The Sega Genesis console doesn’t always get a fair shake when compared with the SNES, especially when it comes to their RPG game collection. Sure, you can fawn over The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or the Final Fantasy series, but those games owe a lot to the Sega Genesis RPGs that paved the way for them.
In fact, many of them are simply better than the ones released on SNES in terms of gameplay as well as their contributions to the genre.
These games made the system stand head and shoulders above the SNES in terms of what they represented for the genre. They helped push RPGs forward whole in ways that kept people interested in the genre during a tumultuous period. Without further ado, here are the 15 Sega Genesis RPGs that prove it was the better console for RPGs.
Sword of Vermilion Got the Ball Rolling
Nobody will pretend that Sword of Vermilion was the best RPG ever made, but it really showed what the Sega Genesis games were capable of giving their players. The 16-bit graphics were a little crude and even the cover art was kind of boring, but there was still a lot of good to be found.
Interestingly, unlike many other Sega Genesis RPGs, Sword of Vermilion featured action-based battle sequences. Rather than being turn-based, you had to run to enemies and strike them down with your sword or cast magic to stop yourself from being overrun by the numerous monsters.
The bosses were tough and rewarding, even if the story never really struck a chord. Still, it’s impressive that all this was included in a game released in 1989.
Shining Force II
While games on the SNES were still fumbling around in the dark with their attempts at an RPG with tactical combat, Shining Force II was making huge strides in the genre. The combat system was complex enough to provide a challenge but not so much that new people couldn’t understand the game.
The amazing combat, along with a rich story and fantastic music, was the centerpiece of this game. That’s not even to mention the unique class system that had your characters ascend into a more powerful version of themselves at level 20. This is the game Fire Emblem tried to be, and it would not be surpassed until Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.
Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World
Translating D&D to a video game is no small feat, but it was crucial to the Sega Genesis RPGs as well as the genre as a whole. Might and Magic II accomplished this in impressive fashion, giving their players the one thing that all RPGs need: meaningful choices in terms of characters, actions, and approaches to the game.
Even before you leave the main town, you can be accosted by thieves and monsters that make you use each of the characters you created to survive.
The game teaches you about the necessity of party balance, stat distribution, and much more while giving you a massive world to explore. The Wizardry series that was ported to the SNES might be prettier at first glance, but Wizardry can’t hold a candle to this game.
Beyond Oasis combines action, RPG, and exploration into one amazingly fun game.
In this title, you’re a man who finds a magical armlet that allows you to summon powerful elemental spirits. You use these spirits to fight against foes as you make your way to stop a sorcerer who is using his magical armlet for evil.
The mechanics of his game are more similar to those seen in The Legend of Zelda games. You’ll cast magic, solve puzzles, and navigate a patchwork of settings that make up the overall game map.
Beyond Oasis got swallowed up in the hype of the SNES, but it was an action-adventure RPG that showed Sega Genesis was still a system with a few tricks up its sleeve as late as 1995.
The Best of the Sega Genesis RPGs- Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium
The Phantasy Star games, especially part II and III, were probably the most significant games in the RPG genre at the time they were released.
They carried the torch of the NES RPGs, making improvements in gameplay, graphics, story, and music. By building on those elements, the series maintained the interest of the players and kept their expectations high.
It’s no exaggeration to say that games like Phantasy Star IV made RPGs the way they are today. That’s not even including later titles like Phantasy Star Online.
As the best of the Sega Genesis RPGs, Phantasy Star IV showed the full power of the system. The music was memorable in a time when most games sounded like they were synthesized in the 1980s, and the graphics were actually good enough to make enemies look scary, raising the stakes of every battle.
Speaking of battles, the attack macros that allowed two or more characters to combine skills to devastate enemies was unique and beautiful. The story had twists, turns, heartbreak, and calls back to earlier games in the series.
Phantasy Star IV won’t make any short lists for the best RPGs of the 1990s, but it should.
I got (rightfully) scolded for not including Shadowrun in my top 5 Sega Genesis RPGs. Since then, I had some time to play it and actually form an opinion. The graphics weren’t the best, but the story, gameplay, and setting were nothing short of amazing.
It took a little bit to get a hang of the real-time combat and the whole Karma system, but I got there. I was most surprised about the setting. I feel like it was perfect for its time given some of the other movies that were coming out around then. So, if you want a hit of nostalgia, you can pick it up for that alone.
I am still amazed at how so many familiar ideas were present in this game years before I saw them in other media.I’m not saying they were totally original ideas, but the concepts of The Matrix, “shadowruns”, and megacorporations were really cool to see in a video game, and they existed in the same world as elves and magic.
Parallels to movies and TV shows like The Matrix, Westworld, and Bright are so easy to draw. This game was a pleasant surprise, and it made it worth writing this second list.
Light Crusader isn’t a particularly deep RPG. The story and setting are certainly nothing to write home about. So why the heck is it on this list?
The biggest factor for me was the isometric graphics. They added depth to the city and dungeon. Also, they facilitated a lot of the puzzles, many of which were solved by striking objects and moving others around on the floor.
Your character could jump, attack in multiple directions, and use their weapon or magic to strike down standard game foes like skeletons and slimes. In fact, I believe the use of magic in this game was a major strong point.
The only annoying thing was that you would have to jump around for some puzzles and bosses, and the graphics could make that somewhat trying. Between the inability to see some landing platforms and the resetting puzzles, the game might make you want to twist your controller in half, but it’s still worth playing.
Another action RPG game with an isometric view. While it’s similar in gameplay to Light Crusader, Landstalker, that is where the similarities end. Landstalker definitely had more of a fantasy vibe, a developed story, and many RPG elements.
As Nigel, you have to search for a lost treasure, and your quest took you to different villages. The player talks to a fair amount of NPCs, shops at different stores for upgrades, and battles their way across the maps.
The combat was pretty engaging, in my opinion. You have a power bar that is drained by using attacks. As an inpatient child, I would rain blows on the bosses and not get a lot for it. More recently, I learned to start saving up power and landing a strong hit, and suddenly the bosses were a lot easier.
The combat wasn’t the only bright spot in this game, though. Landstalker had side quests that would give you a boost in some part of your powers and health. I am all about getting strong and trouncing bosses, and you can kinda do that in this game. Also, the music is pleasant and upbeat without being annoying.
Overall, this is a very good game, and I don’t know how in the world I never heard it mentioned alongside some of the more traditional RPGs.
Have you ever looked at a game and then wonder what came before it? Well, that’s how I found out about King’s Bounty after playing Heroes of Might and Magic II on Game Boy.
Let me preface this by saying it took me a while to know what the hell I was doing with this game. You’re a knight put in charge of collecting a scepter, and you need to rally your own personal army and collect pieces of a map to do that.
Although having the freedom to travel the world map was very fun, the combat is by far the most interesting and best aspect of the game, in my opinion.
King’s Bounty features a turn-based combat system that takes place on a grid. You have to move your various “stacks” of allies around to attack the enemy. Players can keep their archers in the back to pick people off and barbarians charge into the fray. Pretty standard stuff.
I spent a fair amount of time wandering around the world to collect stronger allies from different places. When you’re closer to your home kingdom, you don’t get people as strong as when you set sail and pick them up from some remote parts of the map. The only downside is that trying to recruit people can lead to some battles that you’re not entirely prepared to have since enemies move on the map.
Here are some other things I enjoyed:
- You can fly on a dragon across the map
- There are awesome mythical creatures to recruit
- The game doesn’t overstay its welcome
- The time limit isn’t as tough as it seems (I hate games with time limits)
All in all, this was a very fun RPG and I’m glad I tried it out, even if it was a few decades too late.
Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun
I was supposed to get this game on Sega Genesis many years ago. Unfortunately, by the time I rode my bike from home to Funcoland (remember those?) they had already sold it. I settled for Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World.
Personally, I think I actually made out better, but this game is still good. As the name suggests, it was a good attempt at bringing D&D to a home console. You can build a party or create a new one to play. It’s a pretty standard “here’s a ruler, go do this for him” quest line to start, so that was nothing revolutionary.
Yet, the party development, music, and dungeon traveling mode were high points from my point of view. The graphics weren’t great, but the isometric view in the overworld and towns kinda reminds me of some of the Ultima games.
Was the game fantastic? No, I don’t think it was. Still, it was important, and that’s why it’s on the list. It came out in 1992, a time when a lot of RPGs were action-oriented or straight-up turn-based JRPGs. Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun kept up the momentum from games like Might and Magic II. The game pleased the D&D fans and kept them engaged in video games so we didn’t end up with just a few kinds of RPG.
Crusader of Centy
Crusader of Centy came out pretty late in the Sega Genesis’ life cycle, and it’s often compared to Beyond Oasis for its gameplay and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for, well, everything else. Crusader of Centy is an action RPG with an overhead perspective, a sword that you can power up and attack enemies with, and puzzles to solve.
Now, before you write it off as a Zelda clone, there are some awesome things about this game that made it interesting. I mean, besides the fact that there aren’t a lot of games like this on the Sega Genesis.
The story puts you in the role of Corona, a 14-year-old who gets his dad’s sword and shield and goes off to help the realm while training to be a knight. So, during the early part of the game, you lose the ability to speak to people and can only speak to animals and plants. Sounds dumb, right?
Except it’s not. I mean, it’s frustrating not to talk with humans for a while, but who needs them? Instead, you can recruit different animals to help you in combat or outside of combat by stunning enemies or giving you a speed boost. That is some pretty unique gameplay and was probably the saving grace for this game. Otherwise, the developers might have got some plagiarism accusations.
The story was pretty cool. The player starts the game thinking they were going to be a knight. By the end of the game, you’re trying to put an end to a conflict between humans and monsters using your newfound abilities to communicate with non-humans. Pretty cool stuff.
Phantasy Star III
I’ve always believed that Phantasy Star III is a completely underrated game. While there are some parts of the game that I can only describe as tedious, like the walking speed and number of encounters, there was so much to love in this game. The storyline, the concept of facts becoming a legend over time, the generations of gameplay, and all the callbacks to Phantasy Star II made it worth playing to me.
That hasn’t stopped people from hating it, though. I understand why they didn’t like it so much. They wanted a direct sequel to find out what is still happening in the Algo System and not wondering what happened to the unfortunate saps who left to avoid dying.
If you pay close attention to the story, it’s actually really interesting. You might set in motion the events that lead to the weird ending of Phantasy Star II through some crazy time travel. You might also be completely doomed. PSIII was edgy and dark before that was the only thing game developers knew how to make!
Again, I understand why some people dislike the game, but the good outweighs the bad by a wide margin. Just one man’s opinion.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for turn-based tactical combat RPGs, especially ones like this. The story is pretty thin. Evil monsters are coming out, you have to gather the spirits to seal them away, and you need to put together a team. You know the deal.
Sorcerer’s Kingdom came out the same year as Shining Force, another tactical RPG. I’d wager that most people know the latter. One major difference was that Sorcerer’s Kingdom made you wait quite a while longer to get reinforcements in your party. So, it was rough going as you fought your way through the initial areas.
I liked that the setting took you through fields, caves, and snow-covered fields, and the graphics did a good job of portraying those places. The combat was definitely my favorite part of the game, especially when you had all four members of your party to handle the different enemies. You’d move in close or keep your characters farther away to get the best outcomes. That part of the game wasn’t developed as well as it was in others of the time, but it was still a selling point for me.
The music had some rough parts, but also a lot of bright spots. I definitely liked the way that you got stronger. Basically, if you use a skill, you’d get stronger in that area. Using magic would increase your MP over time. It’s like Final Fantasy II in that way.
It’s always good to see tactical turn-based RPGs, and this one added some new stuff to that type of game even though it didn’t make the same splash as the Shining Force games.
Gauntlet IV is an action RPG that was unlike anything else I played at the time. Granted, it was definitely more action than RPG, the Quest Mode had enough involved in it for me to add it to the list.
In this game, you could play with up to four characters using the adapter. You would roll through five different towers as two warrior types, a mage, and an archer. My brothers and I tore this game apart, and it was so much fun.
You could collect gold and exchange it for items and power ups that made your character a lot stronger. The enemies are all over the place, so there was no shortage of things to kill.
I’ll admit, the game’s graphics weren’t perfect, but they did the job. However, the soundtrack is killer, the action is non-stop, and the RPG aspects of the game are simple to grasp for any newcomer.
I’d seriously recommend playing this game if you can get your hands on it.
Uncharted Waters: New Horizons
I was a big fan of this game right off the bat because it gives you a lot of choices. You have six different characters to choose from at the outset of the game. They each have their different goals and careers, and that means you get some good replay value out of the game.
The graphics are a little bit on the low-end, even for a 16-bit game. Yet, Uncharted Waters: New Horizons makes up for it with the awesome gameplay. It’s your job to outfit your ship in such a way that you can safely navigate the waters, even if that means loading up your cannons and sinking a couple of ships.
Meanwhile, you have to try to build good relations with the other countries in the game or attempt to fight everyone. It’s pretty open-ended in that respect.
The combat was neat, and it was split between two different approaches. You could either just bombard the enemy ship with your cannons or you could try to duel the fleet’s leader. You had better hope that you outfitted your character with the right weapon and armor, and then you have to choose from several different attacks.
It’s random as far as I can tell, so having the right items is crucial, but it’s still very entertaining.
All in all, this game has a good amount of depth, a fun and unique approach to combat and other parts of gameplay, and probably deserves a full article to go through everything about it.
There Are More than 15 Great Sega Genesis RPGs
The Sega Genesis has a ton of different RPGs, and a fair amount of them weren’t even released in the U.S. Many of the games were very well-developed and ambitious, but they tend to be overshadowed by the more popular titles. When you look at all the games that came out in the lifespan of Sega Genesis and SNES, it’s no wonder that so many of the former had its games overlooked. While the SNES had better games series, the Sega Genesis had better RPGs.
Not only did the Genesis do more to keep the genre alive, but the system expanded RPGs into many different directions and did so with great success. With amazing titles like the ones we’ve looked at here, it’s hard to argue that the SNES was the RPG machine that it is often considered. That title still belongs to the Sega Genesis.
You could get whiplash with Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, Shining Force, and all the other RPGs that appeared on those consoles. That’s why I like to come out and defend the Sega Genesis from time to time.
That system took RPGs in new directions, improved on the old formulas, and maintained consumer interest in the genre, and that’s what makes the system and its games so great in my book. Not only were the titles fun and engaging, but they paved the way for the future. So, the next time someone wants to talk about the 16-bit era of gaming, you can go with these 15 great Sega Genesis RPGs.
Alright, I think I got all that outta my system. I’m gonna go play Final Fantasy 3 (6) now. I’ll save my thoughts on FF3 vs. Chrono Trigger for another day.