Best RPGs Where You Don’t Have To Grind

Highlights

  • RPGs like Paper Mario and Undertale prioritize character and storytelling over grinding for power, offering a fun and unique gameplay experience.
  • Games like Planescape: Torment and Xenosaga focus on exploration and world-building rather than combat, providing a different approach to RPG gameplay.
  • The Elder Scrolls franchise and The Witcher 3 offer expansive worlds with scalable difficulty, allowing players to progress without the need for excessive grinding.
  • Every title below offers something so you can avoid grinding while going through the adventre.

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RPGs are not for everyone. Naysayers of the genre often decry the reliance on grinding to get past certain bosses or dungeons. While many Western RPGs manage to avoid this problem, it is almost always a feature in many classic JRPGs.

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The games below which come from both the west and the east all manage to avoid grinding. Either they balance the game well enough to make grinding unnecessary, or the progression system makes it simply impossible to do so. Hopefully, those who ignore the genre will find something they like here if they have not already played it.

Updated On December 24, 2022, by Jason Wojnar: With some people’s time being at a premium, they want nothing less than to spend hours just repeating fights in RPGs to become strong enough to progress through the story. The games below remedy this issue with good balancing or either an overall design that fully eliminates the need for becoming overpowered to best the hardest fights. We add a few more titles to the pool in this update and also give more information about the games already on this list. RPGs are usually giant games, so there is no need to make them any longer with tedious grinding.

14 Paper Mario

Metacritic Score: 93

A screenshot showing a battle between Mario and some shyguys in Paper Mario

If you looked up the word jolly in the dictionary, a picture of Paper Mario and its accompanying RPGs would most likely pop up. The series is way funnier than you would expect and, for the purpose of this list, is not centered around training your characters until they are unstoppable killing machines. Levels and progression exist, but all these games are more interested in character, a fun atmosphere, and surprisingly good writing than punishing gamers with tough fights.

Paper Mario’s spiritual predecessor, Super Mario RPG, recently received a remake for the Nintendo Switch.

The remake further enhances the balancing to make grinding a complete non-issue. We recommend playing this game as well, in addition to the Paper Mario titles.

13 Planescape: Torment

Metacritic Score: 91

A bony pale figure with dark hair standing in an orange hazy environment

Planescape: Torment

Released
April 11, 2017

Developer(s)
Black Isle Studios

Publisher(s)
Interplay

If you like Disco Elysium’s focus on dialogue over combat, you would probably also appreciate Planescape: Torment. The setting is more akin to a traditional RPG, but it is similar to Disco Elysium in its approach to RPG gameplay.

Combat is almost non-existent, and the focus is on exploring the world, with stats and skills aiding this and not just making you stronger for battle. The story also involves trying to regain your memory, though you are not a down-and-out detective and are instead a seemingly immortal being who has lived through countless generations.

12 Phantasy Star 4

Metacritic Score Unavailable

phantasy star 4 battle screen

Phantasy Star 4 is the classic JRPG perfected. Every member of the party is charming, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the gameplay is well-balanced, never leaving you stumped at a part that is too difficult or too obtuse to understand. Unlike a lot of its contemporaries, you will not hit a wall where you are forced to level up your characters for hours just to have a chance at beating the boss or getting through the dungeon.

Phantasy Star 6 was $99 when it came out on the Sega Genesis in North America. Now, it can be found for a much cheaper price on most Sega Genesis compilations.

11 Undertale

Metacritic Score: 92

Undertale - Frisk talking to a bear in Snowdin Town

Undertale

Released
September 15, 2015

Developer(s)
Toby Fox

Publisher(s)
Toby Fox , 8-4

When Undertale came out, it was lauded for how it deconstructed the RPG genre and made a commentary about gaming as a whole. The narrative is striking and the most important part of the game, but that’s not to say the gameplay is completely second fiddle. It introduces some interesting mechanics unique to the genre that make battles feel unique. While grinding is not a part of the main game, it will take some time to complete the final of the three runs of the game, which essentially tasks you with killing every living being in the campaign.

Morrowind Character Holding An Axe

The Elder Scrolls franchise is one of the most iconic Western RPG franchises of all time. All the entries can occupy your time for literally hundreds of hours. Thanks to the enemy’s difficulty scaling to your level, none of this time is spent grinding. If you want something more challenging you can still adjust the difficulty level in the menus, which in turn levels up your character faster. Everyone has their personal favorite Elder Scrolls game, but Skyrim is the most popular and easiest to play.

9 Final Fantasy 10

Metacritic Score: 92

Final Fantasy 10 Tidus doing an underwater backflip

Final Fantasy 10 changes some things about the franchise’s formula. Mainly, most of the game is more linear, and traditional leveling up is replaced by the Sphere Grid. While you can run around an area and engage in fights, you can easily get through the game without doing so. As long as you understand the systems, Final Fantasy 10 is not hard to beat without grinding. Doing the endgame side quests will take more time and repetition, however.

8 Mass Effect

Metacritic Score: 91

Players engaging in combat in Mass Effect

Mass effect one combat

BioWare’s classic science fiction epic brought the company real mainstream attention. The combat in Mass Effect manages to feel engaging and interesting without going into the deeper RPG mechanics.

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You can also get through the game without ever having to grind. Even if you end up under-leveled, skill can help get passed without the monotony of grinding. It is a good thing too, because Mass Effect’s main appeal is the narrative, characters, and world.

Metacritic Score: 89

Xcom enemy unknown combat gameplay

This turn-based tactical RPG is notable for its difficulty. It is also possible to actually lose the game if your playthrough is poor enough. Because of this, the game gives you no downtime to simply grind.

You are constantly encouraged to keep pushing forward and develop your base and troops as the narrative continues. The game is more about balancing resources than simply accumulating experience points.

6 Kingdom Hearts

Metacritic Score: 85

Kingdom Hearts - Riku, Mickey, and Sora holding Keyblades

For the most part, most of the Kingdom Hearts games can be conquered without grinding. The first entry, in particular, is a relatively short RPG. Even on the harder difficulties, grinding is not necessary if you are a skilled player.

Hard bosses are made easier by leveling up, but understanding the best tactics and strategies goes a long way towards making battles more manageable. Even though the story is famous for how hard it is to understand, the gameplay in the mainline entries is always top-notch.

5 Valkyria Chronicles

Metacritic Score: 86

Valkyria Chronicles main characters in front of a tank

This cult classic stands out for its unique gameplay and setting. It mixes real-time elements with tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Every battle does a good job of pushing the story forward and smaller side quests help beef up your troops without having to repeat them to become over-leveled. Even with this linear path, Valkyria Chronicles takes a solid 30 hours or so to complete.

4 Chrono Cross

Metacriitic Score: 94

A screenshot of Chrono Cross, showing Serge and the party exploring Fort Dragonia while a Cybot enemy lies in wait

Chrono Cross

Released
August 15, 2000

Developer(s)
Square

Publisher(s)
Square , Square Enix

This applies to Chrono Trigger as well, but Chrono Cross takes the cake because its unique leveling-up system makes grinding nearly impossible. Even though Chrono Trigger is the SNES classic everybody talks about, many RPG aficionados consider Chrono Cross one of the best RPGs for the PS1. It also features a massive roster of over 40 potential party members. It does not seem like it is directly connected to Chrono Trigger at first, but later on the ties between the two become clearer.

3 Fallout 3

Metacritic Score: 93

Fallout 3: Using Combat Shotgun To Successfully Fight A Deathclaw

When the Fallout series fell into Bethesda’s hands, the company made them first-person games like the Elder Scrolls series.

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Even though enemies do not similarly scale to your level, equipment, and weapons are more important to successful combat than having a high level. In Fallout 3 the level cap is particularly low and reached easily, so you have to depend on resources more than levels anyway.

2 Xenosaga

Metacritic Score: 83

KOSMOS and Shion in Xenosaga

Xenosaga was made by Monolith Software, who went on to make the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise. The PS2 RPG is not nearly as open as the future series, however. As such, you never really have an opportunity to grind. It also is just never really necessary. The trilogy is narrative-heavy with some long cutscenes. The prior game from Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenogears for the PS1, similarly requires little grinding and is more focused on story than gameplay.

1 The Witcher 3

Metacritic Score: 92

The Witcher 3 geralt standing in a village speaking to a citizen

This game is already a classic. Even though the narrative is extremely important and changes based on your decisions in The Witcher 3, the gameplay and combat are also deep. Interestingly enough, you can only do so many side quests before they stop giving notable experience. You couldn’t grind even if you wanted to. All the same, doing all the optional missions would be more satisfying for the narrative than for the experience points.

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