Best Genesis RPGs

When you think of 16-bit RPGs, chances are the Genesis / Mega Drive isn't the first console that springs to mind – Nintendo's SNES dominated the genre thanks to the fact that it has gems such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire, Secret of Mana and many, many more in its locker.

The SNES spearheaded the RPG revolution in the West, giving many gamers their first taste of this style of game – but you'd be foolish to think that the Genesis didn't have something of its own to offer.

In fact, the console is home to some of the greatest RPGs and action-adventure titles of the '90s, including Phantasy Star (a series which continues in some shape or form to this very day), the 'Shining' series and many, many more.

What are the best Sega Genesis RPGs and action adventures?

Our list below includes some of the best RPGs and action adventures on the Sega Genesis. It isn't presented in any kind of order; instead, we've picked out a broad selection of titles which are all worthy of your time and attention if you're keen on exploring this genre.

Phantasy Star IV (MD)

Phantasy Star began life on the 8-bit Master System, but would find global fame on the Mega Drive with three excellent sequels. Phantasy Star IV, released towards the end of the console’s life, is the zenith of the series and offers up a rip-roaring JRPG quest that mixes fantasy elements with sci-fi tropes to amazing effect. Boasting many hours of gameplay, fantastic visuals and a storyline that will keep you glued to your seat, this is one of the best role-playing romps of the 16-bit era.

Crusader of Centy (MD)

Lazy comparisons at the time of release wrote this off as a Zelda clone, but Crusader of Centy (Soleil in Europe, Shin Souseiki Ragnacënty in Japan) is very much its own thing. While it looks and plays similarly to Zelda: A Link to the Past, Crusader of Centy introduces animal helpers who can aid the player character in a wide variety of ways. Throw in a cool cameo appearance from none other than Sonic the Hedgehog and you’ve got a charming action RPG that absolutely deserves your attention, even today.

Shining in the Darkness (MD)

Anyone who has played the Atari ST classic Dungeon Master (or one of the many clones that appeared in its wake) will know full well that first-person RPGs can be a hell of a lot of fun. Back when Sega first announced Shining in the Darkness (often called Shining and the Darkness), the words 'Dungeon Master Beater' were paraded around by the specialist press of the era. Indeed, Sega's game did look mightily impressive and was tantalisingly full of promise. In reality, it's not quite the same deal; combat occurs at random and is turned-based, which is more in keeping with the popular JRPGs of the period. Even so, Shining in the Darkness has more than enough in its locker to be worth a look and would spawn the even better Shining The Holy Ark on Saturn.

Warsong (MD)

Known as Langrisser in Japan, Warsong is a turn-based tactical RPG along the same lines as Fire Emblem and Shining Force, with some key differences. Your generals are the most powerful units on the map, but they have their own troops who can be controlled individually. When these troops succeed in battle, it earns experience for that particular general, and the game's cast of characters have several 'upgrade paths' they can follow which change their appearance, skills and available troop types. Hours of deep and involving gameplay await, along with stellar art from Satoshi Urushihara and brilliant music by Noriyuki Iwadare, Isao Mizoguchi and Hiroshi Fujioka. Several sequels followed – none of which were localised at the time of release – but it's possible to experience the first two Mega Drive entries on modern hardware thanks to a recent remake.

Shining Force II: Ancient Sealing (MD)

Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series may get all of the column inches today, but back in the early ‘90s that franchise was still totally exclusive to Japan and it was Sega’s Shining Force that led the way when it came to turn-based tactical RPGs. The original Shining Force was spun out of Shining in the Darkness and boasts hours of gameplay, upgradeable characters and excellent presentation. However, the second game just about edges it when it comes to sheer quality; it offers the player more freedom to explore the world but retains pretty much everything that made the original so compelling. The Shining Force series would also come to the Mega CD and Game Gear, and the third entry would later come to the Sega Saturn.

Shining Force (MD)

Even though Shining Force II is perhaps the better of the two games, the original Shining Force is still well worth your time. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had with loads of missions (many of which can last for well over an hour) and some mildly diverting 'town' sections, which fall into the traditional RPG format of locating an item/person in order to further the story. Many fans consider the Genesis / Mega Drive Shining Force titles to be the best in the entire series, so be sure to check this out if you're a fan of tactical RPGs.

Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun (MD)

Developed by Westwood Studios – the same company behind the superb Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder – this top-down RPG served as a gentle introduction to D&D for an entire generation of players. Thankfully, it's not a particularly expensive game to pick up these days and is well worth a look if you're keen to see how these RPGs have evolved over the years. It's notable for the involvement of Ed Annunziata, who would later work on the Ecco series.

Sorcerian (MD)

For setting a precedent, Sorcerian is phenomenally important. It was an early attempt at creating a re-usable game engine, by having a System Disk and then separate Scenario Disks which could be made by anyone – including other companies. Not only were there new quests, but also a Utility Disk for players to visit new merchants and purchase exclusive equipment not available In the main game. These Utility and Scenario disks are comparable to PC expansion packs or – more significantly – modern DLC in something like Mass Effect. Of course, none of that applies to the Sega-developed Genesis / Mega Drive port of Sorcerian, but it's still an amazing JRPG that's well worth a look. A partial English fan-translation exists; fingers crossed this will be added to in the coming years.

Phantasy Star II (MD)

The original Phantasy Star never really had the impact it deserved, mainly thanks to the fact that its host platform - the Sega Master System – failed to sell in significant numbers in the US. The series would have to wait until the introduction of the Genesis/Mega Drive before it would gain any kind of recognition or respect Stateside. Phantasy Star II was one of the earliest Genesis releases and, along with Sword of Vermillion, represented one of the first RPGs for Sega’s 16-bit console. There’s no denying that Phantasy Star 2 is a title worthy of your time and effort. Very few RPG franchises feel and play in the same way that Sega’s epic series does and, although it has a few irksome shortcomings, it’s unrealistic to expect a game of this age to contain RPG features that have only appeared in recent titles. If you’re a fan of the genre and have a 40-hour hole in your spare time, then this should fit the bill quite nicely.

Rent A Hero (MD)

This oddball RPG places you in the role of Taro Yamada, a young man who still lives with his parents in Japan. After being gifted a powerful combat suit from the local pizza parlour, Yamada decides to become a hero for hire (hence the title). What follows is a quirky and often hilarious action RPG that, unsurprisingly, never made it to the West. Thankfully, a fan translation exists of Rent A Hero which allows those outside of Japan to enjoy its unique qualities. A Dreamcast remake – also a Japanese exclusive – was recently translated, too.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (MD)

A cult classic in its native Japan, this is the sixth game in Falcom's Dragon Slayer series, but the first entry in the The Legend of Heroes sub-franchise. Originally released on the NEC PC-88, it would be ported to a wide range of console platforms, including the Genesis / Mega Drive. Sadly, while the TurboGrafx-16 port got a Western localisation, the Sega version remains exclusive to Japan – along with its sequel, Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II. Both were rather late additions to the console's library, and this obviously made the idea of releasing them in the West unappealing to Sega.