Best Retro RPGs

I’ve played many role-playing games (RPGs) over the years. My favorite sub-genre is Tactical RPGs. I’m not sure why this genre pulled me in, but I can thank games like Final Fantasy and Dark Sun for getting me into RPGs.

Then Final Fantasy VII was released, and it seemed like RPGs became very popular! In the late 90s, it felt like an amazing game was released every month. Even if I didn’t like the game, it was still a great game. It was a little like arguing over what flavor of ice cream was the best.

I was also able to start collecting video games and playing all the games that I had missed out on. There were a ton of them! As the years went on, I collected a bunch of other RPGs that I didn’t know existed because I wasn’t on the internet that much.

Since I started making YouTube videos, RPGs have been some of my favorite games. Playing and finishing some of the RPGs I missed out on has been a lot of fun! I did a video on my favorite RPGs I’ve played so far, and I figured I should write about my favorite RPGs overall.

Bottom Line up Front: These are my 15 favorite RPGs overall!

Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together

This is the best Tactical RPG that I have ever played! The story is excellent, the artwork is great, and it sticks with the same tone as the first Ogre Battle. The game also has some characters from the first game.

Tactics Ogre’s story is similar to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting Balkan Wars. The themes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and friendship destruction by war are all a part of the story. It is a dark game when you analyze the story.

The game isn’t easy at all. It can be very hard if you don’t try to level up your characters. If you don’t use the training mode, you will probably have to recruit many soldiers.

Like Ogre Battle, you can recruit monsters and human soldiers, and those soldiers can change their class as you level them up. You’ll see many similarities between this game and Final Fantasy Tactics.

This was a game that I took a chance on when I was collecting games in the late 90s. It was more than worth it. After this game, the other Ogre Battle/Tactics Ogre games weren’t as good.

Final Fantasy Tactics

This is arguably y favorite Final Fantasy game. It is different from the main series and is better than the other spin-offs. While I like Tactics Ogre more, this is an excellent tactical RPG. It also stands out from the others because of its quality.

Phantasy Star IV

This is the game that got me into the Phantasy Star series. The fourth game is my favorite of the series and is up there with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. It is that good of a game.

This was a game that my friend rented. I have no idea why he picked it or why he chose the fourth game in a series. I know how we spent a weekend playing this game and that we rented it several times after.

When I started collecting games in the late 90s, this was one that I looked for. I also spent too much time convincing my friend that it was good. He was kind of an RPG snob. He also introduced me to many other games, and his opinion mattered to me then.

When I went back and played it recently, I had the same feelings I had when I first played it. The cutscenes are great, the story is excellent, and the way it wraps up the series is terrific.

Phantasy Star

This was a game that I hadn’t beaten until I started making YouTube videos. I didn’t know what the Master System was until I started collecting video games, and I hadn’t come across one until the 2010s. I remember wanting to find the game back in the 90s, but none of the two retro game stores had it.

 I first played Phantasy Star on the Game Boy Advance. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do and had other games I wanted to try. When I got back into collecting, I found a copy for the Master System.

It’s a beautiful game that is better than the 8-bit Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. If Phantasy Star had been on the NES, it would have been a classic.

The graphics are spectacular, the story is excellent, the characters are fantastic, and it is a much better game than the NES RPGs.

Secret of Mana

This was a game that I discovered while I was playing around with SNES emulators and hunting for ROMS online. It’s also how I found a few other games on this list, but Secret of Mana is a bit more special.

When I found this game, I was sick and looking for something to do. It didn’t happen often; when it did, I would mess around with video games or with stuff on the computer. It was always fun when I would find a game like this.

I got so comfortable playing this game on a keyboard that I had trouble playing it on a controller. It was kind of strange.

Jade Cocoon

Jade Cocoon is a bit of a Pokemon clone. The two have some significant differences, but it feels like it when you play it.

It also feels like it could be in the Princess Mononoke universe. The anime cutscenes feel like they could be part of the movie!

So, what do you do in this reasonably short RPG? Well, you collect monsters and combine them to make stronger monsters. You have one-on-one battles with enemies where both you and your monsters fight. In the end, you restore balance to the world.

This is short for a PS1 RPG. However, it is an excellent game when you get into it.  

Pokemon Yellow

This was the first Pokemon game that I owned. I had borrowed Blue when my friend beat it, and I was looking forward to getting Yellow when it was released. It seemed like everyone who had a Game Boy played these games.

It’s a straightforward RPG that is good for starters. It has a simple rock-paper-scissors battle mechanic. Each Pokemon has a weakness and a strength. It is also fun to play around with what teams you want to try out, or you can pick your favorites.

Yellow is different because of Pikachu. The little electric mouse is your starter, and he will follow you around on the world map. You can also get the other three starters from Red, Blue, and Green.

Final Fantasy Legend II

I know that this is part of the SaGa series. I know it as Final Fantasy Legend II, and I remember borrowing it from a friend and trying to beat the game. I don’t remember if I beat it, but I know that I enjoyed the game.

In this game, you have to collect pieces of a statue. There are many of them, and it can be a pain in the ass to collect them all as you travel through this game.

The biggest thing I remember from this game is the thing I don’t like. Your weapons and spells are all limited-use items. Swords, Axes, Guns, and Bows can only be used 10-50 times before the break and are gone. I hate this mechanic!

What I do like is all of the characters that you can pick from. You have robots, mutants, humans, and monsters. The monsters can change forms if they eat meat which appears after some battles. It’s fun to see what monsters you can change into.

Final Fantasy Legend II is a long game by Game Boy standards. There aren’t too many RPGs that I know of on the Game Boy, and this is one that I would recommend to people who haven’t tried it yet.

Destiny of an Emperor

This was another game that I found while looking for ROMs when I was sick. This game, along with Dynasty Warriors, helped to get me interested in history. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms games helped as well.

Destiny of an Emperor follows Lui Bei during the Romance of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. In the game, you play as Guan Yu and Zhang Fei for most of the game. You also recruit other generals along the way.

Your hit points are the soldiers in your army; you have to buy rations to keep your army alive, spells come in the form of tactics, and you can recruit enemy generals to your side. This is a fantastic game and is a hidden gem on the NES for RPG fans.

Final Fantasy VI

Yes, I know it was released as Final Fantasy III. I think that has been well documented at this point. It is a fantastic game. This was one of the games that my best friend rented, and we played it one weekend.

This is one of those games where we would rent a game, get as far as we could, and hope that no one deleted our save when the game was returned. Those were interesting times, not necessarily better times, but interesting ones. I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.

The music in this game is amazing, the graphics are excellent, and the story is amazing! It’s not often that the bad guy succeeds in destroying the world, but that is what happens in Final Fantasy VI.

Final Fantasy VII

There isn’t much I can say about this game that hasn’t already been said. It helped to make JRPGs popular and helped to bring a bunch of RPGs to North America. Square Enix released a ton of great RPGs in the mid to late 90s, and we might not have gotten all of them if Final Fantasy VII was less successful.

I remember playing this game with my friends and replaying it repeatedly. I remember trying to get all the materia, the Golden Chocobo, and the Knights of the Round. I also tried to master Knights of the Round.

Dragon Quest IV

I haven’t played all of the mainline Dragon Quest games. However, of the five that I’ve played so far, this is my favorite. It is the one that seems to take everything I liked from the other three NES games and fixed some of the things I didn’t like.

The story is more cinematic than the other games. You don’t have a set party through each act in the game. This feels unique and helps Dragon Quest IV stand out from the other Dragon Quest games I’ve played.

I got into this series much later than other series. I remember messing around with the games on an emulator and I collected the NES games in the late 90s. It wasn’t until recently that I tried to beat each of them.

Fire Emblem

The one I’m talking about here is the Game Boy Advance version. It will always have a special place in my collection. I bought this game while I was in the Navy and played it while stationed on the USS Parche.

I would stand in line and play it while waiting for the cooks to serve food. It reminded me of Shining Force, but at the time, I didn’t know that Fire Emblem came out first. I had played Shining Force first, so I used it as a comparison.

This is a big game for a handheld! I was surprised by how long it lasted because I wasn’t used to this type of thing from a handheld. It is an excellent game that looks great! The plot does seem like it is finding reasons for the game to keep going, but it is an outstanding story.

Shining Force

I have two memories of this game. The first is playing it on a Sega Nomad late into the night. I didn’t have the Nomad for very long because I sold most of my collection when I joined the Navy, and my Nomad was a part of what I sold.

The second memory was repurchasing the game when I went to college. It was the first time I had ever been in a Play-n-Trade, and I saw it there. They had cheap games, and I bought Shining Force for about fifteen dollars. I also picked up Metal Storm for five dollars.

Shining Force is a lot of fun! I like this style of RPG quite a bit. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive lacks RPGs, to begin with, so this game helped to fill the void.

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen

This is my favorite game on the SNES. That sounds a little strange, but I have so many memories of playing this game that it has passed all others on this list.

Ogre Battle is one of the first games I was introduced to through the internet. A friend of mine had downloaded an emulator and the games ROM. He showed it to me, and we spent a weekend playing it. I don’t think we ever beat it. If we did, I can’t remember.

I did end up beating the game when I was in college. It took me a while because I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was trying to figure out how I was supposed to play the game.

This was the game that started my love of Atlus. They made many unique games on the SNES, PS1, and PS2. While I don’t like all of them, I still have fun playing them.

This is a strategy RPG. It has a lot going on. You are trying to defeat an evil empire, which might not be evil depending on your actions during the game. There are also many units that you can recruit during the game, giving you a considerable amount of control over the makeup of your army.


There are tons of games that didn’t make it onto this list. I thought about including games like Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Xeno Saga, Digital Devil Story, and Valkyria Chronicles. I left them off for a few different reasons.

I wanted this list to be more personal and to reflect the games that I remember playing with my friends. The games here were ones that I remember sharing with other people. Each one on this list is a lot of fun.

Just because something didn’t make the list doesn’t mean that I think less of it; it only means that I have more memories of the other games on the list.

Thank you for reading this far! Let me know what games would be on your list?

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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