The Super Nintendo was without a doubt the pinnacle of the golden age of the console RPG. There were classic console role playing games for earlier systems such as the first four Dragon Warrior (Quest) games and Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Phantasy Star, Golden Axe Warrior, and Miracle Warriors for the Sega Master System, and during the same 16-bit era Sega’s Genesis had such gems as Phantasy Star 2-4 and the Shining series, but not other console up to that point had the sheer bulk of console RPGs that the SNES had to offer. Many of the Super NES games made in the 16-bit era still rate highly on lists of not only the greatest RPGs ever made, but the greatest games made, period.
Sadly, due to the expense and difficulties involved in the localization of the text-heavy RPG genre, North American gamers never got the chance to play some the best games released for Nintendo’s highly regarded 16-bit system. Titles such as Star Ocean, Bahamut Lagoon, Tales of Phantasia, Dragon Warrior V, Front Mission, Final Fantasy V, and Seiken Denstesu 3 are all revered in import / ROM translation communities as some of the best games ever created for any system.
Us english speaking folk on the other side of the ocean didn’t exactly get the shaft, however. There were a plethora of amazing titles released for the Super NES in North America. Here are the ten best:
#10 – Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
Released in December 1993, Lufia & the Fortress of Doom was the first in the highly underrated Lufia series. The game is standard RPG fair, with an emphasis on puzzle heavy game play. I won’t lie to you, this is a pretty tough game. Many of environmental puzzles have the tendency to make you pull your hair out, especially if you were a kid playing it before every game had a stradegy guide and before GameFAQs.com. The game revolves around the unnamed hero’s battle against a demonic god-like race called the Sinistrals and there campaign to enslave the earth. An interesting side note, the game was originally planned to be ported to The Sega MegaDrive / Genesis but Taito abandoned the project early in the games development.
#9 – Illusion of Gaia
Released on New Years Day 1994, Illusion of Gaia is at it’s best a twist on the tried and true RPG conventions up that point. The game features only one playable character at a time, no weapons or armor, the inability to re-explore past areas of the game (as all previous areas become unreachable after the game’s story progresses) and a character advancement system that has you collecting gems and allocating them to three unique attributes; attack, defense, and health. The game’s setting is also a departure from most RPGs formula, in that it takes place in a alternate version of modern times and features such real world locations as the Great Wall of China and the Tower of Bable. These elements, when put together, create a game that is different than what you are used to to, and I mean that in a good way.
#8 – Breath of Fire II
Released December 1995 by Capcom, Breath of Fire II is the second game in the Breath of Fire series and the only direct sequel in the franchise thus far. The game takes place 500 years after the events of the original Breath of Fire and introduced a few new ideas to the genre. One of these features is the playable characters each possessing a unique skill that can be used outside of battle. When on the world map screen, one player is selected as the leader while the other three follow in a line behind. Depending on who is in the lead you are able to swim, hunt, fish and jump across certain obstacles. The game is generally regarded to be much better that the original and has a cult following of it own.
#7 – Lufia II: The Rise of the Sinistrals
Released by Taito in August of 1996, this late edition to the Super NES library is the second game in the Lufia series and prequel to the first SNES Lufia game. Playing the original Lufia before Lufia II essentially ruins the second games ending because the prologue to Lufia and The Fortress of Doom reveals the ending of Lufia II. The game features monsters in dungeons that can be seen (similar to Chrono Trigger) and can therefore be avoided. Your party consists of four playable characters but a fifth type of character called a Capsule Monster can be found in the game, which is completely computer controlled. This game, much like the first, is puzzle based and is punishingly difficult. It also features items which can be used in the dungeons (think of the hook shot from the Zelda games) in order to navigate specific obstacles and solve puzzles.
#6 – Secret of Mana
Released on October 3rd, 1993 by Square, Secret of Mana is actually the second game in the Seiken Densetsu (The Legend of the Holy Sword) series, the first being Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (or as we North Americans knew it, Final Fantasy Adventure) for the original Gameboy. What started as a Final Fantasy spin-off, pretty much severed all ties to it’s parent series with the release of Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2). Mana is more of a true action RPG where as battles take place in real time from a top down perspective much like the Zelda games. Unlike the Zelda series, however, Secret of Mana incorporates a more elaborate magic and character leveling system that more closely resembles other Square RPGs of the 16-bit era. At the time of release the game was a massive hit and even today it is highly regarded among console RPG and action game fans alike.
#5 – Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars
Released May 13th 1996, this game was a joint collaboration between Nintendo and Square. The game was created by a dream team of creative minds including Shigeru Miyamoto (Director) and Yoko Shimomura (Music Composer). Super Mario RPG was Nintendo’s plumbing mascot’s first trek into RPG territory, and it wouldn’t be his last. The game’s groundbreaking 3D graphics (it’s only one of three SNES games to use the SA-1 chip, which is essentially an additional micro processor that enabled the game to utilize more RAM and a greater amount of data storage). The unparalled (for it’s time) graphics and it’s Mario centered RPG game play and story combined to make this game a must play. It’s coming to Wii’s virtual console in Japan in June ’08, although there is no confirmed date for a North American release.
#4 – Final Fantasy III (VI)
Released October 11th 1994 by Square, Final Fantasy VI (or III as it was released in North America) was Final Fantasy’s swan song to the 16-bit generation, and it was a fitting goodbye. At the time of it’s release the game was very long, with 35-40 hours of play time required to go through the main quest. It contained colorful villains, tons of playable characters, and a complex plot involving political corruption. The game featured several points where your party was split up and you would have to play out the adventures of each faction, in any order you wished, only to have the story and characters meet up again later in the game. This game is fondly remembered by many as one of the greatest in the Final Fantasy series.
#3 – Final Fantasy II (IV)
Released November 23rd 1991 by Square, the Final Fantasy series took a quantum leap forward with its migration from the NES to the Super NES. The game featured more expressive characters, beautiful graphics,a more mature story, and the best music found on the SNES. The game was also the first in the series to not only have the characters classes (jobs) predetermined from the beginning of the game, but these classes also served the game’s overall plot. It is evident after playing through the game that the structure and depth of Final Fantasy IV stand up to console RPGs being produced nearly two decades later The games place in the memory of gamers and the cult status its achieved caused Square-Enix to develop a full 3D remake which will be released in North America in July of this year.
#2 – Earthbound
Released June 1st 1995 by Nintendo, Earthbound was the localization of the Japanese Super Famicom title Mother 2, which was the sequel to the Japan-only Famicom release Mother. This game is radically different from all other RPGs up to it’s release (and even today) in that the game is set in modern times. Your weapons are baseball bats and yo-yos, and your hit points can be restored by eating burgers and having pizza delivered to you. You phone your dad to save your game and store your money in a bank account, and withdraw it from ATMs with your bank card. You are Nes, an average kid trying to solve the mystery of a fallen meteorite. Much of the greatness of Earthbound comes from the fact that it acts as a condensed version of western popular culture as seen through the eyes of Japanese video game developers. The game is standard role laying fair, with a battle system not unlike the Dragon Warrior games for Nintendo or the Phantasy Star games for Genesis. Except instead of fighting monsters and demons, you more often that not fight crows, lamps, and neighbourhood bullies. The story is rich and envolving, the game play addictive and fast paced, and the visuals and humor fresh, bold, and strikingly original. I still play through this game every couple years, and it amazes me every single time.
#1 – Chrono Trigger
Released on August 22nd 1995 by Square, Chrono Trigger pushed the envelope for what was thought of as the standard for console RPGs. Trading in the tired RPG conventions of random battles, Chrono Trigger Instead showed the enemies to you right on the screen, giving you the opportunity to avoid them (if you could). Add to that the fact that there were no battles at all on the over world map screen, and you have a game that took the focus off of tedious level grinding and instead placed in on story. And what a story. Playing through Chrono Trigger you find yourself blasted from time period to time period, from exotic local to exotic locale, all the while a truly refined and engaging story unfolds in front of you. It should come as no surprise that the game is just so damn good, given that it was designed by some of the greatest artists and programmers to ever work in gaming. Names such as Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu, Yuuji Horii, and Masato Kato (I could have listed at least four more, but you get the point) add a pedigree to a game that actually lives up to the talent that created it. Indeed, Chrono Trigger is more than just a game, it’s an interactive work of art that must be played to be truly appreciated, and it is without a doubt the best RPG for the Super Nintendo as well as the best game for the Super Nintendo.
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