Role playing games have been around since before the days of the Commodore 64. However, they didn't really take off until the 16-bit era of gaming. The Super Nintendo was the system that launched the genre into the mainstream and created some of the most iconic RPGs in history. Here are a few of the best:
9. Breath of Fire II
Buy Breath of Fire II - For SNES
Arguably the best entry in Capcom's legendary RPG series, Breath of Fire II is the game that took the amazing presentation of its predecessor and gave it some real substance. And what substance! Breath of Fire II broke away from the generic JRPG plot formula and introduced a wholly original narrative that put emphasis on customization, player decision, and moral ambiguity. Players were offered a then unparalleled degree of freedom as they explored its massive world, while cherry-picking NPCs to populate their own personal utopia that doubled as an airship. A game that allowed you to conquer one world, while creating your own? How much more immersion can you ask for? Add on top of that multiple endings, Mode 7 graphics at their best, as well as one of the finest soundtracks ever penned by Capcom Composers and you have an adventure that's well worth revisiting.
8. Ogre Battle
Buy Ogre Battle - For SNES
Want a real time Strategy RPG that literally puts you in charge of entire armies? Look no further. In terms of scope, battles don't get much biggger than this on the SNES. And make no mistake, the feeling you get from commanding legions of troops is much different from taking a handful of plucky adventurers and leading them to glory. This isn't a typical adventure; it's an entire military campaign. But, there's a lot more going on in Ogre Battle than just it's combat. A D&D inspired morality system allows you to choose any number of paths on your way to success. Will you be a paragon of light or a dark lord? Both come with their own strengths and weaknesses, and both yield a staggering number of endings. Your actions have consequences in this world, and it lets you know it. Definitely worth playing and replaying!
7. Illusion of Gaia
Buy Illusion of Gaia - For SNES
Enix's action RPG borrows heavily from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past, but this is by no means a bad thing. Once you get past the familiar top-down combat, you'll recognize that Gaia is very much it's own entity. With a trio of playable characters, each with their own charge attacks, dash attacks, jump attacks, and combos, its melee combat alone is considerably more robust than anything Link would offer until his transition to 3D. However, what really sets it apart from any of Nintendo's franchises is its darker narrative and considerably more mature fantasy world. If you love action RPGs, there's not a single reason not to try out this 16-bit classic.
6. Super Mario RPG
Buy Super Mario RPG - For SNES
Remember how I just said that Gaia was more mature than Nintendo franchises? Well, being grimdark doesn't automatically make something better, and Super Mario RPG is all the proof you'll ever need for that. The final collaboration between Nintendo and SquareSoft is a timeless classic filled with an unforgettable cast, colorful locales, and a playful atmosphere that is just plain fun. The way Mario's world is presented in this game makes you want to explore every corner of it because of how many amazing characters populate it. The interactions in this game are just as charming as they were when it was released. But Mario RPG is no slouch when it comes to gameplay either. Easily one of the most accessible, addictive, and delightful games ever made. This is a must play, even if you're not an RPG fan. Perhaps the only serious criticism there is to offer is that they never produced a sequel.
Buy EarthBound - For SNES
However, if we're going to name the best straight RPG Nintendo ever made, that distinction must go to Earthbound. It's hard to explain the brilliance of this game, or the lasting effect it's continued to have on game development to this day. In many ways, Earthbound was a game decades ahead of its time. It was a solid RPG that actively poked fun at every trope of its genre, long before such tongue-in-cheek humor became the norm. It was set (effectively) in the real world, in the modern day. And without getting into spoilers, it toyed with concepts of player-character interaction that wouldn't be touched on in other mainstream titles for years to come. What I'm trying to say is that this game is genius. Its simplistic gameplay and visuals are deceptive as they mask far more complicated narrative themes, which are guaranteed to make a lasting impression on anyone who picks up this legendary title. Earthbound attempts to be more than a game. It wants to be an experience, and the reason why its popularity endures is because its one of the few games that actually succeeds at this. Its a legend amongst gamers for a reason; play it if you ever get the chance.
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Buy Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - For SNES
Remember how I gushed about how Gaia had a much more complicated battle system than Zelda? Well, there's a lot to be said for keeping things simple. A Link to the Past is a phenomenally enjoyable game, and easily the high-watermark of Link's 2D adventures. This was the game that set the tone for every subsequent Zelda title that's followed it, and yes that includes Ocarina of Time. Its deceptively simple controls, hide some of the most intricately developed, masterfully crafted gameplay ever coded. Every item in Link's mind-boggling arsenal offers multiple functions, and allows for almost unlimited opportunities of experimentation. Executing Link's moves are easy, mastering them takes a lifetime. If ever there was a Zelda game worth revisiting, its this one. Not only a phenomenal action RPG, but one of the greatest games made for the SNES in general.
3. Final Fantasy III
Buy Final Fantasy III - For SNES
If it weren't for FFVII on the playstaion, this would be the game that would be getting an HD re-make this year. Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) is a masterpiece. It took every lesson learned from five previous series entries and used them to create a game with a depth that few have ever matched, including a number of its successors. It may only have one ending, but the lack of any central character made this a game all about the journey. And that's good, since that makes up 95% of the game. Depending on who you put in your team, different cutscenes would play out and your chosen heroes would rise to the center of the narrative. Each character has their own compelling backstory, motives, personality, and playstyle, ensuring that this game's narrative and gameplay will not go stale even on your 5th playthrough. Throw in some of the most luscious sprite artwork ever designed, as well as a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and you have a game that's eternally easy on the eyes and ears. In my opinion, a finer Final Fantasy has never been made and given its prestigious company that's saying a lot.
2. Secret of Mana
Buy Secret of Mana - For SNES
Normally, RPGs are pretty solitary experiences. They offer an incredible single player journey, and like most quests its one meant to be undertaken alone. However, Secret of Mana was the phenomenal exception to this rule. Up to 3 players could play simultaneously in this action RPG. And that is Secret of Mana's saving grace. Neither its story nor mechanics really outshine other entries on this list. But, it more than makes up for those failings by creating an unparallelled gaming experience: playing through the entire adventure with a friend. In a genre that's notorious for its exclusively single-player games, Secret of Mana stands out as a shining beacon of 16-bit, fantasy fun.
1. Chrono Trigger
Buy Chrono Trigger - For SNES
Okay, so you probably already saw this one coming a mile away. Even in 2016, Chrono Trigger is held on a lofty pedestal. Its presentation is top-notch. It's gameplay is some of the best ever devised. And the fact that you can time-travel as a basic mechanic is so genius, so well implemented, that it deserves every bit of praise it gets. Let's be honest, so many RPGs have been set in vaguely-European, medieval, fantasy worlds that its stale. In fact, even in the 90s it was stale. And, Chrono Trigger Knew it. Yes, it too is set in such a fantasy land. But, being able to time hop a few centuries into the past and future does quite a bit to make all that fresh. And if that had been the full extent of it, this game would still be a must play. But Chrono Trigger takes the concept of time travel an fully embraces it. What you do in the past, has dire ramifications for what happens in the future. Great stuff. I could go on for another few pages about this game's score, non-static battle system, amazing characters, and legendary plot, but I think you get the idea. Chrono Trigger is an amazing game, and the best RPG on the SNES.
So, what'd you think of my list? Did I miss any of your favorites? Do you think I should rearrange the order of my picks? As always, I'd love to read your feedback in the comments.