THE BEST OF THE BEST NINTENDO DS RPGS

The Nintendo DS revolutionized handheld gaming with its dual-screen approach as well as graphics. With plenty of games that look and feel downright evergreen.

Released in 2004 and still launching great games even years after the arrival of the 3DS on the scene in 2011, the Nintendo DS revolutionized handheld gaming with its dual-screen approach as well as graphics which were, at the time, positively stunning. While some games in its tremendous library have aged poorly by design, the RPG genre is featured heavily on the system, with plenty of games that look and feel downright evergreen.

With so many Nintendo DS RPGs to choose from, we'll fill you in on the best picks that are well worth your time. Bear in mind that we won't be including DS ports of RPGs from prior systems, such as the (excellent) Chrono Trigger DS. We'd rather give the games birthed on the famously clamshell-designed portable the retrospective respect they deserve.

Pokémon Conquest

Pokémon Conquest is such a bizarre game that it would warrant a mention based on weirdness alone. As it happens, it's also a wonderful spin-off that's absolutely worth playing. The plot's bonkers — this is as much a spin-off of the Nobunaga's Ambition strategy franchise as it is a Pokémon game. The player character and their beloved Eevee travel across an island region themed after Japan's Feudal era, challenging warlords for supremacy. Rather than katana, these are civilized (?) folks who prefer to let their trusty Pokémon determine the victor. Your ultimate and final foe is the legendary Oda Nobunaga himself. (Because of course it is.)

Speaking of legends, the people who populate the world of Pokémon Conquest believe that whosoever unites the Ransei region will be gifted with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Arceus, the mythical Pokémon who created the world. But if you're to get that far, you'll have to endure a gauntlet of tactical RPG battles against feuding foes. Expect Nobunaga to show up with powerful besties like Zekrom and even a shiny Rayquaza. See? It's bonkers!

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings


The sequel to Final Fantasy XII flew surprisingly under-the-radar with its 2007 foray into RTS mechanics. It's been one year since the events of the mainline title. Vaan and Penelo, true to form after FFXII's ending teased it, are searching for something called the Cache of Glabados. Returning stars Balthier and Fran soon join the party, alongside several members of Vaan's old Rabanastre orphan group. The story is more lighthearted and swashbuckling than the much better-known Final Fantasy XII, with a colorful (and perhaps a bit more childlike) art style that accentuates the tone.

Revenant Wings is a wonderful RPG that really digs into the character of Vaan in ways that, sadly, his original appearance did not. He's far more likable here, and the stage-based combat is quite addictive. Cameos from Ashelia, Basch, and even Larsa help to ground the aerial tale in the mythos of the Ivalician setting, while resurfacing foes like Ba'Gamnan and his gang are given a more sizable role here than in XII.

This may not be the full-fledged console sequel that many had hoped for, but it's still a delight and handily one of the best Nintendo DS RPGs.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey

The Shin Megami Tensei franchise is probably more famous today for its hugely successful spin-off series, Persona. But the SMT games are generally of excellent quality — they simply tend to be set in post-apocalyptic worlds rather than the rigors of balancing school life with mysterious dungeons. Strange Journey, true to its name, is one of the stranger entries in a long list of games that are designed first and foremost to strike you with how off-kilter they are.

The (incredible) story will bring you to a sci-fi rendition of Valhalla and pit you against demons sure to earn the respect of any Balrog. A mysterious black spot covers part of Antarctica, prompting the strongest soldiers on Earth to sail forth and discover a shocking truth about the fate of all existence. You'll take on the mantle of one of those soldiers, armed to the teeth but by no means prepared for the horrors to come.

Strange Journey is a freaky and fiendishly hard affair, best played snuggled up under the covers in the dead of night. You know, to really instill maximum fear into you.

Radiant Historia

Between Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and the extraordinary Radiant Historia, the talented developers at Atlus get the honor of appearing twice on our list of best Nintendo DS RPGs. Radiant Historia is a more traditional JRPG overall, with its fantasy world and warring kingdoms. But there's a deep, if overt, message of the importance of environmentalism baked into it all, and more refreshingly, a ton of time travel twists that make the plot really pop and the characters frequently bewildered.

Radiant Historia follows the saga of Stocke, a soldier in the kingdom of Alistel gifted with a tome that allows him to traverse time itself in a desperate bid to prevent the total desertification of his realm. (See? There's that environmentalist message for you.) Fighting takes place over the course of distinct turns in a grid-based battlefield. Depending on the choices you make during your attempt to set the world to rights, you will encounter one of several endings, making replayability a top-tier aspect of the game.

An expanded 3DS port called Perfect Chronology exists, though fans are divided on whether the updated artwork is an improvement or a menace.

Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver

At the beginning of our article, we noted that we wouldn't be including simple ports. That stands true despite the fact that HeartGold and SoulSilver are based on original Game Boy Color titles Gold and Silver. These aren't just full-blown remakes, they're complete overhauls of virtually every aspect of the source material. The result? Quite possibly the most beloved Pokémon games of all time.

The story is expanded in fun and unexpected ways and the music has been lovingly revamped (though those who prefer the old tunes can unlock the ability to listen to them instead). The graphics are polished to a mirror sheen; HeartGold and SoulSilver ably prove that outstanding art design triumphs over pure technical specs every time. Johto and Kanto have never felt so vibrant, with the games' seasonal changes especially shining during autumn.

Improved level balancing and additional events make HeartGold and SoulSilver the definitive remakes upon which all other remakes are frequently judged, be they DS RPGs or video games of wholly different genres and eras. In fact, the perk of having one's Pokémon follow them around on the field was so well-received that fans cried foul to find it taken out of subsequent games in the series, and now Nintendo is finally listening, including the feature in modern entries such as Let's Go Pikachu & Let's Go Eevee.