Looking for the Best NES RPGs? Well, there are so many great NES games it can be hard to choose which ones you should play. In this post, you’ll learn our choices for The Top 10 Best NES RPGs.
Many people who are into old-school RPGs are familiar with the game Earthbound, but that game was actually a sequel to Mother. In Mother, you play as Ninten and other heroes you gather on your journey to investigate weird psychic and paranormal disturbances related to an alien invasion.
What makes this game one of the best NES RPGs is its quirky story and gameplay. You play as young heroes fighting unconventional monsters like rednecks, hippies, lamps, and more. Plus your weapons are often not typical weapons you’d find in RPGs like baseball bats, frying pans, and psychic abilities.
The game also has an interesting battle perspective similar to the Dragon Quest series where players fight in the first person. Another unique element is getting money in the game. Instead of immediately getting money after battles, you have to call your dad on the phone and he will get you access to your cash. You’ll then need to withdraw it from ATMs.
Instead of taking place in a fantasy setting like many RPGs, this game takes place in more modern times in the 1980s. Being set in modern times and featuring weird enemies related to an alien invasion makes this RPG refreshing and different in the world of RPGs.
You’ll likely need to play this game through emulation though as it was not originally released in the USA. So you’ll have to find an English-translated version to fully experience the game. They did make a combo pack of Mother and Earthbound its sequel on Game Boy Advance, so that could potentially be your best option. Definitely count Mother as one of the best NES RPGs worth playing on the NES.
9. Final Fantasy II
Another one of the best RPGs on NES is Final Fantasy 2. This is another NES RPG that was not originally released in the USA. It wasn’t until many years later that Final Fantasy 1&2 Dawn of Souls was released for the Game Boy Advance that we got a true port. It was also confusing growing up because Final Fantasy 2 in the USA originally was actually Final Fantasy 4 on the Super Nintendo.
Thankfully, similar to Mother, you can find English translations of Final Fantasy II online. The story follows four heroes whose home was destroyed by an evil empire, and you join forces with the resistance to overthrow the evil empire.
This Final Fantasy game strayed away from the previous installment by eliminating job classes from the game. In this RPG you could equip any weapon, learn any spell, and equip any armor. Because of this, you can really create any type of team you choose, whether that is warrior-based, healers, mages, or something in between.
Another addicting RPG element they added to this game was that each weapon and spell has a proficiency level attached to it. This gets so addicting because the more you use a spell or weapon the stronger you get with it. The same goes for your overall stats. The more you take damage the higher your HP will grow, the more you use MP the higher your max MP will become.
You can even attack your own teammates to help them grow HP, stamina, evasion, magic defense, and more. You don’t gain experience like most RPGs so this strategy can be a great way to build your characters quickly. I’d definitely recommend playing Final Fantasy II as it’s one of the best NES RPGs there is.
8. Dragon Warrior IV
Dragon Warrior IV or Dragon Quest IV is the fourth RPG in the series to appear on the NES. The Dragon Warrior series is one of my favorites and this installment introduces a unique story element. Basically, you play different chapters in the game as individual heroes, and eventually, all of these heroes’ stories intertwine to take on the ancient evil ruler Estark.
This Dragon Warrior game introduced a caravan feature where you can swap out your heroes and monsters throughout the story and dungeons. Another unique feature that Dragon Warrior IV included was a computer-controlled battle system where you could select parameters your other heroes followed in battle. Your options could include things like focusing on attacking, saving MP, or healing.
Other elements this game introduced that are seen throughout the future Dragon Quest series are the casino and mini-medal hunting. You can use these parts of the game to get rare items.
This fourth installment also featured many quality-of-life enhancements like being able to open doors easier and walking up and down stairs without going into the menu. The game also includes the classic artwork and soundtrack found throughout the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series.
The game can get a bit grindy at points and can sometimes be a bit confusing on where you need to go, so be prepared to spend some time exploring in this classic RPG.
7. Dragon Warrior III
The third installment in the Dragon Warrior series is one of the best RPGs on NES because of the new job class system introduced in the game. Also, this game continues the story from the first two Dragon Warrior games. Each of the first three Dragon Warrior games takes place in the same universe and Dragon Warrior 3 is a prequel to the first two games.
Unlike Dragon Warrior 2 and 4 you play as the main hero but instead of others joining your party as a part of the story, you create your own heroes and team in towns. You have the choices of a variety of job classes and you can make your characters male or female. Depending on what setup you choose their powers will be slightly different.
You also aren’t locked into your original set of heroes for the entire game. You can return to town at any time and create a new character to fit the specific task you may need to accomplish. If a certain character class can help you clear a boss or dungeon you are able to add them to your party as needed.
Similar to most early Dragon Warrior games sometimes the story can be a bit vague so you may want to play this game with a walkthrough handy so you don’t get lost. Dragon Warrior III also features a lot of quality-of-life improvements compared to previous installments in the series making it one of the best RPGs for NES.
6. River City Ransom
Rivery City Ransom is not a turn-based RPG, but it does feature many RPG elements which are why it makes my list as one of the best NES RPGs. This action RPG follows a couple of high-schoolers trying to save one of their girlfriends from an evil gang trying to rule River City.
This beat-em-up RPG for NES is similar to games like Double Dragon, but the characters get more powerful, improve their stats, and learn new moves. Unlike most RPGs on NES you don’t gain experience points but instead, gain money from killing enemies. Then you can take this money to the local malls and buy food that can heal you but also permanently boost your stats.
This is what makes this RPG so addicting because you can really customize your characters exactly how you want by buying specific foods and items. You’ll also be able to purchase new moves you can learn in dojos.
Another element that was way ahead of its time was the game was more open world than most RPGs on the NES. You don’t need to play the game linearly and can freely explore the world and take on the evil gangs.
There are also a variety of weapons you can find on the ground or steal from enemies like brass knuckles, chain whips, and even trash cans and rocks. These can be used to attack enemies or they can be thrown at enemies to keep your distance. I highly recommend playing this game as it is one of the best NES RPGs.
5. Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy 3 is another one of the best NES RPGs. It takes a lot of the best elements of the first Final Fantasy and expands on them in this game. This game was originally only released in Japan, and we didn’t get a true release of it until the Nintendo DS remake many years later. However, if you are able to find a translated NES version of the game I would highly recommend playing it as it is one of my favorite RPGs for NES.
Final Fantasy III follows the journey of four orphans who are chosen by the crystals to save the world from evil and to restore the balance of the crystals. Throughout your journey, you take on roles as various different job classes like white mages, black mages, monks, knights, and more.
What is great about this NES RPG is that you can change job classes whenever you want. In addition to that, each character has their own level which you can grow with experience, but they also level up each job class they equip.
This allows you to change your team however you see fit depending on what abilities you need for a given boss fight or dungeon. Another aspect I really enjoyed about the game is that you can dual-wield weapons. For example, you could have a red mage equipping two swords making them a strong fighter and magic-user.
The level-up mechanics and job class system in this classic NES RPG are extremely addicting and I highly recommend it as one of the best NES RPGs.
4. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light
Fire Emblem is a long-standing RPG franchise but it originally had its routes starting on the NES. The series has been incredibly popular in Japan for years, but only recently has made its way to the USA with later installments in the series. I remember seeing characters like Marth and Roy in Super Smash Brothers and having no idea what games they were from.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light was the first game in the long-running series, and is one of the best tactical RPGs for the NES. Instead of being just a turn-based RPG, this game introduces a tactical grid players battle on. The story follows Prince Marth and his quest to regain his kingdom after being exiled by an evil sorcerer.
You’ll take on the role of various warrior classes like mages, knights, pegasus knights, healers, and more in tactical grid combat. This RPG features cutscenes where heroes and enemies battle it out to the death.
Similar to other future Fire Emblem games you can visit villages and engage in conversation with other characters on the maps to find hidden items and recruit new characters. This NES RPG is also extremely hard as it features permadeath. Any time one of your heroes dies in the battle they are dead forever and can no longer aid you in your quest.
You’ll need to find an English translation of the game to play it, but it also was briefly released on Nintendo Switch for a limited time so you may be able to find a physical copy for a high price. However you manage to find it, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light is one of the best NES RPGs you should play.
3. Dragon Warrior
Dragon Warrior or Dragon Quest is the first of the long-running series that originally appeared on the NES. This classic RPG is a must-play for RPG fans and Dragon Quest fans.
Since this is the first installment in the long-running Dragon Quest series there are some game mechanics that can be a little tedious, but once you get past them it’s definitely one of the best NES RPGs. Some of the annoying things can be that you need to select stairs and doors from the menu every time you want to use them.
The game itself follows your hero who is a descendent of the legendary hero Erdrick in their quest to defeat the evil dragon lord. You’ll travel across Alefgard to restore various relics from villages to finally reach the evil dragon lord and attempt to defeat him to save the world.
In this NES RPG, you play as a sole hero where you’ll find various weapons and armor to aid you in your quest. The game features one on one battles. It also has more of an open-world concept compared to other RPGs for its time.
While not particularly linear, monsters do get extremely powerful depending where you go. The further you get away from your initial starting point in the game the tougher fights get. This can keep you in line with the natural narrative of the story. Similar to other early Dragon Quest games, Dragon Warrior features cryptic story clues. So you might want a map and walkthrough handy when playing the game for the first time.
The game can also get kind of grindy but you’ll have the classic music to keep you going. If you’re a fan of the Dragon Quest series, this NES RPG is definitely worth playing.
Crystalis was the first action RPG I ever played. It still holds up as one of the best NES RPGs. You take on the role of a hero who has just awoken from years in cryogenic sleep. The world is scraping by after the fallout of a nuclear war. Over the years the world has been transformed and reverted to medieval-like living conditions. You’ll travel across the land battling monsters and saving villages from the evil Draygonian empire.
This action RPG features various swords you can equip that focus on different elements like fire, water, wind, and thunder. What is especially fun with this game is that you can charge up a power meter to release powerful attacks. These attacks shoot out energy blasts associated with the different elemental swords.
When you get the associated orbs and bracelets of the elements these energy blasts can be powered up even further. You’ll unleash blizzards, rain lighting on enemies, send a flurry of tornados, and even blast rings of fire. These powered-up blasts can destroy walls and freeze rivers to unlock new areas of the map.
You’ll also collect various power-up items and spells to aid you on your quest. You won’t have to overly grind in this action RPG as your max level is only 16. They did make a port of this game for the Game Boy color. It plays almost identically, but it had some minor quality-of-life improvements to the game.
If you like action RPGs definitely check out Crystalis as it is one of the best RPGs for NES.
1. Final Fantasy
Not only is Final Fantasy one of the best NES RPGs, but it’s one of my favorite RPGs ever. Not only does this game start one of the best RPG franchises it has extremely high replay value. I’ve beaten this game over a dozen times and it still holds up even today.
This is one of the best RPGs for NES because you can pick from a different starting team every game. You play as four light warriors that go on a quest to restore the four crystals.
As you begin the game you can choose from a variety of different job classes. Your starters include the fighter, thief, black belt, white mage, red mage, and black mage. You can create any combination of these you wish making each playthrough different.
This NES RPG may seem linear, but you can actually take on the last three fiends in any order. The only fiend you are required to beat first is the earth fiend Litch. This allows you to beat the game in many different ways to further enhance the difficulty and replay value.
Another cool aspect of this game is that your characters can go through a class change. This makes your team more powerful and allows them in many cases to learn new abilities. For example, the fighter becomes a knight who learns basic white magic spells. Thieves become ninjas and learn some early black magic spells.
Some of the mechanics of the game can be a little frustrating. Such as having limited spell uses per level, limited inventory, and buying one item at a time. However, even with those limitations, it is still one of the best NES RPGs. Final Fantasy is a must-play for RPG fans.
There are a lot of great RPGs for the NES. For many of us, this was our first experience of the RPG genre. Many RPG games today still use the mechanics these early RPGs created. The NES had some great games and the list of top NES RPGs features a lot of classics. Get your hands on these best NES RPGs and you won’t be disappointed!
Were there any NES RPG games I missed on this list? What are your favorite NES RPGs? Let us know in the comments below!