While it's certainly true to say that RPGs flourished on consoles like the NES and PC Engine, the SNES is perhaps the machine with which many gamers will forever associate the genre.

Franchises such as Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem all made their presence known on Nintendo's massively popular 16-bit platform, alongside a great many other classic RPGs – a selection of which we've included in our list.

We've not presented these games in any particular order; instead, we consider them must-play SNES RPGs that every fan of the genre should enjoy.

Breath of Fire II (SNES)

Capcom wasn't famous for its RPG titles prior to the release of the original Breath of Fire in 1993, but the company quickly gained a solid reputation on the basis of that well-liked RPG. The sequel – which, like its predecessor, was lucky enough to get a western localisation – is more of the same, boasting colourful visuals and some fetching character design. While the two SNES entries in this series aren't quite as critically-lauded as the 16-bit Final Fantasy outings, they're still worthy of your time if you're looking for some old-school JRPG action. Both Breath of Fire and Breath of Fire II were re-released on the Game Boy Advance.

Soul Blazer (SNES)

Also by Quintet is this early example of a SNES Action RPG. Like its stablemate ActRaiser, Soul Blazer places you in the role of a 'servant' warrior who is sent to a troubled world by "The Master" – a god-like deity who wishes to destroy the monsters which hold the captured souls of the world's inhabitants. During the dungeon segments, slaying certain enemies releases the soul of an NPC which can impact the story in the game's many towns and settlements. It's a unique approach that gets a little goofy at times (you talk to a flower and dolphin during your quest, for example), but, despite its rough edges, remains a likeable example of the genre.

Arcana (SNES)

At the time of release, Arcana (or Card Master: Rimsalia no Fuuin as it is known in Japan) was marked down by reviewers thanks to its similarity to Sega's Shining in the Darkness. It's a fair comment – both are first-person dungeon-crawlers with random, turn-based battles and town 'hubs' you can visit between battles – but Arcana is arguably the more polished of the pair thanks to its superior visuals, gorgeous soundtrack and engaging gameplay. Sure, the random encounters are a little on the high side, but this is something you could say about many '90s JRPGs. Arcana is also notable for marking the debut of Kirby in a video game; HAL's pink puffball appears during the introduction sequence.

Final Fantasy III (SNES)

What needs to be said about legendary title? The opera scene. The World of Ruin. Watching Magitek armour slowly trudge through the endless snow. Sabin meme-ily suplexing an entire train. Kefka’s laugh (we know you heard that text). Squaresoft’s beloved RPG often feels like a non-stop parade of effortless excellence, churning out memorable scenes one after the other as if the team had an excess of creativity that just had to come out.

Chrono Trigger (SNES)

Famously headed by three of the biggest names in the industry at the time (Final Fantasy’s Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest’s Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama, the man behind a little comic you may have heard of called Dragon Ball), there was no chance this time-travelling saga was ever going to end up as anything less than the stuff of legend. Blurring the expected boundaries between battle scenes and standard exploration allowed players to feel closer to the action than ever before, and the strong cast drawn from the past, present, and futures that you hope will never come to pass, help to hold together what could in lesser hands have easily ended up a fractured and incomprehensible tangle of plot threads.

Secret of Mana (SNES)

Who doesn’t still feel a shiver up their spine after turning this game on and hearing that whale song sample coming out of their TV’s speakers? Randi, Primm, and Popoi’s world-saving tale was an instant classic – and for once, a tale you could play through with a friend as naturally as any other multiplayer game on the system. The incredible pixel art (stunning even when compared to the console’s best) and the charming fairytale-like qualities of this heroic trio’s story come together to create a truly unforgettable experience. The sequel's not half bad, either.

Terranigma (SNES)

Nintendo choosing to publish this Quintet-developed action RPG marks one of those occasions European SNES owners could hold their heads high and just for once feel slightly superior to their RPG-enjoying counterparts in the US – even if Terranigma was released in such small numbers many of those who would have happily dedicated their evenings to it were completely unaware of its existence at the time. Ark’s journey to restore the world and the trials he’s subjected to along the way are a rare example of genuinely epic RPG storytelling; encompassing as it does nothing less than god, the devil, and a world with strong similarities to our own.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

Nintendo let Squaresoft run riot in their most precious setting, and gamers everywhere rejoiced. Although it’s to be expected from a developer of their pedigree part of what makes this colourful adventure so special is how much fun it is even after the novelty of seeing Mario and friends standing in an orderly line while waiting their turn to bop a menagerie of familiar faces and brand new enemies has worn off. It’s Nintendo’s famous plumber as you’ve never seen him before yet somehow exactly as you’d imagined, placed right in the middle of the sort of story you always wanted to see him in.

EarthBound (SNES)

It’s the vague baseline of almost-normality that makes Shigesato Itoi’s off-kilter RPG feel more bizarre than most games that try to make a conscious effort to create a weird and wacky setting. Story-heavy games are filled with triple-headed monsters and sentient globs of goo but how many have you square up to armoured frogs and aggressive cups of coffee? EarthBound may have been criminally overlooked on its release but there’s no doubt fans – old and new – have more than made up for that in the years since (and even Nintendo remembered to include it on the SNES Mini).

Illusion of Gaia (SNES)

Developed by Quintet – the same team which produced the excellent ActRaiser, Soul Blazer and Terranigma – Illusion of Gaia (or Illusion of Time if you're in Europe) is an Action RPG that boasts neat puzzles, awesome visuals and a fine soundtrack. Little wonder, then, that it was a solid seller globally, shifting around 650,000 copies worldwide. The story, too, is noteworthy, even if it does tone down the spiritual core seen in the likes of the aforementioned Soul Blazer and Terranigma.

Seiken Densetsu 3 (SNES)

Once out of reach for all but Japanese Super Famicom owners and dedicated importers yet always desperately wanted by everyone, Seiken Densetsu 3 (that's its Japanese title – westerners might know it better as Secret of Mana 2 or, more recently, Trials of Mana) finally made its way to the west on Switch and proves that some games really are worth the wait. The game’s pixel art is some of the finest not only on the system but the medium as a whole, the beautiful soundtrack enhances every scene, and the customisable party (and the different storylines that go with it) make each adventure your very own. If you don't fancy playing it on the Switch (either as part of the Collection of Mana or in its remastered form), then you can experience it on the SNES thanks to the wonder of a fan-made English language patch.

Bahamut Lagoon (SNES)

Squaresoft’s pastel-hued world of floating islands in an endless sky combines its beautiful fantasy stylings with a unique battle system that merges strategic decisions usually associated with SRPGs such as terrain type, attack range, and positioning with the familiar side-on swords and spell-flinging of their evergreen Final Fantasy games. Feeding your army of dragons weapons, items, and armour not only boosts their stats but determines the sort of mythical beast they’ll grow into, making every game different from the last. Released in 1996, there was never going to be any reasonable chance of this coming to the west, but you can play it in English thanks to an excellent fan-made transition patch.

Front Mission (SNES)

Front Mission is Fire Emblem with giant robots. The game manages to be much more than a simple trade of medieval fantasy settings for mech science-fiction scenario; it is a beautiful, masterfully-crafted package that can turn people who are not fans of either turn-based strategy or mechs into diehard followers overnight. It was a shame Squaresoft never went ahead with the planned western localization of this game; such a well-crafted product would surely have found an audience among SNES owners in 1995 beyond the niche collection of Gundam fans. Still, a complete English translation exists so there's no excuse to not give it a try. Despite the lack of a global release, Front Mission would prove to be so successful it would spawn a series that has seen entries on the PlayStation, DS, WonderSwan and Xbox 360.

Live A Live (SNES)

Another Japanese exclusive, Live A Live contains multiple storylines which all cover different periods of history and mixes standards RPG exploration with turn-based combat. For a game released in 1994, it is quite crude in terms of visuals, but its amazing scope and ambition more than make up for its graphical shortcomings; there's no other RPG that is quite like Live A Live. The game is also notable for showcasing the musical talents of Yoko Shimomura, who joined Square from Capcom to work on the game. Although a western released was rumoured at the time, it never came to pass; thankfully, an English language patch is available. And if that seems like too much work, we've got the HD-2D remake on Switch.

Secret of Evermore (SNES)

Given the game's title and the fact that it was published by Square, it's easy to see why Secret of Evermore is so readily-compared to Secret of Mana. However, it was produced in the west rather than in Japan (you can read about its development here). The storyline and characters definitely make this feel like a western-made RPG, and while it arguably falls short of hitting the same heights as Mana, its likeable tone and amazing soundtrack (by Jeremy Soule, who has gone on to become one of video gaming's most prolific soundtrack composers) mean that it's well worth a look regardless.

Shadowrun (SNES)

Need a break from the sunshine and happy gnomes with a great work ethic found in more colourful RPGs, chummer? Then look no further than Beam Software’s cyberpunk classic. Putting you in control of an amnesiac mercenary may not sound like the most inventive way to kick off a story but this 16-bit interpretation of Shadowrun’s grimy corporate world soon becomes an irresistible web of intrigue. In many ways, this is the game Cyberpunk 2077 should have been (don't @ me). Check out our "making of" the game here.

Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen (SNES)

Combining the thrill of real-time tactical battlefield management with Yasumi Matsuno’s now trademark penchant for weaving tales of political turmoil over straightforward clashes of swords and sorcery, Ogre Battle and all the games that were created from it, whether part of this series or set in the wonderfully similar world of Ivalice, remain a high point for the entire genre. This is one of the best instalments and is well worth a look, despite the passage of time.

Fire Emblem: Mystery Of The Emblem (SNES)

This lavish remake of the Famicom original expands and improves on the solid foundations laid down by that esteemed 8-bit outing (even going so far as to include its own all-new sequel) without making the mistake of reinventing for reinvention’s sake and ending up the same game in name only. Character animations on the map and in those tense fight scenes are always incredibly fluid and bursting with personality, and small new additions like pre-battle inventory sorting and cavalry needing to dismount indoors have a direct impact on your battle strategy even on familiar battlegrounds. Fire Emblem wasn't a known series in the west when this was released – that didn't change until the Game Boy Advance turned it into a fan favourite outside of Japan – so it never got released outside of Japan. But worry not, you can still play it in English via this patch.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (SNES)

Following its stunning success on the NES / Famicom, the Dragon Quest series came to 16-bit hardware with this 1992 classic – but sadly, it remained exclusive to Japan for the longest time (the Nintendo DS remake in 2009 marked its Western debut). A groundbreaking achievement, Dragon Quest V's story takes place over around 30 years of the protagonist's life and introduces the concept of luring enemies to join your party, a mechanic, which then spawned the popular Dragon Quest Monsters series. It's possible to play the Super Famicom version in English thanks to a fan-made translation patch.

Star Ocean (SNES)

It's easy to understand why so many diehard RPG fans have held this game is such high regard for so many years. It's also easy to see why it was one of the first games to be translated into English by the talented group at Dejap. Now that the game's graphics have been decompressed, there's no reason gamers shouldn't patch the game rom and give this one a try. Star Ocean is easily one of the best role-playing games available for the Super Nintendo console, and that's making a pretty strong statement considering how many fantastic RPGs the system has in its vast catalog of games. While the new updated PSP version of the game is a solid enough rendition of the game, there's still nothing quite like this original Super Famicom RPG masterpiece.