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7 forgotten 16-bit JRPGs that deserve your attention

These seven forgotten 16-bit JRPGs deserve to be remembered.

JRPGs have evolved so much over the past few decades. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember the humble origins of a genre that feels so bombastic and varied nowadays. Yet back in the 90s, they were still undoubtedly a tour-de-force in the industry. Many JRPGs have become legends in the gaming landscape — while just as many have been forgotten.

Not by the fans who adore them, of course, but by the gaming public. You could argue that the market was oversaturated with RPGs at the time, and thus, if a title didn’t fully land, it was destined to be left behind. However, fans of these titles swear by them among the most noteworthy games in the genre. You can count Sabotage Studio among those ranks, as their retro-inspired RPG Sea of Stars pays homage to JRPGs of yore.

That’s why we’re here today: to highlight the JRPGs that have been forgotten by time. We’re avoiding ubiquitous titles from series like Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Earthbound, and the various Mario RPGs. Other than that, anything goes.

We’ve pulled out seven forgotten JRPGs below, but that barely scratches the surface. With a landscape as rich as the 16-bit JRPG genre, you’ll inevitably have a favorite that the gaming industry has left behind. So let’s celebrate these titles and give them the audience they deserve.

7. Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1990)

Phantasy Star III
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1990)

First up, we have Phantasy Star — one of the two classic RPG series that SEGA Genesis fans will be well-familiar with. Spawning the beloved Phantasy Star Online games, including the majorly successful Phantasy Star Online 2, the Genesis titles still hold up as a fantasy RPG.

Our pick for this list is Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom, a very ambitious title indeed. Phantasy Star III brought its development team together to create a refined experience. With an all-new auto-battle system and simplified combat, it brought a lot of players into a series that was already well-established.

While many would point to Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium as the high mark of the classic series, Generations of Doom shouldn’t be ignored. Telling the story of heroes across three generations, it ties into the previous games in an interesting way while advancing the story forward thousands of years.

6. Shining Force II (1993)

Shining Force II
Shining Force II (1993)

Hardcore role-playing fans might be scratching their head at us including Shining Force II on a list of forgotten JRPGs. It’s certainly fondly remembered by retro gaming enthusiasts, but the fact is, the Shining Force series has almost left modern RPG discussion.

Yet Shining Force II still carries a torch all these years later. Its tactical role-playing combat is still enjoyable today, with your troops able to grow through repeated battles, finding new equipment, and upgrading their class.

RPGs thrive on their grand scale, and Shining Force II exceeds in its world-building. With graphics and music that still hold up, this is certainly an RPG series that needs to live in.

5. The 7th Saga (1993)

The 7th Saga
The 7th Saga (1993)

Mode 7 is likely most well-known for retro RPG fans for its use in Final Fantasy VI. Yet The 7th Saga also used these graphics to wonderful effect. With battles taking place in a psuedo-3D screen, it’s a unique and revolutionary system.

Graphically, The 7th Saga is certainly very ambitious. Its almost but not quite 3D sprites stuck out at the time, and still look pretty nice today. That’s essential, with seven characters to play as on the entire adventure that sends you to the seven corners of the world.

Of course, Western RPG players who grew up with this game likely know The 7th Saga for its brutal difficulty. Yet if you can get past that, it’s a story well-worth exploring.

4. Illusion of Gaia (1993)

Illusion of Gaia
Illusion of Gaia (1993)

Square published its fair share of JRPGs during the SNES era, but Enix was just as prolific on the scene at the time. One of their best from this age is Illusion of Gaia.

Not many fantasy RPGs take place on Earth (or, at least, not on our Earth). This game gives us a tour of an alternate depiction of Earth, visiting and saving various landmarks from the forces of evil. What person wouldn’t want to save the pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China from monsters?

Despite how simple the game is, Illusion of Gaia still has its fans. It’s not the easiest game on the market, but the combat and adventuring has such a smooth difficulty curve that it’s simple to get into. The approachability makes it a title that’s worth checking out if you can get your hands on it.

3. Live A Live (1994)

Live a Live
Live A Live (1994)

While Live A Live has long been forgotten, this JRPG has received its time in the spotlight recently. Thanks to a 2D-HD remake by the Octopath Traveller development team, modern gamers can experience this RPG in a brand new way.

Yet the original is still worth talking about. There’s eight different time periods to explore and playable characters to choose from, each of which has their own unique in-battle and out-of-battle mechanics. The unique grid-based battle system places a higher emphasis on strategy than most RPGs.

On the surface, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a generic Square JRPG. Yet it’s had a small but passionate fanbase ever since it first launched, and many have been clamoring for an English release. The fact that Square published the remake shows their commitment to making sure this game doesn’t remain forgotten.

2. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (1994)

Lufia II
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (1994)

The original Lufia and the Fortress of Doom does have its fans. But many agree in retrospect that it doesn’t quite hold up as well as other JRPGs. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals tightens up a lot of its mechanics and makes for a much better game as a result.

Random encounters were already a common trope by this time, and some players had already gotten sick of them. In Lufia II, you can see every enemy on the field and avoid them if you wish. It’s a surprisingly modern bit of design that helps the game tremendously.

Much like Shining Force II, this is sort of a no-brainer for best RPG lists. Yet the Lufia series has definitely fallen off in recent years, as the latest game was released in 2010. Even then, it was a remake of Lufia II — which goes to show how much this title is adored.

1. Secret of Evermore (1995)

Secret of Evermore
Secret of Evermore (1995)

Finally, we come to the action-RPG Secret of Evermore. It’s a game that predated a lot of modern RPG mechanics and gameplay. Action-RPGs are dime a dozen now, but they were much rarer in the 16-bit era.

It’s the classic story of a boy and his dog. If the boy were transported to another dimension and his dog could shapeshift. You have to explore several different worlds and timeframes, with an air of love for cult films and B-movies present at all times.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a treat. With multiple weapon types to equip and an alchemy-driven magic system, it still stands out in its gameplay.

Sea of Stars honors these forgotten JRPGs

Sea of Stars Combat
Sea of Stars honors the forgotten JRPGs of the past.

While many of the RPGs on this list feel lost to time, they still live on in the hearts of many. Sabotage Studio is currently hard at work on Sea of Stars, a giant homage to the RPGs of the 90s. It will launch for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam on August 29.

free demo for Nintendo Switch owners is available to play right now.

What’s your favorite underlooked JRPG? Have you played any or all of the games we mentioned? Let us know!

Daniel Hein

Daniel Hein is either A) a lifelong video game fanatic, writer, and storyteller just sharing his thoughts on things, or B) some kind of werewolf creature. We're not quite sure which yet. He also makes mediocre video game retrospectives (and other content!) on YouTube where you can watch him babble on for hours about nothing.
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