I'm not sure what you are using for a game engine here, but I have seen a method in Unity where you draw the basic sprites and then animate them in the editor using bone/rigging techniques similar to 3D animation methods. I'm not sure if this reduces the work load as I'm pretty new to game dev. in general, but this came to mind and I don't think anyone above mentioned it.
I'm not using an engine for this one actually. I'm using C++ and SFML for study purposes. I already made a simple top-down shooter with basic data-driven design, which we're using as the base for this RPG now. Though that shooter has a flat top-down view, so the sprites and animations are really simple.
We used Unity for our previous platformer, so we already have experience with that technique. We decided not to use for this RPG because we plan to have the character to be able to face 8-directions, and we thought using sprite sheets would be easier for that. Not sure if other people would think differently.