The expansive software library of Nintendo’s 16-bit powerhouse wasn’t short of any of the most popular genres of the ’90s, and perhaps least of all RPGs. Intense strategy, whimsical adventure, tear-jerking goodbyes to characters you’ve spent months with… the SNES has it all.
And that makes compiling a list of ten of the console’s very best a piece of cake, right? Well… The problem with having this embarrassment of riches to choose from is realising you’ve got twenty or even thirty games all equally deserving of a spot on a list of ten, and that means so many games, no matter how good they may be, have just got to go.
To make this a little easier on ourselves, we’ve automatically jettisoned anything that didn’t receive an official English language release – don’t worry, we’ll save those fantastic Japanese exclusives for another time – and we’ve politely put aside a few (just a few!) of the better-known titles in favour of a few hopefully interesting (and varied) alternatives equally deserving of an RPG connoisseur’s adoration.
So here goes – and remember, this is in no particular order…
Famously headed by three of the biggest names in the industry at the time (Final Fantasy’s Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest’s Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama, the man behind a little comic you may have heard of called Dragon Ball), there was no chance this time-travelling saga was ever going to end up as anything less than the stuff of legend. Blurring the expected boundaries between battle scenes and standard exploration allowed players to feel closer to the action than ever before, and the strong cast drawn from the past, present, and futures that you hope will never come to pass, help to hold together what could in lesser hands have easily ended up a fractured and incomprehensible tangle of plot threads.
Nintendo choosing to publish this Quintet-developed action RPG marks one of those occasions European SNES owners could hold their heads high and just for once feel slightly superior to their RPG-enjoying counterparts in the US – even if Terranigma was released in such small numbers many of those who would have happily dedicated their evenings to it were completely unaware of its existence at the time. Ark’s journey to restore the world and the trials he’s subjected to along the way are a rare example of genuinely epic RPG storytelling; encompassing as it does nothing less than god, the devil, and a world with strong similarities to our own.
What needs to be said about legendary title? The opera scene. The World of Ruin. Watching Magitek armour slowly trudge through the endless snow. Sabin meme-ily suplexing an entire train. Kefka’s laugh (we know you heard that text). Squaresoft’s beloved RPG often feels like a non-stop parade of effortless excellence, churning out memorable scenes one after the other as if the team had an excess of creativity that just had to come out.
It’s the vague baseline of almost-normality that makes Shigesato Itoi’s off-kilter RPG feel more bizarre than most games that try to make a conscious effort to create a weird and wacky setting. Story heavy games are filled with triple-headed monsters and sentient globs of goo but how many have you square up to armoured frogs and aggressive cups of coffee? EarthBound may have been criminally overlooked on its release but there’s no doubt fans – old and new – have more than made up for that in the years since (and even Nintendo remembered to include it on the SNES Mini).
Combining the thrill of real-time tactical battlefield management with Yasumi Matsuno’s now trademark penchant for weaving tales of political turmoil over straightforward clashes of swords and sorcery, Ogre Battle and all the games that were created from it, whether part of this series or set in the wonderfully similar world of Ivalice, remain a high point for the entire genre. This is one of the best instalments and is well worth a look, despite the passage of time.
Mystic Quest Was my first rpg so I’m completely okay with it being on this list. I play it every couple years as comfort food.
Instead, add in FF2 (or 3, whichever one you didn’t mean to mention), Illusion of Gaia, and Lufia 2. For some reason, Illusion of Gaia doesn’t get much love these days. Terranigma absolutely deserves to be a top game, and Soul Blazer has gotten a lot of attention lately, but Illusion of Gaia is a fantastic title that was fairly popular at the time.