Release Date: 1994
Breath of Fire II is an RPG great on a console crammed full of them. Released on the SNES, it joins the likes of Secret of Mana, the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, and the original Breath of Fire at the very top of its chosen genre. It takes place 500 years after the end of the original game to tell the story of Ryu Bateson, a blue-haired boy hero on a quest for justice, which is launched when his friend is framed for a crime he didn't commit.
One of the best things about the game is the way the world is gradually opened up. Each party member has a unique skill that they can use outside of the normal course of play, so fishing and hunting skills, for example, unlock different mini-games. But the ability to swim or bridge chasms allows the party to access more of the increasingly vast game world, and it's the pacing of exploration is one of the game's greatest strengths. Another is the way the game prefigures the Dark Cloud series by giving you the ability to build your very own town, choosing its architectural style, and gradually filling it with non-player characters that can help you on the main mission -- a mission with multiple endings, depending on how effectively you steer Ryu and friends on one of the classic quests of 16-bit storytelling.