Top 20 Best Nintendo DS RPG Games (Of All Time)This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
RPGs today still require the same dedication they did 10 or 20 years ago.
One thing that has changed for a lot of us is that we no longer have all the time in the world to sit in front of a screen to customize characters and learn intricate mechanics and combat systems.
Thankfully, something came to our aid: handheld consoles.
The Nintendo DS, with its amazing sleep mode, is truly a godsend for RPGs. Can’t find a save point? No problem, just close it up and you’re good to go.
And if this wasn’t enough, the most demanding fans of the genre will find a lot of innovative titles in the console’s RPG library. Plus these often have a lot of neat features made possible by the dual screens and touch controls. Let’s dive in and see which RPGs really stand the test of time.
Release Date: March 30, 2006
Contact is a great example of how RPGs can break the boundaries of genre and offer truly unique experiences.
If we were to judge Contact solely on its gameplay features, the game would have no right to be mentioned in this list. Combat is extremely basic, character customization barebones, and dungeon crawling repetitive.
What makes Contact a unique (and fun) experience is how the game itself serves as a contact medium between the player.
You act through main character Terry, the Professor, and his dog-who-wants-to-be-a-cat Mochi, breaking the fourth wall from the very beginning. It’s odd yet really fun.
Well written and well-staged, Contact’s story makes it easy to look past the many issues of a game that is definitely not one for everyone.
19. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Release Date: August 7, 2008
Everyone loves Fire Emblem now. Bt how many know how the legend was born?
Or rather, how the legend was reborn?
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is the remake of the very first entry in the series.
As such, some of its mechanics and features do feel archaic: Marth’s journey to reclaim the kingdom of Altea is a tale without any major twist. And the tactical role-playing game experience is quite straightforward with limited customization options.
Still, beneath this simple frame lies a fun experience thanks to the map design, varied mission objectives, and the thrill that comes with trying to keep all your units alive at all costs… lest they’re lost forever.
18. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Release Date: October 28, 2010
Genies are great. They can grant wishes.
And they can unleash powerful spells to utterly obliterate their enemies.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is among those RPGs saved by one redeeming quality: the story, set 30 years after the GBA games.
It’s a rather by-the-books tale that sees the children of the original heroes try to save the world and live up to their parent’s reputation.
The Djinn system is certainly entertaining as heck. It allows players to customize their characters, access new classes and abilities, and unleash flashy summon attacks that will easily destroy mobs in the game’s classic turn-based combat system.
Good puzzle variety also helps an experience that would have been pretty forgetful if it relied on its story alone. Worth checking out if you’re a Golden Sun fan, if not maybe it’ll be hit or miss.
17. Final Fantasy Tactics A2
Release Date: October 25, 2007
The Final Fantasy Tactics series lost something in the jump to handheld console. But it’s hardcore nature has been left intact.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 features a plethora of interwoven gameplay systems that require dedication to fully understand.
Controlling the young Lucio Clemens as he’s transported to Ivalice by an ancient grimoire, you have to explore the land, complete over 400 quests, and put together the strongest army ever seen.
This is a ton of fun to play thanks to the many cool grid-based strategies you can use, plus a tactical combat system with a really unique Law system, and a tweaked Job System to boot.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is an involving game that the most dedicated tacticians will fully appreciate. But even laid-back gamers will find something fun in this one.
16. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Release Date: September 25, 2008
If Mario and Luigi got excellent RPG adventures, why shouldn’t Sonic the Hedgehog?
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood has an excellent pedigree, having been developed by RPG masters BioWare.
And it shows. From the excellent turn-based combat system to the varied objectives system, which forces players to use all of the characters in the party. Not to mention the clever control scheme that uses the touch screen and the stylus for pretty much every action.
The story may not be all that exciting. But the excellent banter between these cheeky characters will be more than enough to get you out of Green Hill Zone and into the wild.
15. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
Release Date: October 29, 2009
Back to the roots, once again.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light brings us back to a time when role-playing games were set in predictable fantasy worlds, destined to be saved by the chosen ones.
The four main characters take some time to awaken to their destiny. But once they do, The 4 Heroes of Light really gets going with an amazing turn-based battle system that allows you to store Action Points to unleash multiple commands on the same turn. Definitely an improvement from the original FF4.
Plus there’s a fun customization system that tweaks the classic Job System to offer a lot of versatility, proving that a classic RPG experience(with the right tweaks) can still be very relevant to this day.
14. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
Release Date: December 1, 2009
A turn-based RPG that plays like a puzzle game?
And an excellent one at that? Yes to all.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes offers a combination of a standard role-playing game, a strategy game, and a puzzle game.
While the game’s Story Mode is extremely enjoyable thanks to the great writing, it’s the battle system that elevates the whole experience.
You’re tasked with lining up units in different patterns to unleash spells and special attacks. Combat is rather straightforward on paper, but it takes some time to learn all the ins and outs; making this a game suited for players who want to invest time into it.
It’s a puzzle RPG, after all: did you really expect things to be easy?
13. Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
Release Date: February 21, 2008
In an era where video games strived to as accessible as possible to a wider audience, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard went the exact opposite way.
With great results.
Hardcore is the true definition of the dungeon crawling experience seen in the game.
Random battles, played in a first-person view, turn-based combat system reminiscent of classic RPGs, are brutal.
The dungeons are complex. And there’s no map to guide you except for the one you can draw on the bottom screen.
The Class upgrading system is intricate here as well, requiring a lot of thought to be used properly. If it isn’t entirely clear yet, let me spell it out for you: hardcore adventures only!
12. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
Release Date: November 1, 2008
Not all men in Midgard welcome the Valkyries and are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of the gods.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume subverts the premise of the other two entries in the series by introducing an agent of Hel, Queen of Niflheim, called Wylfred, who journeys into the world seeking revenge on the Valkyrie Lenneth.
Armed with the Destiny Plume which grants incredible power in exchange for life, Wylfred will jump from one battle to another. This one goes deep.
It’s a pretty fun game too, and mixes tactical RPG with the action-based mechanics of the series.
By the end he turns into someone who’s much worse than the woman he’s seeking. Oh, the irony of destiny.
11. Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver
Release Date: September 12, 2009
Pokémon come in all sorts of forms & designs with tons of unique adventures.
But there’s rarely been as good a title as the gen 2 classics Gold and Silver.
In Pokémon Heart Gold / Soul Silver you travel all over Johto to challenge the Gym Leaders, enter the Pokémon League and become the best trainer in the land… it’s basically the original GBC games, but with DS graphics and some cool new goodies.
The addition of the ingenious Pokewalker, which forces players to walk in real life to get a variety of rewards, elevates the HG/SS experience above that of the originals. Plus there’s a few other hidden goodies to explore as you dig into the game.
I won’t spoil too much if you haven’t played it yet, but I will say Pokémon is a popular game series for a reason. And these gen 2 remakes are well worth your time.
10. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Release Date: October 8, 2009
Demons despise humans, and that is a fact.
But they do enjoy a good conversation with them from time to time.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is set in a mysterious void called Schwarzwelt, which suddenly appeared in Antarctica.
A void that must be banished at all costs, together with the fearsome demons inside.
Equipped with the Demonica Suit you’ll be able to control demons and fuse them together to create even more powerful ones. All with the goal to help you defeat your enemies in the game’s excellent turn-based system.
With an excellent story that delves deep into human nature, Strange Journey is an adventure that will stay with you for a long time.
9. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Release Date: April 26, 2007
Final Fantasy XII on the go? Not quite.
More like Command and Conquer meets Final Fantasy on the go.
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings masterfully bridges the gap between real-time strategy and role-playing games.
Set one year after the events of FF12, Revenant Wings sees the now fullfledged sky pirate Vaan travel to the sky continent of Lemures and protect its inhabitants from the fury of the Judge of Wings.
But he comes with the help an army of espers, all designed around a simplified RTS combat system that works great with touch controls.
The fun additional storyline is sure to keep you hooked as well(especially for FF12 fans). If you played the original then not playing Revenant Wings feels like a terrible crime. And it’s a crime you won’t want commit with all these Judges running around Ivalice.
8. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Release Date: July 11, 2009
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a breath of fresh air.
Shocking, considering how much the series resists innovation.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies brings some nice twists to the classic JRPG experience seen in the series. Such as the complete removal of random encounters, character creation for your hero, and co-op multiplayer for up to four players.
Sure, some of the game’s features are still a little dated. Like the battle and menu systems.
But the journey to save the world as the holy Celestians is so enjoyable that you’ll have no trouble looking the other way.
7. Final Fantasy IV
Release Date: December 20, 2007
Even with all its changes, Final Fantasy IV on the DS is among the few remakes that really does the original justice.
While the story hasn’t changed much(dark knight Cecil embarking on a journey that will help him discover his true heritage and save the world), the story is presented in an amazing 3D cinematic style complete with voice acting.
It makes all the characters even more memorable.
Combat and progression mechanics have also been enhanced considerably, with an increased difficulty level and the ability to assign new commands to all playable characters. This finally gives FF4 character customization options that the original lacked.
The game isn’t particularly innovative, sure. But if having such a grand adventure in your pockets is not enough for you, you do deserve getting branded as a spoony bard.
And if you consider yourself a Final Fantasy fan then this one is a must-play.
6. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Release Date: July 17, 2008
Brides are always late.
The Heavenly Bride even more so, but the long wait was well worth it.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride was shipped out to western shores and couldn’t have been handled better.
The beautifully remastered graphics give more personality to an incredibly charming multi-generational tale that gets more personal, and way more engaging, as it proceed.
It makes saving the world feel like a true responsibility.
The gameplay is just as great as the story is, and it allows players to tame and put together a team of monsters giving so many customization options that will keep you glued to the console’s dual screens for hours.
Worth the play time for sure.
5. Pokémon Black/White 2
Release Date: June 23, 2012
When we’re diving into the world of Pokémon B&W, we’re going in strong!
Pokémon B&W 2 are a novelty for the series. These were actually the first-ever direct sequels to any gen (not counting G/S/C as a sequel to R/B, but that’s up for debate).
It brings us back to the Unova region two years after the previous adventure. And you’ll get to see how much the region has changed since, gather a total of 301 Pokemon, defeat more Gym Leaders, and become the best trainer in Unova. Again.
And even take part in the creation of movies in the Pokémon Studios, which twists battles in a very interesting way.
This doesn’t do much to alleviate the been-here-did-that feeling that permeates the experience. But let’s be honest, who hasn’t dreamed of being the star of a Pokémon action flick?
4. Chrono Trigger
Release Date: November 20, 2008
Chrono Trigger is unique as far as role-playing games go.
It’s always among the best games of every console it has been released on.
The Nintendo DS release is the definitive version of the game, and the best way to enjoy it. Well, if you’re a fan of SNES graphics & music then go for that one… but if you’d prefer a more modern take you’ll definitely appreciate the NDS release.
Added to the amazingly tight experience that sees you accompany Crono and his gang in a journey through time, we’ve got a lot of new content to dive into.
Wwo new dungeons, a new ending that bridges the gap with Chrono Cross, and a dual-screen mode that removes all the clutter from the main screen. This way you can marvel at how gorgeous the game still looks even 20 years since its release.
The magic of excellent design, folks. Gere in all its magnificence.
3. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Release Date: February 11, 2009
From the Mushroom Kingdom to Bowser’s insides. Now that is an interesting change.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story continues the excellent tradition of the Mario RPG games with a new adventure that sees Mario, Luigi, and most of the Mushroom Kingdom’s denizens getting eaten by Bowser.
The two brothers will have to explore Bowser’s insides while the lord of the Koopas investigates who is behind this whole ordeal.
The gameplay is more fun than the story for sure. You have to coordinate the three characters during exploration and turn-based combat, but it’s something you enjoy the more you play it.
With some witty writing to boot, Bowser’s Inside Story is rightfully the climax of the entire series. A great Mario RPG title worth checking out.
2. Radiant Historia
Release Date: November 3, 2010
There is one thing that Radiant Historia definitely does right: time travel. And it’s not the only one.
The Radiant Historia world is on the verge of collapse.
The long war between the two dominant kingdoms sees no sign of ending, and a terrible disease is turning the world into a wasteland.
Controlling the quiet and brooding Stocke and his band of soldiers, players must use the mysterious White Chronicle to travel through time and make sure history takes the right turn.
With an excellent melancholic atmosphere, an engaging battle system that combines turn-based action with tactical mechanics, and a truly engaging story, Radiant Historia is your game.
Especially if you’re looking for a traditional RPG with some tweaks that elevate the whole experience on the NDS dual-screen.
1. The World Ends With You
Release Date: July 27, 2007
The World Ends With You only needs a simple introduction.
It’s got to be the best Nintendo DS RPG ever released and it has quite a fandom behind it.
Starring the introverted Neku, players are forced to play “The Game”.
It’s a grueling challenge that rewards the winners with another shot at life. Dark, right?
Set in an incredibly stylish version of Shibuya, players have to read people’s minds, defeat the powerful Noise, plus alter Shibuya’s trends in their favor using touch screen controls.
All of the game’s features are masterfully crafted including some nice settings and brilliant music. But the battle system truly sets TWEWY apart from all of the JRPGs released for the DS.
Battles use both of the console’s screens in a very clever way, which all the following ports couldn’t replicate. If you’re a real fan of the DS then this is a must-play title… in fact, I hope you’ve already played it!