Although the NES wasn’t the first console, it definitely was one of the most influential. Aside from its innovative hardware, the first Nintendo home console was home to game titles that defined entire genres, including RPGs. From classic turn-based RPGs to action-oriented adventures, the role-playing catalog of the NES is worth exploring for any budding retro gamer.

10: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

Before Persona fused social simulation with RPGs, there was Ultima IV on the NES. Taking the role of the Avatar, in this NES RPG, you embark on a journey to reach enlightenment and save people from corruption.

You achieve this by fighting demons and developing your virtue by chatting and assisting people you meet along the way.

9. Swords and Serpents

A high fantasy NES RPG, Swords and Serpents is one for the fans of first-person dungeon crawlers. It may not look good and its tale of a party of adventurers is a bit dry, but gameplay-wise it’s one of the best turn-based games the classic console has to offer.

This title will particularly appeal to stat junkies who enjoy some good old-fashioned min-maxing.

8. Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei

If the title sounds familiar, it’s because Digital Devil Story is one of the first games in the MegaTen series. In this first-person dungeon crawler, you’ll journey through a labyrinth, fighting and persuading demons to assist you.

Though it’s a Japan-only NES RPG, you can easily find a fan translation.

7. The Bard’s Tale

A classic RPG that’s full of 80’s nostalgia, The Bard’s Tale blends old school text-based gameplay with dungeon crawling. After choosing between six mighty classes, including the titular bard, you’ll put together a team of adventurers and quest through perilous dungeons in search of Mangar.

With over 85 spells to choose from, you’ll be challenged at every turn so choose your attacks wisely.

6. Mother/Earthbound Beginnings

Earthbound is one of those well-known cult classics. Its predecessor Mother, however, didn’t see a Western release until 2015 as a Wii U digital-only title.

While this NES RPG doesn’t have the polish of its SNES follow-up, Earthbound Beginnings has all the familiar PSI abilities and the philosophical stories you know and love. It’s every bit as weird and captivating as you’d expect from the series and a definite gem retro gamers shouldn’t miss.

Mother/Earthbound box art
Mother/Earthbound box art. Image source

5. Crystalis

Ever wondered what Fallout would be like on the NES? Crystalis will answer that question for you. Taking place after a nuclear war wipes out society, this action RPG has all the makings of a true classic NES title, including a captivating story and gameplay that was ahead of its time. Despite its age, the game has a superb art style and a big world to explore.

4. StarTropics

Unjustly compared to Zelda, StarTropics is an NES RPG that stands on its own merit. This top-down action-based game puts you in the shoes of Mike Jones, a baseball player in search of his kidnapped grandfather. In true sports fashion, you’ll fight zombies, automatons, and other weird enemies with your trusty bat and baseballs.

3. The Legend of Zelda

The very first title that kicked off an entire legacy of adventures is also one of the top RPGs on the NES. While it doesn’t have staple mechanics such as leveling up, The Legend of Zelda has everything else that makes a solid RPG, including a good story, mystical lands, and great evil in need of a good vanquishing.

2. Dragon Warrior III

One of the most epic turn-based JRPGs on the NES, Dragon Warrior III is an unmissable title. Large in scope, the game takes place across two entire worlds filled with plenty of locales to visit and secrets to uncover. On top of that, the story is thrilling from start to finish and the gameplay is top-notch.

1. Final Fantasy

The title that started a legend, the original Final Fantasy is a true retro RPG gem that defined an entire genre for generations. Besides having excellent turn-based gameplay, well-defined classes, and a powerful story, Final Fantasy made use of breathtaking enemy designs that stand the test of time.

And in true FF fashion, its soundtrack is also epic.

That concludes our Top 10 NES RPGs  list - Which games are your favorite from this golden era?