Along with mascot platformers, Nintendo’s beloved 16-bit behemoth is perhaps best remembered for its bevy of groundbreaking RPGs. The Super Nintendo was the system of choice for many game developers with its focus on colorful, (relatively) high-resolution graphics, special visual effects like the famous Mode 7, impressive sample-based sound capability, expanded cartridge memory, and more technical prowess that allowed for the more sophisticated role-playing experiences of the era.
Unfortunately for those outside of Japan, many of these games never saw an international release due to a number of factors such as translation difficulties, cultural differences, newer consoles coming out, etc. Today we’re highlighting five of the best Super Famicom-only RPGs in no particular order. We’re specifically focusing on games that never saw an international re-release, remake, or multi-console version so titles like Seiken Densetsu 3 (Trials of Mana), Star Ocean, Dragon Quest V, and Tales of Phantasia are exempt. Without further ado, press start let’s go!
Rudra no Hihou (Treasure of the Rudras)
- Publisher: Square
- Release Dates: April 5, 1996
While not a Final Fantasy in name, Treasure of the Rudras was the final self-developed title Square made for Super Famicom and of similar pedigree, featuring incredible production values and storytelling on par with, or arguably surpassing, the company’s flagship series. It was designed by Akitoshi Kawazu, known for his work on early Final Fantasy titles as well as the SaGa series. Treasure of the Rudras is generally themed around the concept of pollution and also draws heavily from Indian religions, in particular, the idea of the wheel of time. In this case, the world is in a continuous cycle of destruction and recreation every 4000 years, performed by gods called Rudras which are based on deities closely associated with Shiva.
The story chronicles the final 15 days before the extermination of the human race and is told from the perspective of three parties centered around Sion the knight, a priestess named Riza, and an archaeologist called Surlent, as well as Dune, a recurring thief character who appears in all three. You can freely switch between these groups so each storyline can be played in any order and each affect each other in interesting ways. Treasure of the Rudras features a richly detailed fantasy world mixing magic, science, and technology, that feels a bit reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII, but probably stands out most for its robust magic system that uses base words called ‘mantras’ found in books, overheard from enemies, or simply entered by the player, to generate a wide variety of different effects. Overall, Treasure of the Rudras is just an excellent, classic RPG that would likely be an all-time favorite, or at least a hidden gem, if given an international release.
- Publisher: Enix
- Release Dates: April 5, 1996
Surprisingly few games even today give you the option to play as the ‘bad guy’ but in Dark Half it’s, well, half the game! It’s not just a gimmick either, in Dark Half you play from two different perspectives starting with the heroic Falco, a paladin who fails to destroy the Demon King, which leads to his reincarnation as Ryukyu, the other player character who is your classic ‘lord of darkness’-type demon-sorcerer. Each chapter, you alternate between the two, ultimately leading up to a final confrontation where you decide who to side with.
Not only is this premise captivating, but Dark Half also delivers with working this concept into gameplay, most notably in how the two characters play and affect each other. As Ryukyu, you have the ability to kill NPCs and collect their souls for energy which is expended every step you take and spell you cast. This cuts off any interaction Falco might have had with them, including ones that provide services, but does allow him to gather rays of light from their corpses which are important to receive the true ending. The player is given the interesting dilemma of using Falco’s evil for the greater good which, along with each character’s distinct gameplay and the limited steps/actions each can take, makes Dark Half one of the most unique and grim SFC games that never released outside of Japan.
Live A Live
- Publisher: Square
- Release Dates: September 2, 1994
Another title experimenting with the concept of multiple perspectives, Live A Live takes this idea to the extreme with seven different, seemingly unrelated paths following characters from a wide variety of backgrounds, places, and times. Each chapter can be played in any order and eventually leads up to a final scenario that ties them all together. Gameplay-wise, Live A Live has a fairly typical tactical RPG battle system but each story path also has its own gimmick that goes along with its setting such as stealth sections in the Secret Orders chapter which focuses on ninjas in feudal Japan.
The different characters, locations, and the eventual story convergence are what really makes Live A Live special. To give you a sense of this game’s strange variety, you’ll be playing as characters like Pogo, a caveman who only knows the word for love, The Sundown Kid, a soft-spoken American cowboy gunslinger, a young psychic living in near-future Japan named Akira Tadokoro, and a spherical, self-aware robot on a spaceship in the future who is ironically called Cube. Each chapter also has distinct character designs from famous mangaka like Yumi Tamura, Gosho Aoyama, and Kazuhiko Shimamoto. Altogether, Live A Live is a spectacularly clever and unique RPG that fans of more offbeat games like Earthbound would have certainly enjoyed outside of Japan.
While it’s a shame that these games were never released outside of Japan, that does not mean their legacy should be forgotten! We’re hopeful that they might receive a similar treatment as Seiken Densetsu 3 did recently as Trials of Mana or enhanced remakes like Dragon Quest IV-VI did on DS. In any case, we hope you enjoyed this article, play these games any way you can! Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below and stick around Honey’s for Part 2 and more! Bye~!