Some of the greatest RPGs of all time have graced the SNES. Titles such as Chrono Trigger and several games in the Final Fantasy are exclusive to Nintendo’s 16-bit machine. With a plethora of these high-profile titles, it’s easy to overlook some of the other RPGs. The following list goes over the best RPGs on the SNES that aren’t Chrono Trigger or have Final Fantasy in the title, in no particular order.
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia II offered a refreshing break from the traditional RPG format when it released in 1996. Similar to other RPGs at the time, Lufia II featured a large overworld, towns, dungeons, and a variety of enemies to battle. What set the title apart from others were the Zelda-like gameplay mechanics it brought to the table. Several weapons and other pieces of equipment — ranging from a bow to a hookshot — can be used in the game’s many, challenging dungeons to solve puzzles and avoid enemies. To break even further away from the plethora of “copy and paste” role-playing games, Lufia II didn’t incorporate random battles that had been a staple for the Final Fantasy series; instead, all enemies appeared on-screen and a turn-based battle would commence once players made contact with the enemy’s sprite. In dungeons enemies would only move one tile when the character moved, adding another level of strategy for those who prefer to skip most battles.
Breath of Fire II
On the surface, Capcom’s Breath of Fire II has a seemingly more traditional vibe compared to Lufia II. Breath of Fire II uses a turn-based combat system with random battles much like Final Fantasy, but unlike the godfather of the modern RPG, it has a large cast of interesting characters that can be switched in and out of the party at any point after they become available. The title has one of the better narratives of the 16-bit era, as players take the role of Ryu as he and his companions prevent the demon Deathevn from destroying the world, with two possible endings. In terms of gameplay, Breath of Fire II has two unique features that separate it from other RPGs: township and the ability to transform into a dragon. With township, players are able to recruit certain characters throughout the game to live in and build a village with Ryu and his companions. Once a certain point in the game has been reached, players gain the ability to transform into a powerful dragon during battle with differing elements depending on what supporting character they use the ability with.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana is an SNES favorite in the RoboAwesome offices; during E3 Modus and I played the game’s fully-featured cooperative mode extensively, and even though he died frequently and hindered our overall progress it was still good fun. While it doesn’t possess a particularly captivating story, Secret of Mana lead the way when it came to innovative gameplay for an RPG in the 16-bit era. Square’s classic blended The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Final Fantasy to produce one of the first great action-RPGs. Players control an unnamed hero along with two supporting characters that aren’t actually directly controlled other than when equipping weapons. Combat is completely real-time akin to A Link to the Past, except the characters gain experience points to level up when enemies are defeated. The two supporting characters, a girl and a sprite child, attack enemies at will when they come in contact with them. Secret of Mana‘s big innovation was the inclusion of the aforementioned co-op play. At any point in the game up to two other players can take control of either the girl or sprite child and play through the adventure with the main player.
EarthBound has become a cult classic mostly due to Nintendo of America’s apparent dislike for the series. Released during the dying days of the SNES, Nintendo’s EarthBound told the story of a young boy named Ness who’s on a quest to prevent a being known as Giygas from ruling the world. EarthBound was a traditional turn-based RPG with enemies that spawned on the world map instead of random battles, similar to Lufia II. Where the title lacked in gameplay and music, it made up for with outstanding visuals and a quirky cast of characters. The graphical style of EarthBound was isometric, meaning that the world was viewed at more of a diagonal angle instead of straight down, making for somewhat of a 3D effect. Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo were the characters destined to defeat Giygas. EarthBound also contained several memorable non-supporting characters such as BuzzBuzz and the always humorous Porky.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a joint project between Nintendo and Sqaure that led the way for future Mario RPGs including Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi series. Like EarthBound, Super Mario RPG sported impressive visuals with an isometric visual style. Combat in Super Mario RPG differed from virtual every other RPG of the time — players controlled Mario and three other characters in battle as they executed commands and timed button presses that allowed extra damage to be dealt. When on the overworld, Super Mario RPG borrowed platforming elements from Super Mario as players traverse through the game’s varied areas.
Super Mario RPG is also the home of many fan-favorite characters, such as Geno.
- Terranigma (Europe and Japan only)
- Star Ocean (Japan only)
- Tales of Phantasia (Japan only)