The 10 Best SNES RPGs – Feature – Nintendo Life

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.

Release Date: 11th Aug 1995 (USA) / 20th May 2011 (UK/EU)

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.

Release Date: 19th Dec 1996 (UK/EU)

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.

Release Date: 13th May 1996 (The sequel’s not half bad, either.

Publisher: Data East / Developer: Beam Software
Release Date: 1st Nov 1993 (Cyberpunk 2077 should have been (don’t @ me). Check out our “making of” the game here.

Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 11th Oct 1994 (USA) / 18th Mar 2011 (UK/EU)

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.

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 2nd Jun 1995 (USA) / 18th Jul 2013 (UK/EU)

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).

Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Quest
Release Date: 15th May 1995 (USA) / 3rd Jul 2009 (UK/EU)

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.

Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 5th Oct 1992 (USA) / Oct 1993 (UK/EU)

Rejected by many on release as being Final Fantasy: For Babies (or for Europeans, Final Fantasy: Sorry No Mainline Games For You Edition), later revisits after the annoyance has died down have revealed this spinoff to be a thoughtfully streamlined adventure containing some incredible monster art accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack. There are other games with more depth to their combat systems, and others with stronger characterisation, but when you’re playing Mystic Quest you’re unlikely to care about anything other than the engaging RPG playing out before you. While history hasn’t been kind to Mystic Quest, we’d urge you to give it another chance (or a first chance, if you’re a newcomer).

Release Date: Jun 1993 (USA) / 1992 (UK/EU)

This first-person dungeon crawler felt truly revolutionary on its floppy disc debut back the in late ’80s, and was no less impressive when it appeared on the SNES a few years later. In this inescapable underground labyrinth fiendish puzzles combine with real-time combat to create a deadly dungeon filled with traps and monsters that must be defeated… and then eaten if you don’t want your team to slowly starve to death. The freeform character growth system gives players more opportunities to customise their party than many of the similar games that would follow in its footsteps, and help to make every trip through Lord Chaos’ dimly-lit halls (did we mention you have to maintain your own source of illumination, too?) feel different from the last. Sure, it’s somewhat sluggish on Nintendo’s console and really needs mouse control to feel natural, but the scope of the experience remains remarkable, even today.

There’s little doubt Nintendo’s 16-bit console was home to some of the finest RPGs of its generation, encompassing everything from thoughtful slow-burns to breathless action and everything in-between.

Whether coming to some of these fresh via Nintendo Switch Online or revisited regularly as part of a nostalgic annual ritual over the past twenty-plus years, the games we’ve chosen to highlight here – and many more on the system – are still able to satisfy and surprise even the most battle-hardened spellcaster.