During the 16-bit era of the console wars, the Sega Genesis had a pretty daunting task: compete with the uber-popular Super Nintendo (which had a hype train behind it like you wouldn’t believe).
However, I think the Genesis definitely held its own at the time, especially in terms of its catalog of RPGs. In fact, many successful RPG games you play today — Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, etc. — evolved from the titles that were released on the Genesis back in the late 80s and early 90s.
While many will argue SNES was on top of the console wars back then, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks RPGs weren’t simply better on the Genesis when it comes to gameplay and unique/innovative storylines.
In my opinion, these games are what made the Genesis a formidable foe to the SNES, and what keeps me playing the console to this day. With this in mind, let’s explore 11 of the best Sega Genesis RPGs ever made:
Top 11 Sega Genesis RPGs of All Time
I won’t try to fool you into thinking Sword of Vermillion is the best RPG of all time, but for the Genesis, it was the perfect fit due to the fact that it showed players what the console’s games were truly capable of.
While you probably won’t be amazed by the unrefined 16-bit graphics or the uninteresting game cover, this RPG is still quite unique. Case in point, it features action-based battle sequences, which is something you won’t find with other RPGs on the Genesis.
Instead of being turn-based, the game forced you to run to your enemies and attack them with your sword or cast spells to avoid being killed by various monsters.
At the time of its release, Shining Force II was truly a pioneer of the RPG genre that blew away many others (in terms of RPGs that featured tactical combat) from both the Genesis and Super Nintendo.
The game’s combat system was nearly flawless; it was complex to give players enough of a challenge, but not overly-complex to the point that beginners couldn’t grasp it.
Add in a compelling story and memorable soundtrack — along with the game’s class system, which allowed your character to become more powerful as you completed each level — and you have one of the most iconic Sega Genesis RPGs ever made.
3. Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World
I remember being impressed with Might and Magic II when I first played it back in 1988 due to it being the first RPG to allow players to make purposeful choices when it came to character selection, in-game actions, and strategy.
Beyond providing you with a vast (and interesting) world to venture into, Might and Magic II taught us all about the importance of stat distribution, party balance, and more.
If you want to time warp back to the late 80’s, when RPGs were still fresh and innovative, I recommend adding this one to your collection of Genesis games (if you haven’t already).
4. Beyond Oasis
With the right balance of RPG, combat, and adventure, Beyond Oasis is one of the best entries on this list. The game puts you in the shoes of a man who stumbles across an ancient magical armlet that can summon spirits.
These powerful beings can help you fight enemies on your quest to thwart a sorcerer (who also has an armlet) from carrying out his evil plan.
In terms of game mechanics, Beyond Oasis is quite similar to other titles like The Legend of Zelda. Just like Zelda, this game has you casting spells, solving puzzles, and navigating a myriad of game map settings.
It goes without saying, but Phantasy Star IV: The End of The Millenium (and games like it) really left a mark on the RPG genre; one that can be seen in RPGs of today.
In terms of its impact on the Genesis, it was one of the few games to really utilize the full power of the console. It had a unique soundtrack, coupled with incredible graphics at the time that made enemies look intimidating.
As with any RPG, the story is really what takes the cake, and Phantasy Star IV does not disappoint; it has everything you can ask for: surprise, heartbreak, and many call backs to the series’ earlier entries.
I almost didn’t include Shadowrun due to the lackluster graphics, but if you ignore that factor and just focus on the game’s setting, storyline, and gameplay you’ll understand why it’s one of my favorites.
I must say, however, that Shadow Run’s Karma system and real-time combat do take some time to get used to. Regardless, the game had an iconic setting that was similar to popular movies like the Matrix; but in a world of magic and elves.
You can’t talk about Light Crusader without mentioning the game’s isometric graphics; which added the perfect amount of depth to the game’s setting and integrated perfectly with Light Crusader’s many in-game puzzles.
The game nails combat as well, allowing you to attack enemies in multiple directions using a weapon or magic. The graphics can get confusing, though, especially when you’re jumping around. Be that as it may, Light Crusader is still one of my favorite Genesis RPGs.
Like Light Crusader, Landstalker shares the same isometric graphics and similar gameplay too. However, Landstalker is considered more of a fantasy RPG, and also has a richer story.
You’ll play as a character named Nigel, who is on a quest for lost treasure. This quest takes you to multiple villages, where you’ll be able to interact with NPCs (or non-playable characters), upgrade your character at each villages’ shops, and fight enemies as you move throughout the game’s map.
Speaking of fighting, Landstalker features some of the best combat of any Genesis RPG; with a health bar to help you know the status of your character, which can come in handy when fighting off the game’s challenging bosses.
Add in the game’s many side quests to help you upgrade your character’s abilities and you can see why Landstalker is so beloved by Genesis fans.
I wasn’t the biggest King’s Bounty fan when it first came out, but I’ve grown to love the game since.
While, at first, it sort of blended in with the crowd, after playing it a few more times I realized it’s pretty unique and fun. Not only can you roam around the entire world, but the game’s combat is superb.
As a knight who is on a quest to collect a scepter, you’ll be tasked with rallying an army to gather pieces of a map. Like a lot of other RPGs, King’s Bounty’s combat system is turn-based and is carried out on a grid.
You’ll need to move your groups of soldiers throughout the map in order to fight off your enemies and advance.
I must confess, I’m pretty biased when it comes to the next game on the list as I’ve always been a huge D&D nerd.
Naturally, when Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of The Eternal Sun was released in 1992 I loved it instantly, as it brought my favorite tabletop RPG to a video game console.
In reality, though, the game isn’t the best the Genesis has to offer, but the party development, soundtrack and dungeon traveling mode are features any RPG fan will enjoy.
Last but not least is another Phantasy Star entry. I will say that Phantasy Star III does have some flaws. For one, the speed at which your character walks can be annoying. You’ll also encounter a lot of NPCs along the way, which can also get tedious.
However, the game’s story, concept, and callbacks to other entries in the Phantasy Star saga make this one a hit for me. It also has a darker tone than any of its predecessors, which is saying something.
Phantasy Star III might get a lot of flack from other gamers, but if you haven’t picked it up yet, I suggest you do and form your own opinion.
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