Roleplaying games have come a long way since their 8- and 16-bit origins. The genre has become more popular in recent console generations, the graphics have improved, and on the whole they’ve starting becoming big-budget productions. Still, every once in a while, it’s nice to remember the roots of the RPG, and fortunately that’s an easy thing to thanks to the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console. Whether you’re new to RPGs or you’re a nostalgic longtime fan of the genre looking to relieve the glory days, here are five (er, make that SIX) can’t miss Virtual Console RPGs.
Breath of Fire II — First released for the Super NES back in 1994, Capcom’s Breath of Fire II has not aged as well as some of the other games. The graphics are solid but not spectacular, the battle system is pretty standard fare for the most part, and the localization is downright abysmal. The game is still an interesting look at a mostly forgotten classic RPG series, however, and is notable for the use of different party member abilities to solve puzzles as well as the main character’s ability to combine with his allies to create different dragon forms.
Phantasy Star II — While the Super NES got most of the attention, the Sega Genesis had more than a few quality RPGs itself, and the Phantasy Star games were its flagship series. Like Breath of Fire II, this is a standard turn-based title, although it eschews a fantasy setting for a sci-fi one. Also like the first game on this list, it hasn’t exactly aged fantastically, with the combat feeling dated and the dungeons maddeningly designed so that it can be difficult for the player to find his or her way through it. Still, Phantasy Star II is the best entry in the series currently available on the V.C. and is worth a look due to its unique setting and its interesting plot twists.
Secret of Mana — One of the lesser known titles from RPG giant Squaresoft (now Square Enix), Secret of Mana is the second in a series of action/RPGs that have more in common with The Legend of Zelda than Final Fantasy. The game features real-time combat, with the hero needing to recharge his power after every attack. It also features multiple weapons including swords and lances, as well as an innovative ring-system for equipment and item usage and even multiplayer support. Secret of Mana won’t be for everyone, but for 800 points ($8.00), it certainly is worth a look.
Shining Force II — In truth, RPG fans should check out both Shining Force I & II if they haven’t already, as these two titles are among the best early tactical roleplaying games ever made. The original Shining Force was a solid game, but the sequel took the formula and refined, making it one of those must-play titles that should be in every RPG fans collection. In many ways, it’s a lot like a Fire Emblem game in terms of combat (battles take place on a huge map instead of a smaller battlefield), only characters who fall in battle can be revived.
Ys Book I & II — Having already penned a full review of this game, I won’t go into too much detail. Simply put, Ys Book I & II is a unique and thrilling action RPG with production values light years ahead of its time, and at a mere 800 points ($8.00) it is a true bargain. It certainly isn’t the longest game on this list — in fact, it may well be the shortest — but given the fact that this is a roleplaying game that most folks missed when it was first released for the Turbo CD in 1989, it absolutely is worth every penny you’ll spend on it.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars — There’s simply no way that this list can be complete without Super Mario RPG, so it is being included as a bonus sixth game. Anyone who is familiar with any of Nintendo’s more recent Mario roleplaying adventures (Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi) owes it to themselves to go back and see where it all began. However, if that’s not enough of a reason to drop your hard-earned Wii points on this title, note that it was developed in association with Squaresoft, meaning it looks and plays a lot more like a traditional, hardcore RPG than its successors.