A Look Back at the 3DS's Best RPGs

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RPGs and portable consoles are a match made in heaven. You can whittle away at a massive game bit by bit when you have some free time, so it simultaneously stretches an already long game out to cover plenty of time and you don't get too burnt out on it. With this in mind, it's no wonder that the 3DS has given way to some of the most addictive role-playing games in recent memory. Here are a few of the best.

Bravely Default

Price: $44.94

Buy it on: Amazon

Square Enix is a veteran in the RPG circuit, and has had their fair share of impressive portable releases. Crisis CoreFinal Fantasy Tactics Advanced and a myriad of Final Fantasy re-releases have all made their way onto modern handhelds, and rank from nostalgic to excellent.  

Born as a spiritual successor to the spin off game Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default hits the mark through a charming blend of old school nostalgia and modern sensibilities. Metro referred to it as "the best Final Fantasy game that never was," and they aren't alone. Bravely Default has been praised for an overall phenomenal localization, presentation, music and everything else, but I think the real draw to the game is  through the combat. 

Turn based RPG's have an issue with keeping the gameplay loop engaging, and Bravely Default takes a unique approach. In combat you're able to forgo your current turn, but then use that same turn again in the future. This alone makes the game worth checking out for RPG fans. If you're a fan of other Square Enix games and are looking for one with a gameplay twist while familiar elements of the RPG genre are not just kept intact, but enhanced than I highly recommend Bravely Default.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon

Price: $30

Buy it on: Amazon


Though to be fair, you can get any of them. X, Y, Sun, Moon, whatever; you can even go Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire if that's how you do your business. There's nothing that fits what people want out of an RPG on their DS better than a Pokémon game. You can spend as much or as little time on a Pokémon game, but chances are if you bought it you know what you're getting into.

However, I personally think Pokémon design has entered something of a renaissance with Pokemon: Sun and Pokemon: Moon and because of this it is my personal recommendation. You can see some really fantastic Pokémon designs slowly gaining traction with X and Y: featuring the likes of Klefki, Aegislash and Hawlucha who were all interesting left turns, but once Sun and Moon came out there seemed to be a full blown wiping of the slate. 

Almost every entry in Sun and Moon is a banger. All the starters are fantastic Popplio is underrated and often hated like every genius of their generation, Mimikyu has the perfect amount of self awareness to still be charming and a little creepy. Palossand continues the theme of making cool inanmiate objects into Pokémon while Wishiwashi is an interesting take on Pokémon with multiple forms, the list goes on. It's one of the most solid lineups I've seen from the franchise in an extremely long time and with the release of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, now is as good a time as any to jump back in.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Price: $39.99

Buy it on: Amazon

Monster Hunter is a commitment. When you choose to play this game, you're willingly signing part of your life over to Capcom. No one plays Monster Hunter just once. Not even you. Monster Hunter 4 is your gateway drug to a fantastic gaming series.

Some people might say Monster Hunter is not an RPG. I don't think so. If anything it's a simulation game with RPG elements. You are THE monster hunter, and that's what you're going to do. Go out, kill monsters, harvest their rich tasty courage and then return to base to craft or purchase your eternal rewards. Sounds boring on paper, but something about it is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is not the best Monster Hunter on the system. I'd say that honor is reserved for Generations; mostly due to the addition of holding a button to gather instead of having to press it repeatedly. However, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate does a phenomenal job of introducing newer players to this imposing franchise. If you're not quite sure if Monster Hunter World is for you; are afraid of the price tag, or don't own a PS4/PC than this is where you should start. Also the blacksmith is named The Man so, come on. Live a little.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Price: $18.95

Buy it on: Amazon

Another entry some may dispute as a role-playing game, but it's just too damn good to leave off the list. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game ever made. We know this. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is its true sequel, and at times is close to grabbing the crown. 

While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was widely revered, some fans still pined for a traditional Zelda experience. Understandably so, but the traditional Zelda formula is, to be blunt, stale. This is where A Link Between Worlds shines. The freedom to approach the dungeons in any way you choose and to rent items instead of having to tackle the dungeons in a specific manner to complete the game was a welcome addition to the series. Being able to lift that oppressing weight from a long entrenched franchise, that was frankly threatening to go belly up, made A Link Between Worlds a turning point for the franchise.

The unique wall merging mechanic is something that works better than it has any right to. It is an oxymoronical gimmick that you're always expecting to lose its luster, but at the very worst becomes adequate. If you haven't played A Link to the Past, or you're missing a more button down Zelda experience, A Link Between Worlds is absolutely mandatory.

Shin Megami Tensei IV 

Price: $19.99

Buy it on: Amazon

It's not easy to get people on board the Megaten train even with the success of Persona, and understandably so as the older SMT games can seem outdated. If you've ever had the slightest bit of curiosity about the older SMT games, or you're a Persona fan and want to cover some bases, Shin Megami Tensei IV is your best way to have a foot in each world.

The first thing that will hit newcomers to the series is the difficulty. While not one of the hardest Atlus titles Shin Megami Tensei is certainly not a like a stroll through the park and is a big step up from Persona in terms of difficulty. You can't stop and smell the roses in SMT4, and while a lower difficulty setting is available you're still well within range to get bopped if you aren't playing smart. 

The second thing you'll notice is the ideal SMT/Persona gameplay. I'm a big fan of the enemy weakness exploitation featured in Atlus games and that's here in full force as is something called the "Smirk" system. This system gives  you the chance to do even more damage after an effective attack. Of course, you also have full access to your typical SMT fair; negotiating, fusing, and creating your own party is still very much the name of the game. Stepping in with a more traditional Megaten feel are battles that you often can not escape from or bypass by juking on the overmap. There will be plenty of times where you have to fight it out, and things can get unexpectedly hairy.

As you'd imagine, the story is phenomenal and one of the game's strong suits, but it does take a darker path than some of the installments in the Persona franchise. I think it's all the much better for it, but if you're looking for a story about plucky high schoolers maybe you should stay away. The feudal Japanese system mixed with medieval Europe theme works wonderfully, and the music is as intoxicating as is tradition for a Megaten game.

What makes this such a truly fantastic title is the scope of the whole thing. You really do get your money's worth with this game as it lasts around 40 hours for the story alone. While also featuring cutscenes that could be mistaken for a RPG console release. The entire game is fully voice acted, complete with fully realized 3D environments and a surprisingly mature story for a handheld RPG. This is the closest you'll get to a full blown SMT game without dipping over into some of the less friendly titles. If you've ever had a small interest in the franchise, SMT is where you should begin.

The 3DS has provided us with many fantastic RPG's, frankly too many to list, but these are a few of the real standouts. While the Switch is the best of both worlds, if any of these games have grabbed your interest feel free to dust off your 3DS and pick up a few. They're all relatively inexpensive at this point and can provide you an entry into a franchise you never even knew you loved. Like Shin Megami Tensei.

Did I miss one of your favorites? Do you want to tell me about how Monster Hunter isn't an RPG? Leave a comment and let me know!

Published Jan. 30th 2018

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