Remembering the NES’s Forgotten RPGs

Unless they were cool enough for their local Dungeons & Dragons club, there’s a good chance that many gamers over thirty got their first taste of the role-playing genre on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), especially given that the platform had Ultima, Zelda, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy on the roster.

With the NES back on the market, a whole new generation of gamers has the opportunity to experience the beginnings of Mario’s eternal struggle to woo a woman miles out of his league. In fact, the brand new Classic Edition, which includes two Zelda games and Final Fantasy, sold out in twenty minutes in January, despite a November 2016 release date.

Retro Game Inspiration
The kind of gameplay that was popular on the NES never really went out of fashion, with contemporary games like VVVVVV, Fez, and Hotline Miami testament to the enduring popularity of simple mechanics. To that end, retro games are currently serving as inspiration for casino developers making an effort to get a younger crowd interested in slot games.

For example, arcade style mini-games are central to the premise of mFortune’s new slot machine, Hansel & Gretel, an adventure that takes the player through a classic tale of innocence, child abandonment and cannibalism (which, we have to admit, is what the fairytale of the same name is all about!). Fans of RPG games can also join a horde of Nords on the high seas in mFortune’s Viking Storm, a 5-reel, 15-line slot machine.

Let’s take a look at a few classic RPGs that never made it onto the Classic Edition, almost 31 years after the NES’s European launch. Although already influential, titles that are part of the Classic Edition are bound to get a boost to their nostalgia impact, considering gamers are going to spend some hands-on time with them in 2017. In addition to slots games, they’re going to continue influencing contemporary games as well as merchandise for sure. Chances are the classic RPGs on the list below will not be getting that treatment though. Let’s make sure these titles are not forgotten.

Faxanadu (1987)
All anybody needed to know about Faxanadu was written on the box – “daggers and wingboots, mantras and monsters await you”. It’s not really a standalone title – it’s actually a side story for long running series Dragon Slayer – but Hudson Soft’s masterpiece disappeared almost as soon as it came out. Consequently, it’s not included in the Classic Edition.

Faxanadu tasks the player with guiding the anonymous protagonist around the World Tree to stop The Evil One. Its presentation has more in common with Contra-style platformers but an emphasis on storytelling is a hallmark of the RPG genre; better still, the inclusion of dwarves, elves, and statistics for character progression puts it squarely in the same bracket as Skyrim.

Willow (1989)
Willow almost deserves a mention solely because it’s a movie tie-in that isn’t an insult to the original license. However, the game arguably started out as an original IP (given how liberal it is with the source material) before it was rebranded to support the film, a George Lucas fantasy romp starring a young Warwick Davis in the lead role, along with Val Kilmer.


In terms of gameplay, Willow falls somewhere between Zelda and fellow NES RPG Crystalis – it’s a classic, top-down adventure that requires the player to use magic and swordsmanship to overcome its many monsters. It also introduced a number of RPG staples to the console RPG genre, such as item weight and skill progression.

Destiny of an Emperor (1989)
An RPG game loosely based on Hiroshi Motomiy’s manga series, Tenchi wo Kurau, Destiny of an Emperor was a game ahead of its time, featuring 150 different player characters, random enemy formations, and AI control of allies. Conceptually, it’s a cross between Final Fantasy and Total War, a 2D RPG in which the player leads five generals (and their armies) against opposing forces.


Destiny of an Emperor was significant for its length, which clocked in at about 10 hours (The Legend of Zelda could be completed in less than four). However, much of that time was spent in lengthy battles. The title did get a Japan-only sequel in 1991, the wonderfully titled The Devouring of Heaven and Earth II: The Story of Kong Ming, but the franchise hasn’t been seen since.

So, there you have it – three excuses to boot up the original NES this January rather than its reboot. After all, with the snow settling in, there’s not much of a reason to go outside. What are your favourite NES RPGs? Have they made it to the NES Classic?

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