Len is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has had a fascination with games and media that has lasted a lifetime.
Created by Suda 51's Grasshopper Studios, Contact is an innovative Nintendo DS RPG which explores the roles of agency in video games. Director Akira Ueda presents a rather uninspired top-down action RPG with one glaring difference: you, the player, are an integral part of the story. From the very first scene, you are initiated into the world as an outside user making contact with another dimension with your Nintendo DS.
Your main partner throughout the game is the Professor. He urges you to take control of a stranded teenager named Terry to do battle with his enemies. The game is unclear as to how subtle your influence on the young Terry is, but by the end of the game it raises questions as to how much control we have over our own lives and the degree to which it is moral to influence another person's behavior.
If you're not interested in the philosophical aspects of the relationship between gamer and game, you'll still have plenty to enjoy with Contact : although the battle system is not terribly engrossing, your interaction with NPCs and the job system can be very entertaining.
9. Pokemon Gold/Silver
There's not much to say about the Pokemon series: you know if you love it or not. Although each successive iteration has had additional complexities added, the basic formula has remained the same since the series was first released: capture adorable monsters and put them into battle around the world.
The series is no longer the cultural phenomenon it once was, but fans looking for the best Nintendo DS RPGs don't have to look too far: Pokemon has a lot going for it. In addition to the exploration aspects, players might just find themselves emotionally attached to their fuzzy-wuzzy companions. When you name, breed, and spend time with absurd chimeras like Chimchar the fire monkey you might be dismayed to find out you actually CARE about the personality-less little buggers.
Won't stop you from using them in a digital cock fight, though.
8. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Fans of Rogue-likes such as Nethack and Stone Soup will love the Shiren the Wanderer series. Having a dungeon crawl that you can take on the bus or train with you is great enough, but this remake of a decade-old SNES game adds a unique feature: the ability to interact with other players.
Now, Shiren is far from an MMO. But when your character dies, he can send out an SOS and another player using the wireless network can traverse the dungeon and rescue him. This ensures your character won't restart from the beginning at level 1 and allows for deeper exploration of the dungeon.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer understands that gamers are mercenary, however: for rescuing a character, they can receive loot and gold for their efforts. Whether you're running the game all the way to the bottom or playing paramedic for cash and prizes, Shiren the Wanderer is definitely one of the top Nintendo DS role playing games available.
7. Chrono Trigger
A near perfect port of one of the most beloved games of all time, Chrono Trigger is one of the DS's best RPGs, no matter when it was originally released. If you don't know what CT is all about, I won't explain it here. Just rest assured that is one of the Square's most beloved SNES RPGs.
What makes this one of the greatest DS role-playing games is how much attention was lavished onto it. Although the DS's speakers make the soundtrack a bit tinny, if you use earphones the classic music is note-perfect. It even has bonus areas which make use of the long lost missing tracks that could only be found by hacking the original cartridge.
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Casual fans will love the fact that this all-time great is available on the go and hardcore RPG fans know this is a must-have due to the extra endings and story scenes added in. Yes, they're canon. No, I don't know if that means Square is considering a sequel.
6. Disgaea DS
Atlus's hardcore strategy RPG is several hundred hours worth of gaming on a small little cartridge. A remake of the popular PS2 game, players take a lighthearted romp through the underworld as they quest to become the unopposed ruler of the land.
Featuring a stunningly deep battle system, a difficult to master job-based levels system, and hours upon hours, Disgaea DS is no joke. What makes this one of the top 10 best Nintendo DS games is how much is included into such simple gameplay. The tactical combat completely blows out its competitors and will leave gamers with more bang for their buck than just about any other title on the list.
5. Etrian Odyssey Series
Okay, so, there's actual three games, with the third in the series released in September. However, they are all enough alike that it would be a waste to place them all separately on the list. The Etrian Odyssey games are throw back to the old school RPGs. Featuring blisteringly difficult turn-based battles and confusing dungeons, this is a roleplaying game for the pros.
All of the games feature minimal story and plenty of battles. Master inventory management, grind away levels, and for God's sake, make a map.
Don't be fooled by the cutesy anime characters, you're not going to see a lot of comic mishap or precious little romances: just hardcore RPG action. Hours of throwback gameplay make the Etrian Odyssey series one of the best DS RPGs for sure.
4. Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
The Mario Brothers have a surprisingly storied history as role playing game stars. In their latest outing, the brothers are joined by their arch-nemesis as the two alternate between their own adventures in this new Nintendo designed RPG.
Explaining the game is harder than it should be: long story short, Bowser inhales all of the Mushroom Kingdom, including Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Fortunately, Bowser's insides are set up like a side-scrolling adventure rather than a normal biological system. While Mario and Luigi galavant about the Koopa King's insides, Bowser is on his own quest to retake his castle from the magician Fawful.
Absurd, right? But the joyfully imaginative game quickly grows on the player. Nintendo has made the villainous Bowser one of their most endearing characters over the past few years and this starring turn from the King of the Koopas is a welcome turn. The Bowser portions makes up for the often frustrating Mario and Luigi platforming segments.
Stay tuned through the ending: old school nerds who fell into the Nintendo sticker book traps back in kindergarten will feel a sense of nostalgia when the gloriously painted still images are displayed.
3. Final Fantasy IV
More than just a port of the classic SNES RPG, Final Fantasy IV on the Nintendo DS is a complete remake. Featuring completely 3D graphics, it really pushes what the DS can do, performance wise.
Of course, at the end of the day, it is still a portable: you're not going to see much better than Final Fantasy 7 caliber graphics, but the changes don't stop there. The story is retranslated, the music remastered, and the battles rebalanced. Even for fans of the original, it is almost an entirely new experience.
The magic of experiencing something old and comfortable and familiar in an entirely new way is almost indescribable. It is like slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers in a new home.
2. Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Although Dragon Quest 5 comes in just above a Final Fantasy game in this list of the top 10 best DS RPGs, don't take that as an endorsement of one series over the other. The Nintendo DS remakes of the Dragon Quest games are on their own exemplary, but the fifth in the series is an interesting diversion from the classic series.
In DQ5, you play a character from childhood to adulthood. All the while, you are doggedly pursuing the family quest to gather the pieces of the heroes armor together to rid the world of evil. There are a few big twists along the way, but the biggest departure from classic RPG tropes is that halfway through the game you get to choose a woman you want to marry.
This marriage will produce two children and from then on out DQ5 is a family affair. This game has all of the mainstays of the Dragon Quest series, but the clever storytelling and thwarting of the player's expectations at every turn makes this the best Dragon Quest game available on the Nintendo DS by far.
1. The World Ends With You
The very best Nintendo DS RPG comes from Square-Enix, but it isn't a big franchise: The World Ends With You is a modern take on the classic RPG system. Somewhat reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series, players control hip high school students who are concerned with fashion, electronics, and shopping.
Players are able to control multiple characters at the same time, one attacking via button inputs while another being controlled with the Nintendo DS's touch screen. The battles can get hectic quick and they're often quite difficult. However difficult the game may be, the experience of using complicated techniques to control your party is enough to make the battle system a winner.
The story itself is remarkable. In addition to the already unusual setting, the protagonist is intentionally made unlikable. Far from the traditional hero, he is often apathetic and cruel throughout the adventure. Gamers will find The World Ends With You a new experience from start to finish.
For fans of Western-style RPGs, the DS is unfortunately a bit of a wasteland. Even venerable western RPGs like the Might and Magic series get a Final Fantasy make-over. It is a gap in the DS's library, but for JRPG fans, you have more than you can reasonably play in a year.
Do you have a favorite DS RPG you think deserves to be on the list more? Share your opinions in the comments section below.
Also be sure to check out this list of great Vita downloadable titles if you're in the market for more on-the-go gaming!
!!!!!!!! on November 13, 2018:
Hey, I don't see Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on here... :[ it needs to be there.
Alexis on September 04, 2017:
Great list! Glad to see Dragon Quest V: The Heavenly Bride, of the Ds Dragon Quest ports/remakes, it was my favorite!
Edge on March 04, 2015:
Lol, i don't understand why Devil survivor 1 + 2 aren't on this list.
not to mention "Suikoden Tierkreis"".
Jenn Dixon from PA on September 16, 2014:
Atlus RPG's are always awesome. Nice to see them represented on your list!
Samuel Franklin on August 23, 2014:
So many fond gaming memories on this page, I haven't heard of Etrian Odyssey before though, seems like it is right up my alley in terms of gaming.
DeiSakuChris on July 01, 2014:
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky should be on the list. It's an underrated masterpiece. Made by the same compagny that made the number 8 entry.
RolyRetro from Brentwood, Essex, UK on June 08, 2014:
I am a big fan of the Dragon Quest games, and the Shin Megami series (although this is a tactical RPG). Agree that at The World Ends With You should be top of the list.
Eric Riley from California, USA on February 27, 2014:
The Hub may be three years old but still a great list. The DS was an awesome system for JRPGs.
Sarah Forester from Australia on February 13, 2014:
So many great RPGs, happy to say I can nearly tick them all off. Love the Hub.
Ron Mariano from Orange County, CA on February 09, 2014:
I hope they release these games on the Virtual Console for the Wii U. Nintendo will be releasing DS games for the Wii U soon. If not, I wouldn't mind playing Gold and Silver again! Great article!
Matt on January 04, 2013:
My very favorite DS RPG is Fighting Fantasy:The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,and no i am not talking about final fantasy,and Fighting Fantasy is not copying final fantasy because the Fighting Fantasy game is based off the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks which were made before final fantasy was made,and Fighting Fantasy is way different,its a First-Person RPG much like the first couple Elder Scrolls games.though the Fighting Fantasy game is not very well known and the reviewers say this game is crap,but do not listen to them,and anyway almost all users say its real good.and i almost forgot this game is not like shin megami tensei,because Fighting Fantasy does not have grid walking and in Fighting Fantasy it has real-time combat.
Matt on December 13, 2012:
Personally, I'd recommend the Luminous Arc series if you're a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics. The characters, although not that far from your usual archtypes tend to really grow on you; especially when it throws the visual novel aspect at you of interacting with the characters in between chapters.
Since the games take place thousands of years apart from one another, it's perfectly alright to play either one first since it really doesn't matter. I feel the story, characters, and battle systems are much better in LA2.
Shawnia on October 31, 2012:
does anyone know of any other cool adventurous e10+ games that at least let you be a girl?
some examples of ones i like r summon night: twin age and avalon code.
i've been searching for games like those but i think i might have fished out every one there was lol
Sean on July 05, 2012:
I'm playing Radiant Historia at the moment, I have to say the storyline is one of the most engrossing I've played in an rpg and I've played many rpgs.
It's disheartening to see Radiant Historia not mentioned in a lot of these top ds lists.
Yves on June 30, 2012:
Randiant Historia was amazing, I don't know why it didn't make at least top 5 of this list, the game play was so involving, the story like was really long and you had to remember what you did before you got to a certain point to be able to continue, it made you think of everything you've done throughout the game in order to advance, it made you care about the characters, over all I think it was one of the best RPG's I have ever played.
Lanturn on January 27, 2012:
Those looking for 'real' rpgs with that magic/medieval feel to it, try both Sands of Destruction and Radiant Historia. Two very very underrated RPGs that I really enjoyed to the end.
Matt on May 08, 2011:
Pokémon HeartGold and Soulsilver are shit, man. Black/White and DPPT owns this crap.
Luke Chant from Manchester on April 15, 2011:
Some good selections! If you haven't played it yet I recommend checking out Infinite Space - a brutal learning curve but well worth it!
Christian H. from College Station, Texas on March 05, 2011:
Great list. I haven't played a lot of these, but the ones I have have been great. Good job!
soccerpig73 on August 10, 2010:
Thanks for the list. I was looking to buy some new games, and I can't wait to try out some of these!
pb3847 on August 05, 2010:
Very cool list! Never heard of some of these games, but I'll check them out.
Len Cannon (author) from Brooklyn, NY on July 23, 2010:
DQIX came out like two days ago, haha, not enough time to even beat it let alone sit back and rank it.
Hey on July 23, 2010:
Hey, what other rpgs are good? I loved this article, but like I think you also forgot DQ IX =D
Len Cannon (author) from Brooklyn, NY on July 22, 2010:
I wasn't in love with either FFTA titles, but I made it about 80% through the DS one. If you like the FFT series you're better off playing the remake of the original on the PSP.
Kasey Rubenstein from California on July 20, 2010:
I loved The World Ends With You. Like you said, it was hard at times, but well worth it. So many different things to collect, too! I'm currently in the middle of playing Disgaea DS and it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics. So far I still like Final Fantasy Tactics better. There's one for the DS; I was sort of surprised it didn't end up on your list!