Being the best-selling console of the 16-bit era, the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) was largely known for its amazing repertoire of role-playing games (RPGs). Many of the best SNES RPGs also place among lists of the best RPGs period, a testament to the graphical capabilities, innovative battle systems, and complex narratives present in many of these games.
The competition between Nintendo and Sega was intense at the time and continues to be one of the most memorable rivalries in video game history. Even though Sega’s Genesis was released earlier than the SNES and with a lower price point, the SNES still managed to outsell the Genesis by around 1.5 million units and its success carried on well into the 32-bit era. Out of the fourth generation of video game consoles, the SNES was one to remember.
The SNES continues to be a favorite among retro gamers even today and is fondly remembered for its excellent library of RPG titles.
Join us on a nostalgic journey of the best SNES RPGs out there!
emTerranigma/em is unofficially the third in a trilogy of SNES RPGs, being preceded by Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia.
The narrative follows a boy called Ark as he fights to resurrect the Earth, even encountering such epic forces as God and the Devil. emTerranigma/em was actually released in Japan and Europe, so North America missed out on a genuine version of this game.
Magic is used via items that are consumable, and attack strength is determined by what is essentially a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Like most RPGs of the time, stats are increased through leveling along with the use of weapons and armor. The battle system is real-time, meaning enemies and players attack in tandem without taking turns.
Being given the Silver Hall of Fame Award by Famitsu, and featuring high in many rankings, emTerranigma/em is positively critiqued for its elaborate story, soundtrack, and advanced graphics for the time. If you’re checking out the best SNES RPGs on offer, this is one to add to your list.
Check it out on Amazon here for the English-translated version.
- First RPG featuring superstar character Mario
- Save the Mushroom Kingdom by finding the Seven Stars
- Seven stages and 29 areas to explore
- 1 player
Most famous for its platform games, the Mario series actually contributed some gems to the RPG genre. Their first entry came in 1996 with emSuper Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars/em, which contains a fairly streamlined story, with Mario seeking to defeat the Smithy Gang who are trying to take over the world.
The gameplay doesn’t involve anything too innovative, utilizing the common exploring (with a 3D isometric view) and turn-based battling with the inclusion of timed commands which enhance a move’s effects.
While not outperforming the success of traditional Mario platformers, emLegend of the Seven Stars/em performed better than expected and received critical acclaim. The humor and graphics were particularly recognized, with the graphics even being nominated for “Best Graphics” by Nintendo in 1997. Being the RPG that started it all for the Mario series, it’s a standout game and easily one of the best SNES RPGs.
You can find it in limited stock on Amazon here.
- EarthBound Game Cartridge, the classic 16-bit RPG, now available for the SNES console
- Step back in time and experience the iconic adventure with a touch of nostalgia
- Immerse yourself in the quirky world of EarthBound with its memorable characters and unique storyline
- Relive your favorite moments from the original game or discover it for the first time on the SNES
- Enjoy improved graphics and sound on the SNES, bringing new life to this classic RPG.
The second in the Mother series of RPGs, emEarthBound/em came to the U.S. in 1995 after a long development period of 5 years.
EarthBound introduces the character Ness, who would later reach a wider audience through his inclusion in the vastly popular Super Smash Bros. series. The game involves Ness and his friends, who collect melodies from the eight sanctuaries in an effort to defeat Giygas, a destroyer of worlds.
Gameplay elements were rather traditional, using a turn-based system, but exploration was notable for its seamless nature; there is no differentiation between roaming towns and the world map. Magical abilities are present in the form of using PSI actions, which consume PP (PSI points) much in the way magic spells often consume MP (magic points).
While performing very well in Japan, unfortunately, emEarthBound/em failed to reach initial commercial success in North America. Many attributed this to the rather odd marketing campaign, which featured bad-smelling scratch-and-sniff adverts, its quirky and often meta humor, and relatively subpar graphics for the time.
Nevertheless, emEarthBound/em now has a cult following and has been recognized as one of the best RPGs of all time, if not only for its emotional storytelling, sleek battle system, and distinctive modern-world setting. Critically acclaimed long after its initial release, you should get your hands on a cartridge if you want one of the best SNES RPGs that are unique and fresh.
Check it out on Amazon here.
Being the sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure, emSecret of Mana/em was released in 1993 and features a rather typical fantasy setting.
The heroes try to prevent an empire from taking over the world, so there’s not much straying from the traditional RPG storyline.
A top-down perspective is used, like many RPGs, the gameplay is kept quite simple, using a real-time system and assigning supportive and offensive magic to two of the player characters while the third cannot use magic. The system is notable for its use of weapon levels; weapons can be upgraded, increasing their damage and unlocking special skills. The player can control any of the three playable heroes, while those unselected are controlled by AI. Multiplayer mode is also available, something which was quite rare for the era.
The original copies of emSecret of Mana/em sold out within days; while the U.S. wasn’t as aware or excited about the release as Japan was, the game still managed to become the second best-selling SNES title in October 1993, and remain in the top ten charts for a year following.
For its innovative use of multiplayer, vivid graphics, entertaining combat system, and massive game world, the original emSecret of Mana/em is timeless, even with its many ports to come.
Much like EarthBound, emSecret of Mana/em‘s acclaim only increased as time went on, rivaling and even surpassing competing games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, according to some critics.
As one of the most graphically advanced RPGs on the console, emSecret of Mana/em is a testament to what the SNES could accomplish and must be considered one of the best SNES RPGs ever released.
You can get your hands on a copy on Amazon here.
Please Note: As of July 16, 2023, the Secret of Mana SNES is currently unavailable on Amazon. If you cannot find the product elsewhere, please check back later.
- Japanese import, Final Fantasy III (3), VI (6)
- SNES / Super Nintendo import, Super Famicom
- Super Famicom cartridge
- Expansive RPG
- The original before Advance and Anthology
emFinal Fantasy VI/em was originally called emFinal Fantasy III/em in the U.S., which led to some understandable confusion (emFinal Fantasy III/em strangely wouldn’t hit Western shores until the DS remake in 2006).
Terra, the main protagonist, is a girl with mysterious powers, forced into fighting by the evil Empire in their quest to use the power of magical beings, called Espers, to dominate the world.
Typical for Final Fantasy games, emFinal Fantasy VI/em continues to use the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, while exploration includes traveling between towns, delving into dungeons, and random encounters. It’s notable for its massive cast of 14 playable characters, as well as the use of special character-dependent skills and the ability to learn magic spells for every character.
Many fans of RPGs consider emFinal Fantasy VI/em to take the top spot in the series, at least among the 2D titles. emFinal Fantasy VI/em is not without its epic narrative and cinematic elements, which were very advanced for the SNES. These, coupled with the immense and immersive world to discover, help emFinal Fantasy VI/em to be a timeless RPG classic and one of the best SNES RPGs.
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- Game cartridge only
- The fourth installment of the main Final Fantasy series
- RPG with turn-based combat
- Easy-to-learn combat mechanics
Effectively pioneering the elaborate storytelling common with future Final Fantasy games, the story of emFinal Fantasy IV/em revolves around a dark knight called Cecil, as he attempts to prevent the wizard Golbez from destroying the world by stealing the almighty Crystals.
A key plot line is also the redemption of Cecil for his past crimes. emFinal Fantasy IV/em was originally known as Final Fantasy II in the U.S. and was released in 1991.
The ATB system was pioneered with emFinal Fantasy IV/em and would become a mainstay for the series for many years to come. Only 8 out of the 12 characters can use the various types of magic, known as White, Black, Summoning, and even Ninjutsu.
Exploration and battles take place in the traditional way, with towns and NPCs helping to advance the story and providing replenishment and new equipment options. IV is also the first in the series to allow the use of 5 playable characters at one time; previous entries only allowed four.
Being a major turning point for the JRPG (Japanese RPG) genre, emFinal Fantasy IV/em received the second-highest scores awarded to any game by Famitsu in 1991. The ATB system was praised for giving a faster pace to battles, along with its graphics, storyline, and intense but manageable difficulty.
Setting the standard for many common RPG features known today, emFinal Fantasy IV/em is definitely one of the best SNES RPGs out there, if not RPGs altogether, and can’t be missed when hunting down SNES classics.
You can get a copy on Amazon here.
emChrono Trigger/em‘s premise centers around Crono, with the story kicking off when his friend Lucca fires up her newly invented teleporter machine.
This leads to a young girl called Marle being inadvertently teleported into the past. As this creates some distortion in history, Crono sets out to correct this, taking the heroes through a myriad of alternate time periods, ultimately culminating in saving the world from a parasitic monster called Lavos.
While the game was eventually ported to the PlayStation and Nintendo DS, the original is a classic that was released in 1995 for the SNES.
Battles run on a turn-based system, very similar to the Final Fantasy series, but with additional positional elements introduced as fights commence on the map the characters move around in. The heroes make use of physical attacks as well as magical ones, which are referred to as “techs” – which can be used in combination to create stronger attacks.
There are 13 endings available, depending on at which point in the story the player decides to face the final boss. Character progression proceeds as expected, with gaining levels, increasing attributes, and upgrading equipment to become stronger.
The original release doesn’t feature the cutscenes and extra dungeons of the future ports but remains a SNES classic to this day. Topping many lists of even the best RPGs of all time, let alone the best SNES RPGs, emChrono Trigger/em is a must-play for fans of the RPG genre.
Check it out on Amazon here.
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