The Super Nintendo will probably go down in history as the best retro console of its time. It had an extensive library of stellar games that went on to become classics. These included “Super Mario All Stars,” “Mario Kart,” “Starfox,” “Donkey Kong Country” and “Mortal Kombat.” But one area where the SNES really excelled was role-playing games. Nintendo released an abundance of titles in this genre, and many of them found permanent spots in young gamers’ hearts. Here, in no particular order, are five of the best.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Mario was everywhere on the SNES, so it only made sense for Nintendo to throw its flagship character into a role-playing scenario. The results were surprisingly refreshing and enjoyable. The game was groundbreaking for a few reasons: it put Mario in a turn-based environment instead of the standard platform, and it actually incorporated an in-depth story. (Let’s be honest, Mario games weren’t known for their narrative). If Mario encountered an enemy, a battle automatically ensued, and the inclusion of a button-timing feature made those battles all the more harrowing.
Secret of Mana
This fan favorite belongs on any list of best SNES RPGs. The storyline follows the prototypical “nameless hero” as he searches for seeds of the mana tree, which hold the power to keeping the powers of good and evil in harmony. The game forgoes turn-based combat for real-time action and even offers a pause feature where players can select from a ring menu in order to make crucial decisions.
Final Fantasy VI
We’re going to keep it real by referring to this title by its original name. (It was released as “Final Fantasy III” in the United States.) There were a few other “Final Fantasy” titles released on the SNES before this one, but number six was the last for the Super Nintendo. In this entry, players take part in the struggle against an oppressive regime that wants to harness the power of magic. “Final Fantasy VI” is a testament to what is possible when all elements of a game, from music to design, work in flawless harmony. The sad thing is Nintendo all but handed over its FF legacy to Sony and its PlayStation console by not continuing the series on the N64. A lamentable mistake.
It’s telling that a game released 20 years ago is considered by some to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and not just of 1995. This release, from Square, saw the player assume the role of a boy on a quest to stop the evil Lavos from destroying the world. The game featured location-based fighting (no battle screens) in an ATB system. It’s no mystery why “Chrono Trigger” left an indelible mark—it was created by a production team of veritable all-stars. The list of talent behind this title is nauseating, and it included lead artist Akira Toriyama, of “Dragonball” fame, and Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also created a little-known series called “Final Fantasy.”
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Many don’t include this title in their “Best SNES RPG” lists because it’s technically considered an action adventure game as opposed to a role-playing game. We say there’s no sense in splitting hairs when it comes to such an iconic character. Zelda made the Super Nintendo, and therefore little Link deserves a mention. Also, ALTTP did what all great RPGs do, namely immerse the player in a rich fantasy world replete with magic, puzzles and a solid storyline. (So what if there’s no turn-based combat?) Its setting in dungeons was a nice touch, and there was a perfect balance between puzzle solving and action. The boss battles were enormously satisfying as well. Also, this title was the first entry in the series that included the ability to warp between light and dark worlds, a mainstay of subsequent “Zelda” games.
There are inevitable pangs of nostalgia when considering the SNES RPGs of the ‘90s. Sure, these days there are countless open-world fantasy titles to choose from, but all the sleek graphics can’t deliver the intangibles. The Super Nintendo may not have had the powerful processors of today, but the craftsmanship designers put into creating fantasy worlds can’t be matched.