The Best in the Wonderful World of SNES RPGs

The Best Super Nintendo RPGs

Note from racketboy: Thanks again to Ack, for all of his hard work on this comprehensive guide to the best RPGs the SNES has to offer.  For more RPG and other Genre-based guides, check out our Genre Guide section.  Also, you can learn even more about the SNES at our Beginner’s Guide and Defining Games guides.

Were you one of the next generation of gamers that didn’t think RPGs were cool until Final Fantasy VII?  Own a Super Famicom, but have no clue what to play for it?  Wondering what the role-playing classics of Nintendo’s entry in the 16-bit generation were?  Well look no further.  Here at we’ve got a list of suggestions that you just gotta try.  So sit back, chill with a nice frosty potion, and prepare yourself to experience the world of SNES RPGs.

Final Fantasy Series

Final Fantasy Series ScreenshotThe Super Famicom would see three releases from the main Final Fantasy series for the console, each one taking Square’s popularity even further.  While Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI would get stateside releases(as FF2 and FF3, respectively), Final Fantasy V would stay obscure to American audiences for years afterwards.  Europe would be forced to wait even longer, not seeing the titles until their PlayStation re-release several years later.

While each Final Fantasy features different characters in different worlds, all three brought new ideas to the series.  While preceding titles for the NES had full casts, the characters that would populate the Super Famicom titles would prove to be some of the most memorable of the series, with many fans ranking them among the best titles of the series.  The SNES’s audio capabilities were brought to the test by Nobuo Uematsu, with VI bringing some of the most loved songs from the series to the table.  The sprites and backgrounds would evolve slowly over time, and all would utilize Mode 7 technology for some extra visual flair.

But perhaps most endearing were the characters, designed from the concept art of Yoshitaka Amano.  Amano’s art would pervade all three games, though his creature designs and character portraits are most obvious in VI.  The series would also broach potentially controversial topics, such as child abuse, prejudice, the deaths of loved ones, and a coming apocalypse, while also discussing love, duty, honor, and other themes commonly explored in the genre.

It should also be noted that the Final Fantasy Series had another game released for the SNES, entitled Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in the USA, Final Fantasy USA Mystic Quest in Japan, and Mystic Quest Legend in Europe.  This game did not feature the stunning artwork or music the main series was known for, the battle and equipment systems were cut down immensely, and a small party size of up to 2 characters was implemented.  The game is generally easy, excepting the first battle, which is arguably the hardest in the game.  The title is more of an attempt to bring new RPG players who have little to no experience with the genre into the fold.  Most RPG veterans avoided it.
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Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger ScreenshotChrono Trigger was considered quite revolutionary for an RPG, featuring a multitude of side quests, multiple endings, a unique battle system that combined aspects of the turn-based Japanese RPG with the action RPG flavor of titles like Secret of Mana that allows part members to combine attacks for greater effect, as well as a beautiful score and excellent characters designed by Akira Toriyama.

The game follows Crono as he and his friends attempt to stop the apocalypse, brought on by an extraterrestrial creature named Lavos.  To do this, he and his friends must wander through time, collecting weapons and items while becoming more powerful in anticipation of the final battle.  The story’s a bit more complex than this, but I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t played it.  Chrono Trigger is quite epic, and also has lots of replayability as the party stays powerful between each game, allowing players who’ve beaten the title several times easier access to the various endings.

While it has been criticized at times for its short length and generally low difficulty, Chrono Trigger is often considered one of the best games ever made.  If you are new to the world of RPGs, it’s definitely worth a look.
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Dragon Quest/ Dragon Warrior Series

Dragon Quest - Dragon Warrior Series Screenshot While the Famicom versions of Dragon Quest would make it to the states in the form of Dragon Warrior 1-4, the Super Famicom versions wouldn’t see an official release either stateside or in the PAL regions.  The series forms two trilogies, comprised of Dragon Quest 1 -3 and Dragon Quest 4 -6.  The game is well known for its art, done by Akira Toriyama, whose influence would grow more obvious in the series as graphics in the titles improved.  The series is also remembered for plots that are out of the ordinary.  For instance, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride follows the Hero through twenty years of his life as he finds a wife and starts a family.

The Dragon Quest games always focus on a character called the Hero, who must complete some kind of quest, ranging from fighting a Demon Lord to slaying dragons to getting married.  The earliest title only allowed the Hero in the party, though later games would include multiple party members, the ability to recruit monsters after random encounters, and even a job system that.  While not as expansive as what would come in the Final Fantasy titles, still held some interesting occupations.

While Dragon Quest V and VI were made for the Super Famicom, eventually the early Dragon Quest titles would find their way on as remakes, with improved graphics and sound as well as minor changes and tweaks to improve gameplay.  The Game Boy Color remakes also featured specialized borders if played on a Super Game Boy.  Obscure only that in the middle games never saw releases outside of Japan, the Dragon Quest series is one definitely worth looking up, and fan translations of ROMs can be found on the web.
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Mother 2/ Earthbound

Earthbound Screenshot A SNES RPG that showed us the modern-day setting could work perfectly in an RPG, Earthbound could only be described as strange, quirky, and very fun.  From its off-beat music to its hilarious references to American culture and the RPG genre, this is definitely a title not to be missed.  Earthbound serves as the sequel to the Japanese only game Mother, released for the Famicom in 1989.  It follows a boy named Ness, who discovers a meteor has crashed near his home.  There he encounters the alien Buzz Buzz, who informs him that he is from the future where an alien named Giygas has taken over the world.

From there Ness and his friends must venture from town to town, solving problems as they go.  And character names like Twoson, Threed, Fourside, and Magicant, are just an early indication of the bizarre experiences that are in store.  No random encounters occur, instead enemies are present on screen and attempt to rush the party.  If Ness and his pals are high enough in level, enemies will attempt to get away from them, and the party will automatically win battles. Also, hit points roll downwards, like an odometer, and a character does not go unconscious until his hit points reach 0, so a character whose hit points are rolling down can be healed, saving them.  Money is also earned by withdrawing it from ATMs, after Ness’ father puts money in for him.

Originally meant to fit on an 8 megabit cartridge, Earthbound would eventually become large enough it required a 24 megabit cartridge, likely due to the large amounts of music in the game.  In all, Earthbound would require five years in development, being shared by both Ape, Inc. and HAL Laboratory, Inc.  When it did release in Japan, gamers had option of purchasing it boxed with the strategy guide and such promotional items as scratch and sniff stickers!  In America, though praised by reviewers, sales didn’t do so well, as RPGs were often overlooked at the time.  Still, what more could be said about a game that features the “New Age Retro Hippie” as an enemy?
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Breath of Fire Series

Breath of Fire Series Screenshot The SNES would see the start of Capcom’s ongoing RPG series, Breath of Fire, where the player always follows the adventures of a blue haired hero named Ryu.  In every game except the fifth, Ryu has some sort of dragon-based heritage which allows him to learn to shape-shift into dragons to fight.  While the games all seem to fall into the same continuity(except V, which Capcom says is a different universe entirely), the Ryu of each story is never the same character.  Capcom has never defined the order the games come in(though IV-I-II-III seems the most plausible).

The Breath of Fire series features other constants as well.  Every game features a large cast of anthropomorphic characters.  There is always a female counterpart to Ryu named Nina, and in the first four titles she is always a blond woman with wings.  Ryu also has a love of fishing in every game, which serves as inspiration for a very common mini-game in the series.

Only Breath of Fire and Breath of Fire II were released on the Super Famicom, both seeing a release soon after in North America, though only II seeing release in Europe initially.  Both games were criticized on their release for being too difficult.  However once the player has advanced far enough in the game, the difficulty is countered by the size of the character roster.  The Breath of Fire series features the ability to switch out characters in the middle of a fight, so if one goes down, another can step in to take his place. The games also show health bars of enemy creatures, though this feature doesn’t work out for bosses, who often have more health than the bar registers.

While not the greatest RPGs on the console, the two Breath of Fire games are still solid titles, and definitely shouldn’t disappoint.
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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Super Mario RPG Screenshot This title would serve as the end of a relationship.  First, it was the final Mario game to be released on the Super Famicom.  Two, released in 1996, it would be one of the final games to receive a major commercial release on the console in general.  And three, it would serve as one of the final collaborations that Nintendo and Square would have to for more than five years.  But despite all these endings, Super Mario RPG was worth it.  This game was incredible, featuring some of the best music on the console, 3D graphics absolutely phenomenal for the console, and an entertaining battle system that combines the play styles of a Squaresoft RPG with a Mario platformer.

Of course to handle this, the hardware had to be upgraded.  Super Mario RPG is one of three titles to be released outside of Japan with Nintendo’s SA-1 chip, improving clock speed and RAM while also employing copy-protection, thus ensuring the European crowd(who never saw an official release) would have to wait even longer for the ROM.  In the meantime, 210 sound effects were put in the game, along with music by Yoko Shimomura, who would incorporate the work of Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu to round out the sound.  The game would combine many elements of both platformers and RPGs, fusing the two genres quite seamlessly even in the battle system, where well time commands could increase attack power and length.  For instance, one of Mario’s most basic powers was to stomp on his enemies, but press a button at the right time, and he does it again.  And again, if the press is times right.  And again and again, and so on, dealing massive amounts of damage.

The game does feature many characters originally created for the game, though due to Square owning rights on many of them they are unable to appear in other games.  But the game is an excellent choice for fans of Nintendo or Squaresoft, and even Bowser is a playable character.  This title comes highly recommended.
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Tales of Phantasia

Tales of Phantasia Screenshot While the first title in the Tales series of RPGs, Tales of Phantasia wouldn’t see a release outside of Japan until 2006 (on the Gameboy Advance), which is a shame considering the quality of the game.  This title would be the first 46 Megabit game to be released on the Super Famicom, as well as the first game to feature streamed audio voices, thanks to the power of the “Flexible Voice Driver.”  This includes full vocals for the song “Yume Wa Owaranai.”

The plot follows two young men, Cless Alvein and Chester Burklight, who are out hunting when their village is destroyed.  When they return, they find their families killed, and Cress vows revenge.  Along the way, they make new friends and allies, adding to the party in skill, power, and capability.  It sounds stereotypical, yes, but the battle system goes above and beyond.  It’s an early build of the Tales combat system, known as the Linear Motion Battle System.  Combat is on a 2D plane, similar to a fighting game, where characters can run around attacking one another.  The player generally controls one character, while the computer handles the rest.  In Tales of Phantasia, the system is not as refined as it would be in later games, so the player never has total control over their character.  But they can make general selections about the AI of other characters, improving the party’s survivability.

On a side note, this title would lead to the creation of Tri-Ace, known for the Star Ocean line of RPGs.  The original creators, Wolf Team, were looking for outside publishers and financiers for their title.  Namco made the winning bid(though Enix tried), and brought them into their company, then cut half the staff and began making massive changes to the game.  Incensed by this behavior, several team members protested the changes.  The controversy created delays, forcing Namco to slow Tales of Phantasia’s development by a year.  After its release in 1995, many Wolf Team members would leave to form Tri-Ace, leaving the others to stay at Namco.  Meanwhile, Nintendo was originally planning on publishing the title, but as they shifted gears to start working towards the Nintendo 64, they dropped Tales of Phantasia. Though the game was released, it created a schism with Namco, leading them to work almost exclusively with Sony, since Sega was a major rival of Namco’s.
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Terranigma Screenshot One of the console’s greatest and most overlooked Action RPGs, Terranigma was released only in Japan, Europe, and Australia.  So while PAL owners got to experience the joys of this title, most Americans went on with their lives, never knowing the greatness that lay across the oceans.  Terranigma tells the story of the resurrection of the world, progressing from millions of years ago to the near future.  The main character, named Ark, is a bit of a trouble maker, who just so happens to open a box that causes the inhabitants of his village the freeze.  The village elder, the only person besides Ark not to be frozen, then tells him he has to fix things, and sends him on his way to bring life back to the Underworld, and then the Overworld.

The plot is heavy on ideas about good vs. evil, the creation of life, the progression of life, death, and reincarnation.  While not necessarily one of the greatest games in terms of graphics or music, the changes to the world that take place as Ark progresses with his mission, watching life grow into abundance, is an extremely beautiful change, and the music does a superb job of backing up the imagery.  Mode 7 graphics are utilized for the game world when moving between towns and dungeons, and appears to wrap around in a way that represents the curvature of the Earth.

As an Action RPG, the title also features an unusual combat system, where attacks differ depending on whether the character is running, standing still, or jumping.  There is also the option to block, though this does little more than stopping small projectiles.  The game also uses a magic system involving “magic rings,” which are made from Magirocks found in the game that the player takes to magic shops and has turned into rings.  Once a ring is used, it’s destroyed, though the player will get the items used to make it back in their inventory to make more rings.

Terranigma was released in Japan along with a book by Kamui Fujiwara about the plot of the game that reads similarly to a “Choose Your Own Adventure.”  A two-part manga series, novel, and game atlas were also released.  For the German release, Club Nintendo put out a small comic book.
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Star Ocean

Star Ocean ScreenshotRemember that mention of Tri-Ace’s creation earlier?  Well this is where it pays off.  Star Ocean is their first game release, published by Enix for the Super Famicom in 1996, as well as the first title in the Star Ocean series.  While a North American release was initially in the works, it was canceled when Enix closed their America division.  A shame, too.  Star Ocean would be one of the most intensive games on the Super Famicom, coming in at a whopping 48 megabits.  The cartridge utilized the “Flexible Voice Driver” and featured even more voice work than Tales of Phantasia, though due to size limits the quality was lessened.  The game also featured surround sound.  Finally, the title was one of only two Super Famicom games to use the S-DD1 chip to help with graphics compression, the other being Street Fighter Alpha 2.

But on to the good stuff.  The title follows Ratix, a young Fellpool from the planet Roak.  Rumors start spreading of a mysterious petrification disease, so one of his closest friend’s father goes to investigate, subsequently becoming infected himself.  Ratix undertakes a quest to find a special plant that is said to cure any disease, but just as he reaches it a sudden light explodes, and two humans appear from space.  That’s right, Star Ocean is a science fiction RPG, with many similarities to Star Trek.  It also features standard random encounters, but the battle system is real time, where the player controls a character as the rest of the party is controlled by computer AI, much like Tales of Phantasia.  After all, the original creators had just left Namco to found Tri-Ace, so the many similarities are quite striking.

The series also features the ability to gain up to 8 characters in the party, two of which are secret characters.  The title also serves as the first game to utilize the Private Action, where each character enters a town separately and does their own thing.  The player can use this to affect plot progression and character development, though its effects would end up far more important in later games in the series.  It was also the first to feature the Star Ocean system of item creation, which players could use to make powerful equipment, expensive objects to sell, and even cook food to get around the 20-limit cap on individual items.  This would be one of the final hurrahs of the Super Famicon before the Nintendo 64’s release, hitting store shelves on July 19, 1996.
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Seiken Densetsu (Mana) Series

Seiken Densetsu 3 ScreenshotThe Seiken Densetsu series, often referred to as the Mana series, is a bit of an odd bird.  Originally intended as a sideline of games to the Final Fantasy line, the first Seiken Densetsu is also known as Final Fantasy Legend.  The next two in the series, Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3, would release on the Super Famicom in a much different style.  While 3 never made it out of Japan, Seiken Densetsu 2, better known in the USA and Europe as Secret of Mana, would reach wide acclaim, and is often considered one of the best games ever made.  Though originally designed for the Super Famicom CD add-on(ie. the PlayStation) as a launch title, the project was quickly turned into a cartridge upon Nintendo’s dropping the peripheral.  The game was translated in less than a month, causing much of the text to be cut, so conversations are bare-bones at most.  Seiken Densetus 3, meanwhile, was supposedly so large that translating it proved impossible on the SNES catridge, as well as plagued by some software bugs, and the game was never brought over.

Both games were definitely Action RPGs, with the player controlling one character while the CPU controlled two others in a pseudo-Zelda style combat system.  While both titles feature multiplayer, Seiken Densetsu 3 only supported two players.  Secret of Mana could support up to three via the use of a Multi Tap.  Both games also feature the Ring Menu system, where items, spells, equipment, and even various options settings can be changed on the fly.  Mode 7 would also be used occasionally in the titles, and Seiken Densetsu 3 featured surround sound.

Seiken Densetsu 3 also had players pick their characters at the beginning, heavily affecting gameplay and some plot elements.  It would feature a system to choose which stats to raise whenever a character leveled up, as well as job classes that would evolve over time.  Both titles would feature amazing graphics at the time of release, as well as large and epic soundtracks.  If you’re a fan of the Action RPG, the two Seiken Densetsu titles for the Super Famicom are worth taking the time to check out.
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Fire Emblem Series

Fire Emblem Series Screenshot And you thought the back story to the Seiken Densetsu series was complicated.  While the West wouldn’t see any Fire Emblem releases until after the popularity of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Intelligent Systems was pumping them out like hotcakes in Japan.  There are four Fire Emblems for the Super Famicom, though most fans consider only three of them officially for the console, and only two were originally in cartridge form.  The first two releases, Fire Emblem: Monsho no Nazo and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, were released late in the Super Famicom’s pre-Nintendo 64 days, in1994 and 1996 respectively.  The third game, BS Fire Emblem: Akaneia Senki, considered unofficial, was released in four individually playable parts in 1997 via the Satellaview.  And the fourth, Fire Emblem: Thracia 776, was released in 1999 on Nintendo Power catridges.

For those not in the know, the Satellaview was a satellite modem Nintendo released as an add-on to the Super Famicom.  Many of the games were exclusive, and still are, and games had to be saved to a Memory Pak.  Since the Satellaview service has been discontinued, it is effectively impossible to play BS Fire Emblem: Akaneia Senki unless someone found a Memory Pak still containing the game, and even then the game wouldn’t be playable in its full glory, as the voice acting in the game was streamed.  Meanwhile, Nintendo Power catridges were flash RAM carts, which people could download games onto.  Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 was also released on a DX Pack, and so it is still possible to find the game.

Anyway, enough history.  The Fire Emblem games are Strategy RPGs, known for their difficulty due to permadeath.  Namely, if a character dies in a Fire Emblem, they stay dead for the rest of the game.  Any segments of story they were in are removed, and if necessary, plot will change, though if any of the major characters fall it usually spells game over.  Of course this also affects enemy units, so once you drop an enemy, they stay down.  Combat is handled on a large map which players must navigate in a turn-based approach, slowly moving their units one by one across it.  Instead of randomly generated player units, such as in titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, all characters have distinct personalities and skills, though they always fall under specific professions in Fire Emblem’s job system.  Combat operates similarly to rock-paper-scissors, with certain weapon types being more or less effective against other types of weapons.  All the games take place in a continuous world on various continents, and many serve as sequels, prequels, or even between chapters of other games, and while interpersonal relationships were always an important part of the series, they’re not fully delved into until after the Super Famicom titles.

If you enjoy medieval battles, turn-based combat, and engaging characters, the Fire Emblem titles are good places to look, though be wary: They aren’t easy titles, though they are rewarding.
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Front Mission

Front Mission Screenshot Want to try a Strategy RPG, but not into the fantasy setting?  Enjoy near-future mecha combat?  Want to blow the limbs off enemy mecha with all manner of destructive paraphernalia?  Then, Sqauresoft’s mech-combat-filled Front Mission is for you.  Front Mission is sometimes seen as more of a Strategy game than an RPG.  Units are moved about the field one by one and can either enter physical combat or take potshots.  All people drive battle mechs, called Wanzers in the series.  The Wanzers can be outfitted with all manner of different kinds of weapons, entailing a great deal of customization for every character.  The two arms, the legs, and the body all have their own hit points, and players can destroy different pieces to cripple their opponents.  While destroying the body will finish the Wanzer off, destroying their arms will remove their weapons and taking out their legs ruins their mobility.  Vehicles also exist, though they only have bodies.

The plot of Front Mission focuses on a war breaking out in the year 2090 on a small island in the Pacific, named Huffman Island.  The war, known as the Second Huffman War, occurs between the Oceania Community Union(OCU) and the United States of the New Continent(UNC).  Though the main character, a man by the horrible name of Royd Clive, initially severs the OCU, the first mission in the game gets a bit bungled, and because of that he’s effectively court-marshaled.  Which leads to is eventual recruitment as a mercenary for the OCU.

Unfortunately the plot remains rather vague, and isn’t fully explained.  Not even in the remake for the PlayStation, Front Mission 1st, is the plot fully explained, or in Front Mission 4, which is directly related.  Finally, in Front Mission 5 is every mystery finally answered, so if you want the whole story, it’ll require playing through every game.
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Bahamut Lagoon

Bahamut Lagoon Screenshot Another Strategy RPG that was never released outside of Japan, Bahamut Lagoon is a squad-based game where squads are moved one by one over battlefields in an attempt to destroy the enemy or finish specific objectives.  However, the defining thing about Bahamut Lagoon is that the squads also have dragons.  That’s right, dragons.  The game’s all about them.  You can fight with them, feed them to increase their stats, and by feeding them enough, get them to evolve into various forms to make them more effective at combat.  In general they have minds of their own, though they will accept simple commands.

The plot of the game centers around Byuu, head of the Resistance.  His aim is to defeat the Granbelos Empire, who recently conquered the world after a long and terrible war that destroyed Byuu’s home kingdom.  They start by stealing a giant ship called the Farnheit, and set about on their open rebellion.  Now there isn’t much in the way of land in the game.  The world seems mostly composed of caves and floating continents, as well as ships made of land, including the Farnheit.  Flying around on a ship made of dirt and feeding dragons may not seem that interesting, but the game actually ends up rather fun.  Later on, mission modes become available, allowing the player to level themselves and their dragons without advancing the plot.

On a side note, Bahamut Lagoon shares designers with Final Fantasy VI, including an enemy.  In FFVI, an enemy Monster-In-A-Box can be found in the World of Ruin, named the Presenter.  The enemy is actually a commonly occurring one in Bahamut Lagoon, making an interesting tie-in between the games, though they aren’t officially related.  Also, Bahamut Lagoon released in Japan in early 1996.  There were plans made by Square to release both it and Front Mission in North America, though events were quickly souring between Nintendo and Square.  This is often considered the ultimate reason for why they were never brought over, as Square would soon abandon Nintendo to make games exclusively for Sony.
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Lufia Series

Lufia Series Screenshot The Lufia Series is a set of currently four fantasy RPGs all set in the same world across multiple centuries, though only two were released for Super Famicom.  While America would get both Lufia & The Fortress of Doom and Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, Europe and Australia would only see Lufia 2(called Lufia in Australia).  The two titles are actually out of order in the time line, with the ending of Lufia 2 serving as the intro to Lufia.  In the Lufia games, random encounters occur on the world map, but in Lufia 2, dungeon enemies are represented by sprites similar to one of the enemies in the group, and only move when the player moves, making it possible to dodge them.  Both games are rife with puzzles throughout their dungeons, ranging from fairly easy to extremely difficult to figure out.

And then there’s the combat system.  Lufia doesn’t have characters target individual monsters.  Instead, you target the group.  If there are two lizards and two bats attacking, they’re lumped into groups, and while you can target a specific group, you don’t know which one you’ll hit.  Also of note is that all characters take turns at the same time, and if one character kills an enemy that the next was targeting, that character will still attack the dead monster.  Strategies must be formed to effectively combat creatures.

As for story, a group of creatures called the Sinistrals emerge and attempt to take over the world, so some of mankind’s greatest warriors go after them.  This story is the plot of Lufia 2.  In Lufia, the story takes place 99 years later, when a new Sinistral army has emerged, and the player must take the hero they choose to name to fight against them.

While the games are sometimes criticized for not being as good as some of the heavy hitters of the genre like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana, and while the second one does suffer from a few glitches and spelling errors, they do make for a fun romp and any hardcore RPG fan should take the time to give them a spin.  Also of note, the original Lufia was considered for a port to the Sega Genesis, though the project was scrapped early on in its life.
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Live A Live

Live A Live Screenshot Ok, I’ll be honest.  This title is only on here because it’s a personal favorite of mine.  The plot is actually a group of different stories about different characters from different times, ranging from a caveman in prehistory to a robot in the far future.  Each of the seven sections is very different, with some featuring without combat, to nothing but combat.  Every character is distinct, and while many may appear stereotypical, they still have likable personalities.  Ultimately after all seven sections are finished, a special section appears set in medieval Europe.  After completing this section, the final boss appears, asking the characters why they fight.  The player must then select who they will use to defeat him.

The battle system is something that really stands out as different from other RPGs Square produced.  Combat takes place on a 7×7 grid, though this may be divided up in various ways in different chapters.  Characters move around the grid, performing special moves that target specific areas.  Enemies do the same, and the two must fight until one side is finished off.  Skills work off charge times, and hit points are refilled after every battle, so the player can always fight at his hardest.

The game is also rife with little tributes to various films and historical characters.  Many of the chapters were written and designed by manga artists, as were character designs.  Yoko Shimomura also composed all the game’s music, much like Super Mario RPG.  Unfortunately the game’s relatively obscure and doesn’t seem to have even been considered for a release outside of Japan.

So there you have it, 15 RPGs and series to look up for all you Super Famicom fans.  But just because I recommend these doesn’t mean there aren’t many, many more RPGs on the console worth playing.  Here’s a few more recommendations that should keep you occupied for a long time:
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Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia Screenshot This is another Action RPG, known as Illusion of Time in Europe.  The game takes place in a psuedo-historical setting, with many well known locations like the Egyptian Pyramids serving as locales.  The player takes control of an explorer named Will and have them wander different areas attempting to reach new places and kill enemies.  In a bit of a twist, Illusion of Gaia features no experience system.  Instead, a jewel appears after clearing an area that will raise the characters’ stats.  Money and equipment are also not present in the game, and there are few healing items.  Instead players can visit Dark Spaces to heal up and save.

It is this Dark Space that sets off the plot of the game.  Will accidentally stumbles into one where he is told by a being called Gaia that a comet is hurtling towards the earth and will bring great evil to it.  Will must do everything in his power to stop it.  While the game isn’t as acclaimed as many of the rest of its SNES RPG brothers, it is still considered quite good in its own right and deserves a look.  Nintendo also initially released the game with a t-shirt, so if you can, check it out.

On a side note, this title was created by Quintet, also known for Terranigma and Soul Blazer as well as other games like the ActRaiser series.  The titles see several similarities, and in a secret developer’s room in Terranigma, the game is referred to as “Illusion of Gaia 2.”  If you enjoyed Terranigma, definitely check this one out.
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SaGa Series

SaGa Series Screenshot While the SaGa games would eventually make their way out of Japan, only one of the three Super Famicom titles would see a release in America(and not at all in the PAL regions apparently), and it would only take Squaresoft 13 years to do it.  The three SaGa titles on the Super Famicom are known as Romancing SaGa 1, 2, and 3 respectively.  The games follow multiple characters, taking the time to focus on each separately.  After that…well, there really aren’t too many similarities, so I’ll devote a quick paragraph to each one.

First, in Romancing Saga, the player selects one of 8 characters, follows their story to the end, then selects a new character who wanders around the world.  Often selectable characters will come across each other then continue on their merry way.  The world is your typical fantasy RPG fare.  The player can also recruit various party members from the world to continue with their storyline, and through this the overall plot of the game is discovered.  It’s great for anyone who doesn’t want to spend hours uncovering a long storyline and feeling like they’re getting no where as each section is significantly shorter than a run through something like a Final Fantasy game

Second, Romancing Saga 2 mixes up the idea a bit by having the player play as a king or queen.  When they die, the player then controls their heir.  And upon their death, again the player controls the heir.  And again.  And again.  And so on and so forth until the game ends.  On a nifty note, only the first heir is chosen for the player as well, so after a while they player can decide who they wish to take over as.  The ultimate goal?  Advance the kingdom, of course!

And third, in Romancing Saga 3, the character is once again given a choice of 8 characters to pick from.  Battles can take a much more strategic approach than the standard RPG in Commander Mode, with the player creating battle formations that use teamwork to defeat enemies.  The game boasts a large cast, as well as a unique level system.  Characters don’t level up.  Instead they gain stat boosts based on the way they fight.  If a character casts lots of spells, they become better at it.  Melee characters get better at physical attacks and defenses.  It allows the player to build them to their strengths, instead of the game forcing them down a specific tree or path.
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Megami Tensei Series

Megami Tensei Series Screenshot Oh boy.  There’s no easy way to talk about this one.  The Megami Tensei series happened to see a lot of releases on the Super Famicom, with no fewer than six releases, sometimes with three in one year.  Of course, while they’re all related, they’re not all sequels of each other.  The six titles are Shin Megami Tensei, Majin Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei 2, Shin Megami Tensei if…, Majin Tensei 2: Spiral Nemesis, Last Bible 3, and Kyūyaku Megami Tensei.  They fall into four categories on the Super Famicom: the Shin Megami Tensei games, the Majin Tensei games, the Last Bible games, and the Digital Devil games.

The Shin Megami Tensei games are Shin Megami Tensei 1, 2, and if….  And yes, it is actually called if….  These games are First-Person RPGs, set in Tokyo in the year 199X, and revolve around high schoolers being sucked into the demon world.  Well, the first and if… do, while Tensei 2 is about what happens in the aftermath of 1.  Combat is turn based, and every character has a specific alignment.  Many of the recruitable characters don’t have official names either.

Then there are the Majin Tensei games, Majin Tensei and Majin Tensei 2: Spiral Nemesis.  While these games are set in the same universe as the others, they are Strategy RPGs, similar to Fire Emblem in terms of gameplay and graphics.  The games feature some odd but interesting effects, such as moonlight affecting the strength of demon characters.  Again, they are set in a more modern setting, in locales in the series canon.

Next comes the Last Bible games.  Only one would be a Super Famicom release, while the others saw releases on Game Boy(only one of which would see release outside of Japan).  Last Bible 3 is a bit different from the rest of the series in that it takes place in a fantasy setting instead of the modern day.  The main character is able to recruit monsters to join his party, and can then customize those monsters to fight in various ways for greater party benefit.  Monsters can also equip gear and level up like the main character.  It plays closer to the typical RPG than the other titles.

And finally there is the only Digital Devil game released for the Super Famicom, Kyūyaku Megami Tensei.  However, that’s a bit of a misnomer, as this title is actually both of the Digital Devil games for the Famicom remade for the Super Famicom console.  Once again, the game is a First-Person RPG.  The plot is about a boy who summons demons via a computer program he wrote, hence the name Digital Devil.  The remake would see graphical improvements as well as valuable additions like a save feature for the first title.

It is important to note that all of this was spawned by a book series by Aya Nishitani.  The series didn’t stop on the Super Famicom either, but went on to see releases on PlayStation and PlayStation 2, cell phones, Game Boy Advances, PSP, PC, Sega Saturn, and even a spin-off for the Virtual Boy.  Upcoming games include potential releases on the DS, PS3, and Wii.  The series, sometimes referred to as MegaTen, is nothing short of HUGE, and is perhaps the most prolific series in game history, coming to 52 current releases since the Famicom if including every title(there are a lot of cell phone titles).  It’s considered a bit off the beaten path for most RPG fans, but if you really want something different, look the series up.
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Shadowrun SNES Screenshot Based on the popular pen and paper role playing game, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk RPG set in Seattle in the year 2050.  The player follows Jake Armitage, a courier and shadowrunner, who suffers amnesia after an attempted hit on his life.  So now he has to find out who he is, found out why people want him dead, and get them back.  The game is an Action RPG with battles and assassination attempts occurring in real time.

It does feature a leveling up of sorts.  As Jake kills enemies he gains Karma, which can be spent to boost stats, power up abilities, or unlock new ones.  Jake can also speak with NPCs through a large database of terms that gets added to every time someone says a new keyword to him.  But finally, in a hark back to its roots and the novel Neuromancer, Jake can enter cyberspace to hack computers.  This gets him money and key information, though if you die in cyberspace, you die in the game.

While it did release in all three regions and English was the main language in all three, the Japanese version featured subtitles, a longer intro, and some small graphical differences.  The game didn’t sell very well despite it being considered pretty good.
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Ys Series

Ys Series Screenshot The Ys series is a series of Action RPGs that follow a Germanic young man named Adol Christin, who goes around on various adventures, helping people as he goes.  Three of the games would see release on the Super Famicom, being Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, Ys IV: Mask of the Sun, and Ys V: Kefin, the Lost City of Sand.  The plots are: Adol learns that a village is being threatened by men in a castle so he helps out, Adol finds a message in a bottle asking for help so he boards a ship to help, and Adol hears a rumor about a lost city so he investigates.  It’s simple, really.

Gameplay varies, though stays in the Action RPG genre, with camera position changing a bit in each of the titles, from a side-scroller to a top-down.  In the first two games, as in IV, Adol deals damage by running into his enemies, though in III and V, he manages to swing a sword.  In V he can even jump and pull out a shield, as well as use magic.

Ok, so it’s extremely simple in concept and story so why include it?  Because the Super Famicom featured a wide deal of diversity in its RPGs, enough for almost everyone to try.  If you’ve tried one on this list and hated it, try a different one and see if it’s more your style.  So many companies were putting out RPGs at the time that while there’s lots of similarities, there’s also lots of differences.  They’re all worth spending a few minutes with.  But this isn’t all.  What follows is a short list of some other recommendations, though these are no where near the complete number of RPGs on the console.  There are literally hundreds on the console.  There’s a good chance there’s one for you.
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Other Titles Worth Checking Out:

  • Soul Blazer
  • Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen
  • Der Langrisser
  • Ultima Series
  • Drakkhen Series
  • Wizardy Series
  • Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together

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D says:

Great article. I only ever played mana on the snes, but boy is that a great game, even for people who are not particularly into rpg’s.
Together with Castlevania IV, the best music on the snes.

andymol21 says:

That’s a lot of RPGs. Only one I have ever played is Chrono Trigger. I loved it and tried some of the others on this list (Earthbound for one) but just never got into the story like I did in Chrono Trigger…

Jack says:

I have BoF 2, but I think that’s about it! You can’t get a lot of these awesome RPGs in Australia and it really sucks! I’ve always wanted to play Chrono Trigger…

Ack says:

Why, Jack, import, my friend! Or emulate! Either PAL or the North American SNES. America got more RPGs overall, but some like Illusion of Gaia were PAL exclusive. It’s unfortunate that Australia gets passed over so much, even fewer games than Europe. A real shame…

MrPopo says:

A bit of a shame that Ogre Battle didn’t get a more prominant position in the list, but it’s comforting to see that there wasn’t anything on the list I wasn’t aware of (aside from that one game that you listed as a personal favorite).

jeffx says:

Fantastic list. I think you should have grouped Soul Blazer along with Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma. This trilogy represents my some of my fondest memories of the SNES. FFVI still takes the cake though.

For a rather complete list (though not as descriptive/verbose as Ack’s), you folks should check out:

Pingfa says:

Good looking list. All the greatest + well known are there, I think.

However, with the likes of Terranigma, Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, which are all action-RPG games… why isn’t Legend of Zelda included?

Jin Sarria says:

Wow, you really picked some dandy’s! I think I am going to fire up my emulator and play a few of these forgotten gems.


Jon says:

Excellent, I’m glad the Lufia series made it on. Lufia 2 must be my favourite SNES RPG, just in front of Terranigma.

Elvis says:

How could omit Secret of Evermore? It was a SoM style RPG with a great little story to go with it, also in the sort of pseudo-history context; and it had a rocket launcher!

Leaf671 says:

Played almost all the rpgs on this list (except for some of the strategy ones)

I love the SNES.

Jonz says:

another omission is Shining Force. That game employed tactical turn-based combat in a new and interesting way, and integrated it with a compelling story, great leveling system, and an interesting cast of characters.

moki says:

Shining force was for sega

Sam says:

Amazing list, although I have played most, there are a couple that caused a spark of interest.

I appreciate you sharing this brilliant age of RPGs.

Krazd says:

I just found my copy of Mario RPG in a box in my garage.. thing goes for $30 on ebay

ott0bot says:

^^The Shining Force series was only on the genesis. It was made by Sega.

Great list Ack. I have a few roms i haven’t play of the JP only releases, after reading this list I’ll definately have to fire them up. I have most of the US releases and have played trough nearly all of them. Good commentary all around.

steve says:

what about super mario RPG? that game was tight!

Capt.Howdy says:

Shadowrun for SNES was total crap compared to it’s Sega counterpart. At least with the Sega it let you change classes( I was always disappointed that it only let you pick human. Troll street samurai would’ve been awesome!). Then again I was one of the five people who bought and played the original tabletop RPG.

Unsweetened Iced Tea says:

@ Pingfa: The Legend of Zelda isn’t considered to be a RPG; it’s more of an action-adventure title.

@steve: It’s the sixth title listed.

7th Saga for the SNES wasn’t mentioned, but is another superb title. Defiantly more on the difficult side.

Hatta says:

Well, then maybe we need a “Worst of” list for SNES RPGs. Like there is for SNES fighters. I’m sure that would cause some lively discussion.

I’d hate to be the poor sap who played all the worst RPGs just to make a list though.

Brad says:

another great game missing is Robotrek!

awesome niche game using robots you design in a turn based combat system, developed by Enix

toraji says:

I’d also like to put in a vote for E.V.O.

The original spore rpg evolving your creature into a human.

Ack says:

Let’s see, to answer a few questions put forth…

First off, I left off Secret of Evermore. A lot of folks were genuinely upset about that game back in the day, mainly because we Americans thought we were getting that instead of Seiken Densetsu 3. I thought it was ok, but if you really want an action RPG, I recommend Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma more. Still, I probably should have mentioned it….

As for E.V.O., I have trouble calling it an RPG. I know, I’ve beaten it, it’s a great game, but I’ve never been able to fully classify it. The evolution system was cool, but after a while you can’t evolve further in a section. It’s like leveling up, but…well, not, you know? Good stuff.

Unfortunately I don’t know too much about Robotrek, so I apologize about it not making the list to any fans.

And finally, coyo7e, there are roughly 200 RPGs on the console, many of which were never seen outside of Japan or even have translation patches for their ROMs, if they even have a ROM. I tried not to mention too many of those, though they did come up in some of the series. There’s a lot more out there, trust me.

Dan says:

Minor correction:

Seiken Densetsu (Mana) 1 was released on the original Gameboy as Final Fantasy Adventure, NOT Final Fantasy Legend.

Final Fantasy Legend 1 to 3 on the Gameboy correspond to SaGa 1 to 3 in Japan, which were predecessors of the Romancing SaGa series (which you mention) and share far more in common with them than they do Seiken Densetsu.

(Seiken Densetsu/Final Fantasy Adventure was later remade for the Gameboy Advance as Sword of Mana.)

Final Fantasy Adventure and Final Fantasy Legend 2 are two excellent and easily overlooked titles that do some solid storytelling in very unique worlds and have some very enjoyable (if primitive by today’s standards) gameplay.

Dan says:

Also, while admittedly a rather simplistic game, FF Mystic Quest boasted some extremely catchy music (the final boss fight rocks) and innovated many features that were later borrowed and enhanced by its successors, such as having a “life bar” instead of just numbers, the ability to use weapons and jump on the map, people talking from their own personal word bubbles rather than in a single scrolling text box, and having enemies visible on the map (non-random encounters).

Ack says:

Ah, thanks for the correction about Final Fantasy Adventure. I often get the two mixed up, so I appreciate the help! I also haven’t played Mystic Quest in years, though I admittedly remember not being impressed with it, so I didn’t want to devote too much time to it in the article. Those are some excellent points about it that I’d never considered before.

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