10 Best SNES Games That Never Released Outside Japan (But Have Translations) Even though some of the greatest Super Nintendo games never left Japan, fan translations exist to give these lost classics new life.
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Along with the PlayStation 2, the Super Nintendo is widely considered one of the greatest video game consoles of all time. The undisputed king of the 16-bit age, the SNES’ library is still a marvel to behold over three decades after the fact. This is a home console that redefined genres, franchises, and the medium year after year– it only makes sense the SNES is so revered.
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At the same time, the Super Nintendo’s heyday came at a time where gaming as a medium wasn’t as defined. As a result, some of the best SNES games never actually released outside of Japan. Even though some of the greatest Super Nintendo games never left Japan, fan translations exist to give these lost classics new life.
10 Dragon Quest V
The first four Dragon Quest games released in the United States under the Dragon Warrior moniker, but when it came time for the series to make the shift from the NES to the SNES, Enix held back. Localization-wise, this was a difficult period for the company and Dragon Quest V unfortunately never made it over.
While a DS remake exists and has been localized, it is fairly costly, leaving the game untouched by many. Fortunately, a 2002 fan translation allows players to embark on one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Weaving a classically tragic story about one man’s life with monster catching, Dragon Quest V is the franchise’s finest hour.
9 Final Fantasy V
Unlike Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy actually had entries in its franchise get localized for the SNES– but not all. Final Fantasy IV and VI released as Final Fantasy II and III respectively, but Final Fantasy V was skipped over. Like Dragon Quest V, a remake does exist– specifically for the GBA– but it’s hard to find and tends to be pricey. (Avoid the PC release at all costs.)
Thankfully there aren’t any fundamental differences between the SNES and GBA versions. The game’s story is one of the franchise’s lightest, and the Job mechanic is arguably the series’ best implemented. Going from Final Fantasy V to VI can feel like a mechanical downgrade as a result. FFV simply offers so much genuine customization.
8 Fire Emblem: Genealogy Of The Holy War
Fire Emblem took some time to make it over stateside, resulting in the West missing out on some of Nintendo’s absolute best retro games. Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War still stands out as the franchise’s most ambitious title. Rather than featuring 20 or so segmented chapters– the longest ones rarely over an hour– Genealogy embraces war on a full scale.
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Maps are dense, making use of strategic enemy placement & variety to punish players rushing into the action. A single mistake can be costly, making it much harder to keep everyone alive. Better yet is the excellent story– arguably the franchise’s best written– juggling tragedy & political conspiracies with a finesse seldom seen in the medium.
7 Live A Live
Live A Live is the game Octopath Traveller wishes it could have been. A turn based RPG with strategic sensibilities, Live A Live chronicles eight generations of heroes across eight distinct chapters. Each hero has their own campaign, story, & arc set in a different period of time. Between Wild West gunslingers and a ninja embarking on a stealth mission, Live A Live is in no need of variety.
As with the other RPGs mentioned thus far, Live A Live bolsters an excellent story. Once the first seven chapters are completed, the last chapter unlocks to cap off the game. Unlike in Octopath Traveller, everything comes together for a finale that manages to tie in eight separate arcs into one greater narrative.
6 Mickey To Donald: Magical Adventure 3
Licensed games don’t exactly have the best reputation anymore. In fact, they’re not even as common as they were just two generations ago. In a single decade, licensed games went from being commonplace to virtually non-existent. That said, this doesn’t reflect the best licensed games of the 16-bit era.
The Magical Quest series starred Mickey Mouse in a fairly traditional (but well designed platformer,) which was improved upon by its sequel– now adding co-op through the form of a playable Minnie Mouse. Magical Adventure 3 replaces Minnie with Donald, but with another massive boost in quality. Mickey to Donald is one of the best action-platformers on the Super Famicom.
5 Shin Megami Tensei
Although Atlus refuses to announce any further information on Shin Megami Tensei V, the franchise has managed to build up a loyal western fanbase. The first mainline entry to see an English localization was Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne (Lucifer’s Call in PAL regions,) but SMT began in earnest on the Super Famicom.
Shin Megami Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei II, and Shin Megami Tensei If… are all some of the finest RPGs on the SNES and they’re all exclusive to Japan. The first Shin Megami Tensei in particular has a charm that even its sequels lack. Morbid & dour, with a dark sense of humor, the original Shin Megami Tensei could have been a game changer for western RPGs.
4 Star Ocean
Considering how late Star Ocean ended up releasing in the Super Famicom’s life cycle (July 1996 to be exact,) it does make sense why Nintendo of America saw fit not to localize the RPG. After all, the Nintendo 64 was on the horizon and 3D gaming was set to push 2D out– quite a silly expectation in hindsight.
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While understandable, it is a shame the original Star Ocean never saw an official English release. Its modern remake– First Departure R– is excellent in its own right, but Star Ocean is one of the best presented games on the SNES, featuring voice acting, drop-dead stunning pixel art, and an excellent battle system.
3 Super Bomberman 5
The Super Bomberman games were only partially localized, cutting off at Super Bomberman 2 for North America and Super Bomberman 3 in PAL regions. Considering the Super Bomberman games arguably only got better with each successive installment, it’s extremely disappointing that the west missed out on Super Bomberman 4 and 5.
Losing Super Bomberman 5 is a blow in particular. The game is a celebration of the Super Bomberman sub-series, taking players through stages from every single game up to that point. Co-op is better than ever, there’s plenty of depth to the versus mode, and the gameplay loop is the most polished of the SNES entries.
2 Tales Of Phantasia
The Tales of franchise doesn’t exactly have a history of great localizations, with full games often failing to be translated. It’s a setback which has resulted in the RPG series never reaching its full potential internationally. Like Star Ocean, Tales of Phantasia released very late into the Super Famicom’s life cycle and was more or less forfeit for a localization as a result.
Had Tales of Phantasia released internationally, it likely would have altered the series’ fate. The presentation is top notch, the story is excellently told, and the combat is far better than fans give it credit for. The English fan translation does take some liberties, but the heart of the plot remains intact.
1 Ys V Expert
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Ys V: Lost Kingdom, Kingdom of Sand was a controversial entry for the franchise. Ys V took a traditional approach to a non-traditional series and threw the franchise into a hiatus as a result. One common complaint was that it was too easy, sparking Falcom to re-release the game as Ys V Expert, but Ys’ fate was sealed.
It’s a shame because, in hindsight, Ys V is quite good. The combat sets the stage for the Napishtim Engine, the music is as great as ever, the level design only gets better (with the final dungeon a franchise highlight,) and the script manages to tell a time travel story fairly well. Worth noting, Ys V Expert only translates necessary in-game text– not story– but the original game does have a proper translation as well.
NEXT: SNES: 5 Best Action RPGs (& 5 Best Turn-Based)
A writer by day and an actor by night, Renan”s interests include Dragon Ball, The Legend of Zelda, and Brazilian music.