10 best JRPGs on the Nintendo DS
In the span of a decade, the Nintendo DS has amassed an incredible library of games. Regardless of a person’s favorite genre, the portable system offers at least a few dozen interesting options, and JRPGs are no exception. With the combined power of the PSP and Nintendo DS, the late 2000s was practically a golden age for JRPGs, at least on handheld consoles.
What games have helped make the DS a must have system? Which ones are still worth playing in 2020? Whether it’s established franchises or new IPs, the DS offers plenty of titles with gripping storylines, charming art styles, and effective combat systems. What are the best JRPGs for Nintendo DS?
Disclaimer: As the focus will be on games introduced on the DS, remakes and ports will not be included. That said, Chrono Trigger could be at its best on the portable system. The Castlevania DS games are also fantastic but will be left out as they are more action-adventure games with RPG elements than full-fledged JRPGs.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is a beautiful RPG that exists in a franchise known for its excellence. The DS sequel doesn’t quite manage to reach the same heights as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, let alone the original PS1, but Grimoire of the Rift does a respectable job expanding combat. In fact, you could argue that Grimoire of the Rift has the best combat system among any Tactics title.
The DS game suffers from a lackluster storyline that doesn’t even try to replicate the brilliance of its predecessors. If anyone can look beyond the generic narrative, Grimoire of the Rift is a nice tactical RPG.
Rune Factory 3: A Fantastic Harvest Moon
Rune Factory takes something like Harvest Moon and adds a touch of old-school dungeon exploration. Farm simulations focus on the daily struggle to generate profit, and they are just as likely to relax or cause panic. Rune Factory 3 lets you plan your own schedule, which can be a bit overwhelming considering the wealth of skills and features available in the game.
Agriculture is at the heart of the experience and it is incredibly strong. When you tire of the fields, there’s always the option of heading to a dungeon and engaging in some simplistic monster bashing.
Final Fantasy: the 4 heroes of light
Like all genres, JRPGs have changed a lot over the past few decades. While Final Fantasy has persisted as a cornerstone of the genre, the more recent main entries have strayed from many of the conventions that defined the first license titles. In some cases, spin-offs are a better bet for a classic Final Fantasy experience.
With a cute art style and a refreshing and challenging level of difficulty, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a throwback to the JRPGs of yesteryear, especially those of the SNES era. It’s by no means perfect and can be a bit too anachronistic for some people, but some fans should appreciate the game’s in-depth customization system and heavy-handed nature.
Shin Megami Tensei: strange journey
As a rule of thumb, any DS game with Shin Megami Tensei on the front cover is going to deliver a good time. While the Devil Survivor games take the series in a tactical RPG direction, Strange Journey offers something more akin to a traditional Shin Megami Tensei experience.
The story moves away from Japan and ranks among the best offerings in the franchise, while a relatively straightforward turn-based combat system is elevated by Strange Journey’s demon recruiting mechanic. Exploration is also rewarding.
Pokemon White & Black (and their sequels)
For the most part, Pokemon has had a successful fate on the DS, although the franchise’s refusal to stray too far from the box has meant that it has started to become stale with longtime fans.
Released in 2010 and 2012 respectively, Pokemon Black & White and their sequels serve as welcoming entry points not only into the Game Freak series, but also into JRPGs in general. While they feature some minor formulaic changes like the introduction of spinning battles and animated sprites, the Black & White games are still Pokemon real and true. They are just slightly more beautiful than the other entries on the Nintendo system.
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
All three Etrian Odyssey games on Nintendo DS are above average RPGs, with the second and third entries being particularly good. Reminiscent of series like Dungeon Master and Legend of Grimrock, Etrian Odyssey games are dungeon crawler first-person RPGs that are extremely challenging yet oddly addicting.
Taking place in a magic tree that is essentially a maze and having no automatic map system, Etrian Odyssey II offers a robust selection of character classes and customization options, allowing for the creation of a wide variety of games. The story, while minimalist, is also effective. As good as Etrian Odyssey II is, its 3DS remake, Etrian Odyssey Untold II: The Fafnir Knight, gets it completely out of the water.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s story
The Mario & Luigi series was the spiritual successor to the 1996 Super Mario RPG, and the Nintendo DS is home to the franchise’s two best entries. While you can’t go wrong with Partners in Time, Bowser’s Inside Story is just a step above its predecessor. The story, which sees Mario and Luigi on a journey through Bowser’s body, marks a comedic climax for Nintendo in general.
The exploration is split between an outside world and 2D side-scrolling sections, both of which are entertaining while offering something different. Bowser is also a playable character in the exploration and battles sections.
Radiant Historia is a prime example of a JRPG that expertly draws the line between the familiar and the new. Set in a kingdom torn by conflict and on the verge of destruction due to a pandemic, Stock, the protagonist, pursues a quest through time to lead his world to salvation.
The choices made by Stock are meaningful and will lead to different endings, greatly improving the replayability factor of Radiant Historia. Turn-based combat emphasizes positioning and tactics through a grid-based system. It is a familiar experience but still unique.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky
Dragon Quest is the quintessential traditional JRPG series, and the DS is home to many of its versions. Most are updated versions of classics, with Dragon Quest V being the group’s choice, but Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies stands out because not only was it created specifically for the Nintendo DS, but it also adds a multiplayer touch to playoffs.
Whether played with three other friends or solo, Dragon Quest IX is a charming epic that tells the heartwarming tale of good overcoming evil. Very little about this adventure will surprise veterans of the JRPG genre, but Dragon Quest IX does the basics as well as any other game.
The world ends with you
Square Enix created something special with 2007’s The World Ends With You, a game that has been ported to other systems but remains at its best on the Nintendo DS. Boasting an untouchable soundtrack and an art style that exudes the personality of its Shibuya environments and likable characters, The World Ends With You follows Neku, a loner who finds himself having to participate in a game of life or of death.
The World Ends With You combat system takes some adaptation time but makes fantastic use of the DS dual screens and, more importantly, complements the story themes. If there’s one DS JRPG that should be considered a must-have, this is it.
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