The Best Japanese Only SNES Games

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Throughout the life-span of the SNES, Japan had a whopping 1,448 titles released in the region. Of these titles, 978 were exclusive to Japan. As the console was Japanese made, they received more support since in-house development teams were also Japanese. Many players have never heard or played these Japanese exclusives due to the region-locking hardware and software that came packaged with the SNES. Thanks to hardware modding and emulation, it is now possible to experience these hidden gems.

Many Japanese games that did not get an official localization instead get fan translations. These are done by teams of dedicated fans who want others to experience games they otherwise couldn't. Notable titles with fan translations are Mother 3 and almost half of the Fire Emblem series. These can be run through an emulator or on a homebrew cartridge.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War

The second Fire Emblem title for the SNES and the fourth in the series, Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War is an awesome, isometric role-playing title with an insane amount of depth for the era. In this entry, players assume the role of Sigurd and his band of troops as they fight a cult that's attempting to start a war. The gameplay takes a shift midway through, allowing players to control Sigurd's son to reach a similar goal.

Like other games in the series, death is permanent, so choose your battles wisely. Players can also marry troops in this title, giving the player skilled fighters for the latter half of the game. For RPG and strategy fans, Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War is easily one of the most engrossing titles to date.


Probably one of the funniest titles on the SNES, Parodius is like Gradius in a fever dream - poking fun at the classic shoot 'em up with plenty of wacky enemies, exciting characters, and fun levels. The gameplay is exactly the same as Gradius, except the game itself is not as difficult. Players progress through long levels, facing waves of enemies and collecting power-ups before fighting a large and challenging boss enemy.

A fan translation isn't super necessary for this title since it is just shooting action rather than essential dialogue. If you are a fan of Gradius or arcade excitement, Parodius is sure to scratch that itch with plenty of wackiness and weirdness.

Star Ocean

Created by the developers behind the Tales series of games, Star Ocean is an excellent RPG with plenty of action, mystery, and wonder that will engross players for hours on end. This title beautifully mixes classic fantasy RPG elements with sci-fi technology to create one of the most unique series' to date.

In this game, players control a group of friends searching for a cure to a disease threatening life on their planet. Along this journey, they will uncover secrets and a massive war that will threaten their goals. While this is a JRPG, Star Ocean does not feature turn-based combat but a more hack-and-slash combat model. Players can upgrade their character as they progress as well as recruit new members for their party. This title features some impressive depth and narrative that is rarely seen in the retro era of gaming. If you are looking to pick up this title, while the SNES version is fantastic, it was localized for both the PSP and Nintendo Switch.

Rockman and Forte

The Mega Man series of games was at its peak during the '80s and '90s, releasing some of the most fun titles on their respective consoles and maintaining a dedicated fanbase to this day. Rockman and Forte is one of the few games in this series that never saw an international release.

This title follows the typical Mega Man formula, except with the addition of another playable character. The player can either choose Mega Man or Forte (known as Bass in America) in an attempt to stop the evil robot King from dominating the world. Each of these characters has their own backstory and motivations for going after King, leading to an exciting two-part narrative. While this was a Japanese exclusive on the SNES, it received localization on the GameBoy Advance, which features updated graphics and English dialogue.

Mario’s Super Picross

Picross, for those who have never played before, is an exciting mix between sudoku and a coloring book. Players must solve puzzles by filling, or not filling, in squares based upon numbers on the board. At the end of each puzzle, players will be greeted by their completed, pixelated picture. In the '90s, this type of game hadn't really gotten popular outside of Japan, thus causing Mario’s Super Picross never to be localized. But if you are a fan of puzzle titles, this is definitely a game worth playing.

In this version of Picross, players can either play as Mario or Wario for a variety of Mushroom Kingdom related puzzles. These levels hike in difficulty as the player progresses, giving the player a nice challenge. Mario’s Super Picross is an excellent title that plenty of people would enjoy if they had gotten the chance to play it.

Marvelous: Another Treasure Island

Before becoming the director of the Zelda series, Eiji Aonuma's first Nintendo game was Marvelous: Another Treasure Island - an awesome and cute adventure title through a strange world. The game plays similarly to the Zelda games of the era, giving players an isometric view of the characters and the world that surrounds them.

Players take control of three main characters, Deon, Max, and Jack, who must traverse the land looking for a lost treasure called "Marvelous" by solving puzzles and fighting pirates. Everyone who played Marvelous agrees that Zelda fans will feel right at home. Despite being an obscure title, there is an excellent fan-translation available to players who want to experience this outstanding game. 

  • Updated September 18, 2020