Written in 2018
"The golden age" seems a bit too much as a summary of this era? I haven't found any evidence that these years indeed are called this way, but I personally think that in that time, many landmark RPGs have been released that still influence the genre in one way or another.
In this era, lots and lots of games are widely acknowledged of being ageless. However, I tried to find out what the most ageless of these games were and present them to you. Of course, if you'd like to expand this list, write me a notice. Just contact me here.
You may notice that not many games of the early Play Station / Saturn era that are in 3D are listed here (or will be). That's because I think the graphics of that era look chunky and are difficult to look at nowadays.
Final Fantasy VI (SNES, 1994)
This part is the pinnacle of the Final Fantasies before the series took a turn to 3D and pre-rendered backgrounds. In comparison to the latter, however, Final Fantasy VI aged incredibly well.
Sprites and backgrounds look ageless, the story is mature and well told, the soundtrack is great both in composition and sound quality and the game itself is still very playable. It's overall the same pleasing experience today as it was for the gamers back in 1994..
The enemies lack animation, though. And the sprites could be bigger. So the game does not really take advantage of everything the SNES had to offer, but it's good enough to really get the feeling of the world you're in.
You can also read our review here. I would recommend picking the GBA version if you can find it, it has a better translation.
Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)
Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest RPG that has ever been released on the SNES. It is shorter than Final Fantasy VI for instance, but it offers a way bigger audiovisual pleasure than the aforementioned game.
The soundtrack, composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda, still sounds great today. Enemies have some great animations, effects are impressive. In fact, Chrono Trigger was that much of an impact for gamers that it widely affected the development of newer games such as Evoland II or I am Setsuna.
It's also very enjoyable from the storytelling point of view and feels overall much more a modern game than other RPGs of that era.
If you're in for a retro game that does not feel retro at all and could also be a modern indy game, you can always pick up Chrono Trigger. It has gotten a nice DS version.
Terranigma (SNES, 1996)
A game that came out so late in the lifecycle of the SNES, that it wasn't even released in North America. The N64 was already out there when Terranigma was launched, but in Europe, the new console was still going to be relesed. So as a potential Christmas Hit, Nintendo localized Enix' Terranigma, the third installment of the Soul Blazer series.
Terranigma uses pre rendered images in some cutscenes, has impressive sprite art and effects, tons of animations on characters, enemies and even just decorative objects. The story is one of a kind and it will make you think about it for some time.
The soundtrack is still very enjoyable and I listen to it sometimes on my phone or other music players. The game does not even feel outdated at all. Only some sprites look a bit deformed. It's not the japanese super deformed thing, on the contrary. The heads seem to look a bit flat to me.
Terranigma is a nice action RPG with some Sim Cityesque moments when you can help cities evolve.
Shining Force (Mega Drive / Genesis, 1992)
A game that was released very early in this era. However, Shining Force somehow manages to be not only completely playable even nowadays, but it also remains a certain charme that stops it from aging.
The graphics are simple, but the nice manga style character portraits, bright colors and the decision of the developers to refrain from dithering gives the game the look of a comic book or a cartoon. Along with the impressive battle scenes, the game looks visually pleasing even today.
The soundtrack has its own set of instruments and doesn't sound like the typical Mega Drive / Genesis game. Melodies are nice to listen to, as well.
The story, on the other hand, is a bit bland, full of cliché and badly told. Events seem to happen very suddenly, and it is often enough unclear why baddies exactly do this or that.