The Super Nintendo has an incredible library of games that come from just about every genre imaginable. A lot of SNES games continued the trend of mascot-based platformers, but most notably brought attention to a genre previously untapped here in North America. This genre I’m talking about is, of course, the RPG. Sure, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy graced the Nintendo Entertainment System, but RPG would soon become synonymous with the words, Super Nintendo.
In this new series of mini-lists, I’m going to highlight the best SNES games in existence. This first edition will explore RPGs for gamers that like to indulge in epic stories, diverse characters, potions, summons, and lots of strategic battles.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana may look a little like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but don’t let its paint job fool you. It’s just as much an RPG as any other game on this list, except Secret of Mana does things its own way, the Action-RPG way. Secret of Mana trades in traditional turn-based combat for real-time, action packed battles. However, Secret of Mana still retains many elements that make RPGs a favourite of many including weapons and armor to equip, a bestiary full of amazing creatures, magic, and of course, experience points.
Experience can be gained three different ways in Secret of Mana. First is the traditional way of defeating enemies to gain experience to level your characters’ stats. However, Secret of Mana also lets you level up your weapons and magic. All three characters can level up each of the game’s eight weapons by using them in battle; magic is leveled up this way as well. In addition to a unique battle and levelling system, Secret of Mana also supports drop-in and drop-out, three-player cooperative play.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Take a dash of the Mario universe, add Square’s experience with the RPG genre, shake them up and you get the explosive cocktail known as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. For the first time ever, Mario and friends (that includes Bowser this time around) entered the realm of turn-based battles, meaningful story and dialogue, plus met new characters from the Mushroom Kingdom.
Super Mario RPG isn’t just a unique experience because it’s a Mario RPG, but also because it was a unique spin on the genre. Instead of trudging through random encounters and uninspired overworld maps, gamers can control Mario and explore 3D areas. These contain a lot of platforming elements including the ability to jump over obstacles and hit floating Question Mark boxes. Also, enemies are scattered around the map in real-time meaning gamers can avoid unnecessary battles.
Battling enemies in Super Mario RPG is more than just selecting commands. Instead, pressing buttons at the correct times could reduce damage taken, and even increase the damage a player’s attack would inflict on the enemy. Combine all of the above elements with a relatively low difficulty and you have a great beginners’ RPG.
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III is a favourite of many RPG fans, and for good reason, Final Fantasy III is one of the best RPGs ever created. While it may not make large strides with its basic gameplay, Final Fantasy III does feature, perhaps, the best cast of characters in any RPG game.
There are fourteen characters to play as, each with a unique, detailed backstory and personality. However, Final Fantasy III also puts the spotlight on many secondary characters, as well as including one of the most venomous villains of all-time, Kefka. Every character plays a role in the story and is never forgotten, this alone really makes the game come alive.
Final Fantasy III also introduces Espers, magical beasts that can be summoned in battle, but also serve as the connection between humans and magic. Equipping Espers on your characters will allow them the ability to learn magic.
Of all the games on this list, EarthBound is by far the quirkiest. From battling Spiteful Crows to a Mole Playing Rough, and putting condiments on your food, EarthBound is a one of a kind experience that has not been emulated since.
EarthBound is set in a modern society which allowed Nintendo to do a handful of creative things. One in particular is the ability to use payphones to call home, or even a pizza delivery service. EarthBound also lets you explore unique areas like a shopping mall, and a very nineties inspired arcade.
EarthBound, much like Super Mario RPG, also gives you the option to avoid encounters with enemies. However, EarthBound goes one step further by allowing you to automatically win battles with foes that are much weaker than you. It’s the little things like this that make EarthBound an enjoyable experience.
Often considered the best SNES RPG, Chrono Trigger is indeed an amazing game, a game that tells an epic time-travelling tale unlike anything on the Super Nintendo. Your decisions can affect the outcome of a story through time, resulting in a myriad of possible endings. Chrono Trigger was way ahead of its time regarding its storytelling, but also introduced some cool battle techniques.
During battles, Chrono Trigger allowed you to use magic-like maneuvers called Techs. Techs could be combined with other characters’ Techs to unleash truly devastating attacks. What makes this even more awesome is that the Double and Triple Techs change depending on the members in your party. The possibilities aren’t endless, but there is enough variety to make you want to try them all.
Was your favourite SNES game left off this list? Check the rest of our Best SNES Games series to see if it’s represented elsewhere.