When does an RPG become an action RPG? Is it the moment turn-based battles are switched out for real-time combat? When does an action RPG stray into adventure or hack-and-slash territory, then? Do numbers have to go up? What year is this? Who is the President?
It's questions like these that keep the more fastidious among us up at night, and it's certainly fun to debate the ins-and-outs and the ifs-and-buts of video game genres. The cross-pollination of mechanics across categories makes it ever-more difficult to break them out into specific, contained groups.
So we present to you - in no particular order - our pick of the best action-RPGs on Nintendo Switch. These are RPGs with realtime combat including those with a hack-and-slash flavour. This selection will be updated as and when new titles are released, so you'll always know what's worth sinking your precious time into.
And please understand that we know there are edge cases, crossovers and genre-straddlers which don't fit snugly under one label - it's a broad church! If you're more a fan of turn-based battling you'll want to check out our picks for the best RPGs on Switch, a grand selection of more traditional (J)RPGs and turn-based dungeon crawlers. Alternatively, strategy and tactics fans may want to peruse our list of the best strategy games for Switch.
And remember, if you're in doubt about a game or exactly what it entails, simply click the 'Our Review' button for a more in-depth look to help decide whether or not it's your sort of thing.
Okay, preamble over! Let's dive right in...
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a landmark release for its franchise and Nintendo. It's the first time that Nintendo truly took on the open-world genre in a current-generation sense; in arriving late to the party, though, it embraces some strengths from top-of-the-class games while also forging its own identity. This game is a revolution for the franchise, but the Legend of Zelda essence is still there - its soul remains. The end result is a captivating experience. This is in the running as the best game in the IP's history, and it is a leading contender in the broader open-world genre. Nintendo bravely took one of its biggest franchises in a new direction, and delivered a triumph.
Some will argue Dragon’s Dogma was hardly a perfect game when it was first released, and the passage of time will have done little to pacify those naysayers. The world of Gransys may lack the epic, intricate lore of Lordran, Drangleic and Lothric, but it more than makes up for this shortcoming in sheer scope; exploring the landscape is addictive in itself, and there’s always some new nook or cranny to investigate, even when you’re many, many hours in. Add in some of the most enjoyable real-time combat ever seen in an RPG and it becomes easier to appreciate just why this game has become so beloved over the past few years, even though Capcom has done little to spruce it up. Dragon’s Dogma nonetheless remains a fantastically gripping role-playing experience that manages to straddle the divide between exhilarating real-time action and stat-based adventuring.
While we’ve had to wait a little longer than those playing on PS4 and Xbox One, the wait has been more than worth it. Dark Souls: Remastered is a faithful remaster of a touchstone in video game design that improves overall performance while preserving all of the character traits that made the original such a memorable experience. While it’s no less forgiving - and its menus are a little fiddly - this slick Nintendo Switch iteration offers the only way to experience Lordran’s ultra-challenging odyssey in true handheld form. Praise the Sun, indeed.
The Switch isn’t short of games that have already taken a bow, or several, on other hardware, but Skyrim might be the one that most deserves another look from both hardy Elder Scrolls adventurers and absolute beginners alike. Despite its age showing, with countless little cracks in its already fractured façade, it still delivers a palpable sense of space that few games before or since have managed. May its dancing northern lights never dim.
Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may lack the smoothness and accessibility that made Monster Hunter: World such a smash hit, but it more than makes up for it by being a sort of ‘greatest hits’ collection of the high points of the series, giving you hundreds of hours of content to play through. Couple this with the HD visuals, easy to use multiplayer, and the ability to play the full experience on the go, and you’ve got a game that will easily appeal to both veterans and newcomers alike. It may not necessarily represent the future of the series, but Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is an utterly fantastic experience in its own right and a worthy follow up to the 3DS original, and one that no Switch owner will want to be without.
Bastion is an unforgettable and enjoyable piece of software with a charismatic narrator, beautiful visuals, and intense action gameplay. Heavy character customisation make this a fairytale that you’ll want to dive into again and again, and while the isometric view sometimes gets in the way of the gameplay, the other aspects of Bastion more than make up for this slight misstep. We’d highly recommend you give Bastion a try if you haven’t played it elsewhere already; although this Switch port brings nothing new to the table, Bastion is a memorable modern classic and an absolute must-play.
With fun, fast-paced combat, likable characters, and an enjoyable story that takes full advantage of its beautiful shipwrecked setting, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a top-shelf action RPG. Exploring the Isle of Seiren is as rewarding as mastering the character-swapping, hack-and-slash battle system, and both fit into an addictive feedback loop of adventuring that keeps everything moving at a quick clip. Editing issues and inconsistent image quality in handheld mode are small blemishes on an otherwise polished production, but don’t let them deter you; Ys VIII is a true gem.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t a groundbreaking, narrative-heavy reinterpretation of the comic characters you know and love, but then again neither were the first two games. In that regard, it’s a very faithful hack-and-slash sequel that mines the vast roster of characters from the comics while including plenty of nods to the current state of the more modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it doesn’t do anything particularly new or outstanding, it embraces the brainless fun of its brawler combat with gusto, and it’s at its absolute best when played with a team of player-controlled supers. Excelsior!
Portal Knights has been designed in such a way that encourages co-operative play; sharing the fun of exploring the worlds and discovering new things together is undoubtedly one of the game’s largest selling points. If you would rather play the game alone, though, there is nothing stopping you from doing so and you’ll still find that there is an enjoyable adventure to be had (albeit with a slightly different focus on how to go about completing tasks).
Sitting somewhere between the Minecraft-type gameplay of building and exploring, and the RPG-like features of crafting, battling, and upgrading your character’s skills and abilities, Portal Knights feels like it would most suit families, friends or even distant friends online, looking for a sometimes challenging - but usually charming - package.