Top 20 Best RPGs On Game Boy & Game Boy Color

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After a lifespan that lasted over a decade, the original Game Boy – and its shorter-lived successor, the Game Boy Color – profoundly influenced countless childhoods.

Nerve-wracking wait before a dentist appointment? The Game Boy was with you.

Eight-hour flight to visit grandma? You better have stocked-up on batteries for that GBC.

These two Nintendo handhelds saw the birth of some iconic franchises, including Kirby and – of course – Pokémon.

This portable console was also the perfect vehicle for RPGs and their generally long-lived campaigns. If you’re looking to re-live some of those RPG titles from the GB/GBC era, well we’re counting down the best-of-the-best.

 

20. The Sword of Hope II (1992)

The Sword of Hope II Game Boy screenshot

The original Sword of Hope was a little-known gem that brought fantastic first-person RPG gameplay to the Game Boy’s tiny LCD screen – and the sequel improves a lot on its predecessor.

This is a game for those who love a challenge.

Just a couple of bad decisions or just plain bad luck can spell your end in an instant.

You’ll have to learn from your mistakes if you want to beat the game. You’ll also need a lot of patience, as combat is a little bit slow-paced.

 

19. Final Fantasy Adventure (1991)

Final Fantasy Adventure gameplay

The first game in the Secret of Mana series was initially released as Final Fantasy Adventure in NA.

This fantastic Action RPG brings engaging exploration of varied locales, including deserts, forests, temples, and everything in-between. Puzzle-solving is also a prime focus throughout the game’s different dungeons.

Combat is relatively fast-paced, and you’ll get access to a varied cast of characters with contrasting playstyles that’ll join your party from time to time.

FFA feels a bit like Legend of Zelda with more RPG elements – and that’s a good thing!

 

18. Rolan’s Curse II (1992)

Rolan’s Curse II game screenshot

Speaking of Zelda-like games, consider Rolan’s Curse II.

This unabashed TLoZ clone brings much the same kind of Action-Adventure gameplay with some fundamental changes to justify its existence.

The main ones are the four-character party and the long list of playable characters with different fighting styles and abilities.

Rolan’s Curse II isn’t better than TLoZ, but it sure as hell tries to be.

 

17. Magi Nation (2001)

Magi Nation Game Boy Color

If you hung around the right people in the 2000’s, you probably know the Magi-Nation Duel CCG.

Along with the CCG, a TV series and a video game were made as part of their marketing strategy to reach young players looking for something other than the Pokémon CCG.

This GBC title lets you tame Dream Creatures and use them to fight in a way reminiscent of the Pokémon video game.

While the gameplay was good, the game’s graphics are a definite stand-out for me as well. The sprites are gorgeous and set this game apart from similar RPGs.

 

16. Legend of the River King 2 (2001)

Legend of the River King 2 GBC screenshot

Fishing RPGs aren’t the most common games out there. But it’s not for lack of precedent.

Legend of the River King doesn’t only look like Harvest Moon – it was developed by VIS and published by Natsume too, just like the famous farming simulator.

This game even allows you to link it to Harvest Moon 2 on the GBC and trade items between the two titles. Neat!

It features a wacky storyline that puts some severe stakes on fishing. The somewhat whimsical narrative goes well with the game’s vibrant music and sound design.

 

15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone gameplay

The GBC saw many terrible movie tie-ins and other media adaptations. And sometimes, the developers got it right.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was one of those times.

The game is a complete retelling of the first book’s plot in a traditional turn-based RPG form. It even has some extra scenes exclusive to this adaptation, such as Harry fighting a giant rat in Gringotts.

The graphics are admittedly pretty mediocre, but nobody seemed to care at the time. Anything Potter-related was welcomed, and this game is great if you look past its rough exterior.

 

14. Metal Walker (2001)

Metal Walker Game Boy Color

No, it’s not a Metal Gear rip-off.

If anything, Metal Walker takes more than a little bit of inspiration from the original Pokémon games. But it replaces the pocket monsters with bad-ass robots.

These Metal Walkers come in many shapes and sizes, from a silly-looking sphere robot to menacing mechanical animals reminiscent of Zoids.

The game’s combat was also pretty creative, mixing in elements from virtual billiards to create a more dynamic experience.

 

13. Crystalis (2000)

Crystalis Game Boy Color screenshot

Locate the four legendary swords scattered worldwide and rise against the Demon Lord in Crystalis, a fantastic Action RPG on the Game Boy Color based on a 1990 NES title.

Rather than a port, Crystalis on the GBC was more of a remake of the NES original.

The graphics, plot, and even the gameplay have all been touched-up. It also has a brand-new opening scene and an enhanced soundtrack.

This wasn’t very well-received by NES Crystalis veterans. But the fluid gameplay and colorful graphics appeal to newcomers just discovering the game.

 

12. Survival Kids (1999)

Survival Kids game screenshot

Role-playing video games don’t have to be set in a medieval fantasy world or a sci-fi future to be interesting.

Anything can be a stat-based challenge – including surviving while stranded on a deserted island.

Also known as Stranded Kids, this GBC title focuses on one teen’s struggle to stay alive on a lawless virgin island.

This includes hunting for food, exploring to find resources and water, and finding places to sleep safely.

As if taking care of your bodily needs wasn’t hard enough in an 8-bit deserted island, your tools will also decay with time and use, and you’ll have to replace them often.

 

11. Great Greed (1993)

Great Greed Game Boy screenshot

Nowadays, we get at least five isekai anime series per season. But stories where an average Joe gets transported to another world isn’t anything new.

In Great Greed you take control of Sierra Sam, an average human who’s transported to the magical Green Kingdom.

Being from a different universe works out in his favor here. He’s stronger than anyone else by default – but this also makes him the only one who can save the land from an evil polluting demon.

This game shines for its fast-paced combat system that does away with menus by mapping your abilities to different buttons on the console. This made combat more similar to Skyrim than a regular turn-based RPG.

 

10. Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 (2001)

Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 gameplay

Games inspired by Pokémon were a-dime-a-dozen between the late 90s and early 00s.

And the Dragon Warrior Monsters series is among the best ones.

The game brings together the monster-catching gameplay of Pokémon with the medieval fantasy setting and magical creatures of the Dragon Quest series.

Add to that the ability to “breed” monsters together to create stronger offspring, and you’ve got a winning formula.

The story is nothing to write home about. But the game is full of content to explore and features different areas to “catch ’em all”.

Not quite as good as Pokémon, but still incredibly fun.

 

9. Revelations the Demon Slayer (1999)

Revelations the Demon Slayer game screenshot

If you like the Persona franchise, you would have loved Revelations the Demon Slayer back in 1999.

It was one of the first titles in the extensive Megami Tensei franchise to make it out of Japan and into our international Game Boy Colors.

While most gameplay and combat follow standard RPG mechanics, it gets interesting when it comes to acquiring teammates.

You’ll enlist monsters out in the field to join your army by conversing with them and making them feel understood.

You can also fuse your recruited monsters into more powerful creatures, which adds a new layer of strategy to choosing who dies and who gets recruited.

 

8. Lufia: The Legend Returns (2001)

Lufia: The Legend Returns Game Boy Color

Fans of the Lufia series were positively surprised when they found out The Legend Returns on the GBC was a full-fledged entry in the series rather than a spin-off or remake.

It has the most detailed and absorbing narrative out of the entire GBC catalog, and its gameplay was also pretty innovative.

It lets all nine members of your party participate in every battle, rather than having you choose three or four characters to be your “main party”.

I’ll admit that the randomly-generated dungeons were not the best decision. But this is probably the last great Lufia game ever released.

 

7. Dragon Warrior I & II (2000)

Dragon Warrior I & II GBC

Before it became known as Dragon Quest, the “Dragon Warrior” series was already one of the most well-known RPG names in the Western market.

The GBC title that’ll give you the most bang for your buck is this cartridge containing enhanced ports of the first two NES games – bringing returning veterans and new players a chance to discover these fantasy worlds on-the-go.

Besides being handheld, this is also the best way to play these games from a gameplay standpoint.

You’ll find that almost every bug from the original has been fixed, the translation is vastly superior, and you can even quicksave while out in the overworld.

 

6. Dragon Quest III (2001)

Dragon Quest III gameplay

But the best Dragon Quest experience on the GBC remains DQIII, a remake of the NES classic.

This game is a must-play for fans of the series, as it neatly wraps up the story of the first two games. It also lets you choose between a male and female hero at the start of the game, which was new in DQ.

Like our previous entry, this GBC release fixes all bugs, has an entirely new and improved translation, and even rectifies some censored content present in the original Japanese game – earning it the first-ever Teen ESRB rating on the console.

It’s also much more colorful and introduces other new features like an exclusive Thief class and extra mini-games.

 

5. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Game Boy

If you’ve read any of our previous RPG rankings, you know I consider TLoZ a full-fledged RPG – and that was even more evident back in the 2D era.

As usual, Nintendo used its most valuable intellectual properties to help sell the Game Boy.

TLoZ: Link’s Awakening was a full-fledged entry in the series with many differences to previous games, including a greater focus on a story that doesn’t even occur in Hyrule.

Regardless of its experimental nature, Link’s Awakening is fantastic for any Zelda fan and especially for newcomers.

It has a greater open world to explore than previous games, and it even includes some side-scrolling sequences to keep things fresh.

It’s also available on the GBC as TLoZ: Link’s Awakening DX in full color.

 

4. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages

When the Game Boy Color came around, it was time for a new marketing campaign and – of course – a new handheld Zelda.

The two Oracle games may remind you of Pokémon’s clever “same game in different colors” tactic, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The two games are entirely different.

Oracle of Seasons takes place in Holodrum and focuses on action and combat, while Oracle of Ages occurs in Labrynnia and emphasizes puzzle-solving as its central game mechanic.

Clear either of the two, and you’ll get a password to unlock a “true” ending and access some other goodies in its parallel title.

 

3. Final Fantasy Legend II (1991)

Final Fantasy Legend II Game Boy screenshot

Originally released as part of the SaGa series in Japan, FFLII follows a group of heroes trying to collect all 76 “MAGI” shards. These magic stones grant their bearer untold power and may bring calamity onto the world if they fall into the wrong hands.

Something that sets this apart from your usual Final Fantasy fare is the character development system.

Instead of regular leveling up, the game awards progress to specific stats depending on your fighting style.

The game was followed by Final Fantasy Legend III, which changed many game mechanics to match regular Final Fantasy titles more closely. It’s also fantastic, but I prefer FFLII’s originality.

 

2. Pokémon Yellow (1999)

Pokémon Yellow GBC

Pokémon was probably the best thing to come out of the Game Boy.

Catching monsters and training them to fight each other proved a hit among gamers, and Game Freak began their rise to glory.

Dubbed the “Special Pikachu Edition”, Pokémon Yellow was the perfected version of the first-gen games and a milestone in the franchise’s development.

The game introduced several improvements over the past two versions, including slightly better sprites and different color palettes for every town.

You’ll also be followed around by your Pikachu outside of its Pokéball, much like Ash in the animated series. Who didn’t love this game in the 90s?

 

1. Pokémon Crystal (2001)

Pokémon Crystal gameplay screenshot

But since this list is about both the GB and the GBC, I get a chance to talk about my favorite Pokémon game –Crystal version.

Much like Yellow is the perfect form of the first generation, Crystal is the best way to enjoy the second-gen adventure in Johto.

One of the biggest and most meaningful changes was the upgraded graphics, including animated Pokémon sprites in combat.

The first time I saw Cyndaquil’s back flames flicker when I sent him out into the field, I was flabbergasted – and the game could never leave my heart ever since.

If you’re looking for the best RPG experience of these two iconic handhelds, Pokémon is the way to go.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.