5 Nintendo DS RPGs That Stand the Test of Time

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RPGs have long been a vital part of any system's library, drawing in classical game fans, Japanophiles, fantasy nerds, and children alike. Every gaming platform has had its share of great RPGs, some of which stay popular far beyond the platform's original lifespan.

This rings especially true for the Nintendo DS, whose fun, engrossing RPGs continue to ring in sales and bring in new fans. If you have any interest in RPGs, and are looking to dust off your old DS (or play some old DS games on your 3DS), then look no further than this list of 5 DS RPGs that continue to engross gamers to this day.

The World Ends With You

Released in 2008 by the same team behind Kingdom Hearts, Square Enix's The World Ends With You has become a cult classic, praised universally for its challenging and unique gameplay and intriguing story arc.

The game follows an antisocial young man named Neku Sakuraba who finds himself in an alternate version of Tokyo's Shibuya district called the Underground (UG). He is entered into the Reaper's Game, wherein chosen deceased individuals can sacrifice their most treasured possession in order to be entered. The prize is either resurrection or transcendence to a higher form of existence.

Each game lasts a week, and the winner is the one who best completes the tasks set out by the game's Composer and demonstrates the worth of humanity. While completing the tasks, contestants must team up with other players in order to defeat creatures called "Noise" that exist simultaneously in two separate "zones." The World Ends With You follows Neku for three consecutive Reaper's Games as he connects with new individuals and tries to uncover his memories and the circumstances of his death.

Confused? Don't feel too bad; it's a complex game, with an even more confusing (and challenging) battle system. Called the "Stride Cross Battle System," combat utilizes the DS' dual screen capabilities in order to conduct two battles at once, one with Neku and the other with his partner.

The two players are synchronized in battle, with the effectiveness of each player's attacks dependent on whether the player possesses the "light puck" that passes back and forth between Neku and his partner. The character with the "light puck" will be able to perform more powerful attacks, and the speed at which the puck travels between the two characters can be affected by the team's "sync ratio" and equipped clothing. Equipped pins also affect what moves can be used, and whether the character can self-heal. 

It's a weird system to be sure, but also one that can be seriously fun and exciting. There's a reason why The World Ends With You was named IGN's DS Game of 2008, and has a critical score of 88 on Metacritic. If you're at all intrigued by the odd plot or complicated gameplay, be sure to check it out! 

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Almost any of the DS Dragon Quest titles could have made this list, but Sentinels of the Starry Skies stands out as the best-received and first to reach international acclaim. The game sold more than 4 million copies in Japan and 1 million internationally in its first year of release, received a perfect score in Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu (only the 10th game to ever do so), and revolutionized the use of passerby connections in gaming, leading to advances in this function on the 3DS.

In fact, Dragon Quest IX is considered one of the catalysts for social interaction in gaming. Thousands of fans set up real-life meet-up locations, and eventually opened up a new destination in Akihabara (Tokyo's electronic district and anime mecca) in order to exchange special treasure maps.  

Sentinels of the Starry Sky isn't just included on this list for its revolutionary multiplayer capabilities, though. The game features a 50+ hour story, challenging gameplay, character customization, and intriguing plot and characters that together make for a truly enjoyable experience.

The story follows a young Celestrian (angel) who falls from the heavenly Observatory down to the Protectorate below, the land of mortals. The main character must help out human beings in order to gain benevolence and earn their way back to the Observatory. The plot grows more complicated as it goes along, and eventually leads to the main character and their party of 3 human beings (fully customizable) on a mission to save both the mortal world and the heavens. 

Gameplay is similar to other Dragon Quest titles, with the main difference being the significant increase in difficulty. Players engage in turned-based combat in order to defeat enemy monsters, stacking up damage by performing consecutive attacks of the same type. Different character classes (thief, priest, etc.) use different skills and attacks, and each character's class can be changed or upgraded when meeting certain conditions. 

In all, Dragon Quest IX is an excellent RPG that effectively utilizes challenging combat, an engaging plot, and a quirky cast of characters in order to deliver a top-notch gaming experience that I would highly recommend to any RPG fan looking for a bit of a challenge. 

Chrono Trigger

Originally released for the SNES in 1995, 2008's DS port made this heavily-acclaimed game accessible for a new generation of gamers. Chrono Trigger is considered one of the best video games of all timeand as such it more than deserves a spot on this list despite the DS versions port status. 

Chrono Trigger follows a cast of six party members from various points in time as they travel through history in a quest to save their world from future destruction. Gameplay consists of turn-based combat wherein the space between each character's turn is decided by a timer based on their speed stat. Players can use regular physical attacks or special and magical attacks called "Techs" that are more powerful and can be used in conjunction with other characters' Techs, but deplete the character's MP (magic points). 

Chrono Trigger's seemingly simplistic plot and gameplay belie a highly memorable story full of lovable characters, side-splitting humor, and important character choices that lead to one of 13 different endings. Given its entertainment value and comparatively easy gameplay, Chrono Trigger is a great choice for newer RPG fans, or those who simply want to focus on the narrative experience instead of wasting hours in grinding levels. 

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time and Darkness and Explorers of Sky

A children's game and a Pokemon spin-off might seem an odd choice for this list. Nevertheless, years after its initial Western release in 2008, Explorers of Time still stands as not only one of my favorite DS RPGs, but one of my favorite DS games period.

The gameplay is pretty standard for a dungeon-crawler, with the player controlling a team of Pokemon as they traverse dangerous dungeons catching Pokemon criminals and helping innocents in need. Battling also follows standard rules of turn-based combat, with each team member selecting an attack to perform on an enemy (the attacks replicating those found in mainline Pokemon games), choosing to defend, or use an item.

What really sets Explorers of Time and Darkness, and its expanded-story companion Explorers of Sky, above the rest though, is its excellent plot and endearing cast of characters.

The games follow a Pokemon (one of 16 species, decided upon by a personality test at the beginning of the game) who has lost all of its memories, remembering only that it used to be a human. The main character and their partner (one of 13 Pokemon species, chosen by the player at the beginning) join the Wigglytuff Guild, a group dedicated to exploring dungeons and protecting vulnerable Pokemon and lead by a quirky Wigglytuff and his overworked assistant Chatot. The characters soon find themselves chasing down a rogue thief Grovyle, who is stealing the world's Time Gears. Yet, Grovyle and his goals aren't all what they seem to be, and the plot proves darker and more complex the more the story goes along.

Mystery Dungeon may have unfortunately repetitive gameplay, but its gripping plot and lovable characters are sure to keep players gripped to their dual screens. And if you haven't shed a tear or two by the end of the game, then you're probably heartless. I highly recommend this game for any and all Pokemon fans, as well as anyone looking for an RPG with a heartwarming, emotional story. (And it's a fun spinoff game to play while you wait for Sun and Moon.)

Radiant Historia 

Radiant Historia might be the least-known title on this list, but that doesn't make it any less memorable. The game, produced by Atlus and featuring largely the same staff as Persona 3 and Etrian Odyssey, follows intelligence officer Stocke who works for the kingdom of Alistel in their war against the neighboring country to the West.

After becoming severely injured in an ambush, Stocke discovers he has the power to enter a land called Historia and travel into the past and along different timelines. Using this power, Stocke jumps between different branching timelines in a quest to save his world from desertification, gaining different skills and meeting unique characters in each branch. 

Radiant Historia requires that certain events in Stocke's history be revisited and their outcomes changed before he can continue in his story, like preventing character deaths, gaining new information, and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The game's cast is diverse and dynamic, with character interactions and relationships changing dramatically between the different timelines as Stocke's choices and his alliances shift. 

Radiant Historia's combat follows a "Grid System" where enemies are placed on a 3x3 grid. Enemies closer to the character's party will take more damage but also inflict more, making the placement of characters in each battle highly important. Enemies can be moved to different spaces on the grid by various special attacks, and party members can switch turns with one another and with enemies in order to pile on combos and do more damage, though switching also makes the character more vulnerable to future attacks. 

Ultimately, Radiant Historia is one the most fleshed-out games on this list, as its unique nonlinear, time travel gameplay and diverse cast of characters make for an original and enthralling experience. The game more than deserves its spot on this list as an RPG that is worth breaking out the old DS for.

Good RPGs are truly rewarding games, offering fun and challenging gameplay alongside unique, deep plots with charming characters. The 5 games on this list represent the best of the genre, elevating the Nintendo DS to one of the best gaming systems ever created. 

What do you think of the RPGs on this list? Are there any great DS titles that I missed that still hold up to current titles? Let us know in the comments below! 

Published Jun. 27th 2016

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