Note: Writing a top 10 list is tough. It is hard to narrow down criteria and to further narrow it down to the actual games because each has its own pros and cons and opinions vary. And those opinions that vary tend to be lambasted. So to eliminate some of that, I made this an accumulative list where they are not ranked individually.
There were so many great games during the SNES/SFC era, so think of this as a list of Top 10 JRPGs that you should play as I recommend each and every one. I probably could make a top 50 and still leave some great games out. Some of these are Japan-exclusive but fan translations do exist.
I could probably talk several pages about these games but I will limit it to short praises to keep it concise. I will refer them by their original Japanese names but will refer to their western titles. Let’s start then with my personal list of the best 10 JRPGs on Super Nintendo.
Final Fantasy VI
It’s been 1000 years since the War of the Magi. Nowadays, magic is almost a mythical concept. However, the empire is on a quest to gain that power back through mythical creatures called Espers. After an encounter with an Esper with accompanying Empire soldiers at her side, the manipulatively controlled through a crown young woman named Tina (Terra) is the lone survivor. She soon is rescued by Lock (Locke) of the Returners who is in conflict with what the Empire is doing. The story goes on from there.
Final Fantasy VI is a game that through the entire World of Balance scenario was firing on all cylinders in my opinion. It could have been a game in its own right. However, I thought the second part wasn’t as good as the first. There are a vast number of characters for an RPG in its day but each one is thought out and you care about them as a player. The gameplay is solid as the previous Final Fantasy installments with the newly added use of Espers. The graphics looked amazing and the soundtrack is one of the best things I have ever heard in any medium. There isn’t a dud song in the whole game. It is a great RPG that I recommend anyone to play if they haven’t.
Mother 2 / Earthbound
In the year 199X, a meteor crashes in the town of Onett. Ness, a local, goes to check it out. He goes with his neighbor along with his brother. What he finds out is a small bee-like creature informs him that Giygas has warped the minds of animals and some humans alike and is trying to turn the whole world into a dark place. It is up to Ness and three other unnamed allies he will find to stop Giygas by gathering melodies into a sound stone.
Mother 2: Giigu no Gyakushuu or how it is referred to in the west as Earthbound took a radically different approach to the RPG genre. Usually, RPGs tended to be set in medieval times or in a science fiction setting, Mother 2 is set in modern times in an American-like neighborhood. The tone set through the whole game is comedic where you fight enemies ranging from arcade punks to cultists to robots and even piles of vomit all in a symbol encountered turn-based combat system that uses psychic points as abilities and a front view perspective like the earlier Dragon Quests. Despite the overall comedic tone, Mother 2 has a very moving and emotional tone to it as well further exemplified by the excellent music.
The story starts in 1000 A.D. Chrono, the titular hero, is preparing to go to the Millennial Fair. He runs into Marle, a princess who hides her identity from him as he helps her find her necklace. They then visit around the fair until they come across Lucca, a good friend of Chrono’s. She has a new experiment teleporter and soon after, her pendant intensifies the teleporter thus turning into albeit unintentional, pseudo time machine. Chrono and Lucca soon follow her into the portal in hopes of rescuing her.
When you get Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy; Yuji Horii, the creator of Dragon Quest; and Akira Toriyama, the artist of Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest together, more often than not, you are probably going to get a good game. Not to mention, Yasunori Mitsuda, an mostly unknown composer who fell ill and had Nobuo Uematsu, a long-time Final Fantasy composer, finish the rest of the tracks. Chrono Trigger has a huge following and is highly regarded for good reasons. The combat is smooth, the story is good, the game has wonderful music, and it is a blast to play. You can visit times from Prehistoric all the way to post-apocalyptic with actions affecting each timeline. I strongly recommend playing it if you haven’t.
Dragon Quest V
You play as the hero and the exact scene where he is born in the opening scene. A little later you start out as a six-year-old boy with your father Papasu. I don’t want to spoil anymore of the story as it could be major spoilers so I will leave it at that.
An old guard in the RPG series and still going strong today. Dragon Quest V took a different approach to most RPGs adding a marriage equivalent and a story which spans several generations. You journeying with your father, your faithful pet, your wife, and your kids through the span of decades. You could choose among two girls to marry in every version except the DS one where a third is added. You can add monsters and have them join your party as well.
Just be warned the hero goes through awfully painful events and this Dragon Quest installment tends to be not exactly the happiest one although there are still joyful events. I have played through the SFC, PS2, and DS and have chosen all three girls before marrying. A harem option would have made it easier, haha. I would suggest the DS version because it is localized officially and it has the most options for marriage.
Final Fantasy IV
Cecil Harvey, a dark knight works as captain of the Red Wings, the air force of Baron. In the kingdom are his good friends Rosa Farrell and Kain Highwind who work for Baron as well. He is soon joined by other allies like Rydia, a young summoner, and Edward Chris Von Muir, the infamous “spoony bard” of internet meme status. Events unfold that make Cecil go through somewhat of awakening all while preparing to stop Zemus, a Lunarian who wants to exterminate mankind and take it over earth for his people.
Needless to say, Final Fantasy IV is a very good game. They go back to the formula of having set characters as Final Fantasy II did. Except this time instead of overhauling the leveling up system like they did in that game, they improve upon the original with a similar leveling and creating something called Active Time Battle developed by Hiroyuki Ito which would become a signature of the Final Fantasy series. The story is moving, the characters are well thought out, and the game is fun to play. All in all, a great Final Fantasy that has seen several re-releases.
Tales of Phantasia
Taking place in the world of Aselia, Cress Albane and his comrades have to defeat Dhaos who is attempting to make the world a very dark place. And in order to stop him, they have to travel through time to do so.
The start of it all for the Tales series. Originally just released in Japan, it has been re-released for Playstation, Game Boy Advance, and Playstation Portable. The battle system is what made the Tales series special. You travel along a 2D plane that adds action elements to an RPG-like battle system where it is fast-paced and you are capable of several combos. The original SFC was voiced somewhat as well which is pretty amazing feat for the cartridge era. With plenty of skits to view to learn more about the characters, plenty of side quests, and great music, Tales of Phantasia was a great start to the series.
Romancing SaGa takes place in Mardias which was created by the Deity Marda. A long time ago, several deities waged war and the fallout was so great they vowed never to do it again. 1000 years later, evil forces are attempting to release one of the deities imprisoned due to the war through something called fate stones. Eight heroes are there to stop that from happening. You get to choose one as the protagonist.
Romancing Saga has a tendency to be not the easiest of games but not impossible as well. It isn’t really the friendliest to newcomers either because there is a learning curve somewhat to the series. The games are best if played multiple times if you can to better experience the game as it has multiple heroes, options, and scenarios and can be non-linear. The battle system is somewhat similar to Final Fantasy but is not the same as it is similar to a grid system with weapons and their skills as basis for fighting.
Dragon Quest VI
The final part of the Zenithian trilogy, the hero is tasked to help with the upcoming Mountain Spirit Festival. He ends up in a large hole which takes him to another world. He finds out that there is the dream world and the real world. Actions taken in one affect the other. Oh yeah, there is also Mudo, who wants to destroy them. The hero must travel and fight with allies to confront him.
Dragon Quest VI although probably not a top 3 fan favorite for most is still a solid RPG. It has pretty much everything a standard Dragon Quest has. The class system that was introduced into Dragon Quest III appears once again although it may take much longer to learn everything if you are a completionist. It introduces skills from classes that do not require MP usually. It also features new mini-games like the best-dressed contest. It was first localized for the DS in the west and I recommend it.
Lufia / Estopolis Senki
You play as the Hero whose name you can change, along with Lufia, Jerin, and Aguro. Nine years earlier, a team of different heroes was sent to the Fortress of Doom to stop Sinistrals who wanted to subjugate earth. The heroes are successful in defeating them but as the fortress crumbles, their team gets separated and only two are able to teleport out. The following years are peaceful until the Sinistral army once again threatens peace.
Estoplis Denki or how it is referred to in the west, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, faced tough comparisons as the other heavy hitters like Final Fantasy IV and Dragon Quest V came before it. Nevertheless, it is still a solid game that features all the things standard in a turn-based RPG. It has good characters and a decent story. While maybe not a top choice, it is still recommended and a great series.
Breath of Fire
Ryu, an adventurer who can transform into several types of dragons along with Nina, a winged girl, all in a somewhat low medieval fantasy world are the trademarks of the series Breath of Fire. Each one features these two and the cast is usually made up of other anthropomorphic characters. In this installment, the heroes face the Dark Dragon clan who wish to revive the goddess Myria who formerly caused trouble for the Dragon Clan, and must stop them.
Breath of Fire is a standard JRPG with differences that make it stand out. Four members battle a turn-based system and in an almost isometric perspective where members can be swapped out at a moment’s notice. You can use magic and what may be the most fun is having Ryu transform into different types of dragons. The characters are memorable, the story is good, and the game is of course fun to play.
Let me know what you think about my Top 10 JRPGs on Super Nintendo in the comments below.