The term ‘roleplaying game’ can mean an awful lot of things. Look at the RPGs on the App Store alone: hundreds of the blighters on what’s still a very young gaming platform, showcasing almost as many interpretations of the roleplaying genre. Many more than the 18 here can justifiably be called great, but these are what we reckon are the very best iPhone and iPad roleplaying games.

18. 100 Rogues

If you’re not familiar with the ‘roguelike’ sub?genre of roleplaying games, here’s the main thing you need to know: you are going to die, and you won’t get to reload a save game when you do. These are true tests of skill and endurance, in which a false step costs you all your progress and all your loot. 

100 Rogues is a stripped-down, easily grasped approach to what can be overwhelmingly complicated games, but it’s no less brutal or satisfying for it. Make your way through levels of a monster-filled dungeon, collecting better stuff and, increasingly, planning every attack with extreme caution. Despite 100 Rogues’ heart of darkness, its surface is forever cheerful and imaginative – forever suggesting that this time you will surely succeed. Yeah, right.


17. Infinity Blade II

Pretty much the polar opposite of the retro masochism of the previous game, this Unreal Engine-powered hack ’n’ slasher is the most technically impressive iOS game there is, but sacrifices complexity to achieve this. It’s a sort of swordfighter that controls most movement for you, with your interactions limited to swiping and tapping to attack and block your imposing foes. As you do, you’ll level up, and find and buy better weapons and armour. Death is simply an opportunity to try again. 

Like its predecessor it doesn’t entirely deserve the adulation it gets, but it should certainly be your go-to game if you want to show off your iDevice to an admiring crowd. 


16. ORC: Vengeance

This action-RPG was never going to be one for the ages, but there’s still enough of a shortage of competition that it deserves a moment in the sun now. Highly reminiscent of Mac/PC hack ’n’ slash goliath Diablo III, ORC won’t make you think for even a second, but you’ll soon be lost to a world of experience points, damage statistics and endless hunger for bigger swords. The developers have also had a good think about how to make the Diablo style of gaming work on a touchscreen, incorporating some fairly elegant gestures instead of awkward on-screen buttons.


15. 10000000

Here’s perhaps the most deadly time-eater of any game on this list – a fusion of retro roleplayer and match-3 puzzle game (in the vein of Bejeweled et al). Beat monsters by creating a line of three swords, defend with shields, open doors with keys, spend gold on upgrades, and try, try and try again until you hit 10000000 points. It sounds like it should be a horrible, artificial mess, but in fact it’s effortlessly natural at combining those two types of game. What a silly name, though.


14. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

It’s not necessarily a roleplaying game, but it’s hard to know quite else what to call it. It has elements of old-school point-and-click adventures like Monkey Island, but it also has tactical sword battles, boss fights and side quests. Whatever you want to call it, it’s definitely something you should experience – a darkly mesmerising abstract tale in a darkly mesmerising abstract world. Never predictable, always surprising and a great soundtrack too. 

The only thing that harms it is an excess of unnecessarily hipsterish, posturing dialogue, but S:S&S’s huge success in atmosphere and aesthetics means this scarcely matters.


13. Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

30-something geek nirvana: an old-school, turn-based roleplaying game in the vein of the original Fallout, based around the otherworldly fiction of HP Lovecraft. To top it off, it’s also set during World War I, so it’s all stiff upper lips, well-groomed moustaches and tin helmets in the midst of indescribable horror. 

The Wasted Land is more linear than it needs to be, but its underlying roleplaying system and combat are deep and varied, allowing you to painstakingly tailor your squad of soldiers into very specific roles, then weep helplessly when one of them’s killed by a tentacle-monster and you have to hire a complete rookie in their place.


12. Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106

In a just world, we’d be including some of the Fighting Fantasy adventure books that used to be available on iOS, but sadly a rights issue has seen them withdrawn from sale for the time being. This book-based Judge Dredd roleplayer isn’t quite up to the same standards, but there’s definitely some of the old magic in it. Especially as you get to play as 2000 AD’s eponymous future-cop, able to make on-the-spot calls as to whether to free, arrest or execute suspected perps. 

Combat and other tricky situations are resolved by virtual dice rolls – and yes, if you fear having to start over again, there’s an easy mode where you can return to previous ‘pages’ in the event of a bad call or roll. Unfortunately the writing’s a little characterless, but at least you get some great 2000 AD comic art to look at.


11. Cthulhu Saves The World

The second appearance for ol’ squidface on this list, this is a rather more irreverent take on Lovecraft’s ‘dark gods’ mythology. You play as the titular horror, on a cheerful retro adventure, with turn-based combat styled after the original Final Fantasy games. It’s very playful, revelling in the fact that it’s forcing an inherently evil character to behave like a hero. It also packs in a ton of variety and detail in terms of its many foes and locations. 


10. Uplink

Another ‘but is it a roleplaying game?’ debate-starter, one thing’s for sure: Uplink is spectacular. You play as a never-seen hacker, tasked with remotely gaining access to an array of banks, organisations and governments across a cyberpunk world. As you do so you can spend your gains on better computing equipment in order to break through tougher firewalls and the like. 

What makes Uplink sing is its tension – can you break into that government server before you’re seen and before the timer runs out? And can you defend your own systems against the incursions of sinister rivals? Uplink might be combat-free, but playing
a role it most certainly is.


9. Puzzle Quest 2

Like 10000000 this melds roleplaying with a block-matching puzzle game, but somehow it feels entirely different. This is more about the long game and elaborate strategies as you embark upon a fantasy quest. Meaty and great-looking, it might be getting on a bit now but it’s still an App Store essential.


8. Cardinal Quest

There are far too many rubbishy games on the app store with ‘quest’ in the title, but don’t let this lo-fi gem get lost in the noise. It’s another roguelike (see entry 18), and a defiantly retro-looking one at that, but it rips out anything that could be deemed wastage to focus utterly on the strategy necessary to survive multiple dungeon tiers packed with monsters who can wipe you out with frightening ease. 

Combat just requires moving into an enemy, any loot that’s inferior to what you’ve already got is automatically sold, and its three playable classes offer wildly different playing experiences. Unfair, unforgiving and essential.


7. Chaos Rings II

From the Final Fantasy stable, this doesn’t stray too far from the tropes of Japanese roleplaying games: endless cutscenes, childlike dialogue, sprawling plots, over-the-top sights and highly tactical combat. It’s not for everyone and its £13 price (£14 on iPad) is scandalous, but if you’re after a more full-fat, high-tech RPG than is generally available on the App Store, this is where to look.


6. Swordigo

It’s no looker, and would probably have been better-served by a faux-retro look than its strangely cheap-looking 3D, but Swordigo is a slick and cheerful roleplaying game that concentrates more on adventure than statistics. It’s vaguely in the vein of the Legend of Zelda games, but a little more fast and furious, with some elegant touchscreen combat and rewarding exploration.


5. Legends of Yore

Another one of those games whose cheery retro appearance belies a faintly sadistic interior, Legends of Yore has everything you need: quests, loot, stats, classes and oh-so-many monsters. It’s all set within one huge overworld with dungeons below it, so you’re able to explore and play it at your own pace. You will, of course, be near-instantly killed if you roam too far without fattening up your loot and levels, but surviving what’s clearly beyond your abilities is part of the point. Great stuff, and far more substantial than its art style suggests.


4. The Bard’s Tale

You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Bard’s Tale is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of old-school roleplaying games and fantasy worlds, which is certainly something that’s ripe for a spot of mockery, but the over-the-top humour got a lot of folks’ backs up when it was originally released – especially as it’s a remake of a rather more revered ancient game. Fortunately, a recent update meant that the original game is now also included with this one, so you’ve got the choice of smirking or po-faced action in any case.


3. Doom II RPG

Yep, you read it right – the classic shooter reimagined as a turn-based roleplaying game. It sounds absurd, but actually Doom’s use of health packs and ammo and the hunt for bigger weapons to take down harder foes suits roleplaying down to the ground. 

Each shot you take becomes a matter of luck and dice rolls rather than how quickly you can aim, but somehow this manages the same tension and adrenaline that its shooter predecessor offered. Of course, it’s a little gimmicky and the control system feels crude and lazy, but it gets away with it.


2. Avernum: Escape From The Pit HD

Probably the RPG with the most substance in this list, with the possible exception of Chaos Rings, Avernum is a love letter to isometric, free-roaming 90s computer roleplaying games such as the revered Ultima series. 

If you’ve convinced yourself that iPhone RPGs are throwaway affairs that only last a few hours of superficial button-bashing, you really should try this. Thirty-odd hours of play, dozens of towns to explore, even more quests, a branching storyline and complex mechanics – this is one to settle down with for a couple of deeply absorbed weeks.


1. Bastion

This new indie action-roleplaying game, which we first reviewed last issue, does a fantastic job of something most of the other games in this list barely bother with: story. As you explore a crumbling city in the sky, bashing monsters, upgrading your selection of melee and range weapons, and trying not to fall off the edge into the endless void beyond, a gravel-voiced narrator comments on what you’re doing, why you’re there and even what you’ve done wrong. As he’s reactive to your actions, Bastion ends up being a brilliantly atmospheric game, in a way you wouldn’t expect from its cutesy appearance. The controls take a bit of getting used to, and sadly it’s iPad-only for now, but even so this is one of the strongest iOS games to date.