’s turns on a gauge adding an element of speed, timing, and strategy. The bar works in a similar way to Final Fantasy’s ATB system but the character’s turns are queued in the bar instead. However, if the player is attacked they can be interrupted on the action bar but this also works for enemies too. There’s a level of strategy, speed, and quick thinking needed to land critical and more powerful blows and both games get deeper as they progress.
3 Yakuza: Like A Dragon
Released in 2020, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the most recent entry from the long-running gangster series and the first to feature a brand new protagonist. Where its predecessors were action RPG adventure games with an arcade-like combat system, Like a Dragon is a full-blown turn-based JRPG.
Yet despite switching to a turn-based fighting system it still feels very much like a Yakuza game. It’s still as wild and as crazy as it’s always been but the feeling of getting involved in a large-scale gang fight is more easily accomplished with a system like this. There are lots of fighting styles, job classes, and tons of interesting bosses to fight that make Yakuza: Like a Dragon feel both unique and familiar at the same time.
2 Demon’s Souls (2020)
Released as an exclusive launch title for the PlayStation 5, the Demon’s Souls remake is one of the best action RPGs on any system. The combat will feel instantly familiar to fans of the Dark Souls series but it’s also more polished than ever whether one is playing in 30 FPS or in 60FPS.
Just like the Dark Souls series, Demon’s Souls is a difficult but fair game that really comes into its own when the game suddenly clicks with the player and they have fun. Timing is everything, and looking for weaknesses, and reading an enemy’s tells are the keys to victory as even the weakest enemies can catch the most skilled player off-guard.
1 Divinity: Original Sin II
Divinity: Original Sin II is the second game in the Original Sin series but is the sixth game in the Divinity series developed by Belgian studio Larian. The game was released in 2017 on the PC and one year later on consoles. It is considered one of the best and most open RPGs of a generation and incorporates a table-top RPG type of freedom not seen in most RPGs.
Adding to Original Sin’s incredible quality is the turn-based combat system that is reminiscent XCOM series. Just like that series the game places importance on using the terrain for both defensive and offensive turns. As an example, enemies standing in pools of water can be electrocuted using elemental Source magic. Additionally, getting higher ground on opponents can be a huge difference-maker in winning these outcomes.