The Super NES that launched on this side of the Pacific in 1991, gave us some awesome platformers, sidescrolling action games, ports of arcade hits, and with the use of Mode-7, quasi-3D racing and sports titles that were a huge leap over the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System.
Another genre that took off at the time with the 16-bit video game consoles, were role-playing games such as Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star.
But American audiences weren’t that much into RPGs in the early 1990s, and most of them never got translated and released here. SquareSoft even had to create an exclusive game for America just to teach kids over here how to play a text-heavy and turn-based combat system game.
Even though those who could appreciate these games back in the day, got hundreds of hours of fun out of them, fans of classic JRPGs can look over the simple slow gameplay and now outdated graphics to enjoy the story, world exploration, and music, and dive deep into the game’s incredible characters, relationships, and lore without complaining about the limitations of the hardware.
For the sake of this Top 5, we’re taking a look at the best RPG titles released over here in the West, with turn-based combat systems… So no Zelda or similar adventure RPG-type games, they’re great and you should play them but that’s material for another article. This is
The Best RPGs On The Super Nintendo
Breath of Fire II
The original Breath of Fire was developed by Capcom, and published in 1994 in America. It was a very good although slow-paced game with an epic story and interesting characters, where a seemingly “normal” villager is destined to be a hero and save the world.
Have you seen that meme that says: JRPG starts with “Find lost kitten” and ends with “Kill the legendary Dragon?” Well, that’s basically the plot of the sequel.
BoFII takes what made the first title and expands on it a little bit. It still feels kind of slow gameplay-wise by today’s standards, but if you’re into retro games you’ll have the patience for this one.
You take the role of a “Ranger”, a swordsman that takes jobs from the townspeople. Your first mission is to rescue some girl’s pet pig. After that, you embark on a fantastic journey, travel the world, fight monsters, meet kings, befriend princes and princesses and end up discovering that you’re actually a powerful dragon destined to save the world before the darkness takes over everything. Yeah…
Sure, it’s a plot that has become cliché now, but it wasn’t so overused back then, just like when they kidnapped the hero’s girlfriend and you had to take over an evil crime syndicate yourself. There was a time when that was deep storytelling for a game.
Breath of Fire II may not be a super legendary title like the other games on this list, and it’s kinda “average” compared to some other RPGs that stayed in Japan and we didn’t have the opportunity to play back then.
But it is a very competent title with nice music, art style, characters, and story.
You will have to grind to level up your heroes at times and the battles are somewhat repetitive, but that was to be expected in 1994.
This game has been re-released many times on Game Boy Advance, Wii, WiiU, and recently on the Switch because it is a timeless adventure that RPG fans can get into and is still worth playing to this day.
As a side note, I actually like the battle theme of the previous game more, but maybe that’s just me.
Lufia II – Rise of the Sinistrals
Just like Zelda, Lufia II has dungeon exploration and puzzle solving. You can use your sword to cut grass, push stones to activate switches, and shoot arrows at levers to lift bridges or defeat all enemies in a room to open a door or get the key to a treasure chest.
Like a traditional RPG, the battles are turn-based, but in this game, you can see the monsters before getting into a fight with them. This gives you the chance to walk around them or stun them with throwable weapons if you don’t feel like fighting them.
The gameplay is much faster than Breath of Fire I & II. Your hero moves around much quicker, you level up with fewer fights.
In the story, you get told by a mysterious woman very early into the game that you are the destined hero that will protect the world from the Sinistrals, 4 powerful beings that want nothing but chaos to befall humankind.
If you enjoy dungeon crawlers and classic JRPGs, this is the game for you. It’s much easier to get into if you have played top-view adventure games before.
Even if the music isn’t as epic or the graphics were kinda showing their age by the time of the release of this game (1996) it is a great title that has not been officially re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. It did get a remake for NintendoDS, but strange enough, that one did not feature turn-based battles.
Lufia II may have been overlooked because in the mid-90s RPG fans were already enjoying better-looking adventures on PlayStation, and the Japanese market had PC Engine CD games to enjoy. It doesn’t help that the next game on this list launched around the same time.
For those that like games like Breath of Fire, but would like them to have faster gameplay and more stuff to do in dungeons than random battles every 2 steps, then check this one out.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
What happens when you give Mario and his friends to SquareSoft and tell them to make the kind of games they make the best? An epic, legendary, memorable adventure! That’s what happens.
Super Mario RPG is the game that truly got the mainstream Nintendo audience into the Final Fantasy formula. It had platforming and familiar Mario elements while exploring the world and talking to NPCs while retaining the turn-based battle system and epicness of Square games.
In battles, you don’t just select an option and that’s it, if you press the button at the right time, you hit with extra damage, which can turn the tides in your favor. It makes the game demand your attention all the times, and it isn’t just a casual idle RPG like many available on Android nowadays, you know the ones that look pretty but you as a player really don’t do much.
Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach (Surprise!) and Mario comes to the rescue. But now in a pseudo-3D world filled with interesting characters, funny dialogs, a lot of lands to explore, puzzles, battles, and great boss fights. You even get to team up with your archnemesis King Koopa and play as Peach in some battles.
The legacy of this game is so great, that to this day Nintendo fans are calling for Geno to be a playable character in Smash Bros. But alas, we only got a custom for the Gunner Mii.
It is a shame that Square and Nintendo had a bitter separation after the Nintendo 64 kept using cartridges and Final Fantasy VII just couldn’t fit on one. Square went for the PlayStation and its CD format.
We all wanted a Super Mario RPG 2 in the same style, but instead, we got Paper Mario, which was fun, but not EPIC like this one.
You owe it to yourself to play this title, which isn’t just one of the greatest SNES games, but one of the best games of all time, on par with JRPGs that don’t have Mario and friends on it.
Simply put, this is a masterpiece, one that is long due a proper sequel and it’s not only one of the best things that came out in the 16-bit era but one of the best examples of what a videogame can be.
It takes you, a red-haired Goku with a sword, and a party of misfits, on an odyssey that travels through time to the age of the dinosaurs to the distant future where robotic people rule everything.
Here you don’t just get into random battles and the screen changes, you fight in the same top-view that you’re seeing all the time.
Characters have their own attacks, abilities, and special powers, but there are team skills that combine the strengths of two heroes for a devastating special final secret technique.
This game had a lot of genius minds working on it, like Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball and character designer of the Dragon Warrior games, Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, Yuuji Horii, scenario writer and creator of Dragon Quest, and Nobuo Uematsu, veteran composer at Square. The result? Pure gold.
The game has a lot of replay value, and up to 15 endings to unlock! Some characters in your party are optional, as well as side quests, but decisions you make can and will affect the course of history when you travel through time.
This game can easily give you 50 hours of fun when exploring the different eras and dimensions and trying to get every rare item and talk to everybody. But if you try to get all the different endings, it will give you hundreds of hours of playtime.
Chrono Trigger got a slightly remastered port for PlayStation, but load times kill the immersion when you move to different parts of the world and get into battle. The Nintendo DS edition is not that much different than the original version.
There’s nothing like the seamless movement on the map, smooth gameplay, and quick battles without load times of the original Super Nintendo game. You should play this even if you’re not a fan of RPGs since this is one of the best examples of the genre on any game console.
Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III US)
We got this game in 1994 in America as Final Fantasy III, after Square didn’t bother to release some FF games over here. But if they were going to take on the huge task of translating one of their games, good thing it was the best game they’ve ever made.
A lot of gamers believe that Final Fantasy VII is the best one, and perhaps the greatest RPG ever made, but there’s a percentage of players that think that FF6 is the better title. That is up to debate, as well as if this game or Chrono Trigger is better, maybe is just a matter of personal taste.
Whatever the case may be, Final Fantasy 6 is an absolute classic, a perfect example of what the Super Nintendo could do, and everything that a Role Playing Game can be. It is on the top of any “Awesome Game list”, be it SNES, RPGs, or 90s game consoles.
While Chrono Trigger has a complex plot, it’s mostly about Chrono and his friends doing things as a team; but in FFVI, while all characters share a common goal, travel and fight together, each of them has their own backstory, and you get to see many different plots unfold while playing as one of them, or smaller groups that separate from the whole party.
You get to play as a lot of heroes who each have their reasons to join the group, and maybe during the big quest they get separated to explore different places or take on different battlefronts, or one of them has a personal quest and gets a few companions to embark in a journey of one or two heroes.
You also get to see the stories in flashbacks and play with some characters that may not join your party or become playable in the long run. The story is told from so many different perspectives, that it becomes an emotional rollercoaster that tops some of the RPGs coming out these days.
Have I mentioned the awesome soundtrack? The music featured in this game still has live concert tours all over the world and is stunning to listen to the awesome songs this cartridge-based game has. It plays into the emotion and gets you in the right mood you need to have in every scene. And let’s not forget about the opera house part with Locke and Terra.
Sure the gameplay is not much different from other JRPGs of the mid-90s, but it is deep and well done. You even get to put on boots to travel 2X faster and run instead of taking slow snail steps like another game in this list.
While you have random monster encounters, the fights here are very much enjoyable and in the longer more difficult battles, you have to plan a good strategy to win, you can’t just grind like crazy like in other games.
Each hero can fight much differently than the other party members, and invoking espers or activating special skills or items can make a real difference between all of you surviving or having a few companions knocked out at the end of the battle (and they don’t get any EXP)
If you for any reason have not yet played the most legendary Final Fantasy Game in existence… This game will touch your soul, and you should play it. Like right now!