Monday, March 18, 2024

Ranking the 80's and 90's RPGs I've Finished

Pre-millennium was the golden age for gaming in a lot of ways, especially when it came to traditional RPGs. This list is kind of a supplement to the big 1000 list, just a fun thing for me to think about while I do that.

Note: Counting 2000. One can technically say 2000 was the end of the decade, and either way I feel like the real changeover from retro to modern happened in 2001 with the advent of the PS2/XBox generation. So Dragon Quest VII just barely gets spared from being on the list and probably scoring pretty low on it.

If something I played is a recent remaster/port and very close to the original, it counts as me playing the original for ranking purposes. Like the Langrisser games, or Romancing SaGa 2. If it's a full-on remake it doesn't count, like the completely-overhauled PSP remake of Ys 3 doesn't count as me playing OG Ys 3.

Honorable Mentions, 'Cause I Didn't Finish Them: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (NES), Crystalis (NES), Tales of Phantasia (SNES), Shining Force 1+2 (Genesis), Star Ocean 1+2 (SNES and PS1), Breath of Fire 2 (SNES), Rudra no Hihou (SNES), Bahamut Lagoon (SNES), Treasure Hunter G (SNES), Fire Emblem 1-5 (NES and SNES), anything on the Saturn and Dreamcast.

Also Honorable Mentions To The PC Trendsetters I Never Got To Play: The Wizardry series, the Ultima series, Moria (even though it was 1975), etc.

Whoa. I just noticed for the first time that the Epoch's wings are basically Saiyan armor shoulders. Toriyama, you scamp!

93. Lord of the Rings Vol 1 (Super NES, 1994) - As much as I want to like this game, it really is the worst RPG I've ever played. Underpowered characters, glitches everywhere, equipment that doesn't work, characters that don't even attack, cave dungeons that are confusing mazes and all look the same, an endless fetch quest to unlock the last dungeon, which usually ends with the game having mercy on you and just glitching the dungeon's door open anyway. The list goes on. Bad, bad game. Music is decent and it's LOTR, but that's about it. It does have a certain charm on paper though, and the Nintendo Power artwork for the game was great, and I wanted to get into it, but unfortunately at the end of the day it's a great missed opportunity.

92. Tecmo Secret of the Stars (Super NES, 1995) - Hard to believe this came out the same year as Chrono Trigger. It's an incredibily generic and badly-made game. I may have had fun with it, but it's terrible. It's like something someone made in one of the RPG Makers, except I'm pretty sure most people could make something better. You have two different parties to use throughout the game, and inevitably one of them gets much stronger (probably the one you get well before the other). Then in the final dungeon it suddenly springs on you that you have to use both groups. If you're like me, one of them will be at basically noobie zone level, so good luck. Also the entire game is in all caps.

91. Dragonball Z Chou Saiya Densetsu (Super Famicom, 1992) - Dragonball Z RPG for the SNES? How can you go wrong? Well, very easily as it turns out. This game is bland, the characters have weird wide stances like they're hanging out in a congressional men's room, the animations are stiff, the list goes on. You also have to do a ton of grinding to fight the first boss (Raditz) which kills a lot of the game's potential appeal right out of the gate. At least it has a cool postgame superboss fight with Super Saiyan Vegeta. That was them thinking on their feet. Would have liked to see what this developer did with a second Super Famicom RPG covering the Cell Saga, but no such game ever materialized unfortunately. The NES got that game, but a very underwhelming version of it. More on that in a bit.

90. Phantasy Star 3 (Sega Genesis, 1990) - Subtitled "Generations of Doom" and containing several generations of main characters, this was a great idea in theory. In practice, your choices of who to marry really just affects the hair color of your next MC. Terrible dungeon design, bland enemies, bland everything. Worst part is the huge spaces between everything in towns just to make them feel bigger. Probably a big "rookie game designer" mistake people make in RPG Maker softwares. This was a B-Team game and it shows, compared to the others in the series.

89. Monstania (Super NES, 1996) - The world's shortest SRPG. It certainly exists. Nothing wrong with it really, it's just...kinda there.

88. Mystic Ark (7th Saga II) (Super Famicom, 1995) - When I found out 7th Saga had a sequel and that it launched in the golden RPG era of 1995, I was stoked. Then I played it and spent most of the game lost. It's super weird, with these different worlds that make very little sense. Nothing like the first game, with no classes or extensive level grinding. Just wandering around getting lost in bizarre areas looking for the one character you need to talk to to make the game progress (usually some obscure NPC). This game nearly turned me off of RPGs entirely for a while. Yeah, not playing this one again.

87. Dragon Ball Z RPG 1: Saiyan Saga (Famicom, 1990) - The worst of the four NES DBZ RPGs due to being the first and most rudimentary. Still manages to be decent. Heck I think it's better than the Super Famicom one despite being much shorter. This one only covers the Saiyan Saga (and the Dead Zone movie), which makes it brief for an RPG, but it's dense and focused. There's a lot of training montage type stuff, and they spend quite a bit of time on Raditz (including giving him subordinate goons) but it all feels like it has a purpose. Really not a bad game at all. Best of all, no weird combat stances. The only downside is there's a ton of grinding in it and every time you switch characters (like say from Gokou to Piccolo/Gohan and back) you need to do a ton more grinding.

86. Breath of Fire 4 (Playstation, 2000) - Lot of people like this one but I don't. The camera angle is too low so your view is constantly obscured by objects. The game goes on about 3 times longer than it should have, clocking in at like 60 hours for me over a few years of chipping at it. It stopped being interesting well before that and would have been fine if it were condensed to like 20. The visuals are also weirdly washed-out, with very little color to be found, which is probably the thing that tanks it the most. The character portraits are hideous, too. ...what the hell is going on with that guy's lips?

85. Final Fantasy II (Famicom, 1988) - Technically this is dated before FF1, since I'm going off of FF1's North American release date and FFII's Japanese release date. Well, this game had its heart in the right place, but it isn't particularly good or fun. Later remakes of this made FFII into a pretty decent entry (PSP is the best version of it, due to some balancing changes and the Soul of Rebirth content), but the NES original? Yeah, this one has problems.

84. Radical Dreamers (Super Famicom, 1996) - This is deceptive placement, because the game isn't bad or anything, there are no real negatives about it. It's very barebones though and some might argue it barely qualifies as a game. It's more of a choose your own adventure book with pictures and sound, which is a pretty good idea on paper. So even though there's nothing wrong with it and it's perfectly decent, there just isn't a lot here. Also it's sort of the sequel to Chrono Trigger... but don't get too excited.

83. Legend of Mana (Playstation, 1999) - It was out in 1999 but I didn't know about it until 2000. Not a good game. It's gorgeous and sounds good and by all rights should be one of the greats on PS1, but the fact that you can stunlock almost anything in the game with basic attacks and a quick weapon... well, it just breaks everything. This game is zero challenge, and thus a good sleep aid. Also the AI allies are useless. Spells are useless. The world is disjointed and weird. While it has some worthwhile aspects, good luck actually getting very far in this before regretting the purchase and time spent.

82. Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy, 1989) - This is the end of the "bad" games on the list, or at least the ones I didn't enjoy playing for the most part. From this one onward, I enjoyed everything on the list. Just some more than others. This one is objectively pretty rudimentary, and has a lot of good ideas that would be fleshed out in later games. I enjoyed being able to buy stat gains and kind of customize growth in that regard. Unfortunately the game is very unbalanced, with Mutants leaving everyone in the dust. They level up their stats from fighting, and generally their stat growth will far outpace your Human characters who have to buy their stat gains. Though this does level out as you progress and money becomes more plentiful. So on a speed run Humans might excel over Mutants. In the early game, and on a normal run, Mutants are too OP and it takes a lot away from the items-for-stat-growth theme.

81. Dragon Warrior 2 (NES, 1990) - Least-good DQ game. Kind of unbalanced, rough around the edges, too big for its britches. Half the game is grinding, which is fine, except you have like zero good places to grind until after you reach Rhone Plateau...which requires crossing the worst dungeon in the game. A bit of a catch-22 of getting mauled, this game is. My favorite part is getting to that plateau and being able to finally grind for decent EXP. Too bad most of the game is behind you at that point. This is easily the lowest point of an otherwise-great series...and yet it's still a pretty fun game to play through. It's a collect-a-thon, much like the first game, and the Ultima games of the era.

80. Langrisser I (Super Famicom, 1991) - Remaster - Played the remaster of this but it's essentially the same game. Main thing I remember about it was the massive armies of units, causing every turn to take forever. Enemies would form these ridiculous logjams and it all got kind of comical after a while. Game was fun though. It's kind of like a Fire Emblem game, only with less emphasis placed on individual units and more on the overall troop level. The further you go, the more ridiculous it gets with the troop levels, so as much as I wanted to like it, it lands kind of low.

79. Langrisser II (Super Famicom, 1994) - Remaster - A lot like the first, just better on things like QOL improvements. Still full of massive enemy army logjams and fights that take forever, and they start a lot earlier in the game than in the first. If you like slowly chewing through like 30 enemies in a single battle that form a massive conga line, this is your game. It got pretty old, but it was a good thing to sit down and chill with because it didn't take much brainpower.

78. Arcana (Super NES, 1992) - Cool first-person game with a card motif. Game overing when ANY human character is KOed, though, brings this one way down. Other than that one thing, this game is actually a good one and should be a lot higher on the list. Playing it on emulator and being able to reset to a recent save if a KO happens is the best way to do things.

77. Dragon Ball Z RPG 3: Cell Saga (Famicom, 1992) - This one covers from SSJ Gokou vs Freeza up until the beginning of the Cell Games, along with Movie 5 (Cooler). Leaves us on a ridiculous cliffhanger. Why not just cover the whole Cell Saga? They didn't make any more of the series after this either. Just dumbfounding. That alone brings this game way down, because up until that point it's actually a great game and would be much higher on the list. I can't imagine it would have taken much to add a few more battles at the end of this game to finish off the saga, even if they had to rush the Cell Games part. The developers of these games liked to hold back final bosses for the next game, which is great until there isn't a next game.

76. Dragon Ball Z RPG Gaiden (Famicom, 1993) - Well, there was one more, but it isn't about the series. This covers "Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans", the TV special that is in no way canon and takes huge liberties with bringing back a bunch of movie villains. This game is actually pretty good because it's based on a movie specifically made to have an RPG tie-in. So everything works out smoothly in this game. Everyone is also at their late Cell Saga power, so it's almost like a sequel to the previous game. Still would have been nice to see an actual sequel covering the Cell Games (or better yet include it in the CELL SAGA GAME) but no such luck. From the looks of things they had all of the assets done for the late Cell Saga, probably unused from the previous game, like SSJ2 Gohan. Ah well. For what it is (a standalone story) this game is good, and actually feels finished. Just begs the question of why it exists at all when they had the Cell Saga to finish.

Editor's Note: I looked into this and it appears that the Cell Saga wasn't actually done yet on TV (or, presumably, the manga) when development on the Cell Saga game started, so they did as much as they could and were going to do the rest of the saga later. Then that just didn't happen. Makes a bit more sense now.

75. Magic Knight Rayearth (Super NES, 1995) - Barely remember this one. It's an anime RPG. Not a good one either, but I had some fun here and the 3 protagonist chix are kind of cool.

74. Soul Blazer (Super NES, 1992) - The game where you walk around slashing things with a micro-sword while an annoying ball spins around you. Some people really like this game but I didn't get much out of it. Main thing it has going for it is that it's an Illusion of Gaia prequel and has a similar play style. Except with a micro-sword. Speaking of fellow micro-sword game Lagoon...

73. Lagoon (Super NES, 1991) - Walk around and swing a micro-sword! It wants to be Ys but isn't. Speaking of, Ys is almost entirely missing on this list because I stuck to the remakes... except the one time where that isn't an option. In any case, Lagoon has some cool areas and it looks and sounds good. It'd be much higher on the list if it weren't for that micro-sword. Which is kind of like a micro-penis, it just tanks everything. Or as I call them, a weenis. At least the music in this is really good, too bad it isn't in a different game. Speaking of the Ys series...

72. Ys V - Sand City of Kefin (Super Famicom, 1995) - Interesting game about the collapse of Atlantis and onset of the Sahara Desert (though all of the above have different names, in Ys tradition). It's good, but I got lost a lot later on, which docks it a lot further down the list than it probably should be. This trend continued with later games in the series for me unfortunately. Other than that I found this to be an enjoyable play. Game looks very pretty (even if it's a bit dark for some reason) and it feels like a late Super NES game. I enjoy the subject matter of lost civilizations, something a lot of games in this era tackled. I liked this one quite a bit, but everything it does, plenty of other games do better.

71. Front Mission 2 Remake (Playstation, 1997) - Remaster - Played Switch remaster of this. Had a lot of problems with it. The remaster also doesn't change much at all, so I'm comfortable putting this on here. Just wasn't super into this one, but it had decent SRPG gameplay and wasn't terrible. I did kind of regret the purchase after a while (it's only available digitally) even though it was a mere $30. Maybe this series just isn't for me, I don't know. They're all slow and plodding games, and at the end of the day the high point of this series was probably in the relatively quick (and visually quite nice) first game. Once it went 3D with the second one, it may as well have been a different series.

70. Final Fantasy Legend III (Game Boy, 1991) - Can't remember this one well enough to get into it too much. I think it departs from the SaGa-ness of the previous two games and has a more uniform "regular RPG" style to it. It's on my list of things to give another shot to at some point. I'll say this, the visuals are very detailed for a Game Boy game and a step up from the two before it. Problem is I found the game hard to get into and the enemy sets were pretty weird-ass. I only played this on the original Game Boy with that small blurry screen, so chances are it's ranked lower than it should be or would be if I played it on a real screen with emulator or Switch.

69. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (Super NES, 1992) - Simplistic and ridiculously easy. That said, I find it to be a super-charming game and worth a run for anyone who wants a nostalgia hit. Anyone with any real RPG experience might not get much out of this, but it has its moments.

68. Ogre Battle (Super NES, 1995) - Interesting game with a great look and a lot of depth. Then again I ignored most of that depth, pooled all my best characters into one unit, and rolled the battlefields with that one unit. No reputation for me! At least the game lets you play that way if you want to. I appreciate the freedom.

67. Ogre Battle 64 (Nintendo 64, 1999) - I played this one waaaaay after it was current and it suffered a bit as a result. Was dated by then. Still a lot of fun and kinda held up though, and if I'd played it in 1999 instead of 2011 or so I think it'd be higher. Similar to the SNES one, but with some QOL improvements, a better story, and so on. Worth noting that the N64 had almost nothing for real epic games, so this served an extremely important role for the system. Again, if I played it in-era and spent more time with it I think it'd be a lot higher.

66. Romancing SaGa 3 (Super Famicom, 1995) - Interesting game that has that "forbidden fruit" quality of never being put out in the US at the time. It suffers from having vague objectives, and I spent way too much time lost which was a big turnoff. However the enemy designs are really nice and have almost an FFVI level of detail. The characters you can choose from are all interesting, though Harid is by far the strongest one so it isn't much of a choice. I thought this was pretty cool, actually, but I think it was mainly due to the novelty of playing a Japan-only RPG in 2009. Even now there's some novelty to it. The combat has a lot of jank and imbalance though, and the being lost so much brought the game down a lot. If the areas had more cohesion / made more sense or it allowed free exploration, it'd be higher.

65. Earthbound Zero (Famicom, 1989) - Cool game because of all the "Proto-Earthbound" stuff and I would love to rank it higher. It's just so rudimentary though. The grinding is ridiculous, too. You have to do so much of it just to progress, and it takes some of the wind out of the game's sails. The dialogue is great, the world is whimsical and crazy, and everything about this game is decent aside from the grinding required. Earthbound does pretty much everything this does only better, so that's another strike against it. All things considered, though, this might be one of the better RPGs on the NES if you look past its downsides.

64. 7th Saga (Super NES, 1993) - Speaking of grinding, I really like this game. The choice of seven characters gives it replay value. Only problem is, the game is pretty hard. The Elnard patch makes the game way too easy...and a lot less impactful as a result. Pretty much steamrolled it without having to farm equipment or micromanage anything and felt a lot less interested in the game after that. So the game isn't as high as it would have been before. Wish there was a version of the game somewhere in the middle where it's still tricky and requires micromanagement, but scales down some of the overly tough parts. Still, the diverse character styles and interesting, Phantasy Star-ish world are really memorable and fun to play around with. It's a game that punches above its weight.

63. Lufia and the Fortress of Doom (Super NES, 1993) - Has very generic gameplay but also has a story with heart and inspired characters. For what it is, there's nothing wrong with it, and the music elevates it a bit as well. It's just a very basic RPG that gets far exceeded by the sequel and gets carried by its heart.

62. Front Mission 3 (Playstation, 2000) - I call this one "You must really like Squaresoft: The Game" because that's pretty much what it is. Long, drawn-out, at times tedious. I liked it quite a bit more than Front Mission 2 however. It's also a pretty easy game, and doesn't require a huge amount of thought or input. Just follow the story, play out some mech battles on Tactics-style maps, have a ball. Or at least a decent, slightly-medicore ball. But yeah, you have to really like Squaresoft to play through all of this one.

61. Phantasy Star 2 (Sega Genesis, 1990) - Has dungeons that go on waaaay too long, but it's interesting and the space theme is very cool for the era. Most RPGs didn't go in that direction at all at the time. Felt like a real epic, which the Genesis certainly needed more of. Might have been lost in the shuffle on the SNES a few years later, but in 1990 on the Genesis it found a strong rallying point.

60. Breath of Fire (Super NES, 1993) - Capcom RPG, great soundtrack, gameplay is a bit simplistic. Characters are all likeable and the whole thing just has the magic of days gone by, if that makes any sense. It's brought down a bit by some parts of it dragging quite a bit (like the Gold Bar scenario, which ended my first run at the game) and a lot of the gameplay being more rudimentary than it should have been by this point (the redundant and sometimes broken spells, for example).

59. Sailormoon: Another Story (Super Famicom, 1995) - Fun game, and more polished than the DBZ games above. I said in the 1000 list that this only covers Season 3, but it actually has a bunch of stuff from Season 1-3. Each character has their signature moves and the game is a good time even if you're not a massive fan of the series. Superfans would really dig this and probably rate it much higher.

58. Final Fantasy III (Famicom, 1990) - Interesting game with interesting classes, but had plenty of room for improvement and the final dungeons are pretty much only doable with save states. I wasn't crazy about how there are a few dungeons where you have to use certain classes to progress, but it does force you to diversify your lineup a bit. In the endgame there isn't much choice, Ninjas and Sages are the be-all-end-all. Though I've seen good arguments made that Devout is worthwhile to have one of at the very end. At a sufficient level Ninja x3 and Devout x1 might actually outperform Ninja x2 and Sage x2.

57. Live a Live (Super Famicom, 1994) - Covered this one to death on here, so I must like it. It's a weird game that feels like an experimental SaGa title that escaped from the laboratory. The modern remake makes it even easier to get into and keeps it relevant.

56. Dragon Quest VI (Super Famicom, 1995) - Been around the block with this one a few times. It's too long, and too vague. Both things I'd say even moreso about DQVII if it wasn't one year off from making it onto the list. Still a good game with probably the best MC design in the series. It's pretty clear they set out to make a real odyssey here and it's an interesting halfway point between the DQV design and the DQVII design.

55. Destiny of an Emperor (NES, 1988) - Cool game here that's even cooler the more you know about the time period and story it's based on. This one thrives off of its setting and more "realistic" aspects like having HP meters be your amount of available soldiers. I liked playing it. Was also one of the first games I ever played.

54. Final Fantasy Legend II (Game Boy, 1991) - Favorite of the "Legend" trio. This one had some really inspired dungeon designs, like shrinking to microscopic proportions to go inside a goddess' body and swim around. Which sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

53. Dragon Warrior (NES, 1986) - Simple game, but so effective at what it does, and one I revisit every so often since it can be completed so quickly. Probably the first great JRPG in the West, inspired by Wizardry and whatnot. So just for that alone this game deserves high marks. I also really like that technically you can go anywhere right from the start if you can survive the trip. This game was ahead of its time, and often imitated.

52. Dragon Ball Z 2: Freeza Saga (Famicom, 1991) - The best of this era's DBZ RPGs, as the Freeza Saga is perfect for this type of game. It also lets you bring more of the Z-Fighters to Namek, like Tien and Yamcha, to fight the numerous hordes of Freeza's army. Unfortunately they fumbled it in the endzone by having the game end with the Super Saiyan transformation, not letting you actually fight Freeza with it until the beginning of the next game. They really needed to not leave final battles for the following games... oh well. Either way I would still call this the best DBZ RPG of the 80's/90's and the NES/SNES era, and worth playing for a series fan. There isn't much else. It's said that the DS got a good action-RPG based on the Saiyan Saga, so even though I haven't played it I'm glad eventually the U.S. got a DBZ RPG worth something. And of course Kakarot was pretty excellent, but that came along much later and it's more of a fighter-RPG hybrid.

51. Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy, 1991) - Fun action-RPG romp that handles well and moves at a good clip. Kind of a Zelda game without the puzzles, just wall to wall action with spells and a variety of tools. Probably overrating it, which is a funny because the game itself is pretty underrated. They took a really basic game for the Game Boy and made it extremely appealing.

50. Startropics (NES, 1990) - Another fun action-RPG romp and I could actually see this making it to the top of some people's NES charts. It really is great, but IMO the sequel surpasses it. It's also one of the few RPGs where you can use a yo-yo as a weapon. And it's responsible for one of the best Nintendo Power covers of all time, which has to count for something.

49. SaGa Frontier (Playstation, 1998) - Fun game where I could bounce between the seven scenarios and progress all of them little by little until I got the whole game down. It took up an entire PS1 memory card, though. Still, for someone who loved all things Squaresoft in 1998, this game could do no wrong. It also has an incredible soundtrack that elevates it. All of that said, it's still a SaGa game and still has its weird aspects that one needs to be prepared for.

48. Phantasy Star (Sega Master System, 1987) - I really like this one, in spite of it being such an early RPG. It's super charming and has several memorable characters. Plays very well too, though I could do without the 3D dungeons. If I didn't have guides and maze maps, this would be way lower. Another point for it: One of the main characters is an actual cat, and you can fight as him in battles. That's pretty cool.

47. Pokemon Gen 1 (Game Boy, 1998) - Iconic game here and one that brought joy to millions of kids. Being trapped on the Game Boy didn't slow this one down at all either. At the end of the day it IS a rudimentary game and the first of its class, so it isn't higher. I loved this one to death and I'd play it again any time, but given how basic the battle system is, how archaic it looks, and how easy it is to fundamentally break the game, it can't get higher than this.

46. Romancing SaGa 2 (Super Famicom, 1993) - Remaster - Played the Switch version of this, which is pretty close to the SFC original except enhanced. It's actually a very good game, and uses the generations system to a much better effect than Phantasy Star 3. If I'm being objective, RS3 is a better game than this in some ways, but I never really spent any time wandering around lost in this one. Was always clear what needed to happen next. That gives it a big advantage. I would go so far as to say this is the best of the SaGa games that I've played. It even had some "Proto-Suikoden" aspects to it with your castle and the huge roster of characters that could be found.

45. Illusion of Gaia (Super NES, 1994) - Yet another fun action romp. This one lives and dies on having a lot of heart and visiting real-world locations. It's a pretty sad game though, and not something I'd like to play again, so alas it isn't higher. There isn't a ton of replay value either. What's here is high-quality though.

44. Final Fantasy VIII (Playstation, 1999) - A game that I always saw as being better than it actually was, but it's still got a lot of class. One time where I'm down with the overabundance of "military school" settings. Tons of memorable scenes in this one, FMVs, and it takes the technology level of the world further than it had ever been before in an FF (or would be again, until FFXIII). There's been a bit of a backlash against this game in recent years but I still think fairly highly of it. Playing it in-era at release helped with that, because it really was a moment in time.

43. Front Mission (Super Famicom, 1995) - Liked this much more than any of its sequels, for whatever reason. It being the only 2D one helps a bit, and I also found the battles to be faster-paced. Only issue is that after a while you find a build that works, put it on all your characters, and then have to tediously manually adjust/equip everyone the same way at every shop. Nobody was making me give everyone the same build though.

42. Terranigma (Super Famicom, 1996) - Was never as into this game as a lot of people. I've heard it called the best RPG that didn't make it to the US in this era. Wouldn't go that far at all. It's a decent action RPG and technically the sequel to Illusion of Gaia. The art design is quite nice/memorable and that elevates the game quite a bit.

41. Paladin's Quest (Super NES, 1992) - Good chance this is ranked higher than it should be, but I find this game compulsively playable and fun...until the final boss completely obliterates you...until you figure out the secret. I think this game is pretty good, and definitely underrated in the grand scheme of things. The spell system is interesting and unique, the characters are memorable, the story is actually pretty solid, and the bosses tend to be good fights. Probably near the top of the list for Enix's 90's RPG output.

40. Grandia (Playstation, 1997) - Another game with heart, and that sets it apart. Like the characters a lot in this one. The "End of the World" is one of the most memorable locations in an RPG from this era, not just because of the location itself, but because of what it means to the characters looking for it. Great boss theme, lots of awesome music in general, and what we have here is a fundamentally decent game.

39. Wild Arms (Playstation, 1997) - This one also has heart, and conveys mood incredibly well. Probably due to the soundtrack being so good. This is one soundtrack that doesn't miss at all.

38. Startropics 2 (NES, 1994) - Outstanding NES game and pushed the system to the limit. Sometimes it's a little hard to tell this game apart from the first one, but it had a much better variety of weapons, areas, monsters, etc.

37. Destiny of an Emperor 2 (Famicom, 1991) - Like the first, but improved. This one gets bumped up substantially by being familiar with the source material.

36. Dragon Warrior 3 (NES, 1992) - Always really enjoyed the class system of this game and it puts it much further on the list than it would have been with a generic party. Though even if it didn't have the class system it would still be a top shelf game. Lots of good memories of this one and there's a reason it's the one getting a modern remake.

35. Seiken Densetsu 3 (Super Famicom, 1995) - I find this game kind of overrated and had to grind way too much to get through it, but it is gorgeous and has a high quality level. Just takes some getting used to. Character movement slowing down once battles started was probably the main thing I had to wrap my head around. This took a lot of what Secret of Mana wanted to do and actually did it, but I found it a lot less user-friendly than SoM overall. All of that said it absolutely deserves to be relatively high on a list like this.

34. Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom, 1992) - Takes the class system of 3 and refines it. The story and characters aren't great compared to the FF games on either side of it, so the classes carry this game for me easily. It's a fun romp, in any case.

33. Breath of Fire III (Playstation, 1998) - Charming game with cool dragon transformations. Nothing bad about this one. I guess the translation was iffy? Regardless, I loved this game and the soundtrack still plays in my head from time to time. Even with the iffy translation, the story is good and hits hard at times.

32. Lennus II (Super Famicom, 1996) - The sequel to Paladin's Quest (AKA Lennus 1) and a game that was way better than I ever would have expected. Enix really stuck the landing with this one, and it's too bad it bombed / we didn't get the planned Lennus III that was going to tie everything together. They did a lot to set that game up in this one, for naught. In any case you can see from the get-go in this game that the production values are much higher than Paladin's Quest, with some very nice graphics and sound. Bring over the rad gameplay from PQ and the interesting world and you've got yourself a game worth playing.

31. Final Fantasy IX (Playstation, 2000) - The complex pre-rendered backgrounds and three-dimensional look of FF7 and FF8, combined with the retro aesthetic of older games in the series (medieval settings, crystals, etc) made for a really magical experience here. I've seen people swear by this actually being the best game in the series. I wouldn't go that far because of the issues with the battle system. It's up there, though.

30. Secret of Evermore (Super NES, 1995) - The second real RPG I ever finished, after Chrono Trigger. This may not be able to hold a candle to Secret of Mana in overall depth and QOL features, but it has a ton of charm, some interesting worlds to explore, and a unique alchemy system that is really cool in paper, even if not as much in practice. This game is very replayable as well due to its shorter-than-most runtime. Out of everything on this entire list, if you said I had to do a full replay of one game right now just for fun, there's a good chance I'd actually pick this.

29. Vagrant Story (Playstation, 2000) - Deep game with tons of customization and an interesting setting. There's nothing else quite like this game (except maybe modern Fromsoft stuff). Oh yeah, and the soundtrack in this game is straight-up incredible. There are a ton of different enemy types, weapon types, spell types, elements, damage types... man, it just goes on and on. One of those things that is super-rewarding if you put some time in and get to know it (again like Fromsoft stuff) while being kind of inscrutable if you just take a brief swing at trying it.

28. Dragon Warrior 4 (NES, 1992) - Super good game that I've been back and forth on in terms of whether I like it more than DW3 or not. The AI in combat brings it down quite a bit, but everything else is pretty exceptional. I miss the class selection and recruitment from DW3 but at least this game represents all the classes very well with its memorable set of characters.

27. Lunar: Eternal Blue (Playstation, 2000) - Super good game that I didn't get to until way later. Nothing bad to say about this one. Kind of a basic Chrono style RPG but one with few if any real flaws, great dungeons, great boss fights, great music. I'm counting the Complete version on PS1 here rather than any earlier version (plus, I didn't play anything else).

26. Chrono Cross (Playstation, 2000) - Something that really thrives off of its incredible soundtrack and the colorful art design. Wasn't the CT sequel I wanted but it was better than people probably remember it being now. Few games could stimulate the nostalgia gland circa 2000 like this one did. Some of the environments and places you visit are downright incredible, too. Not just visually stunning (for the time) but also creatively stunning. The art direction is off the wall. This is a game that makes you feel. The crazy thing is the fact that it could have been a LOT more with some tweaks and some actual connective tissue to Chrono Trigger besides late-game lipservice. It's a top 30 game that should be a top 5 game.

25. Secret of Mana (Super NES, 1993) - A really great game that I've discussed in-depth over the years to no end. Another one carried by the soundtrack, except this one has great gameplay as well and a very appealing world to explore. Lot of secrets to find here and memorable characters to meet. I just wish the game were truly complete, since about half of it was left on the cutting room floor and it shows. The lack of development for things like The Empire keeps it from being higher on the list. However, I've played this to death and enjoy it every time. It's got some good QOL like weapon/spell leveling affecting all weapons/spells in that category, and abundant MP restores and revives. I just wish we could have seen what this game would have looked like in its actual complete state. A lot of the cut content ended up being used in Chrono Trigger, so that says something.

24. Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (PC, 1996) - This game is huge. HUGE. Ridiculously huge. Something unheard-of in 1996. They scaled the full world of Tamriel from ES1 down to one single province while adding way more land-area to it. This was done with mostly procedurally-generated zones, but they went above and beyond by having things like biomes being correct in relation to the map. Just an impressive game for 1996. I'd love to rank it higher but when I played the disc version it had an insane amount of glitches. The digital (patched) version didn't, but by then I'd already struggled quite a bit with the game. If I played a fully-patched glitchless version of this, it'd probably be about ten spots higher and above Arena. As it is I enjoyed Arena more despite it being technically less impressive. Still, this game makes a real strong case for PC RPGs in the 90's being actually ahead of their console counterparts in some ways.

23. Final Fantasy IV (Super NES, 1991) - A bunch of iconic characters. Solid FF gameplay. Almost every scene in it is memorable. The visuals have aged a bit at this point, and the gameplay is a little rough around the edges, so it doesn't land as high as I'd like it to. I've also played it to death which brings it down a little. The extremely strong cast really elevates this, in any case.

22. Pokemon Gen 2 (Game Boy, 2000) - Took everything the first did and made it bigger and better. Still to this day probably my favorite Pokemon gen, along with most other people (who were around for it). Johto itself is a really cool province to explore, but what really bumps this up the list is the Surprise Kanto late in the game. About the last third of this game opens up Kanto for exploration, AKA the province from the first game, and this is such an amazing surprise if you aren't expecting it in advance. It harkens back to things like discovering Alefgard in DQ3 (and to a lesser extent DQ2) towards the end. Except in this case the Kanto they give you is huge and has a whole smorgasbord of new gym leaders to take on (in any order you want, too). I don't think this generation has been topped.

21. Suikoden (Playstation, 1996) - Solid game with a tremendous aesthetic and soundtrack. Feels different from pretty much any RPG from this era, with a kind of Chinese theme to it. I really liked the rune system and the spells you'd get from said runes, plus the intrigue of the True Runes and how it figured into the overall story. In a lot of ways I actually prefer this over its sequel.

20. Suikoden 2 (Playstation, 1999) - However the sequel wins by being more of the same and adding a much more memorable cast of characters. The one game besides FFVII to really hit me hard with a character death. Played it with a bunch of friends which makes it particularly relevant to me. Also appreciated that the game dealt with a lot of mature themes without having to sanitize them or immediately follow them with gravitas-robbing jokes like so much of our modern media. No, this was a serious game that made you feel.

19. Super Mario RPG (Super NES, 1996) - It's on the short side, but it still manages to feel like you took a quick tour around the world. Bright, happy, great game. All of the characters are useful and you can't really form a subpar group in this game even if you tried. Well, Mario/Mallow/Bowser might run into some issues at some point, but that's about it. You know it's a great game when every character is both useful and likeable.

18. Lunar: Silver Star Story (Playstation, 1999) - I prefer this over Eternal Blue largely because the cast of characters is one I'm more fond of. I like everybody in this game and the story takes some twists. One of the better villains in the RPG universe too, and some wildly memorable characters. Again, counting the Complete version on PS1. Favorite Bae: Jessica. I mean Luna and Mia are great and I'mma let them finish, but Jessica is one of the top RPG chix of all time. Of all time!

17. Wild Arms 2 (Playstation, 2000) - Large improvement over the first, which was already great, and I think this belongs in the upper echelon of PS1 games. The real depth doesn't shine through until late in the game, especially with the postgame content. IMO that's what kinda makes this one, the robust postgame that gives you a reason to really optimize your party and get them as decked-out as possible. One issue is I could do without the "radar" system of locating things on the overworld. Damn good in any case.

16. Legend of Dragoon (Playstation, 2000) - Sony's big-budget super-RPG. Steals a lot of things from FFVII...and even does some of them better. Also throws in some Mario RPG gameplay with the timed hits. Outstanding game here and even if it is super derivative I think they nailed it. There's an HD port now too. The game is pretty long (probably a similar length to FFIX) but it's worthwhile if given a chance. Lot of people slept on this one but it's astonishingly good at times.

15. Tactics Ogre (Playstation, 1998) - Like FF Tactics, just rougher around the edges and lets you fight with larger teams (which is a step up). Can't rank it as high as FFT though. It's a little more tedious and the classes just don't have the same appeal. Enemy units also tend to block you on the one path upward while the rest of them pelt you. Some of the later fights are so difficult that it becomes comical if you haven't mastered the game and built up your characters. That said, top shelf, again.

14. Elder Scrolls: Arena (PC, 1994) - The first ES game. Not sure why it's called "Arena" because there's no arena fighting. I think it's a holdover from the original concept of the game, which got completely changed by release. It's only single-player ES game to feature the entire world of Tamriel, before they branched off into making dedicated games for each province. I had an absolute blast with this and it sold me on the promise of the rest of the series. Has it met that promise? Yeah, when they actually put a game out. What's really crazy is they made the first two ES games a mere two years apart. Now it takes them 15 years to crank out a sequel. This was also way less buggy than Daggerfall and I never had any issue playing it. Which is pretty incredible for a game of this magnitude from 1994, with such a huge continuous world. The main knock against this game is that the 3D visuals look pretty bad now, and much worse than Daggerfall. Other than that, it plays well, sounds good, has all kinds of compelling narratives to get involved with, a robust character-growth system where you can level spells/skills/abilities through use, and so on. Another of those big trendsetter games too.

13. Final Fantasy (NES, 1990) - The FF game I've played more times than any other ever. In the grand scheme of pre-2000's RPGs, I think the original FF is near the top of the list for its influence and refinement of the concept. It's compulsively playable. The classes are all interesting and useful (except Thief, which at least blossoms into the fairly strong Ninja eventually). The world feels mysterious, though it does lose that by your 20th playthrough. It also had a heavy D&D influence and that part was pretty rad too.

12. Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals (Super NES, 1995) - The sequels may have been awful, but this game is super. They took the intriguing intro of the first game and told that entire story. It's one of the best RPGs on the SNES, though it might be a little too puzzle-heavy for me at times. It also has an optional dungeon with ONE HUNDRED FLOORS. Plenty of RPGs have optional content. Some of them have a lot of optional content. Elden Ring is basically 90-95% optional content. However, not many games from the 80's and 90's have an optional dungeon with...ONE HUNDRED FLOORS. Final Fantasy X-2 of all things would mimic this less than a decade later with the 100-floor Via Infinito optional dungeon.

11. Baldur's Gate (PC, 1998) - The D&D-based RPG that revolutionized D&D-based RPGs. You had things like Final Fantasy that were heavily D&D-inspired but had to change a lot of names to avoid being sued. Here, they didn't have that issue, as it was an official D&D game. The first game I ever personally played that really captured the feeling of playing D&D in video game form. It isn't a terribly long game and the visuals are a bit antiquated (even in the more modern remastered port) but it's still good even now.

10. Earthbound (Super NES, 1995) - If I were ranking these solely based on how much they mean to me personally, this would be in the top 3. However, also ranking them objectively, this is a very basic RPG in terms of gameplay, with basic combat and slow walk speed. It's full of heart and messages about life, and I love this game, but much like Chrono Cross and Secret of Mana I can't objectively rank it as high as I would like to. That said it's a damn good game even objectively, and takes you on a journey if you let it. Everyone should play this all the way through at some point in their life, maybe even at a difficult intersection. That seems to be when it has the most to say.

9. Final Fantasy VII (Playstation, 1997) - Iconic game that for a long time I would have put much lower (as in, a worse number) in the ranking. Thought it was super overrated. As far as the FF series went it was middle of the pack. Well, it has gained a lot of standing with me over time, since I now understand more of what it was trying to say. As for the gameplay, the materia system is fresh and innovative, and it made Limit Breaks a thing. I'd like to see more games use that concept. It revolutionized the pre-rendered background and felt more cinematic than any game that came before it. While it might actually be a little bit overrated, it's hard for me to say that it doesn't deserve to be in the top ten.

8. Phantasy Star 4 (Sega Genesis, 1995) - Best game on the Sega Genesis IMO. Only problem with this game is that it ends too soon. I love the setting and how different it is from most games of this era. Traveling from planet to planet and having these completely different biomes to explore is pretty awesome. It kinda feels like 7th Saga if that game went Super Saiyan and evolved to its full potential in life. Similar otherworldly setting and levels of weirdness, only here everything worked. Just wish it wasn't so short.

7. Dragon Quest V (Super Famicom, 1992) - The best Dragon Quest of the 20th century. This one stands on its plot and characters, and there's nothing wrong with the gameplay either. It gets a boost from being hugely improved from DQ4 just by making AI optional. No classes this time, but I don't think the game needs them. Shows how to tell a multi-generational story correctly. It's just the right time investment too. Matter of fact I'd say it has the perfect level of time requirement for an RPG. Not too much, not too little, and it wraps up before you can possibly get tired of it. There's a postgame dungeon too if you want more. It's just unfortunate that DQVI didn't build on this and kinda dropped the ball.

6. Baldur's Gate 2 (PC, 2000) - Speaking of building on things, this builds on the first one and does everything bigger and better. It also looks very nice, with lots of pre-rendered backgrounds and some truly mystical environments. There's also an expansion to the game, Throne of Bhaal, that basically doubles the game length if you're so inclined. It's based on the D&D universe, and gets into some real weeds of said universe, sending you into the Nine Hells themselves before it's all said and done. This isn't just the best licensed D&D game of all time (well, before BG3), it's one of the best RPGs of the 20th century in general.

5. Everquest (PC, 1999) - An MMO on here almost feels like cheating and a case could easily be made that it should be #1 due to its sheer scope and improvements over time. However, I'm only judging it off of its content in 1999-2000. At that time the game was very unbalanced and unforgiving, having not yet developed into the streamlined game it eventually got hammered into. That said, it was still a vast interconnected world and a sight to behold in 1999, with all kinds of quests, battles to fight, and NPCs that seemed to actually have their own lives going on. It also has a heavy D&D influence, some great dungeon-crawling with other players, and over a dozen classes that are ALL useful, interesting, and appealing. Except maybe Rogue, the thief class. Why is it always Thief? Oh yeah, did I mention that this is fully 3D? In 1999 that might have been the biggest deal of all. It wasn't just rudimentary 3D either, it legitimately looked very good in action. You had places like the treetop city that were legitimately incredible at the time. Most of all it felt like a real world in a way that I hadn't seen any game pull off before this, and set the bar for what MMORPGs would be. Once you see a boat pull into a harbor for the first time and a bunch of players hop on to go to destination unknown, you get it. Oh, you get it.

4. Final Fantasy VI (Super NES, 1994) - Still probably the best game in this series, the top of its class. For a long time it lived in FFVII's shadow, so I'm glad that in the last decade or so it seems to have gained respect online to the point that it's now regarded as the best by most people. This is probably the first true "epic" RPG that existed. At least that I'm aware of. Yeah, Elder Scrolls Arena in the same year was pretty epic with the massive explorable world, but FFVI goes beyond that and has epic everything else. Story, characters, events. It has a freaking opera. FFVII Rebirth this year has an opera too, and it's pretty awesome to see FFVI getting a tip of the hat even 30 years (Jesus) later.

3. Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation, 1998) - Take an interesting story, add very refined SRPG gameplay, add a bunch of classes that are pretty much all appealing in one way or another, and you get this damn fine game. You can lose a hundred hours in this pretty easily, which is way more than most RPGs of the era. This was so good that it basically created a genre (yeah, Tactics Ogre was around first, but this refined the concept and made it more mainstream). Oh yeah, and it's also got Hitoshi Sakimoto on the music, and he's my second-favorite game composer (Yasunori Mitsuda being first). Some of Sakimoto's finest tracks are found here too, and I'd put it second only to Vagrant Story as far as his work goes.

2. Chrono Trigger (Super NES, 1995) - What a brilliant masterpiece in every regard. The only thing going against this is the length. It's pretty short, and a from-scratch playthrough could easily be over in ten hours. Same issue Phantasy Star 4 has. However, everything else about this game is refined into a solid diamond. I'm actually glad it doesn't have anything else, if adding anything else would have any chance of lowering the overall quality median. A generational game that had several generational talents in the same place at the same time. Yasunori Mitsuda delivered on the soundtrack, as always. It'd be hard to get any better than this, and pretty much requires a lot of the same people teaming up again a few years later.

Did I miss something? Yeah.

Annnnd finally...

1. Xenogears (Playstation, 1998) - A true epic like FFVI, only extended outward in all directions. Good gameplay, appealing mechs, a story that could almost be one of the great works of sci-fi, and one memorable scene after another. It hasn't aged as well visually as the several games before this, due to the graphical style being PS1 3D, and could desperately use a remaster of some sort. In-era though, pre-millennium, this looked fine. The story tackles all kinds of things that games just didn't explore back then, like religion, ancient civilizations, human nature, and so forth. The gameplay is nothing extraordinary, but it suffices and it's unique enough to be engaging. And of course the soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda elevates it even further. At the end of the day Xenogears stood head and shoulders above most of its contemporaries.


  1. Cool list. A real stroll down memory lane. I am going to be "that guy" though:

    - The original NES Final Fantasy III did not have a class called Devout. Was that a thing in the remake? Or is that a re-translation of the White Wizard class?

    - Arena had an experience point system like a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game, and not a use-based leveling system like Daggerfall and subsequent Elder Scrolls game. Bold choice enjoying Arena more than Daggerfall! Interestingly, you're not the only person I know who would rank Arena higher.

    I'm enjoying these lists you've been posting lately. Looking forward to the next few installments.

    1. Devout is the upgraded healer class with the cat ears. At least it was called that in some of the versions I played, unsure about the Famicom version. IIRC the thing about Devout was that their heals were actually more potent than Sage heals. So while you'd lose all of the black magic that Sages can use, you'd have stronger heals, and with sufficient levels one Devout could in turn negate the Cloud of Darkness' AOE. Rather than needing two Sages and having the healing be overkill anyway. This frees up a slot for a third Ninja, and 50% more damage output, ending the fight quicker.

      I played ES Arena about ten years ago (on here) so I can't remember it super well now, thought it had the same system as Daggerfall. I liked both of them a lot, it's just too bad I ran into so many bugs and glitches with Daggerfall. It really should have been rated a lot higher. Arena was pretty stable in comparison, plus it had that "newness" going for it that was awesome. I need to run Morrowind+ at some point, it's been on the list for a long time.