It’s time to unsheathe your sword and set off to save the world as we check out the Best Genesis RPGs!
The 16-bit era was a golden age for RPGs; the technological improvements made possible in the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit consoles brought so much to the genre, in terms of visuals, audio and even the size of games overall.
Richer narratives and more immersive worlds also played a part in making RPGs one of the most critically successful genres on consoles such as the Genesis/Mega Drive – with gameplay that has, in many cases, aged extremely gracefully.
With countless examples of excellent RPGs on Sega’s 16-bit console, which ones do we at Retro Dodo think are the best? Let’s take a look at what we consider the Best Genesis RPGs!
10. Might & Magic II: Gates to Another World (1991)
Though visually quite dated and limited upon release, Might & Magic II was an impressively immersive title that was an admirable attempt to bring a text-heavy computer RPG title to consoles.
The game’s world is impressively described during play and there’s a huge amount to discover – Impressively, the game even came with an absolutely enormous, 170-page manual!
Though Might & Magic II wasn’t at all like the usual, action-packed or visually resplendent title that you’d expect to see on consoles, it brought a very tabletop-RPG style experience to Sega’s 16-bit console, with an awful lot of the depth and immersion retained – which is a hugely impressive feat, even to this day!
9. King’s Bounty: The Conqueror’s Quest (1991)
Just like Might & Magic II, King’s Bounty isn’t going to win any beauty contests. Yet it’s clear that this strategy-focused RPG title has – again like Might & Magic II – got it where it counts in terms of its depth.
Recruiting troops and engaging in big battles to decide the fate of the world – with the ultimate aim being to recover the King’s Sceptre – the game is hugely compelling, with an excellent narrative and even randomly generated loot and enemies!
Though a ridiculously long password system was a bit of a pain, it at least let you continue from exactly where you left off in a previous session – naturally, a bit of a must in a game as involving and time-consuming as King’s Bounty!
8. Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun (1992)
With fairly extensive character creation – including a variety of races and classes to choose from – as well as overworld and dungeon exploration, Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun is a fantastic adaptation of the original tabletop RPG (which is still going strong – perhaps stronger than ever – today!).
It’s much nicer looking in visual terms than both Might & Magic II and King’s Bounty, with some really neat twists in the gameplay.
Overworld exploration is viewed from a top-down perspective and features turn-based combat – with dungeon crawling switching to a first person viewpoint and real time battles!
All in all, this is a great game for fans of the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop RPG – but also one that fans of Western video game RPGs should definitely check out; it’s an absolute no-brainer for the Best Genesis RPGs list!
7. Beyond Oasis (1995)
Also known as The Story of Thor in Japan and Europe, Beyond Oasis is probably the closest that owners of Sega’s console ever got to a Zelda game within their chosen machine’s library.
Beyond Oasis has a big game world and gorgeous, colourful pixel art visuals. A lot more combat-heavy than many games on this list, it’s also a game that is a lot more newbie-friendly than other titles we’ve featured, with objectives always helpfully pointed out on the map and puzzles not taking too long to figure out.
It’s a game that flew under the radar for many players too, coming late in the lifespan of Sega’s console and taking a long time to be featured in Sega compilations.
If Beyond Oasis (or The Story of Thor!) passed you by, it’s a game I’d urge you to check out as soon as possible – especially as it features in our Best Sega Genesis games list too!
6. Shadowrun (1994)
Here at Retro Dodo, we’re big fans of Shadowrun on the SNES, which we featured in our Underrated SNES Games list and Best SNES RPGs list. Like the SNES game, Shadowrun on the Genesis is an RPG set in the dystopian Seattle of the future; a cyberpunk-esque setting featuring fantasy characters (yes, orks, elves, dwarves and even magic all feature in this universe!) in which players can be cybernetically enhanced and jack into the ‘Matrix’ – but there, the similarities end.
Whereas the SNES game told a satisfying but fixed narrative from an isometric perspective, Genesis Shadowrun is a much more open affair, with a top-down viewpoint.
It’s a remarkably open game for its time, allowing players to reach certain goals and achieve their objectives in pretty much any way they see fit.
Jacking into the Matrix – the Shadowrun version of a VR-style internet, which was a common cyberpunk trope, though often in the genre’s stories it was generally referred to as ‘cyberspace’ – is a much more involved affair in this title than the SNES version’s Minesweeper-style minigame too.
An excellent, often overlooked title which didn’t even see release in Europe, Shadowrun is a superb adaptation of the tabletop RPG of the same name – and one that more than earns its place on the Best Genesis RPGs list!
5. Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (1991)
Just like Shadowrun, Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday is proof that RPGs don’t have to just be set in medieval-style fantasy settings.
Though for people of a certain generation, the mention of Buck Rogers conjures up images of Gil Gerard in the hugely popular 1979 TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the character’s genesis (pun intended!) actually goes way back to a newspaper comic strip that first appeared in 1929!
This Genesis title applies the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset to the sci-fi setting – and has a far more straight-faced, serious tone than the camp 70s show that most people would have associated Buck Rogers with.
There’s a real open-ended feel to the exploration of the universe and there’s plenty of side-quests to occupy yourself with outside of the main story missions.
With plenty of turn-based battles – the sci-fi setting allowing for fighting on planet surfaces as well as ship-to-ship combat in space – Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday is a superb, strategy-focused title that RPG fans should definitely check out. Be warned though – the learning curve is pretty steep, so it’s definitely a game that rewards patience!
4. Sword of Vermilion (1991)
Produced by Sega’s legendary Yu Suzuki – the director/designer of such iconic classics as Space Harrier, After Burner, Out Run and later the Shenmue series, among many other highly-regarded titles – Sword of Vermilion was one of the very first RPGs to arrive on Sega’s 16-bit machine.
With an engaging story and an innovative approach to the gameplay – featuring top-down, side-on and even first-person viewpoints, along with real-time combat – Sword of Vermilion is an excellent RPG even now, despite some of the visuals not aging particularly gracefully.
The original release came with a 106-page hint book – something which plenty of RPGs during the same era could have done with including!
3. Shining Force II (1993)
Another game in the list that features excellent tactical combat, Shining Force II is an impressively big game, with lots of towns to explore and characters to recruit to assist in the hero’s quest to save the world – along with plenty of side quests along the way too.
Shining Force II’s open structure makes it far less linear than the first game in the series – and refinements to aspects such as the menu system make it a lot easier and more satisfying to play too. The tactical combat – while not especially deep – is involving and well-implemented.
Nicely colourful visuals and an excellent soundtrack make Shining Force II an excellent title to play through even now, almost thirty years since it was first released – making it an obvious choice for one of the top three games in the Best Genesis RPGs list. It even appears on our best Sega Mega Drive games list too!
2. Starflight (1991)
Another sci-fi based entry, Starflight features an entire universe on its cartridge – and players are free to explore every solar system they can reach in the game. Every solar system has planets which feature different terrain, weather conditions and even varying levels of gravity that affect how your ship handles; you’ll likely spend the majority of your first few hours with this jaw-dropping open-world – no, open universe – RPG just marvelling at how much there is to see and do.
There is a plot, but it’s very easy to miss and get lost simply exploring the vast, dangerous and uncaring expanse beyond the space station that you start in.
There’s so little hand-holding that it can be truly baffling to know where to go or even how best to crew your ship, but a little patience pays off hugely.
The steep learning curve that you’ll encounter going into Starflight soon gives way to sheer wonder as you learn how to safely land on planets, mine the surfaces for precious resources and even encounter alien races, which you’ll try to communicate with (and hope not to annoy them, because they can be very trigger happy!).
It’s very easy to trace an evolutionary direct line from Starflight to Bioware’s Mass Effect series, especially with the very first title – which sees you engage in plenty of Starflight-esque planet scanning and mining.
Somehow though, Starflight – which isn’t restrained, like Mass Effect is, by a prominent narrative – feels even larger in scope and much more open. It feels nothing short of wizardry that Starflight arrived – and on the seemingly limited cartridge format – more than thirty years ago.
1. Phantasy Star IV (1995)
In the 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for text-heavy Japanese games to take years to be translated – or for them to never reach certain territories at all.
In the case of Phantasy Star IV, which was released in Japan in 1993, it was a long two year wait for Western audiences to get their hands on the fourth and final title in the original Phantasy Star series.
It was, however, definitely worth the wait.
Even now, almost three decades later, Phantasy Star IV is regarded as one of the finest video games of all time; it’s an absolute no-brainer for us to feature it at the very top of our Best Genesis RPGs list.
With lots of new features – including an impressively fully-featured, turn-based combat system and even manga-style comic book panels to accompany narrative scenes – and an absolutely superb soundtrack, Phantasy Star IV is an RPG that’s absolutely unmissable for fans of the genre.
Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.