Japanese publisher Enix Corporation was a major force in the early days of the home console market, both in Japan and in North America. Founded in 1975, but truly finding its footing in 1985, Enix had a 18-year run of some amazing games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and later the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and original PlayStation.
Enix’s games were some of the biggest and best JRPGs ever created, and they could arguably be called the creators of the JRPG genre. Starting with Dragon Quest in 1986, which was renamed for the North American NES as Dragon Warrior, Enix laid the foundation for massive, story-driven games that not only still resonate today, but have inspired a great many franchises.
We are looking back at some of the best games that Enix published in their 25 years as a publisher, before the eventual merger with rival SquareSoft. The new company, Square Enix, has continued to deliver epic JRPGs, but it would never have been possible without these amazing games and franchises.
5. Illusion Of Gaia
This action-RPG hybrid for the SNES threw out most RPG conventions for a simpler approach. Experience points were absent, as players leveled up with special jewels they obtained by clearing areas and beating monsters. Illusion of Gaia’s locations were all based on real earth historical places, like Angkor Wat and the Pyramids in Egypt, and the end battle took place at the Tower of Babel.
Where it did have RPG elements was in the story, as players took control of the hero, Will, who stumbles upon a higher power, Gaia, that tells him that he is the one tasked with saving the world. Plus, the game’s ending held a fun, unique twist.
Illusion of Gaia was not a difficult game, by any stretch, but it was fun and had great music, and for history buffs, the real world locations to explore made this a unique RPG.
4. Soul Blazer
Another action RPG, also for the SNES, and sometimes referred to as part of a trilogy with Illusion of Gaia and another game that didn’t make this list: Terranigma. While these three games did have common themes and even hints at enemies and histories that intertwined, it was never said that you had to play all three to “complete the story.”
Soul Blazer made some interesting gameplay choices that today are commonplace. This was a dungeon crawler game and for each enemy the hero, Blazer, defeated, he released a trapped soul, who would then return to the host, be it human, animal, or plant. The returned populations of the world would then set to rebuild the towns and cities, and Blazer had to collect six artifacts from six rebuilt towns to open the path to the final boss.
This was another massively fun game that put action ahead of grinding, and the boss battles were always crowd pleasers. Soul Blazer also had a unique ending that was kind of heartbreaking if you paid attention throughout the course of the adventure. A solid story and fun game mechanics made this game a classic, and worthy of this list.
Actraiser was one of the first games on the SNES and blended RTS, RPG, and side scrolling elements to create a gaming experience like no other. The 16-bit graphics of the SNES, as well as the amazing music and play control sucked me in and kept me content for over a year of playing and replaying the game until the SNES library could grow.
Actraiser was one part Populous and another part Golden Axe and strangely, it all worked. Plus, you actually play the role of God — or a God — as you develop the land for your subjects, come down to earth to smite enemies when prayed to, and strive to build a better, peaceful world.
I’ve lost track how many times I’ve played through this game since 1991, as it was always a fall back if I just wanted to kill some time and have fun doing it. It was included in the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2007, giving new players a chance to check it out, and we’re hoping that it will one day see release as a classic.
Surprisingly, Actraiser holds up, even to today’s gaming standards. This was a game unlike any other in the infancy of the SNES and while it did get a sequel, nothing compares to this magnificent game.
2. Star Ocean
One of the most iconic RPG franchises ever, Star Ocean took the standard tropes of the genre, and added more to do — including metallurgy, alchemy, cooking and more. Developer Tri-Ace’s magnum opus was a precursor to later MMO type games, like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, for instance, that adds high-skilled and culinary jobs skills and dish creation as paths to take.
Players could develop relationships between characters and the games had multiple endings. Star Ocean was ahead of its time, for sure, but it still holds up today.
The first North American Star Ocean game was actually the second game, Star Ocean: The Second Story, on the orignal PlayStation, and this game stole six months of my life in 1998. I was so deeply in love with the story and game mechanics that I just could not stop playing. The first game was eventually released in North America as a enhanced remake for the Sony PSP, retitled Star Ocean: First Departure. While certain characters and situations are shared between most of the Star Ocean games, you don’t have to play them in order, as the games are self-contained.
There are six main games in the Star Ocean franchise, spread out across seven different game systems. That’s longevity!
Star Ocean told some amazing space-faring, sci-fi tinged stories, but still held on to the classic swords and shields of a fantasy RPG. This marriage made for one outstanding franchise — a franchise that still continues to this day. The last installment of the franchise came out in the summer of 2016, called Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. It was available for the PS4 and is well worth checking out.
1. Dragon Quest
To some, this is the franchise that started it all. Dragon Quest predates Final Fantasy, and set the table for all the JRPGs that would come after it. Developer Chunsoft’s RPG masterpiece took the simple story of a hero saving a damsel from a dragon, and added history, subtext, and grinding; lots and lots of grinding.
The first Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior game borrowed elements from classic table top role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, and even PC ROM-based fantasy adventure games on the early to mid-80s, to create the seminal JRPG experience.
The turn-based combat and customization laid the groundwork for any and all video game RPGs that came after. This was an epic quest that, at the time, seemed to last months, but can now be finished in about a week. The next two games in the franchise, Dragon Quest II and Dragon Quest III all took place in the same world and general timeline, but later games began expanding the mythos, and the maps, to make for larger, longer, and much more satisfying experiences.
Dragon Quest is also a franchise that can brag that its been on almost every single video game system in some form or another, save for one: the Xbox family of consoles. There have also been spinoffs in every game genre imaginable, including MineCraft-like world builders, monster raising games, Musou games, and, of course, various RPGs.
The latest Dragon Quest game, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, was just released last fall for the PS4, and a Nintendo Switch version is coming to the states this fall.
Dragon Quest is, by far, the greatest game series to come out of the Enix Corp. era of gaming, and is still going strong today.
Enix was known for a great many other games, and honorable mention goes out to Valkyrie Profile, which didn’t make this list of top five, but is solid at No. 6. This was a publisher that released amazing games that resonated with audiences and still has hardcore fans today. Many of the franchises are still going strong under the Square Enix logo, and will continue to make new fans year after year.
If you want to see what came before, and how this little Japanese company built an entire video game genre, seek out the games on this list and revisit these absolute classics. You too will see why these are the best games of the Enix era.
All images courtesy of Square Enix.