RPG combat: Turn-based, action or hybrid? What’s your favourite?

RPG combat: Turn-based, action or hybrid? What’s your favourite?

In this article, I’ll take a look at turn based combat, action RPGs and hybrid combat systems. It will include a look at some of the best examples of each type of combat. Then, I’ll turn it over to you. Which is your favourite type of RPG combat and why?

RPG Combat: Turn-based, action or hybrid?

This article was inspired by thinking about how the Final Fantasy VII remake isn’t going to be turn-based. On the whole, I am looking forward to the remake. I am having to try and think of it as a completely different game instead of Final Fantasy VII though, due to a number of changes to it. Of all of the announced differences, the one which is proving to be the largest adjustment of all for me is that it’s not going to be turn-based. This is a little odd, considering that I like both turn-based and real-time action combat. Could it just be tough to accept a franchise once known for turn-based combat rejecting it to the extent of remaking a turn-based game as an action RPG?

Here’s a look at some of the best turn-based, action and hybrid RPGs. First up, representing turn-based combat, it’s Persona 5.

Turn-based combat: Persona 5

Persona 5 is one of the best RPGs ever made. It also features a great turn-based combat system. Battles start when the party runs into an enemy or launches a surprise attack to gain an advantage in battle. In battle, party members have access to melee and gun weapons. They can also summon Personas, which are the manifestations of the main characters’ inner psyche. These Personas allow the party members to use special skills and magic spells.

When a character strikes an enemy’s weakness, they knock the enemy down and are awarded with an additional turn. If all enemies are knocked down, a “Hold Up” is triggered. Whenever a Hold Up occurs, the party can launch a powerful “All-Out Attack”, demand money or items or negotiate with the enemy. Negotiation allows the protagonist to either ask for an item, money or to recruit the Shadow (it becomes a new Persona). There is a chance that party members will be captured by enemy Shadows. You will then have to negotiate for the safe return of your party member, offering money or HP.

There are also other factors to consider, such as whether to take an extra attack yourself when awarded another action or “baton pass” to allow an ally to act. Also, sometimes, an ally will chime in that they can help.

It’s a brilliant system which encourages you to strategise; exploiting enemy weaknesses to chain attacks whilst also trying to ensure that you’re equipping Personas that make you immune to the enemies’ abilities. And on the bright side, I can still play turn-based combat games when I’m half-asleep.

Persona 5 RPG combat

If you manage to strike an enemy’s weakness, you’ll be awarded with an extra turn. You can then use it yourself or “baton pass” to allow an ally to act instead.

Action-based combat: NieR Automata

NieR Automata features fast-paced, challenging real-time combat. You can chain together attacks, charge enemies, dash through the air, launch enemies and dodge attacks. On the lower difficulty levels, you can get away with button mashing. This goes out of the window at the higher difficulty levels, where it becomes important to study your enemies and adapt to their attack patterns.

With various moves to learn and your timing being a factor, there’s much more of an emphasis on skill with this kind of combat. Boss fights especially are exciting affairs that can get the adrenaline pumping.

Hybrid combat system: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

The Star Wars movies are known for exciting, fast-paced lightsaber combat. The combat in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games was a blend of turn-based and real time. It used the D20 system to calculate damage, rolls, saves etc. However, each “turn” appears as an exchange of real-time combat. You can pause the fight to queue up actions. You’re also able to switch which character you’re primarily controlling. As it isn’t really real-time, you can’t just mash the button faster and faster to attack the enemy quicker. The actions are in an orderly queue and will happen when they happen.

The illusion of it being real-time combat makes it appear to be closer to the fast-paced combat of the movies. It is still allowing you to strategise too. So, is that it? Do we have our winner? Well, not quite. Such a hybrid system could also be described as a Jack of all trades and master of none. I’d be surprised if the combat in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic won a poll for the best RPG combat system ever.

Would Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have been a better game if the combat was more similar to NieR Automata’s?

And the winner is…

…subjective! I personally enjoy both types of combat. I would just prefer it if a franchise known for one style of combat stuck to that style instead of switching it from one entry in the series to the next. I’m happy for developers to experiment with different combat systems but can’t it be in different franchises? Or if not, can it least be given an obvious spin-off title instead of being considered a core entry into the series if you are going to switch the combat style?

And now, over to you. Which is your favourite RPG combat style and why? Also, what are your favourite examples of games which employ turn-based combat, hybrid combat and real-time action combat? Also, would it bother you if for example The Elder Scrolls 6 was a turn-based game instead of an action RPG like Skyrim? Or so long as it’s a good game, would it not matter to you at all if the combat system wasn’t what you were expecting? Please comment below and let us know.

So, I hope that you liked this article. If so, you may be interested in reading the Persona 5 Review: Stole My Heart article. Alternatively, you could read the Final Fantasy VII Remake Combat Art Unveiled article instead.


I love gaming, creative writing, the theatre, anime, watching football & spending time with friends & family. I'm also a bit obsessed with superheroes.

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9 comments on “RPG combat: Turn-based, action or hybrid? What’s your favourite?”

  1. Avatar dn1nd says:

    Hybrid Or Turnbased Is What I Prefer, Over The Years Have Adjusted To Real Time. It Always Boils Down To If Is Like The Games Mechanics Or Not.

  2. Avatar MaskedTheMan says:

    I get this so much. I have been a huge Shin Megami Tensei fan (can’t wait for SMT5 on Switch) for the better part of my life, it’s been turn-based since day 1 with Megami Tensei on the Famicom, and the games have only increased in quality since then while somehow never truly changing the formula, except for a couple of random titles apart from the main series.

  3. Avatar MaskedTheMan says:

    I like different things about different styles of RPGs.

    For turn-based RPGs, I like the slow, methodical gameplay that allows me to develop strategy on the fly, while making what I feel to be the best decisions at all times, kind of like an untimed game of chess.

    For action RPGs, I like feeling like you have absolute control over all of the actions your characters take, whereas in turn-based RPGs, you typically just select what move your characters perform. I also rather enjoy that I can choose to take a proactive or reactive approach, and get my reflexes thoroughly tested by the more fast-paced titles.

    I’m not entirely sure what is meant by ‘hybrid’, but I’m going to assume it means having elements of both, and I honestly can’t think of any titles that I’ve played (at least that come to mind immediately) that would fall into that category.

  4. Avatar elnawawi says:

    To add to my previous post: I just finished FFXV, and I liked the combat..
    Until they stripped me from my “toys” in ch. 13 .. Now that’s lame ..

  5. Avatar HunterintheDark says:

    Final Fantasy has been frustrating me for years. Not only have the stories devolved into incomprehensible JRPG nonsense, but they insist on “innovating” their combat systems, apparently purely for the sake of said innovation.

    I played and loved the original VII, X was fun until suddenly it wasn’t, and I even enjoyed XII, but I never had any interest in XIII and when I tried to play XV, I found it… messy and frustrating and obtuse. I just really want them to go back to the classic turn based. Because even though I enjoy other styles, sometimes you just want to play one or the other.

    I’m all for innovative gameplay styles that attempt to accomplish a goal with the ways that they deviate from traditional methods. Ive seen some really interesting stuff in my time playing games. But most of the ideas that Square Enix has come up with in the last few years just seem arbitrary and unnecessarily confusing. I wont be playing anything Final Fantasy for a while.

  6. Avatar BlitzKeir says:

    Action, hybrid, and SRPG. There are turn-based RPGs that I like, but most of them boil down to elemental paradigms or patterns.

    Hybrid RPGs with a real-time element, like Lightning Returns, are very satisfying to me. The real-time component prevents the game from devolving into rote memorization (although there are ways to do this while remaining strictly turn-based).

    World of Final Fantasy is what I’m looking for in a true turn-based experience; the only thing it was missing, in my opinion, was the ability to swap stacks mid-combat, Pokemon-style.

    SRPGs are my true love, however few satisfy me because of how slowly they tend to play. Without the ability to skip attack animations and a fast-forward button for general actions like movement, failing a map in an SRPG can amount to 30 minutes or more of lost playtime.

  7. Avatar Castielle says:

    This was actually a really intriguing article and it got me to really look at what I like best, since I’d never really taken the time to introspect. Although I love Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and even The Witcher and Diablo etc, I think my heart lies with turn-based gaming. I love intense combat as much as the next person, but I really love games that make you think and allow you to win by having good tactics and strategy vs. good reflexes and a good build.

    Games like Fallout 1, Final Fantasy, Dragon Age Origins, Knights of the Old Republic, Divinity Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate…even games like XCOM or Warhammer 40k. Civilization, although not an RPG, also comes to mind. I really like being able to “out-smart” my opponent, not just be quicker than them or better geared.


  8. Avatar Elhanan says:

    As I am unable play most Action only titles, I prefer Hybrid. Even being able to Pause like Skyrim, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are a boon. However, I do enjoy XCOM 2 and Slay the Spire for Turn based systems.

    And I could play DA2 just before and after my stroke in 2011, so I smile at the idea that one of my rehab games is considered an Action title. ;)

  9. Avatar elnawawi says:

    ” Which is your favourite RPG combat style and why?”
    My favorite is whatever style well designed for its purpose. Meaning: The combat fits the game and story and general style, a well crafted system will satisfy me whether it’s this or that.

    “what are your favourite examples of games which employ turn-based combat, hybrid combat and real-time action combat?”
    Turn based: Divinity Original Sin 2
    Real time: Dragon’s Dogma, Tales of Berseria, Nier Automata, and Dragon age 2 (Yes, that’s not a typo :P )
    Hybrid: Dragon Age Origin, and Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2/Lightening returns. With first leaning more on towards turn based, and the later leaning more towards the fast action. Both were very enjoyable in its own way.
    On that note, Dragon age Inq combat wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t distinctive enough to stick to memory. I blame Frostbite engine …

    “Would it bother you if for example The Elder Scrolls 6 was a turn-based game instead of an action RPG like Skyrim?”
    Yes, very very very much! It would kill it. I wouldn’t mind turn-based like Final Fanatasy turn towards action RPG, but action RPG shouldn’t go the other way.

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