Roleplaying Games in the 16-Bit Era

Role-playing Games.  On the surface, they’re similar: Grab up your sword, barge into your neighbor’s house and grab anything not nailed down.  Kill the surprisingly common wildlife along the way.  Queue your attacks, pick your skills, and wait patiently for the ATB gauge to refill before striking the definitive blow and hearing that oh-so-familiar fanfare begin to trumpet.  Save the world with the power of friendship, world maps, spells, and (more often than not) a handy guide book.

The games on this list represent an (unfairly) skewed representation of Super Nintendo RPGs.  Though this article covers a minute spread of RPGs, it’s important to note this is only a small fragment of the total RPG collection and in no way is intended to be a greatest hits.  It’s also important to note the distinction between Western-styled RPGs and Japanese-styled RPGs.  Though each share certain aspects (namely, stats, point of view, etc.) this article covers primarily Japanese-styled RPGs, and those unique enough to stand out from the herd.


Earthbound screenshot

Psychic kids.  An alien hellbent on possessing or destroying all life on earth.  A descent into madness via suburbia.  Hippies.

Earthbound Super Nintendo screenshot

I can feel myself shuddering…

Earthbound has a lot of great things going for it: on the surface a fairly standard modern RPG, when it was released it was a one-of-a-kind experience.  Never before had the expanse of America been considered fertile ground for an RPG.  Gone were Goblins and Griffins.  In their place were soccer moms and evil taxis.  No longer were airships and boats de rigeur: now you rode on Tessie and fought the occasional UFO.  Often imitated, both for its unique and trippy battle system as much as its quirky sense of modernity, Earthbound is considered a cult classic and beloved by many a fan.

Try it or Buy it:  Do you like RPGs set in the modern day?  Are you interested in the cult phenomenon that inspired such modern day bestsellers as Undertale and LISA?  Do you dig a non-standard, genre-breaking experience in your classic JRPGs?  Then definitely buy.

Chrono Trigger:

Chrono Trigger for Super Nintendo screenshot

Picking Morels in the forest…

A classic in every sense of the word, Chrono Trigger’s timey-wimey storyline sets it through nearly every age of a world on a far-away planet in an effort to dislodge the eldritch alien life form that will eventually consume your whole world.  Your cast of protags: A mute, katana-wielding ginger.  A plucky female scientist.  (How’s that for progressive?  Chrono Trigger came out in 1995!!!)  A princess with a mean bowgun.  A cavewoman as strong as an ox.  A robot with anxiety.  A bipedal frog with more culture than you.  If you play your cards right, you might even find a mysterious stranger in a purple cloak joining your team…

Crono’s early morning exercise routine

Crono’s early morning exercise routine

With artwork by Akira Toriyama of Dragonball renown, and gameplay and story done by the fabulous Square dev team of Final Fantasy fame, it’s easy to understand how this game became so popular.  Boasting multiple endings and a New Game Plus feature, Chrono Trigger is truly in a league of its own.

Try it or Buy it:  Do you like cinematic battles?  Do you like combo attacks?  Do you like a massive linear storyline that spans time and space?  Buy it, man.  You gotta.  Or else the world may one day be devoured…

7th Saga:

Lux, the Tetsujin in 7th Saga

Lux, the Tetsujin

An Enix RPG, 7th Saga follows the player as he chooses one of seven different characters and embarks on an adventure throughout the realm of Ticondera to find seven runes.

Look, I have to be honest about this game.  It’s not pretty.  The character graphics on the map and the map itself is basic at best; the storyline is practically nonexistent in the beginning, and to say the game is difficult is an understatement (depending on character choice.)  A cryptic NPC in the first town tells you to defend before you attack, every time.  Battles are fast-paced and frequent.

7th Saga screenshot

Answering the age-old question of Robot v. Ghost

But the amount of characters you can play as, coupled with their unique stats, the random nature of the story, and its nonlinearity ensures this game remains fresh.  And when you enter into a battle, the monsters and characters are not only animated, but animated gorgeously.

The music is catchy and blood-pumping.  And as you go, you can randomly pick up some of the other characters you chose not to be to help you on your journey.

Try it, or Buy it:  If you’re a fan of grueling, old-school dungeon dives with challenging, fully-animated battles and a story where your allies change every time you play, buy it.

Illusion of Gaia:

Illusion of Gaia title screenA little non-standard RPG here, but Illusion of Gaia is one of the Blazer series, a similarly themed trilogy of games beginning with Soulblazer and ending with the European-only release of Terranigma.  Illusion of Gaia stars Will, a charming young man who spends most of his day dodging class at the beach.  When he and his friends go away on an adventure, he discovers that the world he lives in is one which has gone through a cycle of destruction and rebirth; by visiting famous landmarks on his world (that echo those of Earth’s history) and destroying the evil within, he is awakening the old world once again.

Illusion of Gaia screenshot

A friendly childhood game of Test Your ESP…

Illusion of Gaia is haunting.  It’s an action RPG where you have a storyline cast, but in the end you’re really just controlling Will, either as Will himself, his alter-ego Freedan the Knight, or the enigmatic Shadow.  Themes of poverty, despair, slavery, and more are explored.

Try it, or Buy it:  Have you ever wanted to trek to the Seven Wonders of Earth? Get lost at sea?  Whack enemies in the face with a flute? Transform into a more dashing, powerful version of yourself?  If so, Buy it.

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