The three games listed below are remarkably similar. At least, that's how I remember it. I didn't get very far in replaying, well, any of them. One of the features of the games I've covered so far is that they were very difficult and required a lot of time playing and replaying various aspects in order to defeat the game. The same thing goes for RPGs, but here it's more systematic. A common feature of these game is something called grinding. I did this in Zelda II and Metroid, to an extent, but neither really approaches the levels of these RPGs. I spent countless hours trolling forests and dungeons, picking fights with imps and slimes in order to gain experience points and leveling up my characters. I didn't really recognize it then, but this was my way of cheating (grinding for a long time will make your characters more powerful than they are required to be). I honestly think that more recent games where the enemies' power is proportional to your power (for example, Oblivion), while eliminating the tedious and unfun grinding process, also take some of the fun away from the games. You didn't really need to grind as much as I did, but I did it because there was a benefit to it. It made the world more open to exploration for me, and as I've already established, that's a big part of what I like about games.
For the most part, the game mechanics are the same. There is a top-down overworld of sorts (similar in some ways to the original Zelda) where you lead an adventurer (or a team of adventurers). You will randomly encounter enemies, at which point the game enters a combat screen in which you engage in a turn-based battle with enemies (i.e. for each adventurer, you select which enemy you want to attack, then the game plays out your attacks, followed by enemy attacks, and so on, until one group is completely killed). When you defeat enemies, you get experience and loot. When you get enough experience, your characters go up a level and you get new abilities, etc... And when you defeat powerful enemies, you get better loot. Usually there's some sort of epic story of a land beset by a powerful evil and a chosen warrior (who you play) chosen by the king to defeat the enemy. Pretty standard stuff, really. But if you enjoy exploration and the steady improvement of your characters through experience and magic items, these games can be addicting. So here are my favorites:
- Final Fantasy: This is really a great game, from start to finish. You start with a team of four characters, each of which from a different class of character (usually combining the offensive strength of a fighter with other types of fighters and magicians) and begin exploring the various areas. Most of the time, you are funneled through choke points, forcing you to face off against a boss in an area before continuing. You are also prevented from exploring to certain areas because of the power of the enemies you face there (hence the aforementioned grinding). Many of these bosses are memorable and challenging. I distinctly remember several, including the first boss named Garland (which I borrowed as a name of one of my D&D characters, a ranger if I remember correctly). A later boss was the Kraken. I remember it being very difficult to get to the Kraken without depleting your energy too much, to the point where I kept my NES on for a few days (i.e. I didn't want to turn it off because I got so far in good condition). Of the games mentioned in this post, this is the only one I've actually completed. For some reason, despite loving this game, I never played any of the sequels or spinoffs (of which there are over a dozen at this point), though I have to admit a certain anticipation for FF13.
- Dragon Warrior: This game actually predates Final Fantasy by a year or so (and I'm sure it influenced the makers of FF) and is very similar. To be sure, I don't think I ever got that far with this game, but it introduced me to the franchise and I remember playing this game and Dragon Warrior II at a friend's house often.
- Dragon Warrior III: When I finally saved up enough money to buy one of these games, Dragon Warrior III had just come out, so I ended up purchasing that game. This game expanded upon the others by including a massive amount of content. A larger world to explore, more and varied enemies to defeat, and a massive amount of special items to collect. Indeed, I remember it having an absolutely huge instruction manual and a big map of the world with a list of magic items and creatures on the back (such things were common then). The game was huge, so despite enjoying it, I don't think I ever finished it. I did get pretty far though, and I had a lot of fun with it...