The Nintendo DS RPG Buyer’s Guide
There are dozens and dozens of RPGs available for the Nintendo DS. Which ones are worth a look, and which ones will appeal to which types of gamers? Check out our buyer's guide to find out!
Nintendo DS Roleplaying Games
In recent years, the Nintendo DS has been home to an increasing number of roleplaying games, including a fairly even mix of classic remakes and brand new RPG epics. In fact, Nintendo’s handheld unit is quickly becoming one of the most RPG-friendly gaming systems of all time. With so many to choose from, however, it can be hard to choose which ones are worth purchasing, and which ones are probably best to pass on. Fortunately, we’re here to help!
For many gamers, Final Fantasy is a name that has become synonymous with RPGs, and the DS has been home to several titles in this series as of late. Final Fantasy III, released in 2006, was the first game from the venerable Square Enix series to hit the DS. Originally an NES title, FF III has been completely remade with high quality 3D graphics and enhancements to the storyline. The DS release also marked the first time the game had ever been released in North America.
Like FF III, the remake of Final Fantasy IV was completely remade from the ground up, taking one of the most beloved stories in the franchise’s history and enhancing it with improved visuals and voice acting. Be warned, though: both games are old-school difficult, and will require players to spend extra time gaining levels to proceed. Both are also traditional RPGs, which may not appeal to everyone.
For those who prefer strategy RPGs, there’s Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, which while somewhat light on story, offers hundreds of missions and dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay. Likewise, real-time strategy fans will probably want to check out Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, a sequel to the highly acclaimed PlayStation 2 RPG.
Finally, for those who favor a lot of action in their RPGs, there’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. Unfortunately, that one’s probably a rent-first prospect at best, as it is too short, too easy and too unspectacular to truly recommend.
Of course, true RPG fans know that the Final Fantasy franchise isn’t the be-all, end-all of the roleplaying world. In fact, in Japan, the Dragon Quest games are far more popular.
Fortunately, for those who are already familiar with the series, or for those who are interested in trying it out for the first time, Square Enix has also provided U.S. gamers with several Dragon Quest games for the Nintendo DS. For starters, there’s the more adventure-oriented Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime and the Pokemon-like Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker. Both are enjoyable, but gamers looking to get a better taste of the depth of a true Dragon Quest game will probably want to check out 2008’s Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen.
Like its Square Enix cousin Final Fantasy III, Dragon Quest IV is a remake of a NES game, although it doesn’t share the former’s graphical overhaul. However, with its unique chapter-based system, in which each member of the supporting cast is given center stage before meeting up with the true protagonist in the fifth chapter, DQ IV is definitely worth a look for those with an appreciation for old-school gaming. 2009's Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is reviewed here.
Tactical Roleplaying Games
Tactical roleplaying game fans are also in luck. In addition to the aforementioned Final Fantasy Tactics A2, the DS is home to such offerings as Disgaea DS, the Luminous Arc series, Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth, and Rondo of Swords, as well as a number of turn-based strategy titles like Advance Wars and Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, which may appeal to RPG fans. Luminous Arc and Hoshig ami are fairly standard strategy RPGs and are recommended for fans of the genre.
Rondo of Swords features an innovative combat system in which players select a character, and then use the stylus to draw a line through allies and enemies. This allows that character to receive stat bonuses and other bonuses from friends, while attacking more than one opponent per turn. It is an interesting novelty; however the game itself just isn’t very good.
The true gem here is Disgaea DS, a port of the classic PlayStation 2 title that tells the tale of demon prince Laharl as he attempts to regain the throne of the Netherworld with the help of a motley crew of associates and some exploding penguins who say "Dood!" a lot. It sounds weird, but it is one of the funniest games ever made -- not to mention one of the deepest, as it has multiple endings, sports a New Game + feature, and even allows dedicated players to train characters to levels well into the thousands!
Pokemon, Izuna, Etrian Odyssey & More
In truth, most gamers should be able to find at least one Nintendo DS RPG that appeals to them.
Fans of Nintendo’s venerable Pokemon series have the Diamond & Pearl versions of the standard game, as well as the more action-oriented Pokemon Ranger and its upcoming sequel, and three different Pokemon Mystery Dungeon titles. Speaking of Mystery Dungeon-style games, fans of those unforgiving turn-based dungeon crawlers (which usually carry harsh punishments for failure) should also check out the two Izuna games and Sega’s remake of Shiren the Wanderer.
Old school fans might want to look into the Etrian Odyssey series, which are definitely reminiscent of titles like Wizardry. Many will be turned off by their intense difficulty, but allowing players to use the touch screen to make maps is a great idea. Even gamers who more often enjoy mascot-centered platformers will likely want to check out Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
The wealth and variety of roleplaying titles currently available on the Nintendo DS is staggering, and things only get better, as many marquee RPGs were released at the end of 2008 and the first half of 2009. In November 2008, Square Enix brought their classic Super NES RPG Chrono Trigger to the handheld system, complete with its intriguing time-travelling storyline and its groundbreaking (for its era, anyway) New Game + feature. Furthermore, the RPG giant is readying several other titles, including a Kingdom Hearts title and Dragon Quest V. Nintendo is promising to deliver a brand new Mario & Luigi game, as well as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a remake of the very first title in the series, sometime in 2009.
As if that wasn’t enough, the DS also received an entry in the formerly Xbox 360 exclusive Blue Dragon series in early 2009 as well as the promising Infinite Space, a sci-fi RPG from Sega with a heavy focus on ship creation, in early 2009.