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The 10 Best Super Nintendo Games That Never Left Japan

The Super Nintendo is rightfully considered one of the greatest video game consoles of all time. Featuring an inane roster of games that’s only been rivaled by the PlayStation 2 since, the Super Nintendo is a treasure trove that never seems to let up. Doubly so since most of its best games never actually left Japan.

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Far too many titles remained Super Famicom exclusives, unfortunately, but with the advent of technology, it’s now possible to play classic Japanese games with translated, English text. Even then, the Super Nintendo was developed early enough where several of its best games feature no language barriers, making international play surprisingly easy to pick up.

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10 Fire Emblem: Genealogy Of The Holy War

The fourth entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, Genealogy of the Holy War is one of the most unique games in the series. Breaking the standard formula in just about every way, GotHW is a long epic about the dangers and horrors of war, one that tells its story with far more maturity and tact than other Fire Emblem games.

Featuring the first depiction of the lovers system, Genealogy of the Holy War builds its replayability over the fact that any two units can marry one another and have children, thus affecting the second half of the game. It might be a bit imposing to an outsider, but it’s an addictive strategy RPG that’s only made better by its incredible story.

9 Ganbare Goemon 3

Better known as the Mystical Ninja franchise in the west, Ganbare Goemon never took off outside of Japan, despite the high-quality nature of its many games. While the Super Famicom saw four Ganbare Goemon games, the third one is the most accessible to those looking to dive back into Mystical Ninja.

A mix of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Goemon’s signature style, Ganbare Goemon 3 is a charming, colorful romp through a fictional Japan. The second and fourth entries are both worth playing as well, but they may be a bit harder to track down and get into without some semblance of Japanese knowledge.

8 Marvelous: Another Treasure Island

Long-time Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma’s first game as director, Marvelous: Another Treasure Island predated his work on Ocarina of Time by two years. This also means that Marvelous released fairly late into the Super Famicom’s life cycle, coming out the same year the Nintendo 64 launched.

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As a result, it’s a bit on the obscure side even in Japan, lacking a real definable legacy. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, of course. This is a game that would actually fit rather well in the Zelda franchise as a spin-off whose quality clearly demonstrates why Nintendo trusted Aonuma with one of their flagship franchises.

7 Parodius

The appropriately titled parody of the Gradius franchise, Parodius is an arcade shoot ‘em up that places an emphasis on the absurd, the surreal, and the downright incomprehensible. With several entries to choose from on the Super Famicom, the whole franchise is worth sitting down with and playing.

With that in mind, however, particular praise goes out to the third entry, which makes good use of the Super FX chip. Thanks to the chip’s added capabilities, the game is able to run faster, smoother, and generally better. It’s worth playing through if only to understand what the SNES was actually capable of at its very best.

6 Mickey’s Great Adventure In Tokyo Disneyland

Unrelated to the incredible Mickey to Donald trilogy (although only the last game features Mickey and Donald), Mickey’s Great Adventure in Tokyo Disneyland is an unrelated platform that may not fall in the same series but is just as good. Unlike its sister games, however, it never released a western release, SNES or otherwise.

For the most part, the game is as traditional as platformers come, but it’s a must-play for any Disney fans. Tight gameplay, creative level design, and beautiful visuals elevate what would otherwise be simply a decent platformer into something much more than the sum of its parts.

5 Gunparu: Gunman’s Proof

What if Link had a gun? That’s more or less Gunparu: Gunman’s Proof. In the same way that Marvelous emphasizes Zelda’s puzzle elements, Gunparu: Gunman’s Proof places an emphasis on overhead combat, almost outshining A Link to the Past. This is a game that’s easy to pick up and keep playing for hours.

It is worth noting that it isn’t nearly as long or as epic as A Link to the Past (or as visually creative as Marvelous), but it’s a unique action-adventure game with interesting RPG elements and a charming enough world. The Legend of Zelda Except With Cowboys shouldn’t be a hard sell.

4 Front Mission: Gun Hazard

Easily the best entry in the Front Mission series, Gun Hazard trades the franchise’s traditional turn-based gameplay for non-stop action. Arguably the most cohesive action RPG that never left Japan, Front Mission: Gun Hazard is loaded with gameplay nuances that even modern games struggle to really pull off.

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It isn’t particularly complex, either—just insanely competent. This is to say nothing of the surprisingly engrossing story, which is one of the more unique narratives to grace a JRPG. What’s most interesting about Gun Hazard is that it’s actually fairly westernized in both style and sound. It’s a genuine wonder it wasn’t released outside of Japan.

3 Star Ocean

One of the last RPGs released on the Super Famicom, Star Ocean was developed by the remnants of the team who worked on Tales of Phantasia. It’s a beautiful, almost somber love letter to the Super Famicom’s storied history of RPGs, gracefully closing out the console.

Making use of the Super FX chip, Star Ocean looks, sounds, and plays great. It may be lacking a bit in the story department, but the game features a very likable cast with enough depth to carry the experience. Star Ocean is a great note to close the SNES on, but it wasn’t actually the last major title to be released for the console...

2 Fire Emblem: Thracia 776

That honor belongs to Fire Emblem: Thracia 776, a game that didn’t have a physical release until 2000. The last first-party title to be released for the Super Famicom, Thracia 776 isn’t as impressive as, say, Star Ocean, but it’s naturally the best-looking and sounding Nintendo first party title on the SNES.

More importantly, it’s an incredible game that takes everything that worked in Genealogy of the Holy War and places it in a more traditional format. Brutally hard in all the right way, Thracia 776 is Fire Emblem’s underdog—the game most fans haven’t played, but absolutely should.

1 Live A Live

All that said, there’s one Japanese exclusive that towers above all the rest: Live A Live. An RPG that takes place over multiple generations, Live A Live is one of the strangest, most poignant games Square ever developed. It’s more of an art project than it is a traditional JRPG, but it’s all the better for it.

Live A Live is a game that’s best played with as little knowledge as possible. The gameplay is compelling and engaging; the soundtrack is downright brilliant; and the story will make players laugh, cry, and even reflect on the nature of life. Live A Live remains one of Square’s most experimental games to this day. Hopefully, they’ll have the courage to localize it for a modern audience like they did Trials of Mana.

NEXT: 10 Classic Square RPGs That Deserve A FFVII-like Remake

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