RPGamer 2019 Awards – Best Turn-Based RPG

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Best Turn-Based RPG

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

First Place

Second Place

Third Place

The Trails series has spent the past decade and a half slowly developing into some of the best JRPGs around and Nihon Falcom has provided some of its best work yet with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III. The series does an excellent job of world building, combining its deep, lore-based history and with a multitude of NPCs, each with their own stories and arcs that stretch across multiple games. Trails of Cold Steel III is a mix of old and new. Rean Schwarzer is back as the lead character, but he has been shaken by a year of war combating Erebonia’s numerous enemies. Now he’s taken on a teaching gig leading the new Class VII, allowing Cold Steel III to revisit the school and field exercise structure from the first Cold Steel game. Nonetheless, there is a good mix of both new students and old friends from Class VII and while the game is certainly a slow burn, Nihon Falcom has achieved a successful balance between action and story.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a great “turn-based” RPG without a great battle system and Cold Steel III’s has been refined to near-perfection. Mixing elements from Grandia and Lunar with more traditional elements gives a system that emphasizes positioning, turn order manipulation, exploitation of enemy weaknesses, and management of special attacks. It’s a combat system that’s easy to pick up and play while also still having plenty of depth if the player is so inclined. While the series has now reached such lengths that it can be daunting for new players to get into, Cold Steel III reiterates why the series is worth the investment for RPGamers. Simply put, the Trails series is the best JRPG series currently being released.



There were not many 3DS titles released in 2019, but a pair of similar games help round out the top three turn-based RPGs of the year. A decade ago, Etrian Odyssey felt like it perfected the dungeon-crawling RPG experience by beautifully utilizing the lower touch screen on the DS to draw maps of the unknown labyrinths player-created parties needed to navigate. Etrian Odyssey Nexus completed the long-running series’ dual screen entries and did so in a way that nicely heralded back to previously-released titles. While it provided numerous callbacks to past entries by pulling character classes, labyrinth designs, and NPCs from across the series together into a game with well-paced turn-based battles, Nexus simultaneously told a tale that was easily accessible to those new to the series. Small gameplay additions such as floors with two height levels show that Atlus still has new tricks up its sleeve with this long-running series.

Marrying Etrian Odyssey gameplay with the casts of popular Persona titles, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth became the final notable 3DS release last summer. In this sequel to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the casts of the previous three mainline Persona series meet, this time to solve the mystery of a bizarre movie theater and its inhabitants. Both the male and female Persona 3 protagonists get to appear together, and this provides some interesting moments between characters from that entry on top of all the other great cross-cast moments that occur. Dungeon-crawling through vibrant labyrinths inspired by popular movie franchises feels heavily Etrian Odyssey-like, while the soundtrack and flow of battle are highly Persona-esque. While the cast’s models have all been moderately chibi-fied, their individual characters and the overall story are fleshed out quite nicely, giving RPGamers one last good turn-based JRPG on a dual screen.


by Joshua Carpenter and Matt Masem