16-Bit RPG's Done Right
Perhaps you need something to do during
your school vacation. Or maybe you have a spouse, kids, and a house that's
spotless and you're just going out of your mind with nothing to do. Maybe
you're a lazy bum with no job, no significant other, and only your console
and your TV to guide you. Regardless, I will find a way to fill up those
empty hours! I've sacrificed days... nay weeks of my time playing some of
the longest, hardest, craziest, and something-else-est games in the whole
of Video Gamedom and will pass on the knowledge to you. Just because you
have all this time to kill, it doesn't mean you want to waste it on a junk
In this issue, I get to put myself out on
the line and let rabid console fanboys and fangirls tear me to shreds at
the Retrogaming Roundtable forums. As a 16-bit connoisseur, I have decided
to put together a list entailing what I consider the best five
'epic' titles during this era for each system. For arguments sake I
included Sega CD games in with Genesis, and Turbo Duo being one 16-bit
system. This is the internet article version of hara-kiri, but I
persevere regardless in hopes that future article writers may gain
inspiration to truly speak their mind. Or at the very worst learn when to
keep their stupid trap shut.
Our first system? Easiest of the three (I
hope...): the Super Nintendo!
A few rules: I am only sticking to
American releases in their original translation. Final Fantasy V will not
be on this list, even though it was later released in English form on the
Playstation. Also, games like Final Fantasy II (IV) will receive
consideration in their original translation, not a later re-released yet
better form. Only games playable on the original system intended count.
Now that the rabid FFIV fanfolks are placated, onto the list!
No, it's not a RPG form of Robotron 2084,
it's Robotrek! A quirky RPG from Enix, the folks that brought you the
Dragon Warrior series and E.V.O. In this game you play a young boy whose
Super-inventor father has gone missing. Also, a group of nasty men has
besieged your town, leaving you alone with a whole bunch of robot parts
and a guardian robot who seems to know what to do next better than you.
Missing father, bad men overrunning town and the world... no correlation!
Nevertheless our young inventor-to-be picks through parts, makes a robot
of his very own and sets off to save the world.
Okay, the story itself is somewhat kiddie
and not very deep but it's solid. The gameplay is where this title truly
shines as this game can only be described as
Final-Fantasy-meets-Robot-Wars-meets-Pokemon. Since you can't expect to
fight the mad scientist brigade yourself, the robots you build do. You
obtain new parts to upgrade and with enough bits and bobs left over you
can build a brand new robot to team up with your first in battle. You can
actually have up to three at any time, rebuilding and replacing as you see
fit to make a specialized "I can hurt you more ways than you can count"
bot. Or a defensive "I can take whatever you dish out, keep it coming
Nancy I don't feel anything yet" bot. Or a "I'm fast and deadly like a
ninja" bot. Or a... you get the idea.
All this building leads me right into the
battle system. Ah the battle system, an interesting engine to be certain.
All of you who complain turn-based RPGs are just a 'choose an option and
hit A' ordeal, this game has you hit three buttons! Depending on the
robot's equipment, you can pre program your machines of death with a three
button combination which will allow the 'bot to do a special attack that
either does more damage, heals, or some special benefit attack. It's sort
of like magic only it requires research or way too much trial by error
than is healthy.
Should you get stuck or feel the need to
get some new items without random-battling to death, there is the
Invention Machine! See, your father was brilliant but lazy, so he put all
his main effort into one machine that made all the rest of his inventions
for him. And with Daddy gone, it's all yours to play with. Unfortunately
you can't make anything that an 11-year old boy would REALLY want, like an
atom bomb or invisibility gun. You can however take parts that you already
have and combine them with other parts or some scrap metal you find lying
around (not joking on this) to create upgraded items or new items
entirely. Turn that pellet gun into a badass laser, or add some scrap
metal to a smoke bomb and make a... weather device? Weirdness abounds with
this but I had way too much fun throwing two random items into the machine
and seeing what it made with them.
All in all this underrated title deserves
a go around on your SNES and it always had a soft spot in my heart. I love
it enough to make it a shock addition to the list at number five.
Time to Kill: About 30 hours if you really
stretch it out, 10-15 if you rush it.
4) Final Fantasy II
Oh this one's going to get me killed. I
know of at least three people that feel this game is the greatest of all
time period, and to put it at number four of a list of only Super Nintendo
games is high blasphemy. Ah well, can't please them all right?
Final Fantasy II tells the tale of Cecil,
commander of the Baron Kingdom's Air Wings. He and his Red Wings, not from
Detroit, feel compelled to obey their King but question his motives for
trying to obtain all of the elemental power Crystals of the world.
Questioning gets him in deep trouble as him and his friend, the Dragoon
Kain, are sent off on a fool's mission to distract them. The fool's
mission turns up real information and the plot thickens as the plot in
every great Square game does.
Gameplay in this is just what you expect
from a Final Fantasy game. Fight, Magic, Item and the like with no real
gimmicks introduced into the series just yet. Each character has a special
ability, like Kain's Jump, but overall anyone could pick this game up and
know what to do within a minute or three. There is a slight twist with the
level up system, where after level 70 your characters can gain one of six
different stat increase sets or actually decrease in ability. My guess is
that this was to discourage people from leveling to 99 and wasting the end
boss but frankly I was never one of those types so I never noticed.
The story is what drags this game down
from a higher spot to 'just' II. Square's English translation was not all
that great and just a bit rushed with this title so a lot of the character
interaction ended up being watered down. Avoiding the urge to give away
plot points, one example would be a love triangle that was tense in the
Japanese game, only to be made out as a childlike "We're all just friends,
what's kissing?" level situation. If you get a hold of a retranslated
version this game may seem much better than I'm giving it credit for.
Regardless, it still makes number four, bad English or not.
Time to Kill:
Approximately 40 hours if
you're not the 'level 99' type.
3) Super Mario RPG
Story: Mario's looking to get back at the
bad guys who stole his sweetheart, Princess Toadstool, and bring peace
back to the Mushroom Kingdom. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? However this
time around the big N teamed up with SquareSoft to make this Mario game a
Role-Playing epic. It was an experiment and a risk but a small one since
both companies were well-known for their high quality output. The risk
paid off well, since this game made number three on the list.
Story wise this isn't your typical Mario
game. The Princess does get captured by Bowser in his castle but Mario
defeats him right at the start of the game, causing a minor disaster at
Bowser's castle and making way for the true villain to take over. Now
Mario and Toad have to figure out who these new guys are and how to stop
them. From there it becomes a playful romp in an isometric Mushroom
Kingdom only in a turn-based style.
The gameplay takes everything you like
about Square's turn-based formula and injects it with a high dose of Mario
style. Healing items are mushrooms, you can shoot a fireball 'spell' ala
the Mario platformers, and characters all have special traits like Mario's
Dragoon-like "Jump" command. Random encounters fall along the Chrono
Trigger style where enemies can be seen and avoided on the overworld maps.
Also, because of it's isometric viewpoint, Mario can jump at the overworld
and find ?-boxes and find items for later use in battle! The battle system
is very familiar with one twist: hitting the A button at just the right
time will cause the attack to increase in damage. The timing on each
attack is at a certain short point in each attack's animation. Those
familiar with fighting games and canceling one move into another will
find these points with ease and have an easier time of playing.
The storyline is great for a Mario game
but won't be bowling you over with emotion. But with this hybrid of style
you wouldn't expect that anyway. It's a lock at number three and should be
in any RPG-fan's library.
Time to Kill: 30 hours or so if you plow
through. Mini games make it possible to spend much more time if you're
2) Chrono Trigger
I came to this party late. Very very very
late, as I only purchased and played it for the first time a few months
ago. I was a bit skeptical since I've heard nothing but praise for this
title. Some claimed it was the best game of all time. However almost all
of these people picked this game up and played it during it's release, how
would it fare a good ten years later?
I have to admit I was floored at just how
thorough and well done this game is. Graphically (for a Super Nintendo
game) it was beautiful. The plot was never contrived or trite, a
compliment to the translation staff who must have gotten one right for a
change. The encounter style, later seen in Super Mario RPG, was brilliant
as you could truly avoid fights for the first time if you were nimble. The
battle system included a difference between spells and techniques, with
the ability to combine attacks into one. An interesting twist had each
character have control over one of the elements and no more, meaning
certain character would mesh with techniques and others wouldn't.
All these things pale in comparison to the
real reason this game works so well. This game centers around time travel,
but rather than just have you hop about willy-nilly, you have to think as
things you do affect the past and future. Suddenly, you have to think hard
if you want to steal that man's lunch for some free HP or he might just
come after you later in the timeline. Change the future for the better,
and you may lose or change friends you obtained in that time period.
Change the past for the better... or for the worse and feel it's effects
in your present time.
I have the urge to go on about this game
but I can't, as it would be too easy to spoil things for those playing for
the first time. In fact, I may still have done that anyway even with the
vague descriptions I gave. This game is incredibly deep, bringing
innovation to the plotline side of a RPG without breaking the gameplay
side. This is one of those games you should own whether you have the
system or not.
Time to Kill: It took me 20 hours to get
through it the first time. Oh, but there's 11 different endings, 10 of
which can only be obtained by starting over. Want to see them all? 100
hours. Have fun.
Drum roll please...
The number one epic game for the Super
1) Final Fantasy III
HUZZAH! Square takes the top four spots
including number one with what might be the best RPG of all time. The only
way I can truly describe why this game deserves the top spot is to go by
things this game did that broke new ground in the genre.
Magic System - Esper 'spell learning'
style. By obtaining 'espers' one could do two things. First, they could
summon a huge nasty magical being once per battle to just slap the hell
out of your enemies. However it's true purpose was to teach characters
magic over time. Battles won give XP (experience) and AP (ability points).
Each esper had certain spells it taught at different rates. Once a spell
was learned 100%, that character had that spell to stay even when changing
espers. This got essentially reversed when the 'Materia' system was used
in Final Fantasy VII
Character special abilities - This wasn't
the first RPG to use this style, but every single character had one. Many
of which were ripped off or reused in subsequent RPGs. One character has a
technique which requires Street Fighter-esque precision movements to be
entered before an attack is made. Another has a special ability to learn
the techniques monsters would hit him with, something that was very useful
indeed in this game.
Hidden playable characters - Two in this
game, one of whom you hear nothing, see nothing, and know nothing about
until you acquire him. I may be wrong, perhaps one obscure NPC somewhere
gives a vague hint about him but most people ended up stumbling into him
before knowing they got a new character.
The "False" ending - As if the plotline
wasn't good enough already, halfway through the game you think you're
done. Something else happens, and you keep playing. I can't say more but
you'll know when you find yourself yelling to the screen: "OH SNAP, I'M
The Badass End boss - The end boss to this
game may very well be the most evil badass to ever be bad to asses. Or
something like that. He's badass and cool, and evil. Very very evil. You
love him and hate him at the same time.
Side Missions Aplenty - Some are
mandatory, some aren't, all of them have a reason to be in the game. Every
last one has some bit of plot you really shouldn't go without unless
you've already played through once.
Truly unique playable character base -
Fourteen in all (two hidden) and each is incredibly different from the
last. You can't take one and look at another and go 'oh they're just
palette swaps with the same techniques'. Each character is also very well
developed (well, minus one of the hiddens) and has a deep background that
comes through brilliantly in this game.
A perfect plot - Okay, this isn't a
'trait' as much as me gushing over what may be the best RPG plot ever. Do
me a favor, buy three copies of this game and use them in a triple-deity
shrine in your room, worshipping the Square gods for blessing humanity
with it's glory. Or just play it, whichever.
Time to Kill: 60 hours or so if you want
to get every character and see every plot point. And you do.
So, to recap, SquareSoft owned RPG fans
back in the day, Enix wasn't too shabby, and someone's going to bitch at
me for not including 'Earthbound'. Oh well.