When it comes to video game generations, you’ll find a surprisingly large group of fans that will swear up and down that the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis were the absolute pinnacle of the industry. While that sounds like hyperbole, at least at first glance, there’s no denying that both of the major 16-bit consoles brought us some of the best games of all time.
In the case of the Super Nintendo, specifically, it seemed like there was no end to games that pushed the boundaries of what was possible on a 16-bit system, whether through impressive graphics and special effects, or the astoundingly rich music produced by the SNES’ sound card.
Of course, technical prowess could only go so far, and the SNES was sure to put moving stories and engaging gameplay behind pretty graphics and synthesized symphonies. Objectively speaking, the Super Nintendo’s library was filled with technical and artistic masterpieces, almost all of which still stand proudly today… but we in the West never got the full picture.
Today, we’re going to be discussing this dilemma with our list of 25 Of The Sickest Super Nintendo Games That Never Left Japan.
A good portion of these are RPGs (the genre that the SNES was most known for), but there’s a selection of side-scrollers, racers and others, too.
Also, “sickest” doesn’t exactly mean quality. In fact, there are a couple of genuine stinkers on this list, but they’re stinkers with unique merits worth exploring.
Fans of the space-shooter series Gradius are missing out on an integral piece of the “shmup” puzzle, and that’s Parodius.
Living up to its name, Parodius is a surreal parody of the Gradius series and… actually, surreal doesn’t really begin to cut it. It’s a serviceable enough word, but seeing this game in all its unhinged glory is a truly mind-warping experience. You can play as a penguin for crying out loud!
The best part of the experience, though, is that it’s still a genuinely great game, bizarre visuals or no.
24 Multiple Fire Emblems
Most Westerners’ first experiences with the Fire Emblem series came from Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. While we didn’t know who these characters really were, we liked playing with them quite a bit… and Nintendo took notice.
They would release a Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem to see if Westerners could get into the hardcore tactical series and it’s obvious that we did.
There are a slew of high-quality Fire Emblem games for the SNES, so if you’re a fan of the series that continues to crave more, you’ve got a nice selection to import from!
23 Front Mission
The tactical RPG Front Mission series has a strange relationship with the West, where there will be localized releases, but only few and far between, with most meeting minimal critical and commercial success.
Like the majority of the Front Mission franchise, this game features a truly jaw-dropping level of customization, seriously difficult tactical battles, and complex strategies to overcome.
Initially a Super Famicom-exclusive, this debut entry would later be ported to a variety of systems, eventually getting a localized port on the DS.
22 Wonder Project J
There was a time when Tamagotchis, Giga Pets, Digimon, and all manner of similar “digital pets” were all the rage.
We’ll never forget the despair of realizing our beloved pixel-creature passed away during school, nor the rage-filled blame we put on our teachers…. this wasn’t just us, right?
Regardless, Wonder Project J is of a similar vein, but it is a truly unique take on the genre and there are few things like it.
In short, you are charged with raising and teaching a robot-like character, and within a few minutes, you’ll find yourself fully immersed in this forgotten gem.
21 Battle Cross
Super Mario Kart is arguably the title that put the kart racing mini-genre on the map or, at the very least, paved the way for the form it’s in today, and while it’s still a lot of fun, it falters in a few areas that later entries (and genre competitors) would correct… and that’s where Battle Cross comes in.
While far more of a top-down racer than a true kart racer, Battle Cross takes a bizarre-but-cute art style, fuses it with the best its genre has to offer, and then throws in a hardcore multiplayer mode as the cherry on top.
20 The Firemen
There have been a variety of takes on the firefighting sub-genre, but few are as charming as the Super Famicom’s The Firemen.
The concept is simple: as a heroic fireman, save innocents and fight blazes as you would fight back an army of orcs if you were a fantasy hero.
To be fair, The Firemen wasn’t kept totally away from the Western world, as Europe received a translated release, but that doesn’t change the fact that this game never received the attention it deserves.
19 Marvelous: Another Treasure Island
Marvelous: Another Treasure Island is one of those in-house Nintendo projects that don’t make too much of a splash (such as the tragic case of StarTropics) and then are sadly never seen again.
Helmed by Zelda’s Eiji Aonuma, Marvelous is similar to the series that he would produce down the line in that it uses the same engine as A Link to the Past; but aside from a few comparable moments, it’s generally its own thing.
Sadly, even those of you willing to import the game will find that there’s A LOT of text, so we hope you know Japanese.
18 Seiken Densetsu 3
The Super Nintendo was (and still is) known for its library of wonderful RPGs, almost all of which stand the test of time as the some of the best examples of their genre to this very day.
Seiken Densetsu 3 isn’t exactly among the cream of the crop, but this low-key successor to Secret of Mana is still a sick game in its own right.
Incredibly ambitious, you choose your main characters, and your decisions will DRAMATICALLY alter the content of the game, which is impressive even by today’s standards.
17 Star Ocean
The Star Ocean franchise is beloved within certain facets of the RPG community, but remains a niche series regardless.
As the first entry in the saga, the SNES’ Star Ocean was trying to find its footing when it came to carving out its place in the crowded genre, and while this debut title didn’t fully succeed, it still manages to have incredible graphics and a deep set of gameplay systems (including emotions!) that few other peers could compare to.
While the original version of this game never got an English release, it was remade for PSP, in case you’re interested.
16 Final Fantasy V
While RPG fans on the Super Nintendo were fully satisfied with Chrono Trigger and “Final Fantasy III” (otherwise known as Final Fantasy VI), there were plenty of amazing RPGs that never made their way to the West, and Final Fantasy VI’s predecessor is among them.
While perhaps not as beloved or iconic as its sequel, Final Fantasy V still manages to make a name for itself and, in a few instances, surpasses its popular relative, particularly with its awesome battle system.
Best of all, despite the SNES version never coming here, you can still get FFV on PS1 or GBA!
15 Sanrio World Smash Ball
Yes, you read the title right: Sanrio, otherwise known as the people who brought us Hello Kitty, have a game that features their stable of iconic, cute, and popular characters in an arena-styled versus game… and, against all odds, it’s genuinely fun.
While licensed games are always hit or miss (mostly “miss,” if we’re being honest), Sanrio World Smash Ball is one of the few that are a genuine hit… though you’ll get much more of a kick out of it if you’re a fan of the characters.
14 Tales of Phantasia
The progenitor of the beloved relatively-modern-day Tales Of games, such as the GameCube's Tales of Symphonia, the SNES’ Tales of Phantasia is an impressive curiosity in the realm of RPGs.
For starters, the game is gorgeous, but its most technically impressive features have to the somewhat jaw-dropping amount of voice samples and the fact that the game is absolutely gargantuan in size, scope, and scale. Heck, there’s even a crafting system in the form of cooking!
This is truly one of the finest gems to never grace our shores, and you can still truly appreciate it, even without understanding Japanese.
13 Live A Live
Square was truly prolific during the SNES era. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that their output of high-quality RPGs has never been matched, and Live A Live is yet another example of an incredible game created by a company that seemed like it could do no wrong.
In Live A Live, variety is the name of the game, with a collection of unique characters, all of whom have distinct storylines directly tied to them. Better yet, Square is dedicated to the “variety” concept, as characters not only get their own stories, but unique gameplay experiences, too.
12 DBZ Games
As Dragon Ball Z took over the West, fans were craving a video game adaptation. Unfortunately, those cravings wouldn’t be satisfied until Budokai hit the PS2 and GameCube (if you discount Final Bout… which you should.)
Making matters worse is that fanzines showed off screenshots of SNES DBZ games, which taunted the tortured legions of fans into a miserable fervor.
Well, getting your hands on copies of the SNES DBZ games is pretty easy these days thanks to the internet, but we feel we better warn you: very few of them are actually any good.
11 Sailor Moon Games
Similar to the pain felt by DBZ fans who were taunted with the existence of unobtainable Japan-only SNES games, Sailor Moon fans also desired games, but there was a twist.
Sailor Moon’s Western popularity peaked much earlier than DBZ’s, so the internet was even less advanced at the time, meaning that the existing Sailor Moon SNES titles weren’t able to be discovered as easily as DBZ games.
On the flip-side, though, it might have been nice to actually know that a large selection of Sailor Moon games actually existed!
10 Super Bomberman 5
Everyone likes Bomberman. Why? It’s fun to blow your friends up. Couple the simple act of trapping your opponent in a corner with your bomb with Bomberman’s adorable (yet oddly cool) aesthetic, and you’ve got a recipe for a beloved series.
Alas, while other games in the franchise made their way here, we never got Super Bomberman 5… and that’s a total bummer. The game not only contains the addictive and competitive multiplayer the series is famous for, but it’s even got a relatively robust custom load-out and character feature!
9 Mega Man & Forte
We’re not going to mince words about this game: Mega Man & Forte (Localized in the West as “Mega Man & Bass” for Game Boy Advance) is kind of terrible.
All Mega Man games are hard, yeah, but very few of them feel unfair or poorly designed. Alas, Mega Man & Forte feels nothing BUT unfair and poorly designed, often causing eruptions of frustration.
Still, if you’re a hardcore Mega Man fan (and want to see what this game was like on the system it was intended for), you should have no qualms about importing this game and judging it for yourself.
8 Ganbare Goemon 4
In the West, the Ganbare Goemon series is best known for the absolutely stellar (and hilarious) games on the N64 (re-titled as “Mystical Ninja starring Goemon”) and the woefully butchered SNES entry known as “The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.”
As you might expect, the games have always been niche outside of Japan, so it’s no surprise that the SNES only got one of the entries localized.
That’s a shame as the fourth entry is a weird and delightfully Japanese experience that mixes the mechanics of Zelda, Mario, and much more to create something truly special.
7 Uchuu No Kishi Tekkaman Blade
Tekkaman Blade, also known as Teknoman, is an outstanding, yet depressing, bleak anime that follows a young man burdened with extraordinary powers that he must use in order fight all-powerful alien invaders at great cost to himself and those he cares about.
Clearly the components of a great game exist within this dark space opera, but the Super Famicom adaptation of the series doesn’t use them too well.
Featuring 2D shmup stages and Street Fighter-esque boss battles, the game is a unique but mediocre experience that only amplifies the need for a proper retelling of this anime classic.
6 Bahamut Lagoon
While the most well-known strategy games on the Super Nintendo are likely part of the Fire Emblem series, the Japan-only Bahamut Lagoon is one that arguably deserves more of your attention.
The game’s coolest feature is that each map’s interactive environment plays a massive role when it comes to tactics and strategizing, which is an element that’s only lightly touched upon or overly simplified (like Military Madness, although that’s still a great game) by Bahamut Lagoon’s peers.
Oh, and there’s dragons. We can’t forget about the dragons.
5 Mario’s Super Picross
The Picross series has had sporadic releases in the west for some time now, and while they’re moderately successful, they never reach the heights that they do in their native Japan. This is a total shame… not just because the games are fantastic and deserve appreciation, but because we missed out on Mario’s Super Picross, which might be the best in the series.
The best aspect of this puzzle franchise’s Japan-only SNES entry is that it’s absolutely filled to the brim with brain-teasing puzzles, all of which are an absolutely satisfying joy to solve.
4 Maka Maka
We’ve talked about a lot of RPGs on this list, which really isn’t a surprise, considering that Super Nintendo is the topic, but few other RPGs on the system… or any system… compare to Maka Maka.
Notoriously awful and, since the developers only got as far as a prototype,
literally unfinished, the buggy Maka Maka is hardly worth playing… except it’s so genuinely absurd that you feel utterly compelled to play until you reach the end, despite the debilitating turmoil that this process will subject you to.
3 Cho Aniki: Bakuretsu Ranto-hen
When it comes to surreal shmups, Parodius is one thing, but Cho Aniki is another. In fact, we might even say that it’s straight up incomprehensible. Weirder yet is that the Super Famicom entry in this series diverges entirely from its roots, becoming a fighting game.
This clunky fighter features the same body builder-aesthetic along with the unsettlingly bizarre visuals that the series is known for.
It’s not a fantastic game, but seeing a character based on Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel beating someone defending themselves with cherubs who transform into miniature-bodybuilders is worth the price of admission.
2 Tetris Battle Gaiden
Tetris is on top of the world once again with the Nintendo Switch’s Tetris 99, a “battle royale” style Tetris that pits you against 99 other human players in a fight for survival.
That’s all well and good, but we mustn’t forget the Japan-only SNES classic, Tetris Battle Gaiden.
Combining Tetris with modified mechanics plucked from other puzzle games (such as Puyo Puyo / Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine), Tetris Battle Gaiden is a refined amalgamation of the best the puzzle genre has to offer… and it’s unbelievably fun.
A member of the fabled Quintet “Soul Blazer Trilogy” (with the likes of the lauded Illusion of Gaia and, obviously, Soul Blazer itself), Terranigma is a wonderful blend of RPG systems and Zelda-like dungeon crawling and combat.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Terranigma is its truly phenomenal music that stands among the best of the entire SNES library, and perhaps even beyond.
Like The Firemen, Terranigma was also released in Europe, but the majority of the world was deprived of this truly brilliant gem.