Retro Videogame Recommendations

Last updated 20 Mar. 2021

TABLE OF CONTENTS

0.0. FOREWORD

N.B. & DISCLAIMER: Many of these are JRPGs or Japanese-only games, and will require a translation patch to make them playable in English. ROMHacking.net links are included, but you’ll have to find the ROMs yourself; no links are provided here for that.

This document was ported over from a previous version hosted via writeFreely, a Markdown-based blogging package. It’s a little richer and more formatted here as a result.

In this document, I’ve provided a fairly comprehensive roundup of games that I think are worth playing, or at least historical curiosities. These are games, with few exceptions, that I love, and think you may love as well. I hope that you find this useful in your own gaming. Please feel free to comment with suggestions, thoughts, &c. Happy gaming!

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0.1. LICENSE

This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

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0.2. CONTACT

Feel free to find me on Mastodon.

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1.0. TOOLS

For ROM patching, I recommend the following utility: Floating IPS (FLIPS) (Windows, Linux; CLI on OS X). Note that the version linked above is old; see Github for source to pull and compile a fresh copy. I tend to pull from git and compile every once in awhile on Linux; best IPS/BPS patcher I’ve ever used.

I also really like NSRT (“Nach’s SNES ROM Tool”), which will let you add/remove headers and check CRCs on SNES ROMs. I haven’t yet found a tool nearly as good for NES ROMs.

For many PSX games (and later systems), I’d recommend xdelta3, as many patches come in that format. If you’re on Debian or *buntu, simply drop to a terminal and type:

sudo apt install xdelta3

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2.0. NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES) GAMES

2.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom (1990): I am a huge Disney fan, and this game lets you walk around Disneyland, going on rides and answering trivia questions to collect keys. The Haunted Mansion stage is legitimately scary and bizarre, and even though I had this on my physical NES back in the ’90s, I still have never beaten the Space Mountain space-flight stage. The Pirates of the Caribbean stage is pretty fun as well. Well worth playing.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master (1990): Excellent platformer with an excellent soundtrack. You play as Little Nemo, fighting your way through Slumberland and befriending animals along the way. Really fun, but also really difficult. One of the best on the NES.

Athena (1986): I really can’t entirely figure this one out. You’re Princess Athena, fighting your way through what looks like ancient Greece, and apparently Athena goes on to star in SNK fighting games as Athena Asamiya. Singing Mountain, a great videogame music podcast, had an episode dedicated to Athena Asamiya recently (perhaps as an April Fool’s joke?).

Battle of Olympus (1988): This is a fairly-difficult action RPG with lots of Greek mythology and Greek gods in it. I’ve only been through a little bit of the game, but it’s worth checking out.

Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle (1989): Really bizarre platformer/puzzle game where you play as Bugs Bunny and try to avoid other cartoon characters (Daffy Duck, &c.) who are trying to catch you. It goes on for what seems like forever, and I remember fondly playing this as a kid.

Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Bash (or Birthday Blowout) (1990): This resembles Crazy Castle, but it plays more like a Mario-style platformer. I really enjoyed this as a kid, too, and it’s really quite strange. The enemies are really bizarre, too. The story behind the Crazy Castle series is really strange; look it up on Wikipedia sometime. They had a Mickey Mouse-themed line of similar games, Japan-only, which included the really weird Kid Klown in Night Mayor World (see below), which was a totally different game in Japan.

Castlevania, Castlevania II, Castlevania III: Any of these are worth playing! II is really quite different from 1 and 3, and has more of an RPG feel to it, however. I played through all of it using save states a couple of years ago, but it was still ridiculously hard. Castlevania III has a nice Japanese decensor patch on RHDN here.

Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers (1990): One of the best platformers on the NES of this type, this Capcom game followed Chip and Dale, the “Rescue Rangers,” as they dodge metal dogs, throw apples, and run across powerlines. It was a pretty bananas game, like most of the games on the NES. Well worth playing.

Darkwing Duck (1992): Another Disney platformer well worth playing. You have different types of guns with different functions, too. Fun game.

All NES Donkey Kong games (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3): Well worth playing, especially if you like the later Donkey Kong Country games.

DuckTales (1989): Another difficult Disney platformer. Loved this game as a kid. Well worth checking out, and the soundtrack is excellent also. It apparently also has a sequel, which I haven’t played yet.

Faria: A World of Mystery and Danger! (1991): I’ve played only a bit of this RPG, but it was pretty difficult. Worth checking out; typical “save the world” plot.

GunSmoke (1988): A fairly fun shoot-em-up game, which, to me, plays like a precursor to SNES’ Sunset Riders. Pretty wild and fun.

Jeopardy Jr. (198x?): My best friend and I always love to play this on her NES at her house when we hang out. It’s pretty ridiculous, though, and the questions are very ’80s, so they may be unintelligible even if you’re an ’80s kid. Some weird, deep cuts there for sure.

Kid Icarus (1987): I’ve never been able to get all that far in this game. It’s super difficult, but basically, you play Pit, who has wings and resembles the Greek hero Icarus, fighting your way through the Underworld and other areas to save the Goddess Palutena (= Athena?). If you haven’t heard of this, I’d be really surprised. There was a sequel on the Game Boy as well, and a 3DS sequel that was pretty cool.

Kid Klown in Night Mayor World (1993): Really bizarre platformer about a kid (c)lown separated from his (c)lown family by the evil Night Mayor. Released in Japan as Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen, and as I mentioned above with Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle, part of a strange series that is totally different for US/Japan audiences. Reminds me of Tiny Toon Adventures gameplay-wise.

Kirby’s Adventure (1993): A NES sequel to the Game Boy Kirby’s Dream Land (1992); who hasn’t heard of Kirby? Fun, cute platformer.

Little Samson (1992): Really strange Greek mythology-themed platformer. Well worth checking out, but really esoteric.

Mappy-Land (1986): Really, really strange platformer where you play as an anthropomorphic mouse trying to escape from cats. I have very fond memories of playing this as a kid, and the graveyard level is really creepy still. There’s a strange quirk in that level, too, where I think that the moon actually attacks you (cf. Super Mario Bros. 3, where the sun attacks you). Very weird but fun. It was originally an arcade game called Mappy (1983), and I also think I have a NES version of Mappy from 1985 or so.

Marble Madness (1986?): This game frustrated the hell out of me but I also really enjoyed it. You steer a marble, in all directions, through very difficult obstacle courses. I never got very far, but always enjoyed it. They made a sequel on the Wii called Marble Mania, which was really fun and perfectly suited to the Wii’s motion controls. I think that’s probably a better game, honestly.

Mario Adventure (Super Mario Bros. 3 ROM hack by dahrkdaiz): RIDICULOUSLY difficult but marvellously-coded ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. 3, with all-new levels and even weather effects. Super cool. Check it out at RHDN.

All NES Mega Man games: Well worth checking out, from 1-6. I tend to compare a lot of things to the Mega Man games — if something is kind of the same every time, but still consistently good, I compare it to the Mega Man series, which is exactly that way. Check out a nice retranslation here of the Japanese original of Mega Man 6, Rockman 6.

Metroid (1987): Excellent start to the Metroid franchise. It’s cool to play the NES version, but I’d recommend checking out the Game Boy Advance remake, Zero Mission, which is a really nice facelift/update.

Mystery Quest (1989): Really strange and difficult platformer. Worth checking out.

Pinball (1985): Actually not bad at all. I started playing pinball more seriously in the last year or so, and while it doesn’t serve as a great substitute for pinball practice on a cabinet, it’s worth playing. I loved this as a kid.

Rad Racer (1987): Pretty decent racing game for NES, and strangely enough, published by Square(soft). Worth playing. Apparently it has a sequel which I’ve never played.

Rampage (1988): Play as a giant monster and destroy cities. That’s about it. I rented this a bunch as a kid and always enjoyed playing.

Road Runner (198x?): Really weird game where you play as the Road Runner trying to escape Wile E. Coyote. I liked it as a kid but always found it very difficult.

Smash TV (198x?): Shoot-em-up with a game-show theme, focused on complete carnage. Really weird and for whatever reason always makes me think of Total Recall.

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (1990): Strange platformer where you play as a snake trying to eat little pellets and “make weight” at the end of the level, all while avoiding and destroying enemies. An early Rare title — who would go on to make the Donkey Kong Country games, as well as the excellent GoldenEye 007 on N64.

Star Wars (1991?): A really difficult game following the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. I think I beat it once, but it’s definitely kind of a slog — especially the asteroid field right after Mos Eisley. I’d recommend the Super Star Wars games on SNES instead. The Empire Strikes Back game on NES is also really, really difficult.

Super Mario Bros. games (1-3): All of these, of course. If you haven’t played a Mario game, please do.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989): This game is ridiculously and unfairly difficult. I’d recommend playing the sequels instead, but if you must, this exists.

The Legend of Zelda games (1 & 2): Both Zelda games are required playing. The first game is absolutely epic and well worth playing, and the second, although very different in style and tone, is also really quite fun. A retranslation and rebalancing of Zelda II just came out in 2020 called Zelda II Redux, and it’s really lovely.

Tiny Toon Adventures (1991): Nice platformer based on the cartoon. I really enjoyed this as a kid and I think I almost beat it once or twice. The sequel on SNES is also quite fun.

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2.2. NES FAN-TRANSLATIONS (you may have never heard of any of these!)

Note: I’m linking to the Romhacking.net (RHDN) entries for each of these on the names themselves. You’ll need to supply the ROM yourself; don’t ask me where to find them.

Chaos World (JP, 1991): Ridiculously hard JRPG. I’ve gotten a little ways into it, but I can’t figure out how to save, so I’ve only used save states so far. I may have to abandon it. It’s a pretty standard little “save the world” RPG.

Columbus: Ougon no Yoake (JP, 1992): Really bizarre and hard NES JRPG set around the time of Columbus. Haven’t really done much with it but apparently it’s worth a play.

Cosmic Epsilon (JP, 1989): Strange space shooter. Makes me think of Space Harrier.

Cosmo Police Galivan (JP, 1988): Space-themed, side-scrolling action RPG. Wasn’t really my thing.

Crystalis (JP, 1990): An excellent NES RPG. Set in 199X, you emerge from what appears to be a cryosleep vault after a worldwide cataclysm of sorts (implied to be nuclear war). It’s kind of a mixture of Final Fantasy and Zelda (not quite like Final Fantasy Adventure, though, which is similar). There are elements, and sword powerups, and lots of lands to visit. It is mercilessly hard at times, though, but is very generous about saving and teleportation. Highly recommended. Special note on this: the game was called God Slayer: Haruka Tenkuu no Sonata (God Slayer: Sonata of the Distant Heavens) in Japan, and with Nintendo of America’s strict guidelines on no religious symbolism, &c., &c., we lost out on the original intent of the game. See this fascinating read on these policies. The RHDN link I’m providing is to a decensored, restored God Slayer retranslated into English. You can easily find the English version, but this will be better.

Elnark no Zaihou (JP, 1987): Also known as Treasures of Elnark, this is an RPG. That’s about all I know about it. It wasn’t my thing.

Esper Boukentai (JP, 1987): As RHDN says, it’s a strange mixture of platformer and RPG. Wasn’t really my thing, but I’m sure others may enjoy it.

Esper Dream 2: Aratanaru Tatakai (JP, 1992): It’s a bookworm’s dream of an RPG! I got a little ways into this but stalled out.

Final Fantasy: Everyone’s probably played this game, and here’s a nice new translation by ChaosRush (2019).

Final Fantasy II (JP, 1988): Can’t say I’ve played this one yet, but it is apparently decent. I have Final Fantasy Origins for PSX, and only played FF1 on there. However, ChaosRush put out a nice translation update in 2016 of the older Demiforce translation. Worth a try.

Final Fantasy III (JP, 1990): One of the lesser-known Final Fantasy games; I grew up thinking that FF3 on SNES was the 3rd game, but of course it is FF6J. FF3J has an early version of the Jobs system that would be perfected in FF5, and the story is fairly compelling. Many will have played FF3J on Nintendo DS, which I hear is a decent version, but I have a soft spot for the NES. You have your pick of a few translations, but here is my suggestion: Patch the ROM with the Neill Corlett/Alex W. Jackson (AWJ) 1999 translation (not perfect, but it works fine). Patch the already-patched ROM with Silent Enigma’s “Battle Interface Upgrade,” which will remove a number of annoyances from the battle system. If you’re interested in a better translation, though, do check out ChaosRush’s 2019 translation. I just don’t want to give up the battle interface enhancements, which apparently aren’t compatible with ChaosRush’s translation.

Getsu Fuuma Den (JP, 1987): Action platformer. Looks fun but no idea how it plays.

Grand Master (JP, 1991): Strange Zelda clone that seems ridiculously hard so far. I grew up on the NES, but I worry that maybe, even with save states, I don’t have the skills or fortitude to play these games any more. Games have gotten so much easier these days. Worth a play.

Higemaru Makaijima Nanatsu no Shima Dai Bouken (JP, 1987): An island-based Legend of Zelda-style action RPG (wonder if this is a relative of Marvelous?). Should be fun.

Indora no Hikari (JP, 1987): Another strange Zelda clone; The Light of Indra in English. Really hard game as far as I can tell. Also, the ROM is ridiculously hard to patch; from the instructions, “Use a program such as NFlate to expand the PRG-ROM from 128KB to 256KB (or use a hex editor to manually insert the extra 128KB just before the last 16KB of the original ROM data).” NFlate wasn’t very easy to use, so I think I ended up using dd in a shell. All I know is that this may not be worth the trouble, but if you’re interested, check it out.

Kanshakudama Nage Kantarou no Toukaido Gojuusan Tsugi (JP, 1986): Platformer where you kill ninjas and others and you’re trying to save your love, apparently. Sounds bizarro.

Karakuri Kengou Den Musashi Lord: Karakuri Jin Hashiru! (JP, 1991): An action RPG. This apparently has a Game Boy port as well, but the NES one is better from what I’ve heard.

Lagrange Point (JP, 1991): This is a fascinating-looking RPG set in space and made by Konami. They don’t make ’em like this any more, or rather, maybe this was a jumping-off point for games like Star Ocean vel sim. I’ve only played through a bit but think it has real promise. Definitely check it out.

Matendouji (Conquest of the Crystal Palace) (JP, 1990): Looks like a fun, strange action game.

Moon Crystal (JP, 1992): Bizarre Castlevania-style platformer. Definitely worth checking out. Reminds me a lot of Castlevania II. Note that the developer is Hector, who published the absolutely lovely Ihatovo Monogatari, which I’ll mention in the SNES section below.

Mouryou Senki Madara (JP, 1990): Ridiculously hard JRPG by Konami. Haven’t played much as I have a lot of RPGs I am currently working on, but I think it’s promising. Japan really kept a lot of fascinating games there, and I am astounded that a lot of these never came Stateside.

Ninja Rahoi (JP, 1990): Also known as Ninjara Hoi, this is apparently a “wacky Japanese RPG.” Sign me up!

Otaku no Seiza: Adventure in the Otaku Galaxy (JP, 1991): An otaku-themed RPG (also cheekily called Nerdulus). Sounds really strange and fun, but it’s got mixed reviews on RHDN.

Romancia (Dragon Slayer Jr.) (JP, 1987): This sounds like a quaint and fun JRPG.

Stardom Warriors (JP, 1989): Also known as LaSalle Ishii’s Child’s Quest, this is a weird RPG where you play as a Japanese pop idol group and have to navigate the ups and downs of fame. Definitely a unique idea for an RPG!

Sweet Home (JP, 1989): This game basically kick-started the survival horror genre, and is a direct precursor to Resident Evil. It’s also ridiculously difficult. Basically, you’re exploring a haunted house in Japan, with ghosts and other terrors trying to kill you. I’ve never been able to get very far in this, but I acknowledge it’s a great game. Reminds me a lot of the Fatal Frame games, too, but on NES.

Armed Fantasy Dragon Villgust (JP, 1993, Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust Gaiden): Couldn’t get into this, but its counterpart on SNES seems cool. Apparently it’s based on an anime & manga.

Youkai Douchuuki (JP, 1988): This is absolutely bananas. It’s a platformer where you’re a soul travelling through the Japanese underworld. I haven’t been able to get very far, but it’s totally worth checking out for how wild it is. This translation is apparently retranslated from a Spanish localization, FWIW.

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3.0. SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (SNES) GAMES

3.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Donkey Kong Country 1-3: All excellent games and well worth playing. 2 and 3 are wildly innovative, even topping the first one. Wonderful music in all three also.

Dragon View (1994): Really strange, mixed first-person and side-scrolling action RPG. Also known as Drakkhen II; the first game is apparently even stranger. Worth checking out, but it is ridiculously difficult.

EarthBound (1995): Everyone loves this game. Oldschool RPG set in modern (’90s) America. Humor and fun abound. I haven’t come across a retranslation of this that I’ve liked, but there are a ton of hacks out there and people absolutely adore this game. I haven’t gotten all that far in it, but have liked it so far, aside from the abysmal inventory management.

EVO: Search for Eden (1993): This game has a really interesting premise — you “evolve” from primitive forms of life to higher forms, leveling up almost like in an RPG. I unfortunately got stalled out at some point and haven’t been able to progress further, but would like to. Reminiscent of Ecco the Dolphin (Sega) in some ways. Note: There is a nice retranslation of this available, actually, based on the original title, The 4.6 Billion Year Saga to Faraway Eden (46 Okunen Monogatari – Harukanaru Eden e).

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (1992): Worth playing, but is a really watered-down, simplistic action RPG version of a Final Fantasy game. Didn’t stop me from playing it all the way through, but I think it’s a one-and-done for me.

F-Zero (1990): The best racing game for SNES; has had a sequel or two over the years. Play it.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992): The third Zelda game, and one of the best in the series. Play it if you haven’t. If you have a 3DS, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a nice update/remake of this game as well.

The Lion King (1994): Really fun Disney platformer that follows the story of the movie pretty well. Loved it as a kid.

The Lost Vikings (1993): I hated this game when I first played it, but I actually somewhat enjoy it now; it’s a difficult game but worth playing. Teaches you the value of working together with your three characters.

Mario is Missing & Mario’s Time Machine (1993): I really enjoyed playing these as a kid. They’re an educational spin on Mario games; the first game has you travelling to various cities, learning about the culture and history, and answering trivia questions while trying to find Mario. The latter lets you travel through time to various eras to find Mario.

Mickey’s Magical Quest (aka The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse) (1992-93): Great Disney platformer where you go through various worlds, as Mickey Mouse, trying to save your dog, Pluto. I always loved this game as a kid and it also has a great music. Apparently it has sequels, too.

Pac-in-Time (1995): SNES version of the DOS game. It’s a side-scrolling Pac-Man game where you go through various worlds and areas, and have lots of cool powerups and try to solve puzzles and make it through levels. Apparently it’s a re-branded version of an earlier game, Fury of the Furries, with most of the original game’s assets intact or barely changed. Weird stuff. I loved playing this on DOS, though, especially since it didn’t have much music, and I could pop in a CD to my CD-ROM to accompany the game with whatever music I liked.

Pocky & Rocky 1 & 2 (1992, 1994): Bonkers shoot-em-up games that are very, very Japanese; little to no localization seems to have been done. You play as Pocky, a shrine maiden, trying to kill goblins. It’s super weird but very fun, and also very difficult. Haven’t played the second one yet.

RoboCop vs. the Terminator (1993): I loved this game as a kid. Basically, WYSIWYG: RoboCop is fighting against T-800s in postapocalyptic Detroit and other areas. Always really liked the Gatling gun weapon.

StarFox (1993): Loved this game ever since I was a kid. I don’t know that it’s aged too well in terms of gameplay and graphics, but it was revolutionary for its time. Flight sim with talking animals. The hack Star Fox Exploration seems really cool. Any good ROM set should have a version of Star Fox 2, but if you have a SNES Mini, you got the officially-released (and presumably finished) English version.

Sunset Riders (1993): Great Western shoot-em-up; seems to me like a spiritual successor to GunSmoke on the NES (see above).

Super Castlevania IV (1991): Nice SNES update of Castlevania, with cool graphics and great music. Well worth playing.

Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World (1994; SMAS orig. 1993): Super Mario World (1990) is excellent, of course. Super Mario All-Stars is a remastered version of Super Mario Bros. 1-3, including The Lost Levels (the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, closer to SMB1). I like this collection a lot.

Super Mario Kart (1992): Actually, this might be the other best racing game on the SNES. Super fun and has spawned a ton of sequels.

Super Mario RPG (1996): Weird game but it’s fun. I really haven’t gotten very far in it yet, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played. Who wouldn’t love a Mario RPG by Squaresoft?

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995): The excellent sequel to Super Mario World. I got this right when it came out and absolutely loved it; the cartoonish, crayon-drawing style is perfectly offbeat and cute. The game was light-hearted and fun and unlike any platformer I’d played before. Really revolutionary, especially for a Mario game. You’re Yoshi and carrying Baby Mario while trying to find Baby Luigi. Great game.

Super Metroid (1994): One of the best Metroid games ever. I only played through all of this in the last year or two, and really loved it, although it can be ridiculously difficult at times. Well worth a playthrough.

Super Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (1992-94): Play all of these. I think they’re the best versions of the original trilogy games. Loved all of them as a kid and they still hold up very well.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (1992): A great sequel to the NES TMNT games for SNES. More beat-em-up, sci-fi ninja action. Fun stuff.

Terranigma (EU, 1995): Only released in Europe, this action RPG is part of the loose trilogy formed by Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. I think this game is the best of the three; the others are worth playing, but Terranigma is truly great. You’re tasked with reviving the world, a continent at a time. It’s quite strange, but really fun.

Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! (1993): Super NES Tiny Toon Adventures game. It’s pretty fun, with colorful worlds and wacky enemies. Worth a playthrough.

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3.2. SNES FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Alcahest (JP, 1993): Strange, medieval fantasy-themed action JRPG. I played through a decent amount of it so far and have enjoyed it.

Ancient Magic: Bazoo Mahou Sekai (JP, 1993): This little game really grew on me. It’s a quaint little RPG about a boy going to magic school to become a wizard like his father. The world is actually rather large, and has a day/night cycle, which actually prevents you from entering certain towns at night (guess that’s similar to Simon’s Quest a bit?). High encounter rate, which means I’ve run away from battles a lot, but it’s still very fun and worth a play. I stalled out at the final boss, who is ridiculously and unfairly difficult.

Aretha (JP, 1993): Pretty standard JRPG, and the graphics seem nice. I didn’t like the battle system, though, which was a dealbreaker for me personally.

Aretha II: Ariel no Fushigi na Tabi (JP, 1994): The translation was just released in 2020, and this is the sequel to Aretha.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon: Another Story (JP, 1995): This is a Sailor Moon RPG! I remember watching the show here and there as a kid but never really got into it. I think this’ll be a fun game, though.

Brandish 2: The Planet Buster (JP, 1995): I tried getting into this. It’s an isometric action RPG and just isn’t very fun, but YMMV.

Bushi Seiryuuden – Futari no Yuusha (JP, 1997): One of the late SNES games, this RPG with an unwieldy title, Warriors: Legend of the Blue Dragon -The Two Heroes-, is a mix of turn-based combat with platforming and leveling. Sounds like a fun game. I am always a bit amazed at some of the late-stage SNES games, which were often overlooked for flashier games on the PSX, &c.

Chrono Trigger (US, 1995): An excellent RPG where you travel through multiple time periods trying to save the world! If you haven’t heard of this, I’d be really surprised. This is in the fan-translations section because I’ve found that, while the US localization was good, updates are even better. There are a ton of these on RHDN, but my preferred version is the “Doctor L Relocalization,” which is a bugfix for a retranslation done by “Doctor L.” If you want Doctor L’s original retranslation, check here.

Dark Half (JP, 1996): Couldn’t get into this at all, but if you like strategy RPGs, you may love this.

Dark Law: Meaning of Death (JP, 1997): Apparently it’s the third in a loose trilogy. Late-state SNES games are pretty cool (see Rudra no Hihou below!). I tried this and really couldn’t get into it, especially the strategy RPG-style battles. But the first part, where you’re doing some farming, was really lovely.

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (JP, 1996): I really, really enjoyed this game. It’s like Kirby, Yoshi’s Island, and whatever other platformer you love. Stretches of it had some really amazing visuals and music too. I played it through pretty quickly. Definitely check it out.

Dual Orb II (JP, 1994): Apparently this game is decent at least. No idea about the first game, but this one is translated. I also stalled out on this game, but it’s not bad.

Far East of Eden Zero (JP, 1995, Tengai Makyou Zero): This game has been a “white whale” for emulator developers and translators for ages, mostly because of the special chips on the SNES ROM. Famed emulator developer byuu found a way to support the chips, though, in his emulator higan/bsnes, and this translation is the culmination of hours and hours of effort. The game is a nice, fun, SNES JRPG with a good deal of humor and comic relief, and is set in what seems to be medieval Japan. Check it out, if only for the rarity of the experience outside Japan. Note that these patches will work with SNES9X, but I’d recommend higan/bsnes.

Final Fantasy IV (JP, 1991): One of my favorite Final Fantasy games ever, and actually the first I ever played. Basic save-the-world story, but you go to all sorts of different places (underworld; moon; &c.)! Well worth playing. I liked the original translation okay, but I think that this retranslation is really nice. Note that it is applied to a Japanese copy, too, which automagically decensors it from the US localization changes. For a weird, unique experience, check out FF4 Free Enterprise, which lets you apply all sorts of random hacks.

Final Fantasy V (JP, 1992): I loved FFV when I played it on PSX as part of Final Fantasy Anthology. Bizarre game spread across different dimensions, with a cool jobs system and a really fascinating story. I found a retranslation of it that is really nice and even fixes some bugs (this is the Legend of the Crystals retranslation; YMMV but I like it).

Final Fantasy VI (JP, 1994): One of the best Final Fantasy games ever made, IMHO. High technology fused with magic! Steampunk! Airships! All the things that make Final Fantasy a great series. I’ve looked at a lot of retranslations, and my favorite is the “Ted Woolsey Uncensored Edition.” It keeps a lot of the nuance and fun of the original Ted Woolsey script, but restores elements censored in the US. Again, everyone has different tastes on this, and there are a ton of FFVI translations, but this is my favorite.

Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren (JP, 1995): This is apparently a roguelike RPG for SNES. Sounds fun!

G.O.D.: Growth or Devolution: Heed the Call to Awaken (JP, 1996): This is a late-stage SNES game, and really one of my favorites. It is set in modern times, starts in Japan, and eventually takes your party all over the Earth. I don’t think I have really seen a sadder story in an RPG than this. The writing is crisp, funny, and touching at the same time. I thought it had a great story, and it’s really worth the many hours’ play you will get from it.

Ganpuru: Gunman’s Proof (JP, 1997): This game is ridiculously fun. It’s basically a Wild West clone of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s an action RPG with all sorts of guns, and reminds me a lot of Link’s Awakening too. Seriously, go play it.

Gulliver Boy (JP, 1996, Kuusou Kagaku Sekai Gulliver Boy): This game is absolutely bananas. It’s set in Renaissance times, and you are fighting against the might of Spain. Loved it! It’s sort of an action RPG/platformer. Apparently it’s based on a manga/anime, too, but no knowledge of that is required to play the game.

Hero Senki: Project Olympus (JP, 1992): This is a weird, modern, Ultraman-themed RPG. You basically serve as the world police force, fighting “terrorists” who are against the one-world order. I stalled out on it, and it’s a hard pass for me.

Hourai Gakuen no Bouken!: Tenkousei Scramble (JP, 1996): Sounds like a weird RPG set in high school. Wacky. I tried but couldn’t get into it.

Laplace’s Demon (JP, 1995, Laplace no Ma): Really strange, Lovecraftian horror-style RPG. Haven’t gotten very far in it but would definitely play more.

Lennus II: Fuuin no Shito (JP, 1996): Haven’t played this JRPG yet but definitely would like to. No idea about the first game being translated or not.

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom (US, 1993): Here is a nice bugfix/enhancement for this oldschool RPG. Pretty standard RPG fare, but fun. I’m somewhere in the game but have no idea what to do now — one of the dangers of playing old games and not tracking your progress. The US version is fine, but this provides some fixes if you’re interested.

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (US, 1995): This prequel to Lufia is a far better game, IMHO, than the original. Once I started playing it, I couldn’t go back to the original. It’s fun! Puzzles, nice combat, interesting characters and story. Spekkio Lufia is a nice rebalancing mod which incorporates a retranslation and bugfixes from another hack, Frue Lufia. I prefer the former, but whatever you prefer, go for it!

Madou Monogatari: Hanamaru Daiyouchi Enji (JP, 1996): I guess this is part of a series that’s also on Sega Genesis and such. No idea what to expect from this game but it’s a JRPG!

Magical Pop’n (JP, 1995): Frenetic, fast-paced platformer. It’s pretty fun so far but I haven’t gotten too far into it.

Magna Braban (JP, 1994): Tried to get into this JRPG and really, really didn’t like it, but YMMV.

Majuu Ou (JP, 1995): This had a very Castlevania vibe, but I also thought of Altered Beast. Yeah, Castlevania x Altered Beast is a good way to describe this. I played through it pretty quickly and had fun!

Marvelous: Mouhitotsu no Takarajima (JP, 1996): Another great late-stage SNES game, also reminiscent of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I’ve only played through a bit of it so far, but it’s pretty fun. You play as a group of 3 kids trying to protect their island from pirates, and explore the secrets on the island. It has a lot of humor and playfulness to it so far. I also stalled out on this one, but most people will enjoy it.

Princess Minerva (JP, 1995): This game is pretty comedic and ridiculous at times, but basically gives you a party of 9 super-powerful women who are fighting to protect their kingdom. It is pretty light-hearted overall and just fun, and has an absurd amount of fan-service. Apparently it served as a prequel to an anime that came out later. Well worth checking out.

Radical Dreamers (JP, 1996, Nusumenai Houseki): A fan-favorite fan-translation of the game that is largely a prototype/precursor of Chrono Cross (PSX). Fun, visual text-adventure game with multiple endings that follows Kid, Serge, and Magil (= Magus!) as they fight their way towards the Frozen Flame. Well worth playing at least once, and one of the first ROM hacks I’d ever heard about.

Secret of Mana (US, 1993): A fun action RPG that is pretty much universally beloved. I’ve linked a total retranslation here called Secret of Mana Reborn, which has some mixed reviews, but seemed like a decent update. I just can’t get into the combat and even the story, but many love it as I said!

Seiken Densetsu 3 (JP, 1995): This is the third game in the Seiken Densetsu series (Secret of Mana being Seiken Densetsu 2). I think this was just recently finally localized in the US on the Switch, IIRC, as Trials of Mana, so that might deprecate this. Since I didn’t like SoM, I don’t think I’d like this one either.

Shiki Eiyuuden – Jinryuu Densetsu (JP, 1995): AKA Shiji Hero Legend, this game focuses on the historical “Warring States” period in Chinese history (ca. 300 BCE). It’s a turn-based RPG otherwise, and I am excited to check it out!

Slayers (JP, 1994): Based on an anime/manga with the popular character Lina Inverse, apparently this game is great. Had no idea there was an RPG based on it. Enjoy.

Song of the Angel (JP, 1994, Tenshi no Uta: Shiroki Tsubasa no Inori): I absolutely loved this JRPG gem for the SNES. It has a great story, tons to do, great music, and grinding is actually pretty fun. You can even parley with the enemies and build up that skill. It has some really nifty, unique features that I haven’t really seen elsewhere. Do check it out.

Star Ocean (JP, 1996): Another great late-stage SNES game, never released Stateside until on the PSP as Star Ocean: First Departure. It has a sci-fi vibe that is pretty cool. Great music also. Not really my thing, but a lot of people adore it.

Stories of Ihatovo (JP, 1993, Ihatovo Monogatari): I can’t say enough about how much I love this game. Based on the stories of environmentalist, poet, and author Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), this game is an adventure RPG set in the fictional Japanese area of Ihatovo. The area is based on Iwate Prefecture in Japan, where Miyazawa spent most of his life. The game has a really lovely, rustic, inviting atmosphere, and you really start to care about the people you meet and interact with. There are no enemies in the game, no combat, just exploration, talking, gathering information, and helping people. I absolutely loved this game and would happily play it again. After I learned about the game, I read many of Miyazawa’s stories and really enjoyed them as well. Don’t be thrown off by the slow pacing of the game, it is well worth playing.

Tales of Phantasia (JP, 1995): Released just before Star Ocean, and developed by basically the same team, this is an excellent action RPG. The Tales series has a ton of games in it, apparently, but I’ve only played this one. I need to actually get back to playing this game at some point.

The Magical World of Wozz (JP, 1995, Choumahou Tairiku Wozz): One of the best RPGs, period, I’ve played in years. You play as three kids from Earth who were transported through a magical portal to the MAGICAL WORLD OF WOZZ. Great graphics, great music, and there is a crafting and vehicle-building system that is really fascinating. I had a great time playing through it, and was sad to reach the end. Play it!!

Treasure of the Rudras (JP, 1996, Rudra no Hihou): This is one of Squaresoft’s last RPGs for the SNES, and one of the last SNES games in general. This reminds me a lot of FFVI and some of the best Square RPGs, and has influences from Indian mythology, among others. Apocalyptic countdown to the world ending. Very fun. Great soundtrack.

Treasure Hunter G (JP, 1996): Another late-stage SNES game by Square, this time a strategy RPG. Well worth checking out, and tons to do. It wasn’t my thing but you might like it.

Villgust (JP, 1992, Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust: Kieta Shoujo): This is the SNES sequel to the earlier NES game (see above). I think it’s way better.

Wonder Project J: Kikai no Shonen Pino (JP, 1994): This sounds like a really strange RPG. Apparently you are a human controlling a robot and issue commands to the robot. I don’t know what to make of it, but it was made by Enix, and they made some generally-amazing RPGs back in the day. I couldn’t get the patch to work, but maybe that’s operator error.

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4.0. GAME BOY (ORIGINAL) (GB) GAMES

4.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Great Greed (US, 1993): Known in Japan as Bitamīna Oukoku Monogatari (Vitamina Kingdom Story), this RPG is environmentally-themed and seems interesting so far. I haven’t played much of it, but it’s a little-known gem. Not sure if there’s a fan-translation out there, but there is an English localization, so yeah. I have no idea why it is called Great Greed though.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters (US, 1991): A Game Boy sequel to the original Kid Icarus. I’ve tried to play through some of this but wow, like the original, it is ridiculously difficult.

Metroid II: Return of Samus (US, 1991): A Game Boy sequel to the original Metroid. This game is ridiculously difficult as well. I think they did a re-release of this on either the 3DS or the Switch but can’t remember.

Mickey’s Dangerous Chase (US, 1991): I used to play this all the time as a kid. It’s one of the typical Disney platformers, and really difficult at times, but I got endless enjoyment out of it back in the day.

Pokemon Blue/Red/Yellow: I would like to check these out as I hear they’re great. I’d really like to check out Lavender Town, too, as I hear it’s really creepy (at least the theme).

Super Mario Land (US, 1989): One of the first games released for the Game Boy. I was about to say the pack-in game, but that was Tetris. This game is still great, but there are some problematic things about it (especially the Chai Kingdom music, which is very stereotypical Asian-sounding music). For a great podcast on the problematic stereotypes of “Asian” music in games, check out Singing Mountain‘s episode “The Problem with Chai Kingdom.”

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (US, 1992): The followup to Super Mario Land. There is actually a really nice upscaled, reimagined “DX” version on RHDN that is worth checking out.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (US, 1994): Wario is the star of this game! Super weird.There aren’t too many more I’d like to recommend here for Game Boy, but there are a few fan-translations.

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4.2 FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Cave Noire (JP, 1991): A Game Boy roguelike. Worth checking out!

Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (JP, 1992): Also known as For the Frog the Bell Tolls, this is an action RPG for Game Boy. I am not sure if I can get into the battles, as they’re kinda strange and really random. It has a Link’s Awakening vibe overall.

Kininkou Maroku Oni (JP, 1990): AKA Oni Chronicles -Genesis-, this is an RPG for Game Boy. I don’t have a lot of info on it, so check it out.

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5.0 GAME BOY COLOR (GBC) GAMES

5.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (US, 2001): Apparently this is a reboot of the original Alone in the Dark. Might be interesting.

Hype: The Time Quest (US, 2001): Sounds like a weird time-traveling RPG. Not sure if this will be as a good as Chrono Trigger (few things are).

John Romero’s Daikatana (EU, 2000): Apparently entirely different from the FPS original, and more of an action-adventure game. Sounds like it might be worth playing.

Magi Nation (US, 2001): Weird RPG based on a collectible-card game (think Pokemon).

Metal Walker (US, 2001): Apparently another Pokemon-style RPG.

Power Quest (US, 1998): A RPG/fighting mashup.

Quest: Brian’s Journey (US, 2000): I think this is related to the absolutely horrible N64 RPG Quest 64. Hopefully it’s better.

Revelations: A Demon Slayer (US, 1999): GBC remake of the Game Boy game, which is apparently the first in the Megami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible series. Hopefully it’s good.

Survival Kids (US, 1999): Konami RPG that sounds a lot like the SNES JRPG Marvelous. (There is a sequel in the fan-translations section as well).

The Nations: Land of Legends (EU, ???): I don’t know what to make of this RPG but it’s cool so far.

Wario Land II (US, 1998): Really weird followup to Wario Land. I put this in the GBC section; it was originally on Game Boy but has a GBC enhanced port.

Wario Land 3 (US, 2000): Followup to Wario Land II.

Winnie the Pooh: Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood (US, 2000): Sounds like fun.

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5.2. FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Arle no Bouken – Mahou no Jewel (JP, 2000): Known in English as Arle’s Adventure: Magical Jewels, this is a cute little RPG about finding magical jewels.

Grandia: Parallel Trippers (JP, 2000): A side story to the Grandia games on PlayStation, apparently. Worth checking out.

Nushi Tsuri Adventure: Kite no Bouken (JP, 2000): AKA Fishing King Adventure: Kite’s Adventure, sounds like a fun RPG. I guess there is an earlier game in this “series” on the NES as well but not sure about it.

Survival Kids 2: Dasshutsu! Futago Shima (JP, 2000): sequel to Survival Kids on GBC.

Sylvania Families: Otogi no Kuni no Pendant (JP, 1999): Sounds like a fun, cute little RPG.

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6.0. GAME BOY ADVANCE (GBA) GAMES

6.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (US, 2001): I remember playing this on the console itself way back when. It’s pretty fun like most Castlevania games.

Metroid Fusion (US, 2002): Great GBA Metroid game. Definitely play it.

Metroid: Zero Mission (US, 2004): A remake and remaster of the original Metroid. This is my favorite way of playing the original Metroid, as they really polished it up and made it more accessible.

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6.2. FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Meisou no Rinbukyoku (JP, 2004): AKA Fullmetal Alchemist: Stray Rondo, this is a RPG based on the anime/manga somehow.

Magical Vacation (JP, 2001): This sounds like a great RPG.

Mother 3 (JP, 2006): A Japan-only sequel to the SNES classic EarthBound (aka Mother 2). Haven’t gotten around to playing it yet.

Oriental Blue: Ao no Tengai (JP, 2003): No idea what to expect from this JRPG. Looks cool though. I’ve heard it’s obliquely related to the Tengai Makyou series (e.g., Tengai Makyou Zero), but I’m not 100% sure.

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7.0. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM GAMES

7.1. FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Phantasy Star (JP, 1987): This game (and series) is apparently fantastic. I tried to get into it but it really wasn’t my thing.

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8.0. SEGA MEGA DRIVE (GENESIS) GAMES

8.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Ecco the Dolphin (US, 1992): I’ve only played a bit of this but it’s pretty cool so far. Great soundtrack as well.

Ecco: The Tides of Time (US, 1994): The sequel to Ecco. Haven’t played it yet.

Shining Force (US, 1992): I think this is a sort of strategy RPG but not sure. I’ve played a little of it. Apparently the series is great.

Sonic the Hedgehog 1/2/3: Any of the Sonic games are great. I recently played through 2 and loved it.

Sonic 3D Blast (US, 1996): Strange 3D version of Sonic. Worth a play.

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8.2. FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Madou Monogatari I (JP, 1996): Sounds like a fun dungeon-crawler JRPG. Apparently it’s part of a larger series.

Phantasy Star II (JP, 1989): Sequel to the original. Sounds great.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (JP, 1990): Another sequel and sounds great.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (US, 1993): Another sequel. Apparently this relocalization is great.

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9.0. PLAYSTATION (PSX) GAMES

9.1. OFFICIAL ENGLISH LOCALIZATIONS

Alundra (US, 1997): Haven’t checked this one out yet but it’s a classic.

Azure Dreams (US, 1997): Sounds like another great PSX RPG.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (US, 1997): This is a RPG/platformer hybrid version of Castlevania and I took way too long to play it finally.

Chrono Cross (US, 1999): Fantastic sequel to the SNES classic Chrono Trigger. The fanbase was split over this one but I really love it.

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (US, 1994): Fighting game, pretty fun.

Disruptor (US, 1996): strange FPS. Haven’t played too much of it. It has really cheesy, laughable live-action cutscenes in it.

Einhänder (US, 1998): A weird side-scrolling space shooter by Squaresoft!

Final Fantasy VII (US, 1997): I absolutely love this game. I’ll link a fan-translation/relocalization down below as well if you’re interested.

Final Fantasy VIII (US, 1999): Another excellent entry in the FF series. Not everyone likes it but I really enjoyed it; it didn’t hurt that I was 15 when this came out.

Final Fantasy IX (US, 2000): I honestly haven’t played this, and it’s kind of the “black sheep” of the series. Or at least one of them.

Grandia (US, 1997): I hear this game is great but haven’t played it yet.

Lunar: Silver Star Story (US, 1998): A remake/remaster of Lunar: The Silver Star (1992, Sega/Mega-CD). Many purists say this remake is a poor localization of the original, but I have nothing to compare it to, so I really enjoyed it.

Lunar: Eternal Blue (US, 1998): A remake/remaster of the game of the same name (1995, Sega CD). Great game as well.

MDK (US, 1997): Strange third-person shooter game. I played it on the computer, and the PSX version is fine too.

MediEvil (US, 1998): A medieval swords & sorcery, undead-themed platformer. I remember playing a demo and really enjoying it. It’s pretty fun.

Metal Gear Solid (US, 1998): Great PSX continuation to the Metal Gear series.

N20 (US, 1998): A tunnel shooter game with a great soundtrack. Loved this back in high school.

One (US, 1997): Really weird third-person shooter.

OverBlood (US, 1997): Sci-fi-themed survival horror game. Sounds great.

OverBlood 2 (US, 1998): Sequel to the above game.

Silent Hill (US, 1999): terrifying survival horror game. There are a ton of sequels.

Suikoden (US, 1995): One of my favorite RPGs, based on the Chinese novel Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh, or Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn). It’s a SNES-style RPG and has a cast of 108 (!!) characters, most of them playable! Here is a bugfix patch from RHDN.

Suikoden 2 (US, 1998): The excellent sequel to Suikoden. Here is another bugfix patch from RHDN.

Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation to Darkness (US, 1996): This game sounds great. It’s an RPG where you set up traps for NPCs.

Threads of Fate (US, 1999): Action RPG by Squaresoft. I liked it when I was younger but played it recently and wasn’t as enthused.

Valkyrie Profile (US, 2000): Norse mythology-themed RPG where you play as a Valkyrie. I’ve played some of this and really enjoyed it so far. It’s also a tri-ace/Enix production, so it’s solid.

Wild ARMs (US, 1996): SNES-style, oldschool RPG with sci-fi and Western themes. Great soundtrack, great game.

Wild ARMs 2 (US, 1999): Haven’t played this yet but would like to!

Wipeout (US, 1995): Cool PSX racing game that I liked a lot back in the day.

Xenogears (US, 1998): I absolutely love this RPG. Classic Squaresoft. Sci-fi, giant robots, religion, nanotechnology, it’s got everything! The Xenosaga series on PS2 are “spiritual successors,” as is the Xenoblade series.

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9.2. FAN-TRANSLATIONS

Brave Prove (JP, 1998): No idea if this is good or not, but I’m up to try it.

LSD: Dream Emulator (JP, 1998): One of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. The creator based the game on themes from a dream journal he kept for 10 years or so. It’s wonderful and terrifying and amazing. The wiki is well worth checking out if you’re playing through it. I think they also have a link to a PDF of the book it’s based on as well, but not sure. Recently, an English translation of the game was released, and it’s great.

Mizzurna Falls (JP, 1998): An open-world adventure game. There’s only an unfinished English translation available. Makes me think of Silent Hill a bit.

THE END (for now!). This is a living document.

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