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My Favorite Underrated SNES RPGs
The Super Nintendo ignited an RPG explosion in the early 90s, and saw some of the best RPGs ever released, including smash hits like Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. Despite being over a decade old at this point however, there are still a few gems that may have slipped your notice. Here are a few of my favorite Super Nintendo RPGs you might have missed. It’s as good as a time as any to catch up on your backlog, right?
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
This will probably be the most played game on this list, and I’m not quite sure if it could be consider underrated or not, but it deserves a mention for being so awesome. It may have been Mario’s first foray into turn-based combat, but he made it look easy. Featuring fun real-time elements to combat, a stellar leveling system and an amusing, if different, narrative, Super Mario RPG gave us a different look at the famous plumber, and did so with Square’s magic touch. Those guys know how to make an RPG.
A smattering of fun minigames spice up the gameplay. A minecart ride, musical frogs, a turbulent barrel ride down a river and a game-wide flag hunt all stand out after all these years. Hidden Easter eggs abound; a hidden casino, tucked-away Yoshi’s Island complete with Yoshi races and even a very familiar elf and bounty hunter can be found in this version of the Mushroom Kingdom. An excellent party (Geno!) and some clever puzzles gave Super Mario RPG as much technical prowess as it had character.
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
The Lufia franchise may not be considered a heavy-hitter these days, but I am here to tell you that is a shame. The original Lufia was a solid RPG in its own right, but why the sequel didn’t become a household legend is beyond me. Simply put, Lufia II had one of the best narratives of the time period. Players get to see protagonist Maxim’s journey from troubled teenager to embattled hero, and the poignant story wasn’t afraid to yank on your heart strings. Seriously, it was like 16-bit Game of Thrones…without the incest.
The combat may not have broken any new ground, but it didn’t disappoint either. A variety of tools for each character, similar to the Wild ARMs series, was tied to some stunning and smart environmental puzzles, but it is the absolutely incredible story that is what I think of when I remember Lufia II. If youmake the wise decision to play the Lufia series, start with the second one. It sounds weird, but there is a narrative reason for it. Do the right thing.
Breath of Fire II
This is definitely a personal choice for me, because I was such a Breath of Fire fanboy as a teenager. Luckily, I replayed this little gem recently and was delighted to discover it had lost little of its allure. The story didn’t exactly age well, and some of the mechanics are a little unforgiving by today’s standards, but as a pure old-school RPG experience, Breath of Fire II was an absolute success. I’m a fan of the original, but I can understand it is probably a little dated for the modern palate. The sequel, however, is a true classic that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other SNES heavyweights.
Some truly innovative features separate Breath of Fire from its contemporaries. A unique fusion system allowed you to combine your character with a number of spirits hidden around the world, opening up some powerful (and crazy-looking) combinations. The player builds a town early on that grows throughout the game, and you can eventually stock it with a number of people who can provide a variety of services. There is even an entire fishing metagame the player can dig into, and it was one of the first games I remember with a functional, and important, day/night cycle. Later installments faltered a bit in terms of quality, but BoF II remains a top pick of mine.
This may be the most obscure game on the list, at least most people I know haven’t played it, but this old Enix, and just Enix, creation was a gold mine for the cerebral gamer. Brain Lord featured some absolutely devilish puzzles, but good ones. Ones that made you feel smart for completing them, although some of those bastards here didn’t come off their solutions so easy. The excellent real-time combat and heavy platforming elements were equally challenging, but Brain Lord made a number of smart design decisions that put it ahead of its time.
Scattered checkpoints, one-use keys that clearly marked their locations and an expansive Familiar system complete that provided you with a number of AI partners that could accompany you, complete with their own addictive leveling system and personalized names. I could gush for hours about how great this game is, seriously, and it wouldn’t be enough to do this game justice. I knew there was a reason Square added the Enix.
Illusion of Gaia
Speaking of Enix, did you ever play an early SNES game called Soul Blazer? Well, I hadn’t, until recently I saw a buddy playing it on an emulator at work. I walked over and watched him for a while, and noticed that, every time he cleared a room of enemies, he would get a reward. It reminded me of something musical for some reason, but I couldn’t remember what it was. I kept thinking about it, and then I saw the Ohio State-Nebraska halftime show a couple weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it, it’s awesome. I guess it was the whole music thing, but my mind made the connection to Illusion of Gaia. Your protagonist, Will, and his flute figure prominently in the plot, and all the details of the game started flooding back. Soul Blazer planted the seed in my mind because of the room-clearing reward though, and I quickly figured out why. Illusion of Gaia is the spiritual successor to Soul Blazer.
This game was SO awesome. Eschewing a traditional leveling system, IoG gave you a permanent stat boost every time you cleared a room of enemies. Of course this starts off simple, but later levels turn this concept into mini-puzzles, forcing you to seek out that last hidden enemy somewhere. The genuinely cool cast of characters was topped by two playable alter-egos you eventually obtain; a night named Freedan and an incredibly overpowered ninja named Shadow. The story alone was worth the price of admission, but it was the little things that made Illusion of Gaia so good. One of the coolest things I remember was a traveling merchant, who also happened to be a master of disguise, who accepted these hidden red gems as currency, and naturally he carried the best stuff in the game. Yeah, I’ll be playing through this again soon.
Secret of Evermore
Most gamers have at least heard of Square’s classic Secret of Mana, but significantly fewer people have heard of its spiritual successor Secret of Evermore. The first title developed by Square stateside, Evermore borrowed heavily from Secret of Mana, including the combat system, ring-shaped inventory, the HUD and the ability to switch between you and your shape-shifting dog on the fly. A vibrant world filled with different areas based on historical time periods was a delight to find, and the thrill of tracking down a new alchemist in the far corner of the planet was super addictive.
It’s a shame that this game didn’t get as much recognition as it deserved, but, like Secret of Mana, it holds up especially well today, especially the combat. A slew of epic bosses populated the game, and some interesting puzzles revolving around alchemy, Evermore’s version of magic. It was unfortunate that multiplayer was not included, but this remains an excellent that game that too many people don’t know about.
Man, I’m getting nostalgic. These are the games that turned me into the gamer I am today. Have you played any of these? Or maybe have a game you’d like to add yourself? Leave a comment!