10 Best Turn-Based GBA Games Worth Playing

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The Game Boy Advance is one of the most powerful machines for lovers of turn-based combat.

It has an enormous library of RPGs and SRPGs following this classic formula, including ports from the NES, SNES, and Super Famicom.

Whether you want to tackle something completely new or go back to the golden age of Final Fantasy, the GBA has you covered.

Such a large turn-based library can confuse anyone, but I have your back. Join my party and follow me on an epic quest to find the best turn-based title on the Game Boy Advance.


10. Riviera: The Promised Land (2005)

Riviera: The Promised Land (2005) GBA screenshot

First, we’re looking at Riviera, a unique turn-based game where RPG meets dating sim.

Riviera is as turn-based as it gets, in the sense that even moving between scenarios is done by choosing between several options rather than physically walking.

At several points during your adventure, you’ll be given choices that affect how the rest of your party sees you – hence the dating sim comparison. This will affect how the story plays out and what “ending” you get.

The game is the first of Sting’s Dept. Heaven series, which would continue with Yggdra Union (2006) on the GBA and a slew of games with similarly unusual gameplay on other consoles.


9. Pokémon Emerald (2005)

Pokémon Emerald (2005) GBA gameplay

People tend to forget this, but Pokémon is, at its heart, a traditional turn-based RPG.

Pokémon Emerald is the best game on the GBA, injecting a lot more content into the already fantastic formula of Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire.

This generation stands out for its absolutely gorgeous art style, a significant leap in graphics, and the best starter trio in the franchise: Torchic, Mudkip, and Treecko.

Some people hate how much water there is in Hoenn, but I thought it made the region uniquely fun to explore. You’re forced to Surf and Dive a ton – but the secrets make it all worth it.


8. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2003)

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2003) GBA screenshot

Most surface-level Mario fans don’t realize this, but the Italian plumber is at the forefront of one of the best turn-based RPG series ever created.

Beginning with Super Mario RPG (1996) on the SNES, Nintendo has been pushing out top-quality RPGs starring Mario every couple of years, including Paper Mario (2000) and the whimsical Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.

Like its predecessors, Superstar Saga injects action into the regular turn-based combat by prompting you to deal more damage by pressing certain buttons at the right time.

The graphics are bright and colorful, the story is as crazy as it is funny, and the soundtrack is a work of art inspired by years of Super Mario games.


7. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (2002)

Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (2002) GBA gameplay

Next to Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, the Ogre Battle series offers some of the most high-quality Tactical RPGs – including the celebrated Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (1998).

Before its 1998 release on the PlayStation, Tactics Ogre was a Japanese Super Famicom exclusive. The franchise returns to its Nintendo origins with the GBA prequel, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis.

This game has everything that made the series great in the first place. The sprites are beautiful, the maps are intricately designed to mess with your strategies, and the story is compelling.

Retrying a level over and over because you lost a unit or weren’t able to persuade a specific enemy to join your cause is surprisingly addictive. Every battle is like a puzzle.


6. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003)

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003) GBA screenshot

If you like The Knight of Lodis, you’ll love Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

Yasumi Matsuno, the original Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre director, was also behind Final Fantasy Tactics (1997). Technically, they’re sister series – explaining the glaring similarities.

The job system that put FFT on the map is just as complex in this GBA title. The story follows a group of friends who must master combat to survive the brave new world of Ivalice, and it’s also top-notch.

There’s nothing quite as addictive as trying a mission for the nth time after failing just one step from victory.


5. Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (2003)

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (2003) GBA gameplay

Not every turn-based game is a high fantasy epic with a ragtag party of heroes facing a dark lord.

Advance Wars takes strategy RPG combat and applies it to modern armed conflict. It’s a concept they’ve been developing since the Japan-exclusive Famicom Wars (1988), and it’s near-perfect on the GBA.

Instead of myrmidons and hoplites, you’ll command mechanized infantry and heavily-armored tanks as one of several unique Commanding Officers bringing different skills to the table.

It’s worth playing the original Advance Wars before the sequel – but if you have to choose, the second GBA entry should be your top priority.


4. Final Fantasy VI Advance (2007)

Final Fantasy VI Advance (2007) GBA screenshot

We’ll step away from SRPGs for a moment to talk about one of the biggest reasons to own a GBA: Final Fantasy VI Advance.

The sixth entry in the storied RPG franchise remains one of the best after over 25 years, thanks to deep characters and a dark story you can’t take your eyes off.

FFVI tackles complex themes like teenage pregnancy, chemical warfare, oppression, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The GBA also saw beautiful and slightly updated releases of every previous Final Fantasy. You have a lot to look forward to if you want to delve into the annals of RPG history.


3. Mother 3 (JP) (2006)

Mother 3 (JP) (2006) GBA gameplay

Nowadays, we remember EarthBound as one of the best RPGs ever made – but it was actually a catastrophic commercial failure in Western markets back in 1995.

It killed any possibilities of the prequel – Mother on the Super Famicom – getting an English re-release, and the GBA sequel was also completely overlooked.

Nowadays, Mother is available in English as EarthBound Beginnings on the Nintendo Switch Online catalog – but Mother 3 remains isolated on the GBA.

It’s a beautiful game with more of what makes EarthBound so good – and it’s a must-play for anyone who mains Lucas in the Super Smash Bros. series.

You’ll find a fan-made English translation here.


2. Golden Sun (2001)

Golden Sun (2001) GBA screenshot

Golden Sun is touted by many as the best RPG on the GBA.

It’s a hit among classic RPG fans for its tense turn-based combat and tried-and-true fantasy storyline about a hero and his companions saving the world from encroaching darkness.

The sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age (2003), is a direct continuation, and the story wouldn’t be complete without it. It follows one of the baddies from the first game as the new protagonist, offering a fresh perspective that adds a lot of depth to the story.

You won’t easily forget about this game’s excellent atmosphere and flashy combat.


1. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (2005)

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (2005) GBA gameplay

Bringing the Fire Emblem series to the West was one of the GBA’s main contributions to the gaming industry.

This makes Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade (2003) a must-play for anyone with access to a GBA.

That said, the best Fire Emblem title on the GBA is probably The Sacred Stones.

While gameplay remains mostly the same, the story and graphics are substantially better, and the Tower of Valni training grounds are a godsend to level characters who lag behind.

The Sacred Stones also lets you choose the gender of the main character, which is always a nice touch.

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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 playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.