'Roleplaying game' can mean an awful lot of things, as the huge variety of interpretations of it on what's still a very young gaming platform can attest to. There are hundreds of the blighters to choose from on the App Store, and many more than the mere 18 here can justifiably be called great - but these are what we reckon are the best iPhone and iPad role-playing games. See also: iPad app reviews and iPhone app reviews.
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 don't get to reload a savegame when you do. These are tests of skill and endurance, where 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 each and every attack with extreme caution. Despite 100 Rogues' heart of darkness, its surface is forever cheerful and imaginative - and so forever suggesting that yes, this time you will surely succeed. Yeah, right.
17. Infinity Blade II
Pretty much the polar opposite of the retro-esque masochism of the above game, this Unreal Engine-powered hack'n'slash title is the most technically impressive iOS game there is. The price paid for this is much in the way of complexity - 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 you'll 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 ever want to show off your iDevice to an admiring crowd. See also: Infinity Blade II app review
16. Orc Vengeance
This action-RPG is 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, it won't make you think for even a second, but it will have you lost to a world of experience points, damage statistics and endless hunger for bigger swords. It's also had a good think about how to make the Diablo style of gaming work on a touchscreen, having come up with some reasonably elegant gestures instead of awkward on-screen buttons.
Here's perhaps the most deadly time-eater of anything on this list - a fusion of retro roleplayer and match-3 puzzle game (in the vein of Bejewelled 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, try again until you hit the titular 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
A game from another universe. It's not necessarily a roleplaying game either, 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 an excess of unnecessarily hipsterish, posturing dialogue, but S&S's huge success in atmosphere and aesthetics means this scarcely matters. See also: Sword & Sorcery EP review
13. Call of Cthulu: 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 dark gods created by H.P. Lovecraft. To top it all off, it's also set during World War 1, so it's all stiff upper lips, well-groomed moustaches and tin helmets in the midst of all this indescribable horror. The Wasted Land is more linear than it needs to be, but its underlying roleplaying system and combat is 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. See also: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land review
12. Judge Dredd Mega-Gamebook: Countdown Sector 106
In a just world, we'd be including some of the Fighting Fantasy choose your own 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 titular future-cop, able to make on the spot calls as to whether free, arrest or execute suspected perps during this tale of one day on Dredd's Megacity beat. Combat and other tricky situations are resolved by virtual dice rolls - and yes, if you fear having to start over again, there is an easy mode where you can return to previous 'pages' in the event of 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 too.
11. Cthulhu Saves The World
The second appearance for ol'squidface on this list, this is rather more irreverent take on Lovecraft's 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 a very playful game, revelling in the fact it's forcing a 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. See also: Cthulhu Saves the World review
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 cyber-punk world. As you do so you can spend your ill-gotten (or are they?) gains on better computing equipment in order to break through tougher firewalls and the like. What really makes Uplink sing is its extreme 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.
NEXT PAGE: our favourite role-playing games for iPhone and iPad >>
(Also check out our new piece: The 39 best ever first-person shooter games.)
We continue our run-down of the best role-playing games for iPhone and iPad.
9. Puzzle Quest II
Like 10000000 this melds roleplaying with block-matching puzzle game, but somehow it feels like something entirely different. This is much more about the long-game and elaborate strategies as you embark upon a fantasy quest, while 10000000 is an instant fix of high-speed puzzle-action. Meaty and great-looking, it might be getting on a bit now but it's definitely 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, and a defiantly retro-looking one at that, but it rips out anything that could be deemed wasting in favour of focusing 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 whatever you've already got is automatically sold, and its three playable classes offer wildly different playing experiences. Unfair, unforgiving and essential with it.
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 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.
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 touch-screen combat and rewarding exploration.5.
5. Legends of Yore
Another one of those games whose cheery retro appearance belies a faintly sadistic interior, Legends of Yore has all you need it to - 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 being fat with 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. Bard's Tale
You'll either love it or you'll hate it. This 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 - especially as it's a remake of a rather more revered ancient game. Fortunately, a recent update meant that original game is now also included with this one, so you've got your choice of smiley face or po-face anyway.
3. Doom 2 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, 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, and somehow that manages the same tension and adrenaline that its shooter predecessor offer. Yeah, 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, this 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 and involve only button-bashing, you really should play Avernum. 30-odd hours of play, dozens of towns to explore, even more quests, a branching storyline and complex roleplaying mechanics - this is one to settle down with for a couple of deeply-absorbed weeks, not to pass a bus journey.
Brand new (at the time of writing) to the app store, this indie action-roleplaying game 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-voice 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, not to mention extremely quotable, Bastion ends up being a brilliantly atmospheric game, in a way you wouldn't expect from its zoomed-out, 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. See also: Bastion review
(Also check out our new piece: The 39 best ever first-person shooter games.)