1P Missions

Classic RPGs for Modern Kids

Super Mario RPG Screenshot 049

Earlier this year, I wrote my first feature for RPGFan: A Parent’s List of the Best Introductory RPGs for Kids. That article allowed me to share my experiences as an RPG enthusiast and parent. It also inspired me to consider further which RPGs are the best fit for kids.

While my previous work focused on introductory games for those new to the genre, this article spotlights RPG classics that are still relevant for kids today. You might ask, “What does this guy know about the RPG tastes of today’s youth?” Fair question. While I am no expert or professional in child psychology, I have raised four kids of varying ages and have worked in education at numerous grade levels. Thus, I endeavor to stay current with what is popular amongst the kids. Also, if you want evidence that classic RPGs can still be popular with younger audiences, look no further than Undertale, a modern game that took heavy inspiration from classic RPGs (specifically a certain game that will appear later on this list) and found massive success with all ages.

The Undertale protagonist walks along a fence in a snowy landscape near Snowdin.
Undertale is a shining example of how a classic-style game still resonates today.

I will also include this disclaimer: the games on this list (as with any of my features) are merely suggestions, and parents should always research titles and factor in their children’s individual preferences when considering a new game. With that out of the way, here’s a brief background on how I compiled this list. Some of the included games may be suitable for those with no RPG experience, but that was not a requirement. Instead, I focused on the following characteristics:

  1. The game’s impact on the RPG genre.
  2. The game’s level of appropriateness for kids of all ages. 
  3. How well the game has aged (remastered versions included).
  4. How accessible and available the games are today (platforms, ports, etc.).

If a particular game missed the cut, it is likely due to shortcomings in list of criteria. Two prominent examples are Dragon Quest VIII and Final Fantasy VI. I wanted to include both games on the list. However, because it is a list for kids, both games fall slightly short in the appropriateness category. I hope this article serves to guide other parents in helping today’s youth experience some of the classics of previous generations. Modern translation for the kids: These games slay. They are bussin’, not cheugy. No cap.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch (remake)
  • Original platform: SNES
  • Genre: Classic Turn-Based
  • Why it’s a classic: Takes a humorous approach to JRPGs and stars a gaming icon.

I had already begun compiling this list before Nintendo revealed the Super Mario RPG remake earlier this year. (I know, but sometimes these features live in my head for a long time before I write them.) That said, it couldn’t be a better time for adults and kids alike to experience this Nintendo classic. I’d wager most — let’s be honest — all of you reading this article (regardless of age) are familiar with Nintendo’s flagship mascot. Whether your experience with Mario goes back to the original games on NES or less far back, Mario is perhaps the most recognizable character in video games. The mushroom-eating plumber has starred in platformers, kart racers, party compilations, and even helped teach kids how to improve their typing skills. But his first foray into RPGs came through the aptly named Super Mario RPG. (A bit on the nose, right?)

Mallow, Mario, and Gen battle on a high tower balcony against a circus-themed enemy in the kid-friendly Super Mario RPG.
The remake of Super Mario RPG is a great update of a Nintendo classic.

The original Super Mario RPG is a classic and admirably captures the Mario charm and setting while incorporating many facets of classic SNES-era RPGs. The story is full of humor and many memorable characters and moments. There are multiple new characters, including a cloud with an amphibian identity crisis and a wooden doll possessed by the spirit of a warrior. Mario’s longtime foil, Bowser, also has a unique role in this one. With the recent release of the remake (alliteration rules!), modern kids now have a more accessible option for playing Super Mario RPG. Unless you feel strongly about wanting to experience the game in its OG form, the remake is the way to go. It does a great job remaining faithful to the original while giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Chrono Trigger

  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo DS, Steam, Mobile
  • Original platform: SNES
  • Genre: Classic Turn-Based
  • Why it’s a classic: One of the most influential and well-rounded RPGs ever made.

You will often find Chrono Trigger at the top of “Best RPGs of All Time” lists for good reason. It is the epitome of what makes golden era Squaresoft RPGs classics. Perhaps no game has had a more significant impact on the genre. Not surprising, considering Square’s Dream Team of RPG all-stars, including the creators of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, developed it. It is the measuring stick to which all subsequent RPGs are compared.

Crono faces down Queen Zeal with Lucca and Frog backing him up in Chrono Trigger.
Chrono Trigger is perhaps the most iconic and cherished classic Squaresoft RPG.

I can personally attest to how well Chrono Trigger has aged. The game is timeless (pun intended). My general RPG fandom began on the PSone, so I missed out on Chrono Trigger upon release. In fact, my first full playthrough was in 2015 on my DS. I can honestly say that the game was fulfilling, even with the servings of hype I had been fed for the previous two decades. I consistently found myself thinking, “I can’t believe this game was released in 1995.” The visuals, combat, and story have all held up against modern standards. The soundtrack is also top-notch, perhaps the best of the era. Chrono Trigger is one of those games that everyone should experience at least once.


  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch (via Switch Online), SNES Classic
  • Original platform: SNES
  • Genre: Classic Turn-Based
  • Why it’s a classic: Atypical setting for an RPG, unconventional ideas, captures a childlike sense of wonder and adventure.

To say EarthBound is unique would be an understatement. This lesser-known Nintendo property has grown over time, thanks in part to Ness becoming a playable fighter in the Smash Bros. series. If your kids are like mine, then it’s likely Smash was their introduction to EarthBound characters. Trying to explain EarthBound (or the Mother series) in a way that does the game justice is difficult. So why not let kids experience it for themselves?

Ness rides his bike up to the Chaos Theater ticket line in EarthBound.
EarthBound is a unique, masterful adventure.

Now, this pick might be a bit controversial. In fact, it is the only game on this list carrying a Teen rating from the ESRB, but that itself is a point of contention for me. The game’s original release garnered a Kid to Adult (K-A) rating but was updated to Teen in 2013. For the life of me, I cannot find a great explanation for the change. Is EarthBound a great choice for a five-year-old? No. But if you have kids that are ten or older, I could not recommend it enough.

Arguments against EarthBound’s child appropriateness could include its difficulty, dark tones, or overall weirdness. Don’t let that scare you off. The game definitely has these elements, but they are not all that make it a classic. The game gets no darker or stranger than movies or shows like Coraline or the recent Wednesday series (both favorites of my seven and eight-year-olds). The game can certainly be challenging in its puzzles, but it also provides unique opportunities to think outside the box for a solution. EarthBound is yet another SNES-era classic that has aged perfectly. I could find no better endorsement than Zach Wilkerson’s 2022 review. He does a better job describing what makes EarthBound special than I could within the scope of this list.

Shining Force II

  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch (via Switch Online Expansion Pass), Xbox One/Series X|S, PS4/5 (via SEGA Genesis Classics), Steam, Mobile
  • Original platform: SEGA Genesis
  • Genre: Turn-Based Tactical 
  • Why it’s a classic: Excellent introduction to tactics RPG genre.

Do your kids like board or tabletop games? Perhaps games that involve some strategy or movement around a grid? Stratego, Risk, maybe even Chess? If any of these are staples in your household, then might I suggest a JRPG equivalent? Shining Force II is a classic turn-based tactical RPG and a perfect introduction to the subgenre.

Ready for battle in Shining Force II.
This SEGA classic is the perfect entry point to an often intimidating genre.

Tactics games can sometimes feel imposing for an inexperienced player, but this SEGA Genesis classic is the perfect entry point. The systems are wonderfully simplistic, providing a good base selection of common tactical RPG elements. It avoids being overly demanding or too easy. By game’s end, players will have learned a solid foundation of skills to transition into other strategy games if they so desire. You can’t go wrong with either Shining Force game on the Genesis, but by modern standards, Shining Force II improves upon the original in many ways that allowed it to age much better.

Final Fantasy IV

  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch and PS4 (via Pixel Remaster), Steam, Mobile
  • Original platform: SNES
  • Genre: Classic Turn-Based
  • Why it’s a classic: One of the most beloved games in an iconic series.

If there is a classic RPG as universally adored as Chrono Trigger, it’s Final Fantasy VI. These two games are the pillars of Squaresoft’s golden age. However, this is a list of recommendations aimed at kids, and FFVI has just a few too many mature moments and themes to let me include it. Nonetheless, this list would feel wrong without including at least one Final Fantasy. So, allow me to submit the case for Final Fantasy IV.

Screenshot of Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster, with Rydia approaching Edge in Baron castle while Cecil and Rosa look on.
Final Fantasy IV’s cast and story remain among my favorites in the series.

FFIV is the last mainline game in the series that still gets the E10+ rating before they went all edgy Teen. While the ESRB should not be the sole basis for making gaming decisions for kids, it is a good tool for guidance. Age appropriateness aside, Final Fantasy IV is an excellent game. It created a blueprint for the series to follow but is often overshadowed by its more mainstream successors. FFIV, introduced the active-time battle system, and the game truly shines in the narrative department. FFIV’s story remains my favorite of the series. It has serious moments without becoming too dark, and there are numerous themes that kids (heck, adults too) can learn from. Betrayal, perseverance, the consequences of our actions, and personal morality vs. unquestioning loyalty are just some of the highlights. With the release of the Pixel Remaster, there is no better time to give Final Fantasy IV a look. You can experience a version that remains true to the original while providing quality-of-life updates.


  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch (via Grandia HD Collection), Steam
  • Original platform: PSone
  • Genre: Classic Turn-Based 
  • Why it’s a classic: Innovative battle system, sense of adventure.

Grandia is a classic RPG centered around one theme: adventure. Like EarthBound, it does an excellent job capturing a childlike sense of wonder and exploration. Both games star kids as main protagonists. When you’re a kid, everything can be an adventure the scope of which is only limited by your own creativity. Grandia certainly does not attempt to reinvent the wheel in its story, but it feels similar to the type of adventure my friends and I would embark on in our collective imagination.

Sue explaining that she hid in a barrel because she wants to sail and go on adventures with Justin in Grandia.
Who doesn’t want to be like Justin when you’re a kid?

Grandia outshines other RPGs of its era in its visual style and scope of its voice acting. Is the voice acting sometimes corny and over the top? Absolutely, but that lends to its charm. These elements — along with foregoing random encounters like Chrono Trigger — lend to how well the game holds up now compared to many of its peers. Where Grandia shines the brightest, though, is the battle system. The inclusion of a timeline in battle is great for giving players a useful visualization tool to keep track of upcoming turn order. Honestly, a pet peeve of mine has always been lack of information concerning turn order. The overall difficulty of battles in Grandia is relatively tame, but the battle system allows for strategic depth if desired, making it a great choice for everyone. I would recommend the HD Remaster, either by itself or bundled with Grandia II in the Grandia HD Collection.

Secret of Mana

  • Modern platform(s): Nintendo Switch (via Collection of Mana), PS4 & Vita (via 2018 remake) SNES Classic, Steam, Mobile
  • Original platform: SNES
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Why it’s a classic: Classic action combat, multiplayer capability.

Secret of Mana has had an interesting journey from its original release until now. It once felt universally beloved and considered a classic on par with other SNES contemporaries. Lately, though, it feels that many have soured on it, suggesting it does not hold up compared to other classics. It’s unclear when the shift occurred, but I suspect a lukewarm reception for the game’s 3D Remake may be partly responsible. I am certainly not here to invalidate anyone’s opinion, but I will make my case for why Secret of Mana belongs on this list.

Secret of Mana 2010 ss 045
The wildest (and greatest) cameo in RPG history?

What some of the critical reviews fail to take into account narrows down to one thing: multiplayer. This makes sense, as most reviews are done by one person on a solo run, making it challenging to give multiplayer due consideration when factoring a score. For this list specifically, I gave much weight to the ability for kids to play through the game in co-op (whether with a parent, sibling, or a friend). While I will concede that the game is imperfect, sometimes issues can be overlooked when experiencing a game together. The game allows up to three players to control party members in action RPG battles, much like the Tales series. In fact, I’d wager if kids enjoy Secret of Mana, then an entry in the Tales series would be a solid next choice (I endorse Tales of Symphonia).

Wrap Up

Chrono Trigger 2018 Screenshot 001
Traveling through RPG history is so much fun.

So there you have it. I tried to provide a varied list of games for both kids and adults looking to explore some RPG classics. Personally, I love playing these games with my kids because it allows me to share something I love while recapturing that sweet feeling of nostalgia. I hope this is a valuable guide for those wanting to explore some RPG roots.

Jimmy Turner

Jimmy Turner

Jimmy has been a fan of RPGs since the SNES era of his childhood. Now—as a father of four—he loves playing RPGs both old and new with his family and seeking validation for his love of the classics. Along with video games he likes playing board and table-top games as well. Other family time is spent watching either anime, WWE, Big Brother or Ghost Adventures, and conducting their own paranormal investigations.