The 90s was a decade jam-packed with classic role playing games. And enough of those were released on the Super Nintendo that it is often remembered as the RPG console, although I frequently defend the Sega Genesis RPGs.
The Super NES has such an amazing collection of role playing games that even I find it impossible to overlook them. The SNES RPGs continued older franchises and introduced new ones. The series developed on the Super NES would attract new fans and dominate the global market. In fact, many of the major series are still alive and kicking today!
As much as I wanted to write a shorter list of games, it wouldn’t be fair. So many of the games are so close to one another in quality that it feels like an insult not to mention them in some way. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of the top 20 SNES RPGs.
I have some specific criteria that I used to inform my ranking system. Basically, I looked at graphics, sound, story, playability, and overall entertainment. The last one there is the X factor and it’s probably where some personal bias can sneak in.
But you probably don’t care too much about that; you just wanna go get angry at the top five, don’t you? It’s okay, I do it, too.
As always, spoiler warning. However, I will do my best not to spoil!
[Editor’s Note: I’ve added affiliate links to each entry. Purchasing through these links will help out the site, but please know many of these games are expensive and prone to forgery. Be safe and be smart when buying on eBay. Check out our guide to buying retro games on eBay to learn more.]
20. Soul Blazer
I agonized over including other games in this spot, specifically Breath of Fire or Lufia, but this game won me over.
When I started Soul Blazer, I really didn’t think it was going to be on the list of top 20 SNES RPGs. The game didn’t have the kind of imagination that one considers when looking at the best of the best. Yet, the story, music, and parts of the gameplay won me over.
This is an action RPG game that has the protagonist going out into the world to retrieve the souls of people. You basically have to free the souls of all the living beings in a town, and then you move on. Pretty standard hero stuff, right?
The combat is action-packed because there are tons of enemies to fight. You might get a tad bored of the grind, but the extra health you gain every level helps out. Also, the music in this game is very upbeat and distinct despite the dark story. The game could have done a little more with the combat, but it’s hard to ignore what the development team did with the gameplay.
Get Soul Blazer on eBay.
19. Brain Lord
A dragon kills your dad, and it’s up to you to get some sweet, sweet revenge. You gather four friends and set out on your quest as Rameer.
While I was disappointed that your friends pretty much act as guides instead of helping you in the dungeons in which you spend most of the game, the fun combat makes up for it. This is an action RPG that is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda series. You even get two fairies to help you out on your quest. Unlike Navi, these things can actually spit fire to help you in a fight.
Puzzles are everywhere in this game, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, the game made sure to use them as an actual obstacle and not a mere annoyance, so you felt like you accomplished something when you finished one.
The game’s dungeons have a good amount of detail, the environments are dynamic, and the gameplay often requires some heavy platforming. The game is fun and challenging, but I don’t think there’s a soul that would play it again.
Get Brain Lord on eBay.
Terranigma, aside from having an incredible name, has a lot of interesting elements for an action RPG. Personally, the two things that stand out the most for this title are the combat and the story.
The game features action-based combat that allows the player to land a variety of different strikes. Some of these can be used to exploit the weakness of your enemies and cut them down faster. The combat, combined with a good variety of enemies, makes for engaging gameplay.
The story is downright crazy. I am not going to spoil it for you, but the world basically has two sides to it, the light and the dark. That duality follows your character through the game. Let me just say that the mid-late game revelations are very entertaining! I can only imagine what kind of story the developers could have told with the technology of today.
The music wasn’t bad, but the sound effects in the game can grate on your brain when you’re scrolling through blocks of text. Other than that, this was a very nice game that is often not recognized for being so good.
[Editor’s note: Terranigma was never officially released in North America, but there are tons of quality fan translations you can buy brand new, in-box and they are amazing! (and cheap.) Check them out on eBay.]
17. The 7th Saga
This title is often mentioned for being good but too ambitious. I partially agree with that assessment, but I think too much is said about the missed goals and not the ones that were met.
The 7th Saga is known for being difficult. In fact, the early part of the game is downright Dark Souls-ian in the number of deaths you can expect to accrue, so be prepared to grind out some levels.
So, how did this game make the list? The graphics were nice, and the game made the most of them. Your characters line up in the battle sequences, and your view is from behind them. It’s like Phantasy Star IV.
You get a great view of the monsters, which have a nice design, and the attack graphics are pretty interesting. I especially like the magic system and casting in the game, even though I never picked Esuna to start out.
The coolest part about the game is that there are 7 characters looking for the runes, and you can start the game as any of them. The ones you don’t pick can be recruited after fighting them, but they don’t always stay with you.
Spoiler alert — one of the characters can turn on you when you have them in your party and get one of the 7 runes.
How cool is that? The game looked and sounded good and it has some serious replay value to boot!
Get The 7th Saga on eBay.
16. Ys III: Wanderers from Ys
Ys III had a neat combat system for an action RPG. Basically, you kill things and get experience. As a kid, I appreciated the ability to storm the battlefield and gain experience without the random encounters of some JRPGs.
Your success in this game was largely dependent on your level, so you had to spend some serious time leveling if you expected to live. Yet, if you can get past that, then there is a very good game waiting.
I thought the side-scrolling combat was fun, but I can see why that’s not something everyone enjoys. Just look at how people treated The Legend of Zelda II.
The combat is not the only positive thing about the game, though. The story, if you’ve followed the other two games, is engaging and actually gives you the chance to go to a new land. Also, the soundtrack will definitely get stuck in your head, and you won’t even mind!
This one is actually still pretty cheap. Check it out on eBay!
If you’re looking for a game that will make you fall in love with cyberpunk, then Shadowrun is the one for you. There are many great features to this game, but I wouldn’t say that the graphics are among them.
Instead, you’re treated to some incredible gameplay, music, story, and combat. You start off as an amnesiac man named Jake, and you have to find out who tried to have you killed. I’m not a big fan of that trope, but that lack of information propels the player forward to do a lot of investigating through traveling and hacking.
The gameplay has you explore a dark cityscape as you try to learn more about your situation. You’ll fight enemies through a very engaging combat system that has you track and attack enemies on your screen using guns and magic. I absolutely loved that idea.
The “karma” you gather allows you to get more powerful and develop skills to survive the onslaught of Seattle. It felt funny to write that. Anyway, you can count on getting attacked by assassins quite often.
The digital world system in the game is an obvious precursor to The Matrix (you even die in the real world if you die in the computer)and piecing the story together is incredibly engaging. For its time, this was a very good game and it still holds up today. If you like Deus Ex, then you’ll like this.
Get Shadowrun on eBay.
14. Secret of Evermore
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought this was an entry in the Mana series when I was younger. It’s not, though. When you look at elements of the gameplay, like combat, it’s hard to make the distinction.
The story is a little bit bonkers, and that made it enjoyable. You start out in a modern timeline (relative to the game at least) and then you’re transported to Evermore. Long story short, you and your dog have to figure out how you go there and what is causing the world’s instability.
The story is pretty interesting, but the combat, graphics, and music are definitely the winners here. If you’re familiar with Secret of Mana, then you know what kind of combat you’re getting. You use various weapons, wait for your power to recharge, and smack enemies. You also get to use a magical force, alchemy, to help you in your quest. All the while, your dog, who transforms depending on where you are, is at your side and eager to help.
The musical score was composed by Jeremy Soule, the guy who does The Elder Scrolls series music, at least for III, IV, and V. It was hard to put this game at this spot, but we’re getting into some of the meatier games now.
This is one of the least-expensive games on the list, making it one of the best play values. Get Secret of Evermore on eBay.
13. Final Fantasy IV
(Released as Final Fantasy II in the U.S.)
The Active Time Battle system, 5 party members in a fight, and possibly the weirdest insult in a video game – what more do you want, you spoony bard?
There are so many positive things you can say about this game starting with the story. How often do we get a redemption arc for the protagonist of the story? I mean, you start out as a Dark Knight and help lay waste to an innocent village. Of course, the story is a lot deeper than the choice between good or evil, but the first hour of the game sets the tone.
The combat system is improved from the previous entries in the Final Fantasy series, giving the player the added challenge of making decisions and waiting for action bars to fill up to attack. The music was memorable, too.
The biggest things holding back this game from a higher position on the list were the awkward translation and the overworld graphics. In combat, you can see that the developers put in some work. Walking around town? Not so much. Still, this is a very good game that every fan of the series should enjoy.
12. Illusion of Gaia
I played Illusion of Gaia as a child, and it was actually tougher than it looked. There are a lot of positives about the game including the dungeon design, music, graphics, and combat.
The story is weird. Bad weird. More importantly, it doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the other two games that are related to it: Soul Blazer and Terranigma. Honestly, if I didn’t read about this connection, I don’t think I would have made it on my own.
Most of the gameplay has the protagonist, Will, exploring lands so he can find mystic statues. Along the way, he is helped by Gaia, which is basically a god. Maybe THE god.
Anyway, you get to change into powerful avatar shapes to help you on your quest. One is Freedan, a knight, and the other is Shadow, a blue and yellow character that is stronger than the others but not available until nearly the end of the game.
Each form can help you access different areas and solve puzzles. Some characters have access to places that the others don’t, and that’s part of the fun.
I really enjoyed all of the different dungeons and towns. The graphics and design have a lot of nice details in them, and you can lose yourself in the atmosphere of the game. The main thing holding this game is that wacky story and the pacing, which can drag its heels when cutscenes arrive.
Get Illusion of Gaia on eBay.
11. Breath of Fire II
I’m just saying, this game has the ugliest cover art I’ve ever seen.
Breath of Fire II was my first experience with the series, and I had to be convinced by my brother to power through the early parts of the game. You run into a lot of enemies, and that can hamper the entertainment value quite a bit at times.
Still, the game has a lot of really cool parts like the battles. While having Ryu transform into a dragon and do some powerful attacks is awesome, I think my favorite part is actually the backgrounds and animations. You can tell the art team put some serious work into this game.
The music is hit or miss, to be completely honest, but the gameplay makes up for it. The story is another part of the game that is rather typical now but was refreshing when I played it. Too many games had a series but didn’t have a continuous story like this title.
All in all, the game is worth playing, but I wouldn’t put it in the top 10.
Get Breath of Fire II on eBay.
10. Final Fantasy V
I tried very hard to be fair with the games that I put on this list, but I honestly believe that Final Fantasy V deserves this spot.
This game does a lot of things well. The biggest detriment is the graphics followed by a story that is thin in some areas, but still very good overall.
So, where does the game succeed?
For one thing, the job classes. You can turn any of your characters into over 20 different job classes, customizing your party, and preparing to kill bosses. That can result in a nice, balanced party, or you can turn everyone into a ninja and use the throw command to kill everyone as I did.
Another great part of the game is the world and the many ways to travel through it. Chocobo, boat, airships- you got a lot of ways to explore the planet that you’re trying to save. I also enjoyed the villain in this game because not enough games make it so you’re always one step behind. In fact, the final boss was my favorite since the original Final Fantasy Legend.
The music was good, not great, but the sound effects were subtle enough that the musical presentation is still above average.
Overall, this game is very interesting and it somehow manages to be funnier and more cheerful than other SNES RPGs despite the chaos happening in the story!
Final Fantasy V never got an official U.S. release, but you can find plenty of fan-made translations on eBay. Check ’em out!
9. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
I’m a big fan of games that take an unusual approach to the story, and that is certainly one of the things I considered in putting this title in this spot. Also, I’m including it here even though it didn’t get ported to the U.S. in English for a long time. Deal with it.
The story from the game doesn’t happen over a day, a week, or a few months. It’s 30 years of the protagonist’s life starting with your birth. Weird, I know.
Anyway, the gameplay is cool in that you can recruit monsters to help your cause, engage in turn-based combat, and use weapons and magic to aid you. The combat is good, but it doesn’t really bring a whole lot of new stuff to the table.
That being said, the other elements of the game are very good. The story sees you through childhood, slavery, questing, and then marriage. Again, I’m not going to ruin the plot for you, but it’s pretty interesting.
The music and graphics aren’t perfect because the game is older, but they more than do the job of facilitating the story and making the combat fun. Also, I’m pretty sure this game was the genesis for the Dragon Warrior: Monsters games.
Like too many on this list, Dragon Quest V never had a U.S. release, but there are plenty of fan-translations, many of them complete-in-box, on eBay.
Some people swear that this game is absolutely incredible, possibly better than Chrono Trigger, even. Personally, I find it terribly overrated. That’s okay, though. We all have our favorites.
Earthbound does have a lot of really cool features. The battle system isn’t inherently violent where you’re murdering monsters and other people. Your party members are your friends, and the game invokes the zeitgeist of the late 1980s and 1990s in a way that Stranger Things only wishes it could do.
I will say that the graphics, while not the best, felt right for the story. It wasn’t some grand adventure with world-ending monsters ripping the planet apart. It was more down to Earth.
I liked walking down the street in a town that looks like something I’d see out my window, and I enjoyed how the game turned the mundane into something fantastic. I did think the color scheme was an assault on my senses. Still, the game made up for it with a fantastic soundtrack and really interesting game mechanics.
7. Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
I feel like Ogre Battle doesn’t get the props that it deserves. The game starts out by making you answer questions for what is essentially your character creation. From there, you’ll get filled in on the story, which is pretty generic at first glance. You’re leading a revolution and you need to gather allies to stop the evil empire.
While the graphics aren’t anything fantastic, they definitely do the job and can be immersive in the battle sequences. The best parts of the title are the gameplay, story, and combat. Also, the replay value due to the tarot reading outcomes at the beginning of the game is high, too.
The combat is tactical, so you have to guide your units against others on a battlefield, from battle to battle until you reach and defeat the boss. If this sounds familiar like Fire Emblem, it should. I loved the wide variety of characters that you could recruit to your cause, too. Witches, knights, griffins, and a lot more were available to the player.
You could also use the towns to shop and the world screen to organize your party, and then you had the chance to talk to people to gain more information. Great gameplay, solid music, nice graphics, and high entertainment value – this game was great.
Get Ogre Battle on eBay.
6.Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
I hated the idea of this game when I first played it. I had been raised on some “real” RPGs and I wasn’t about to have one with Mario, a bit of marshmallow fluff, and other whiny characters ruin it for me.
Then, my brother finally convinced me to play it and I was kinda blown away. The game had some very decent graphics that gave a little more depth than I was expecting. The characters were fun to play and learned some familiar skills as the game went on.
The story was nothing special, but the developers gave us a reason to team up with Bowser and fight a common enemy, and that was good enough for me. I’d been beating on Bowser for a long time before then and I was ready for a change.
This game wasn’t like a Final Fantasy in that it was long, story-heavy, and a musical masterpiece. Instead, it focused on comedy and just having a good time. The game wasn’t very long, either. It told the story it wanted and didn’t meander, and that’s something to celebrate, too. I would certainly classify this as a must-play title, but I can’t put it in the top 5 SNES RPGs on this list.
Get Super Mario RPG on eBay.
5. Secret of Mana
Nothing but heavy hitters from here on out. Secret of Mana is a little overrated, but it’s still an incredible game any way you look at it. Well, at least in the ways that matter to me.
The first thing I noticed when picking this game up for the first time was the combat. It’s an action RPG that allows you to have three party members. You can control your characters’ actions in battle, get better proficiency with weapons over time, and use magic to defeat enemies. Not only does this game make you think on your feet, but you can count on fun boss battles.
The graphics are nice, too, and the game does a lot to create an atmosphere for the players wherever they go. I enjoyed the music a lot, too. The sounds in the game as well as the actual music. It’s not just there for decoration; the music actually adds to the game.
The only part where the game falls a little flat is in the story. It definitely builds up, but the story is very focused on the second half of the game. So, if you make it past the early parts of the story, then you’re in for a treat.
Pick up Secret of Mana on eBay.
4. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
The original Lufia & The Fortress of Doom was a fun SNES RPG. It did not innovate much but had witty dialogue, decent graphics, and lots more to enjoy. However, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals kept the best parts of the original and improved some of the areas that needed work.
The interesting part about this game was that players already saw the ending of the game at the beginning of the first one, owing to the company’s desire to show how the Sinistrals (evil gods) were cast down. So, this game is a prequel that lines up with the first game at the very end.
The graphics are probably the biggest change that I noticed between the first and second games. The overworld map, enemies, and skills all looked very good for the time. The story was also very good as your characters try to make sense of the Sinistrals and stop them before they wreck the world.
The gameplay changed from a straight RPG into an action puzzle game inside the dungeons with more of a JRPG in the overworld. It was a refreshing mix that cut down on the amount of combat and grinding from the first title.
I am still surprised that even knowing how a story ends by going into it can lead to such a great game.
Get Lufia II on eBay. Or try, anyway.
3. Star Ocean
Long before the Star Ocean series went off the rails, it started off with a bang.
Unfortunately, that bang was muffled by the failure to release the game in North America, but that didn’t stop some of us from playing an English translation.
The story in this game is awesome. You start out trying to find a cure for a disease that is turning townspeople to stone. As the town watchman, Ratix (Roddick), you go on a journey to the top of a local mountain trying to find a cure. Then, everything changes.
You find out that your planet is some little backwater and your species, humans with tails, basically, are the latest victims in an interstellar war. What? The game pulls a reverse Star Trek.
The story only picks up from there, and let me tell you it rocks. That’s just one highlight of the game, though. The battles are simply awesome. They are an action-RPG style of battle within a battle screen. You control your character in real-time and set a list of actions for your party members that they’ll follow; such as focusing on dealing damage or healing.
The gameplay is incredibly fun and focuses on helping you get to know your party members through Private Actions. That allows you to approach a town and split up the party to learn more about the area. These can completely change the way that your characters interact with each other or change some parts of the story.
The music is very good and I never got tired of hearing it. I love the magic in this game and the series as a whole. All in all, the story is fantastic and the sequel is a direct followup from a different perspective. The game is on the Nintendo Switch as Star Ocean: First Departure. Please, give it a try and then play the sequel.
Fan translations of Star Ocean are a little hard to find, but there are a few on eBay.
2. Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is a one-of-a-kind video game that sucks you in the minute you hear the first bit of music. There is so much to say about this game, so I am just going to vomit out what I love about it in no particular order.
For starters, the art style is fantastic. I know that there are quite a few similarities between this and Dragon Ball Z owing to the fact that none other than Akira Toriyama worked on both. Now, I did feel a tad odd about Chrono looking like Goku and Lucca basically being Bulma, even beyond the looks. I got over it, though.
Other parts of the art style include the town design, combat graphics, and overall world design. Whether you’re in the past, present, or future in this game, you’ll see that every world is carefully designed and cohesive.
The battle system is a blast. You run into monsters in areas and that commences the battle without the longer transitions. One drawback that I found was that the battles were slow. However, the ability to combine attacks between characters totally made up for the deliberate pacing.
The difficulty in the game is right on point, too. You don’t have to grind and grind, but you’re welcome to do it if you want to get some early upgrades.
Another part that I loved about the game was the music. It’s peaceful in all the right places, harrowing in others, and builds on itself throughout the game with different motifs. It’s simply amazing, just like everything else about the game.
The characters are well-designed and they each have their own backgrounds and strong motivations for joining the party. Of course, I related Magus joining the party to Vegeta joining the Z Fighters because Magus is just…complex.
The one thing I didn’t like about this game was that Chrono didn’t talk. I understand why he doesn’t talk, but I hate the silent protagonist thing. If you’re going to tell a story through someone, then let’s hear what they have to say about it. I mean, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and you don’t get to hear his thoughts on it.
Fortunately, the game does a great job of having Chrono relate to the rest of the party. I’m not going to mention the spoiler in case some sad sap hasn’t played this game, but that thing that happens along with the subsequent choice about whether or not to fix it. Chef kiss.
Also, I love the fact that you basically chase the final boss across time. In fact, that final boss fight sequence is one of my favorites. Simply, just about everything in this game rocks.
Overall, there is not a whole lot preventing this from claiming the top spot in my book. It’s an excellent game in terms of music, entertainment, graphics, combat, and it has a je ne sais quoi factor that I can only describe as pre-nostalgia. You know you’re going to miss this world when the game is over.
Get Chrono Trigger on eBay.
1. Final Fantasy VI
Released as Final Fantasy III in the U.S.
FULL Spoiler Warning
You knew this was going to be here, right? Final Fantasy VI is, in my opinion, the best SNES RPG ever made and possibly one of the best video games. Just like with Chrono Trigger, it’s hard to know where to start with this game.
Let’s begin the gameplay and combat. It’s pretty standard in terms of JRPGs, but this is one of the games that made the standard what is today. You enter the battles with four different party members and use weapons, magic, and various special skills to kill your enemies. Some of the skills are awesome, like Sabin’s Blitz, and some of them are a little annoying, like everything about Umaro.
Speaking of characters, the cast in this game is massive. You have the control of 14 people throughout the game, plus a few extras that you play as for a short time. Minus Gogo, Umaro, and Mog (kinda), every character has a very nice backstory even if the original translation didn’t always do them favors.
The game makes sure to split you up into groups on a few occasions, giving you time to recruit new people and integrate them into your larger party. They hang out aboard your airship (which you can fly all over!) and you can pick your party from among them.
You start out as the human hybrid Terra, a young woman that has been under control of the evil Gesthalian Empire, made into a mind slave and used as a human weapon. There are two brothers who have to choose between personal happiness and doing what’s right for their realm, an assassin, an old man that can use monster magic, a feral child, and many more.
If you take the time to explore these characters, you’ll find a ton of depth and some messed up stories.
The magic system in this game is cool and plays right into the story. You use “magicite”, the crystalized life essence of magical creatures called espers, to learn magic with all of your characters. Together you fight a battle against the Empire, only to have things get turned on their head halfway through the game.
Let me just say this: the story is incredible. Aside from the development of individual characters, the overarching story is just devastating. How often does the bad guy actually get to win in a video game? Because that’s what happened here. You know that right?
Kefka depopulates the world so severely and damages it so badly that it doesn’t look like anything is going to thrive, especially with no magic to prop up the world.
Speaking of villains, that’s one of the reasons this game is ranked better than Chrono Trigger. Kefka is a secondary antagonist at first, and then he kills the primary antagonist and throws him away like trash. He goes from being a minor inconvenience to a strong end boss.
The world-building in this game is also incredible. Some places that stand out include Narshe, the Floating Continent, the Zozo, and Vector. The world feels like it’s lived in, and the large number of smaller stories happening in every town make these areas feel complete and satisfying to explore.
Another part of the game that stands out is the music. There are two pieces that I have to mention: Celes’ Opera song is incredible, and so is the entire scene in which it appears. Also, Dancing Mad, Kefka’s final theme is absolutely stunning. I’ve heard some modern versions of that piece that are simply insane.
The bottom line is that while Chrono Trigger was incredible, Final Fantasy VI has some parts that just stand a little higher in my book.
In fact, I enjoy the game so much that while everyone else was clamoring for the Final Fantasy VII Remake, I wanted FFVI to get a revisit and some fresh graphics. A guy can wish, right?
Find Final Fantasy III (U.S.) on many different consoles on eBay.
Reflecting on the Top 20 SNES RPGs
If you’ve read this whole thing, then give yourself a pat on the back and a gold star. Well done.
The SNES RPGs featured some of the best games ever released in the genre. Surely, the top five games that I reviewed here deserve a lot of recognition for their contribution to the genre, unique gameplay, and the hard work put into them by the game developers. Their contributions made RPGs one of the best video game genres of the 90s.
If you haven’t played some of these games, then you should consider it. They have a lot to offer people that love RPGs. Some of them are even cheap SNES games that you can add to your collection with ease.
Thanks again for taking the time to look at my list. Let me know what you think of it and mention any games that I didn’t include in my list. Believe me, I had some, like Arcana and Wizardry V, that almost cracked the Top 20 SNES RPGs, but I couldn’t ignore the ones I have.