The Japanese RPG market exploded in the 32-64 bit days, blowing out with a new game seemingly every week. You can blame Square for that one, bringing to the stores amazing game after amazing game, which immediately spurned every other company to release whatever dreck they could muster to keep you pumping money into their pockets. Nowadays there are hundreds of options out there, and the Japanese market isn’t the only one around. North American companies have their own answers to the RPG boom and now it’s a veritable flood of options. Here are the top five for each option you’ve got.
Yup, no DS games. I imagine soon, with the release of the new Pokemon game, and the surprising announcement of Dragon Quest IX coming exclusively to the DS, the RPG options there will explode (and I’m aware of Final Fantasy III, but was not quite enamored of it enough to include it on this list), but for now your best bet in the RPG realm on handhelds is with the Gameboy Advance. Here are a few of the best.
1. Golden Sun – It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not legendary. But, it’s good solid fun, and for the size and expectations o f a handheld console it’s still pretty fun. I enjoyed it for a few reasons. First off, the gameplay is top notch. The battle system is built around a simple premise and sticks with it, but it’s still fun. The story is nothing special but it reminded me a lot of the 8-bit glory days, keeping me involved without making it impossible to keep up when I have to turn the game off every 20 minutes. Solid play and go action
2. Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire – Pokemon has been around for almost 10 years now, a regular entry in the gameboy RPG market, really the only entry inn that market, and a damn good one. By the time this pair was released (the usual duplicate games with slightly different monsters in each), the same gameplay was reused a good four times and starting to get a little old, but it’s still sound gameplay, and who doesn’t like to collect as much of something as they can. I’m older yes, but I still enjoy the mindless capture and battle system of Pokemon. It’s cathartically simple.
3. Final Fantasy IV – It’s technically a port, but a damn good port at that. I loved this game back in the days on the SNES and the idea to bring the 16-bit Final Fantasies to the GBA made me as happy as can be. This was a game I love to play, but feel goofy loading into my PS2 and sitting down to play. It’s a perfect bus play, and it plays just as great as in 1992. The classic tale of Cecil and the Red Knights never fails to capture my attention from start to finish. Of course, when Final Fantasy VI is released, I might have to replace this with that one, as we all know that VI is the greatest of them all.
4. Riviera: The Promised Land – Atlus has been basting the PS2 market with top notch games for three plus years now, with their fantastic strategy and alchemy RPG games. They bring Riviera to the GBA with the same pedigree, a solid RPG that plays to the GBA’s strengths as well as any. It’s essentially a screen to screen game. You don’t control you surroundings so much as go from page to page within them, but the battle system is amazing and the different options and acquirables immense. The story, like any Atlus game is the real selling point and actually got me to play through it twice.
5. Final Fantasy Tactics – The portable version of the PSone classic has sucked more time from my life than any GBA game I’ve ever played. The 300+ missions are each 30-60 minutes long and the customization options equal length. This is a long game with a lot of gameplay and a fun little story. You’re Marche, you’ve been sucked through a book into the magical land of Ivalice and now you are a knight. Go!