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The Best RPGs for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Four warriors standing on a mountaintop looking at a distant castle

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a classic console that revitalized the video game industry and has withstood the test of time. While it’s best known for platformers like Super Mario Bros. and action games like Metroid, the NES also holds some hidden RPG gems that are must-plays for any fan of the genre.

With intriguing storylines, atmospheric gameplay, and memorable characters, these titles prove that even on a system with limited hardware capabilities, RPGs could shine. Whether you’re into horror, puzzles, or cooperative dungeon crawling, the NES has something for every RPG enthusiast.

Also be sure to check out our all-genre ranking of The Best NES Games of All Time!

10. Swords and Serpents

NES cover art for Swords and Serpents

Game Info – Swords and Serpents

U.S. Release: NES (1990)
Developer: Interplay
Game Type: RPG, Dungeon Crawler
Multiplayer: Yes

Swords and Serpents is a classic dungeon-crawling RPG with a strong emphasis on cooperative multiplayer.

The objective of the game is to descend into a massive, monster-infested labyrinth to rescue a king. The gameplay involves turn-based combat, character management, and exploration. Swords and Serpents allowed up to 4 players (using the NES Satellite) to control party members during battle sequences, with one player acting as party leader.

Gamers loved this game for its cooperative play, challenging dungeon layouts, and the camaraderie it fostered among friends as they ventured deeper into the labyrinth.

9. Ultima: Quest of the Avatar

NES cover art of Ultima: Quest of the Avatar

Game Info – Ultima: Quest of the Avatar

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Infinity
Game Type: RPG
Multiplayer: No

Ultima: Quest of the Avatar is console port of one of the most influential computer RPGs ever created, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.

The NES version provides a very different experience than the original game, developed by Origin Systems. Back then, console ports had to cut a lot of corners to bring computer games over, and as a result, Ultima: Quest of the Avatar was recreated almost from scratch as a JRPG style game.

Players took on the role of the Stranger, an Earthling who became a hero in the distant land of Sosaria during the first three games. The goal of Ultima is to achieve Avatarhood by mastering the 8 virtues and becoming a hero to the people who inhabit the open world in which you play.

8. Legacy of the Wizard

NES cover of Legacy of the Wizard

Game Info – Legacy of the Wizard

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Rare
Game Type: ARPG
Multiplayer: No

Legacy of the Wizard offers a unique blend of action-adventure and RPG. 

You control a family of adventurers on a quest to retrieve the Dragon Slayer, the only weapon that can defeat an ancient dragon. You will be involved in real-time action, platforming, and character-switching, each with its unique abilities. 

Gamers admire the game’s intricate level design and character variety. People respect the way it seamlessly combines action and RPG elements.

7. Shadowgate

NES cover art for Shadowgate

Game Info – Shadowgate

U.S. Release: NES (1988)
Developer: Kemco-Seika
Game Type: Adventure
Multiplayer: No

Shadowgate is a first-person point-and-click adventure game with RPG elements.

You play as the last of a line of heroes, tasked with stopping the evil Warlock Lord. The play is all about exploration, puzzle-solving, and inventory management.

What players like about this game is its atmospheric storytelling. Equally loved are the challenging and often unforgiving puzzles. Last but not least, is the immersive experience of diving deep into the mysterious Castle Shadowgate.

6. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

NES cover art for Wizardy: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Game Info – Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Nexoft
Game Type: RPG
Multiplayer: No

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is a classic dungeon crawler game based on a 1981 Sir-Tech computer game of the same name. Its old-school mentality set it apart from the standard JRPG or action RPG fare for the NES.

The game takes heavy inspiration from pen and paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. As a result, the game does not hold players’ hands and can be very difficult. The NES version of the game featured different dungeon layouts than other ports.

You control a party of six adventurers tasked with descending a 10-level dungeon to defeat the evil Werdna, a wizard and the titular Mad Overlord. Wizardry became a legendary franchise… and it’s easy to see why.

5. Crystalis

NES cover for Crystalis

Game Info – Crystalis

U.S. Release: NES (1990)
Developer: SNK
Game Type: ARPG
Multiplayer: No

Crystalis is a hidden gem on the NES, offering a blend of action and RPG elements. You play as a hero who awakens from cryogenic sleep in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Your goal is to stop an evil sorcerer from unleashing a destructive force. The play involves real-time combat and puzzles, and it allows you to combine elemental swords for different effects. 

What makes this game stand out is its dynamic combat and intricate world. It is equally memorable for the way it combines traditional RPG storytelling with fast-paced action.

4. Mother (EarthBound Beginnings)

NES cover for EarthBound Beginnings

Game Info – EarthBound Beginnings (Mother)

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Ape
Game Type: RPG
Multiplayer: No

Mother, known in the West as EarthBound Beginnings, is a quirky RPG that serves as the precursor to the beloved EarthBound series. 

You play as Ninten (ha ha), a young boy with psychic abilities on a quest to save the world from an alien invasion. The gameplay is comprised of turn-based combat, humorous dialogue, and a unique setting that blends the mundane with the bizarre. 

Gamers appreciate the game’s offbeat humor and emotional depth. It scores bonus points for charming and relatable characters. The game was a flop when released in North America, but has since gained a cult following and has been recognized on many other Top 10 lists.

3. Final Fantasy

NES cover for Final Fantasy

Game Info – Final Fantasy

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Square
Game Type: RPG
Multiplayer: No

The original Final Fantasy on the NES is where the epic franchise began. 

You create a party of four heroes and journey to restore light to the four elemental crystals. In this game, you’ll participate in turn-based battles and exploration of a vast world. You can also customize the characters.

What players love about this game is the rich storytelling and memorable music. Equally noteworthy is the innovative class system that allows for diverse party configurations.

Read More: The Best SNES Games Of All Time

2. Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest)

NES cover for Dragon Warrior

Game Info – Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest)

U.S. Release: NES (1986)
Developer: Chunsoft
Game Type: RPG
Multiplayer: No

Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest as it’s known in Japan) is a quintessential example of the traditional turn-based RPG. 

You play as the descendant of the legendary hero, embarking on a quest to defeat the evil Dragonlord and rescue Princess Gwaelin. The play involves turn-based combat, character leveling, and a vast, open world to explore. 

What makes this game a hit is its straightforward yet engaging gameplay and charming characters. It will never be forgotten for the foundation it laid for the massive Dragon Quest series.

1. The Legend of Zelda

Cover art of The Legend of Zelda for NES

Game Info – The Legend of Zelda

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: ARPG
Multiplayer: No

Before it was a massive franchise, The Legend of Zelda began on the NES. In this action RPG, you take on the role of Link, the hero of Hyrule. 

Your objective is to rescue Princess Zelda and thwart the evil plans of Ganon. The gameplay entails exploring a vast, interconnected world, solving puzzles, and battling monsters. 

What gamers adore about this game is its non-linear gameplay, which encourages exploration and experimentation. This game will always be remembered for starting a legendary series.

Read More: The Best Nintendo DS Games of All Time

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