This subgenre of turn-based role-playing games principally refers to games which incorporate elements from strategy games as an alternative to traditional role-playing game (rpg) systems. Tactical rpgs are descendents of traditional strategy games, such as chess, and table-top role-playing and strategic war games, such as Chainmail, which were mainly tactical in their original form. The format of a tactical crpg is also like a traditional rpg in its appearance, pacing and rule structure. Like standard rpgs, the player controls a finite party and battles a similar number of enemies. And like other rpgs, death is usually temporary, albeit some have permanent death of party members. But this genre incorporates strategic gameplay such as tactical movement on an isometric grid. Tactical rpgs tend not to feature multiplayer play.
A number of early Western role-playing video games used a highly tactical form of combat, including parts of the Ultima series, which introduced party-based, tiled combat in Ultima iii: Exodus (1983). Ultima iii would go on to be ported to many other platforms and influence the development of later titles, as would Bokosuka Wars (1983), considered a pioneer in the strategy/simulation rpg genre, according to Nintendo. Conventionally, however, the term tactical rpg (known as simulation rpg in Japan) refers to the distinct subgenre that was born in Japan; as the early origins of tactical rpgs are difficult to trace from the American side of the Pacific, where much of the early rpg genre developed.
Many tactical rpgs can be both extremely time-consuming and extremely difficult. Hence, the appeal of most tactical rpgs is to the hardcore, not casual, computer and video game player. Traditionally, tactical rpgs have been quite popular in Japan but have not enjoyed the same degree of success in North America and elsewhere. However, the audience for Japanese tactical rpgs has grown substantially since the mid-90s, with ps1 and ps2 titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Suikoden Tactics, Vanguard Bandits, and Disgaea enjoying a surprising measure of popularity, as well as hand-held war games like Fire Emblem. (Final Fantasy Tactics for the ps1 is often considered the breakthrough title outside Japan.) Older trpgs are also being re-released via software emulation—such as on the Wii Virtual Console—and on handheld game consoles, giving games a new lease on life and exposure to new audiences. Japanese video games such as these are as a result no longer nearly as rare a commodity in North America as they were during the 1990s.
Western video games have utilized similar mechanics for years, as well, and were largely defined by x-com: ufo defense (1994) in much the same way as Eastern video games were by Fire Emblem. Titles such as x-com have generally allowed greater freedom of movement when interacting with the surrounding environment than their Eastern counterparts. Other similar examples include the Jagged Alliance (1994–2013) and Silent Storm (2003–2005) series. According to a few developers, it became increasingly difficult during the 2000s to develop games of this type for the pc in the West (though several had been developed in Eastern Europe with mixed results); and even some Japanese console rpg developers began to complain about a bias against turn-based systems. Reasons cited include Western publishers’ focus on developing real-time and action-oriented games instead.
Lastly, there are a number of “full-fledged” crpgs which could be described as having “tactical combat”. Examples from the classic era of crpgs include parts of the aforementioned Ultima series; ssi’s Wizard’s Crown (1985) and The Eternal Dagger (1987); the Gold Box games of the late ’80s and early ’90s, many of which were later ported to Japanese video game systems; and the Realms of Arkania (1992-1996) series based on the German The Dark Eye pen-and-paper system. More recent examples include Wasteland 2, Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Divinity: Original Sin – all released in 2014. Partly due to the release of these games 2014 has been called “the first year of the crpg renaissance”.