Even though SNES games don’t look like much now, they were a huge step up from any other console games at the time. Developers of games for the SNES could make huge worlds with detailed sprites that looked like what they were supposed to be. New technological advances also made it possible for games to take their first real steps toward becoming like movies, which we might take for granted today. And even though 4 MB wasn’t a lot of storage space back then, it was more than enough to hold a script for a 40-hour story.
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In short, the SNES was almost made for role-playing games. When the Super Nintendo came out, the console RPG scene was still finding its feet. However, many developers were eager to try their hands at the genre to see what kind of games they could make. Some of the most popular role-playing games were made when people tried new things and worked with some of the best writers of all time.
As we celebrate the SNES’s 30th anniversary in North America, it seems like a good time to look back at of the best role-playing games on the system.
In the early 1990s, turn-based battles and mediaeval settings with knights, sorcerers, and dragons were typical of console RPGs. So, no one really knew what to think of a cyberpunk game set in a dystopian Seattle with real-time combat. Those who stuck with Shadowrun, though, found one of the best and grimmest stories of the 16-bit era, as well as conversation and hacking systems that were surprisingly innovative.
In almost every way, Shadowrun was way ahead of its time. Even though it didn’t get much attention when it came out, games like Cyberpunk 2077 and The Ascent are proud to continue its legacy. Even the Shadowrun series got its due with the release of three successful PC RPGs over the last ten years.
Even now, not many gamers have heard of the game Soul Blazer. It’s a little rough around the edges, that’s true. Since it came out early in the SNES’s life, the graphics and music aren’t quite as good as the best games of the time, but the game play is good enough to put it on this list. The goal of this action RPG, which was inspired by another popular Quintet game called Actraiser, is to clear out different lairs, save different souls (which could be in the form of plants, animals, or even other people), and free the land from the evil Deathtoll.
Quintet would use Soul Blazer’s best ideas in a few more games (including Terranigma, another fantastic action RPG that sadly never made its way to North America). Quintet went out of business around the middle of the 2000s, and it’s not clear who owns the rights to these games at this point. Because of this, official re-releases of these often-overlooked gems are probably not going to happen.
The 7th Saga
The 7th Saga is a great example of a game with a lot of good ideas that never quite came together. The characters you can play as are likely the best part of the game. You start with seven characters to choose from, including a robot and an alien. Later, you meet six more characters that you can fight or join. It was also one of the first RPGs with combat that wasn’t totally random. Through a clever “radar” system, it was possible to avoid enemies.
Unfortunately, The 7th Saga is also very hard, and no matter how much you level up, some enemies will always be stronger than you. So, it may not have aged as well as some of the other games on this list, but it’s still a very interesting project with great ideas that have been used in many genre classics since.
Breath of Fire II
If I’m being honest, Breath of Fire II doesn’t have anything that really stands out. There is a feature that lets you build a town and fill it with NPCs you meet during the game, but it’s easy to ignore. It’s also pretty cool to have a giant talking armadillo in your party, but that’s not enough to recommend the game.
Why should you play Breath of Fire II? Well, it’s just a very well-told fantasy story with a long quest and strong turn-based combat. It’s not fancy, but it’s a good addition to the Super Nintendo’s RPG library as a whole.
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
The release of the next-generation systems and the fact that the SNES library was already full of classic RPGs overshadowed the release of Lufia II. A lot of gamers had to look for a while before they found this hidden gem, and some never did. Lufia II has some of the best graphics and music of any game on the console. The story is a little mechanical, with a typical fantasy hero who has to save the world from the four evil Sinistrals. Also, there are a lot of puzzles to solve and a random 99-level dungeon to go through at some point. Lufia II might have more “gameplay” than any other Super Nintendo RPG, if we’re being honest.
Rise of the Sinistrals is called a sequel, but it’s actually a prequel to the first game, so you can start it without playing the first one (though Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is well worth checking out as well).
Harvest Moon came out near the end of the SNES’s life, and it changed a lot of people’s ideas about what an RPG could be. You can’t fight or go on a big quest to save the world. You’re just a simple farmer who grows crops and raises animals on the land your grandfather left you. Even though it sounds boring, the gameplay loop is very fun. There’s a reason why the Harvest Moon series is still going strong and has led to so many copies, spin-offs, and sequels (most notably Stardew Valley).
Even though some of the more recent Harvest Moon games haven’t lived up to the series’ standards, this first game is still arguably the best because of its charming characters, witty writing, and simple but deep gameplay.
The most famous SNES RPGs are the best ones, because the console’s best games usually got the attention they deserved. Even though games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, and Dragon Quest 5 are fondly remembered, that doesn’t mean that every good RPG on the SNES is as well-loved.
Robotrek didn’t do very well when it first came out, and most people have forgotten about the JRPG since then. Even though the game wasn’t as polished or popular as some of its contemporaries, Robotrek was ahead of the curve in many ways when it came to customization. Robotrek is not the best SNES RPG by Quintet, but it is better than average.