Console wars are familiar to gamers and non-gamers alike. These days, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony fans bicker over which console has the best offerings. If you were gaming in the ‘90s, though, you surely remember the great PS1 vs. N64 console war.
Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger fanatics from the SNES era ended up buying PlayStations. The RPGs (and especially JRPGs) on that system couldn’t be beat. Final Fantasy 7, 8, 9, Tactics, Xenogears, Suikoden… the list goes on.
If you were one of those RPG fans, you might have glanced over some of the quirky games the N64 had to offer. If you have the opportunity to go back and visit these titles, give them a chance; they’re products of their time!
Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage
This is the first game on the list to have less-than-stellar reviews. In fact, IGN gave this N64 game a 4.2 out of 10, and it holds a 53 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 7 reviews. But the game has a user score of 77 and a semi-cult following. Why is that?
For the sake of reference, Aidyn Chronicles came out in March of 2001 in the US and in August of that same year in Europe. The PlayStation 2 had already been out for a full year before Aidyn Chronicles hit shelves, and the GameCube was going to hit in November of that year. People were sick of jaggy graphics, choppy frame rate and storage limitations.
However, the game is quite charming today. The story is very Tolkein and appropriately Western, matching its dark and muddy art style. If you’re someone who can appreciate simply gameplay taking a backseat to a weird, contrived story, give this game a shot. It’s entertaining for that alone.
You can read more about Aidyn Chronicles on our Colored N64 Games Guide!
Ogre Battle 64
Yasumi Matsuno is the king of strategy RPGs. At Square, he built the Final Fantasy Tactics franchise from the ground up and directed other tremendous titles like Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII. Before working for Square, though, he worked for Quest.
As a director, he made Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen for the SNES. It was a very deep strategy RPG, with automatically battled encounters and a complex alignment system. It got a direct sequel on the N64, with more classes, more characters, and better graphics. To top it all off, the game has Matsuno’s trademark: an engrossing story full of political intrigue, evil empires, rebels, and demons.
The gameplay is where the game really shines, though. The overworld map is where you manage squad structure, unit classes, equipment, and consumables. In each level, you send out your squads to have automatic battles, liberate towns, and take down the enemy’s stronghold. If it sounds interesting and deep, it is. It’s even on the Wii and Wii U virtual console!
Everyone should experience this game with a perfectly clean slate. Hybrid Heaven is one of the most unique games of all time. Unfortunately, it’s improper to write “just play this” and be done with it.
Hybrid Heaven is an MMARPG. Not a typo on MMO, mind you — it is a mixed martial arts RPG. You must engage in one-on-one combat with an alien menace, and utilize punches, kicks, throws, and submissions to win the fight. It plays like a turn-based fighting game, selecting your attacks and how you want to defend against the opponent.
It has a dynamic experience system where your moves get better the more you use them. You can get injured, too, which can make certain sections very tense. Even if the idea sounds strange, pick it up and give it a try. There isn’t another game like it.
Nintendo has made a Mario game for every occasion. He’s got racing games, sports games, fighting games, platformers (in two AND three dimensions) and several different series of RPGs. On the SNES, the mushroom kingdom were pixelized 3D models in Super Mario RPG. On the N64, they’re all as flat as Stanley.
The flattest of the Mario spinoffs got its start on the N64, and did very little to innovate the genre. Paper Mario made a name for itself by setting a perfect foundation. A delightful art style, pleasant music, and a simple story more than make up for its simplistic combat.
This is arguably the best pure, simple JRPG with no frills on the console. It’s worth playing, and so are all of its sequels.
This game isn’t considered a masterpiece, but it wasn’t as panned upon its release as Aidyn Chronicles. Critics in retrospectives have called it polarizing — some gamers from the ‘90s have fond memories of the skill-ups that come directly from combat, while some consider it too “kiddy” and grindy.
Quest 64 has a classic JRPG storyline, and while you might not be encouraged to finish it, the real fun comes from the magic system. Dodging attacks in real-time and mixing magic together to make new spells is great fun no matter how you slice it.
The N64 is the ultimate console for knocking back a few beers with friends and having some old-school gaming fun. If you want an RPG to play with friends, this game can scratch that itch.
It’s a four-player top-down beat-em-up with a fun suite of characters. Just like the original Gauntlet in the arcades, you and your co-op partners pick a class (with minor differences) to start with. There’s more to unlock, too, so there’s a reason to keep coming back. It’s simple, a bit clunky, and a lot of dumb-fun. Sometimes it’s fun to mash buttons and see stuff die.
It’s worth noting that the game is one-hand playable and thus casual friendly. Not much to say about it other than that, but I wouldn’t bother playing solo or sober.
Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask
These games don’t require an introduction. One of the key reasons to buy a N64 was the one-two punch of Zelda and more Zelda. It’s hotly debated as to whether or not to classify these two as RPGs or just “action,” but they have everything an RPG needs save for level-ups and experience points.
The point is, these games are still worth playing today. Even though they don’t have the true freedom of Breath of the Wild, these two games are jam-packed with atmosphere, puzzles, and enough collectibles to keep you coming. If you were a Sony gamer your whole life, give them a chance. They might make you realize why half of your peers chose Nintendo instead.