Nintendo Entertainment System
In the NES era, the US had several ports of popular computer role playing games like Ultima III and Wizardry. Almost half the games released were direct ports, and a few like Swords and Serpents and Dungeon Magic could have been computer role playing games. Other games had a unique JRPG feel, like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, two of the first examples of JRPGs. There were many other great JRPGs that were never ported stateside like Final Fantasy III, Just Breed and Lagrange Point, and a couple of unusual ones which were. Destiny of an Emperor has something of a tactical RPG element where hit points equal army strength. The Magic of Scheherazade is a hybrid of Zelda-like top down fighting and traditional RPG battles. Ghost Lion is a fairly obscure NES game from the red label years that has your character summon spirits to help her fight, not too dissimilar to Wizardry IV.
Of course, if you were playing a NES in a PAL country, your options were almost non-existent. The major RPG companies like Enix, Square and FCI/Pony Canon had no substantial European presence at this time, so most of these games had no possibility of a European publisher. Nintendo's own fragmented approach to the market made the NES something close to a niche console. Of traditional RPGs, only Swords and Serpents by Interplay was sold in Europe.
US NES RPGs
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance
Bard's Tale, The
Destiny of an Emperor
Dragon Warrior II
Dragon Warrior III
Dragon Warrior IV
Dungeon Magic - Sword of the Elements
Magic of Scheherazade, The
Might & Magic: Secret of the Inner Sanctum
Swords and Serpents
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar
Ultima: Warriors of Destiny
Wizardry Master Series: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Wizardry Master Series II: Knight of Diamonds
Europe NES RPGs
Swords & Serpents
The NES's competitor, the Sega Master System, had a paltry three traditional RPGs : Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, Phantasy Star and Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Because the SMS was not a great success, Ultima IV did not get a release in the United States, which was a shame because it was quite a good port of the computer version. All three were released in Europe and Brazil where the Master System was more popular than the NES.
Sega Master System/Mega Drive
In the 16-bit era, things started to change somewhat. Sega gave the US and European markets almost equal support and had great success in both. Thus both geographic areas received most games. By contrast, in Japan they never had the sales to challenge Nintendo and later Sony for the crown. Of all the traditional RPGs released for the system, all but two were released in Europe. With series like Phantasy Star and Shining Force, European gamers began to be introduced to the character and story driven Japanese-style RPG. However, because Warsong and Traysia were not released in PAL countries, the introduction to JRPGs is limited to the six Phantasy Star and Shining Force games and Sorcerer's Kingdom.
US/Europe Genesis RPGs
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday
Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun
Faery Tale Adventure: Book I, The
Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World
Phantasy Star II
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Rings of Power
Shining Force II
Shining in the Darkness
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
The SNES is widely regarded as the console where JRPGs truly matured into a distinct play-style of RPG. This console is where Square built its reputation as the premier RPG company outside of Japan. There are many classics on this list, Final Fantasy II & III, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound and Super Mario RPG among them. In fact, the only games on this list I could not recommend are certain poor ports of otherwise classic CRPGs.
Unfortunately, Europe did not share in the wealth of RPG goodness the US enjoyed. Companies like Square had begun to establish a presence, but they were wary of releasing their largest and most expensive games. Cartridges were expensive to make and RPGs required large ROMs and battery backed RAM. A failed game could mean financial disaster. Europe does have one exclusive tradtional RPG, Might and Magic II, but the rest really do not give a comprehensive overview of what the system was capable.
US SNES RPGs
7th Saga, The
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire II
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
Inindo: Way of the Ninja
Lufia & The Fortress of Doom
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals
Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra
Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
Secret of the Stars
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Ultima VI: The False Prophet
Ultima VII: The Black Gate
Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom
Europe SNES RPGs
Breath of Fire II
Might and Magic II*
Mystic Quest Legend (Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest)
The Sega CD add-on had quite a few RPGs, more than you might expect. Unfortunately, the situation was almost completely reversed from the Genesis/Mega Drive for the PAL countries. Only three RPGs were released in Europe on CD, and two of them are CRPG ports. The Sega CD was no huge success, and the emphasis on FMV style gaming and PC game ports really doomed the library to a lack of standout titles.
US/Europe Sega CD RPGs
Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep
Eye of the Beholder
Lunar: Eternal Blue*
Lunar: The Silver Star*
Shining Force CD
Nintendo Game Boy
The situation with the Game Boy is similar to the NES and SNES, slim pickins' for the Euopean folk. However Pokemon came along and was a worldwide success, so Europeans could finally play a great RPG on the go. They did get one exclusive RPG in Castle Quest. Importers had no difficulty because the Game Boy had no region lock.
US/Europe Game Boy RPGs
Final Fantasy Legend, The*
Final Fantasy Legend II*
Final Fantasy Legend III*
Pokémon Blue Version
Pokémon Red Version
Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition
Sword of Hope
Sword of Hope II*
Sega Game Gear
RPGs were pretty rare on the Game Gear, and the US got four and Europe two.
Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe
Defenders of Oasis
Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya*
* - US Only
# - Europe Only
Role playing games would seem to be a natural fit for Europe. From Europe came legends of dragons, fairies, dwarves and goblins. Wagner's Ring Cycle, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Dumas' swashbuckling sagas all had a huge influence the development of RPGs, which originated in the United States. D&D was imported into Europe and had a strong following in the U.K.
Still, European gamers acquired an identity of their own and different tastes. European gamers were more inclined to buy a home computer and buy cheaper games on cassette and floppy disks. Their most popular genres included side scrollers, football (soccer) games and shumps. RPGs did not fit on cassettes and C64, Atari ST Amiga users would usually buy the pricey US RPG imports. That may have been a factor in Japanese companies decisions not to release their titles in Europe. European gamers only had exposure to the more open-ended , non-linear and mechanics-driven US developed CRPGs, so it was something of a chicken and egg situation.
When the Playstation proved to be the first console to dominate in all three major markets, things loosened up considerably for European RPG fans. CD manufacturing was far cheaper than comparative cartridge manufacting, so there was a lot less for companies to loose. Square released its lauded RPGs like Final Fantasy VII-IX and Vagrant Story, Capcom released Breath of Fire III-IV, Azure Dreams from Konami and The Legend of Dragoon from Sony, but European fans of the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series had to wait until VIII on the Playstation 2 for an official release.