This perennially popular decade will likely go down as the “Good Ole’ Days” of gaming. Whether it featured the greatest amount high-quality games is of course up for debate, but I don’t think anyone can deny that it was the most inventive and seminal era in the industry.
There were dozens of studios that stood out amongst their contemporaries, so it was obviously difficult to narrow this list down to a top five, but here we are—the best video game developers of the 1990s.
Their juggernaut franchise is of course Final Fantasy—a series with six mainline installments in the 1990s alone—but their role-playing chops don’t stop there. They also released Secret of Mana in 1993, Chrono Trigger in 1995, and a sequel called Chrono Cross in 1999.
The first iteration of that latter franchise, Chrono Trigger was one of the most inventive games of its time thanks to numerous alternate endings and its close attention to graphical details. And the positives don’t end there—in fact, it’s one of the consensus best RPGs ever.
Square would have been a powerhouse with just that game alone, but luckily for all of us, that wasn’t all she wrote. Nintendo even published a game called Super Mario RPG that was internally developed by Squaresoft. That’s how mighty their reputation was as a developer.
Final Fantasy is really the only name that remains in vogue with audiences today, but Square was the RPG developer to be reckoned with in the 1990s. If they had branched out to one or two more genres, they easily could’ve been higher than number four.
Ultimately, though, I’d say this is a pretty decent spot.
One thing that has always stood out to me regarding Rare was just how much they achieved in terms of variety—more than most other developers could have dreamed of. Their repertoire knew no bounds when it came to genre, rendering the 90s their undoubtable heyday.
Are you into fighting games? Look no further than the Killer Instinct series. More into shooters? Goldeneye is one of the best games of the whole decade, even of all time. Want a fun platformer? Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong have you covered.
And I haven’t even mentioned games like Battletoads or Jet Force Gemini, two downright entertaining titles with pretty decent legacies to boot.
While few of these games were commercial powerhouses, most of them were critical darlings, and the sheer diversity of Rare’s library is quite frankly unprecedented. If only they were able to keep their prestige alive in the subsequent decade.
Probably the most controversial company I could choose to write about, I didn’t even expect Konami to end up on this list, let alone make it to a higher spot than Square, OR Rare. Then, I skimmed their releases in the nineties and remembered almost instantly just how prevalent they were in an already-illustrious decade.
Konami was super keen on the arcade realm of gaming early on in the nineties, and a lot of that influence was showcased with SNES titles like TMNT: Turtles in Time, Animaniacs, and Contra III: The Alien Wars.
However, Konami truly shined in the last three years of the decade with such groundbreaking titles as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Suikoden II and Silent Hill. Each of those games— be it regarding their gameplay, their stories, or their overall impact on the world of video games—they’ve aged like the finest wine around.
I mean, if this were a list of the most influential developers of the decade, they could have easily been bumped up to the penultimate spot.
Between about a dozen Mega Man games (whether mainline or spinoff), five Street Fighters and three Resident Evil titles, Capcom was all over the place in the 90s in the best way imaginable.
Those three cardinal franchises produced some of the highest rated games of all time—notably Street Fighter II and Resident Evil II. They kind of shoved Mega Man titles down our throat early on in the decade, and the consensus best title in the franchise was 2—which came out in the eighties—but the nineties did provide us with the “Mega Man X” spinoff franchise.
Of course, Capcom also released franchises like Breath of Fire, Gargoyle’s Quest and Marvel vs Capcom, and while those weren’t nearly as popular as their three mainstream properties, all of these titles culminated in a crazy catalog for Capcom during the 1990s.
1. Nintendo EAD
There’s no debate to be made here, really. Some of the biggest games of all time fall under Nintendo’s belt during the 1990s, and the decade really secured their position as the preeminent company of the industry. Sure, they didn’t achieve anything spectacular with regard to variety of genre, but this is a clear exception.
I mean, they had three Mario games and three Zelda games, with some of the most respected iterations from both respective franchises.
Want me to list more? How about Star Fox, F-Zero and Pilotwings?
Still not enough? Try Metroid, Yoshi’s Story, and two separate Mario Karts on for size.
Again, I don’t think I need to convince anyone of this choice, but to really drive the argument home, let me ask you this: how many other franchises on this list are still being released today?
I mean, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, sure, but everything else is teetering on extinction, while Mario and Zelda are both bigger and better than ever with the releases of Odyssey and Breath of the Wild on the Switch. For two franchises that have never lost momentum, that’s an impressive feat to consider.
Leaving out developers like Blizzard, Valve, and id Software are decisions that truly hurt me to my soul, but in the end, each of these companies hold fantastic arguments for being the crème de la crème of the 1990s. Let us know in the comments below your favorite developers from the decade, and thanks for reading!