With the release of Bravely Default just a few short days away, we here at 3GEM thought it was high time to look back at the best RPGs ever to grace portable game consoles. For this Top 10, however, we decided it was best to only include games that were originally released on a handheld. So while seminal remakes like Final Fantasy IV and awesome ports like Chrono Trigger would easily find their way onto a “best RPG of all time list” (one day), today’s honors go to the best epic quests made for the road.
10 – Golden Sun
Proof that Nintendo can stand toe-to-toe with the big boys of the RPG genre, Golden Sun was a sadly overlooked gem for the Game Boy Advance that brought dozens of hours of stellar traditional RPG gameplay. Where the game stands out is with its use of Djinn as either Powerups or summons to make your party stronger. These Pokémon-like creatures played an integral part in making Golden Sun stand out on a system that was already swamped with great RPGs.
9 – Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
The third title in the Mario & Luigi series is probably the Bros.’ best RPG adventure yet. Featuring the same, quirky gameplay as its predecessors, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story takes things to a whole new level thanks to some of the best writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading as well as some really clever gameplay mechanics. (Who would have thought controlling Bowser’s muscles could be so fun?)
8 – Jeanne d’Arc
An anime-strategy-RPG based on the saintly French maiden? Sure, why not? Jeanne d’Arcy for the PSP is probably one of the most criminally overlooked RPGs from last generation. Featuring gameplay akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, Jeanne d’Arc won the hearts of all who played it and still stands up today as one of the best games ever to hit the PSP.
7 – Radiant Historia
Another Nintendo DS RPG, Radiant Historian stood out from the crowd thanks to its time-shifting mechanics and deep classic RPG mechanics. Of course, everyone knows a good RPG is measured by its story – in this regard Radiant Historia delivers an engrossing tale with multiple endings that span generations. The Nintendo DS is home to many hidden gems; if you’re looking for a great RPG that you might have passed over, you should definitely check this one out.
6 – Shin Megami Tensei IV
Man, Nintendo handhelds sure do get a lot of great RPGs, don’t they? Shin Megami Tensei IV (check out our review here) brought Atlus’ renowned RPG franchise to the Nintendo 3DS in style, with an incredible story, engaging battle system, and hours upon hours of gameplay. If you’re new to the series, I couldn’t think of a better place to start than with a trip to East Mikado.
5 – Half-Minute Hero
One of my favorite PSP games of all time has to be Half-Minute Hero. It’s a crazy mish-mash of genres – the game is basically a whole bunch of small RPGs rolled into one. The catch? You only have 30 minutes to beat each of them. So while other RPGs take their time and set up their exposition, Half-Minute Hero throws you right into the thick of the action with little time to plan, adding a sense of urgency to a genre that is usually lacking in that department.
4 – Valkyria Chronicles II
I love strategy RPGs, and (almost) nowhere can you find a better strategy RPG than the PSP’s Valkyria Chronicles II. Somehow the game managed to take most of its predecessor’s elements and improve on them in some sort of way, which is all the more impressive considering the original game came out on the PlayStation 3. The anime re-telling of World War II may seem like an odd choice at first, but after spending just a few moments with the game you’ll know why it made our list.
3 – The World Ends With You
When we’re talking about hidden gems, the buck definitely stops here. The World Ends With You for the Nintendo DS is, simply put, one of the most creative, innovative, and fun RPGs to come from Square-Enix in years. Considering the DS’ large library of RPGs, it’s telling that this game is usually the ones that fans will constantly describe as “the best”, even going as far as to petition Square-Enix to make a sequel.
2 – Fire Emblem: Awakening
Remember when I said that you (almost) couldn’t find a better strategy RPG than Valkyria Chronicles II? Well, here it is. Fire Emblem: Awakening took a series that, while critically acclaimed, was always a niche title in the market and thrust it into the spotlight. Everything from the top-notch presentation, the engrossing story, the challenging gameplay, and the hundreds of hours of gameplay come together flawlessly to make Fire Emblem: Awakening one of Nintendo’s best releases in recent memory.
1 – Pokémon (The Series)
Let’s be honest here; when you think of handheld RPGs, your mind instantly gravitates to Pokémon. Nintendo has proven that gen-in and gen-out that they can somehow make each Pokémon game better than the last (read our review of Pokémon X/Y right here). No other game, or series has defined a product such as Pokémon has; it’s simply unfathomable to imagine portable gaming being as popular as it is with Pikachu and friends, and that’s why it lands at number one on our list.
You’ve seen our list, now we want to see yours. Let us know what your favorite handheld RPGs are in the comments below.