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The Top 10 Best Nintendo DS RPGs: Role Playing At Its Finest On The DS

RPGs have gone through quite a metamorphosis over the past five years. Console RPGs are almost uniformly giant, big budget affairs. For those whose heart yearns for the classic, low-fi role playing games of the past, there's good news: the Nintendo DS has become one of the great repositories of JRPGs. Featuring both remakes and highly original content, these top Nintendo DS RPGs are enough to win over any fan's heart.

Featuring two huge franchises, a picture perfect remake, an indie darling, and some bad ass hipsters, this list of Top 10 DS Roleplaying Games has something for everyone. Portable gaming has come a long way since the days of the monochrome GameBoy and these titles prove it.


Contact DS
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Contact DS
Contact - Nintendo DS
Contact - Nintendo DS
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10 - Contact

Created by Suda 51's Grasshopper Studios, Contact is an innovative Nintendo DS RPG which explores the roles of agency in video games. Director Akira Ueda presents a rather uninspired top-down action RPG with one glaring difference: you, the player, are an integral part of the story. From the very first scene, you are initiated into the world as an outside user making contact with another dimension with your Nintendo DS.

Your main partner throughout the game is the Professor. He urges you to take control of a stranded teenager named Terry to do battle with his enemies. The game is unclear as to how subtle your influence on the young Terry is, but by the end of the game it raises questions as to how much control we have over our own lives and the degree to which it is moral to influence another person's behavior.

If you're not interested in the philosophical aspects of the relationship between gamer and game, you'll still have plenty to enjoy with Contact : although the battle system is not terribly engrossing, your interaction with NPCs and the job system can be very entertaining.

Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver
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Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver

9- Pokemon Gold/Silver

There's not much to say about the Pokemon series: you know if you love it or not. Although each successive iteration has had additional complexities added, the basic formula has remained the same since the series was first released: capture adorable monsters and put them into battle around the world.

The series is no longer the cultural phenomenon it once was, but fans looking for the best Nintendo DS RPGs don't have to look too far: Pokemon has a lot going for it. In addition to the exploration aspects, players might just find themselves emotionally attached to their fuzzy-wuzzy companions. When you name, breed, and spend time with absurd chimeras like Chimchar the fire monkey you might be dismayed to find out you actually CARE about the personality-less little buggers.

Won't stop you from using them in a digital cock fight, though.

Pokemon SoulSilver Version
Pokemon SoulSilver Version
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Pokemon HeartGold Version
Pokemon HeartGold Version
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Shiren the Wanderer for the DS
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Shiren the Wanderer for the DS
Mystery Dungeon Shiren the Wanderer - Nintendo DS
Mystery Dungeon Shiren the Wanderer - Nintendo DS
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8 - Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer

Fans of Rogue-likes such as Nethack and Stone Soup will love the Shiren the Wanderer series. Having a dungeon crawl that you can take on the bus or train with you is great enough, but this remake of a decade-old SNES game adds a unique feature: the ability to interact with other players.

Now, Shiren is far from an MMO. But when your character dies, he can send out an SOS and another player using the wireless network can traverse the dungeon and rescue him. This ensures your character won't restart from the beginning at level 1 and allows for deeper exploration of the dungeon.

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer understands that gamers are mercenary, however: for rescuing a character, they can receive loot and gold for their efforts. Whether you're running the game all the way to the bottom or playing paramedic for cash and prizes, Shiren the Wanderer is definitely one of the top Nintendo DS role playing games available.

Chrono Trigger DS
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Chrono Trigger DS

7- Chrono Trigger

A near perfect port of one of the most beloved games of all time, Chrono Trigger is one of the DS's best RPGs, no matter when it was originally released. If you don't know what CT is all about, I won't explain it here. Just rest assured that is one of the Square's most beloved SNES RPGs.

What makes this one of the greatest DS role-playing games is how much attention was lavished onto it. Although the DS's speakers make the soundtrack a bit tinny, if you use earphones the classic music is note-perfect. It even has bonus areas which make use of the long lost missing tracks that could only be found by hacking the original cartridge.

Casual fans will love the fact that this all-time great is available on the go and hardcore RPG fans know this is a must-have due to the extra endings and story scenes added in. Yes, they're canon. No, I don't know if that means Square is considering a sequel.

Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger
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Disgaea DS
Disgaea DS
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6- Disgaea DS

Atlus's hardcore strategy RPG is several hundred hours worth of gaming on a small little cartridge. A remake of the popular PS2 game, players take a light hearted romp through the underworld as they quest to become the unopposed ruler of the land.

Featuring a stunningly deep battle system, a difficult to master job-based levels system, and hours upon hours, Disgaea DS is no joke. What makes this one of the top 10 best Nintendo DS games is how much is included into such simple gameplay. The tactical combat completely blows out its competitors and will leave gamers with more bang for their buck than just about any other title on the list.

Etrian Odyssey Series
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Etrian Odyssey Series

5 - Etrian Odyssey Series

Okay, so, there's actual three games, with the third in the series released in September. However, they are all enough alike that it would be a waste to place them all separately on the list. The Etrian Odyssey games are throw back to the old school RPGs. Featuring blisteringly difficult turn-based battles and confusing dungeons, this is a roleplaying game for the pros.

All of the games feature minimal story and plenty of battles. Master inventory management, grind away levels, and for God's sake, make a map.

Don't be fooled by the cutesy anime characters, you're not going to see a lot of comic mishap or precious little romances: just hardcore RPG action. Hours of throwback gameplay make the Etrian Odyssey series one of the best DS RPGs for sure.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City - Nintendo DS
Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City - Nintendo DS
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Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
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Bowser's Inside Story
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Bowser's Inside Story

4- Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

The Mario Brothers have a surprisingly storied history as role playing game stars. In their latest outing, the brothers are joined by their arch-nemesis as the two alternate between their own adventures in this new Nintendo designed RPG.

Explaining the game is harder than it should be: long story short, Bowser inhales all of the Mushroom Kingdom, including Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Fortunately, Bowser's insides are set up like a side-scrolling adventure rather than a normal biological system. While Mario and Luigi galavant about the Koopa King's insides, Bowser is on his own quest to retake his castle from the magician Fawful.

Absurd, right? But the joyfully imaginative game quickly grows on the player. Nintendo has made the villainous Bowser one of their most endearing characters over the past few years and this starring turn from the King of the Koopas is a welcome turn. The Bowser portions makes up for the often frustrating Mario and Luigi platforming segments.

Stay tuned through the ending: old school nerds who fell into the Nintendo sticker book traps back in kindergarten will feel a sense of nostalgia when the gloriously painted still images are displayed.

Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story
Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story
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Final Fantasy IV DS
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Final Fantasy IV DS
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV
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3 - Final Fantasy IV

More than just a port of the classic SNES RPG, Final Fantasy IV on the Nintendo DS is a complete remake.  Featuring completely 3D graphics, it really pushes what the DS can do, performance wise.

Of course, at the end of the day, it is still a portable: you're not going to see much better than Final Fantasy 7 caliber graphics, but the changes don't stop there.  The story is retranslated, the music remastered, and the battles rebalanced. Even for fans of the original, it is almost an entirely new experience.

The magic of experiencing something old and comfortable and familiar in an entirely new way is almost indescribable.  It is like slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers in a new home.

Dragon Quest V (DS)
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Dragon Quest V (DS)

2- Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Although Dragon Quest 5 comes in just above a Final Fantasy game in this list of the top 10 best DS RPGs, don't take that as an endorsement  of one series over the other. The Nintendo DS remakes of the Dragon Quest games are on their own exemplary, but the fifth in the series is an interesting diversion from the classic series.

In DQ5, you play a character from childhood to adulthood. All the while, you are doggedly pursuing the family quest to gather the pieces of the heroes armor together to rid the world of evil. There are a few big twists along the way, but the biggest departure from classic RPG tropes is that half way through the game you get to choose a woman you want to marry.

This marriage will produce two children and from then on out DQ5 is a family affair. This game has all of the mainstays of the Dragon Quest series, but the clever storytelling and thwarting of the player's expectations at every turn makes this the best Dragon Quest game available on the Nintendo DS by far.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride - Nintendo DS
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride - Nintendo DS
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The world Ends With You
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The world Ends With You

1- The World Ends With You

The very best Nintendo DS RPG comes from Square-Enix, but it isn't a big franchise: The World Ends With You is a modern take on the classic RPG system.  Somewhat reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series, players control hip high school students who are concerned with fashion, electronics, and shopping.

Players are able to control multiple characters at the same time, one attacking via button inputs while another being controlled with the Nintendo DS's touch screen.  The battles can get hectic quick and they're often quite difficult. However difficult the game may be, the experience of using complicated techniques to control your party is enough to make the battle system a winner.

The story itself is remarkable.  In addition to the already unusual setting, the protagonist is intentionally made unlikable.  Far from the traditional hero, he is often apathetic and cruel throughout the adventure.  Gamers will find The World Ends With You a new experience from start to finish.

The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You
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For fans of Western-style RPGs, the DS is unfortunately a bit of a wasteland. Even venerable western RPGs like the Might and Magic series get a Final Fantasy make-over. It is a gap in the DS's library, but for JRPG fans, you have more than you can reasonably play in a year.

Do you have a favorite DS RPG you think deserves to be on the list more? Share your opinions in the comments section below. Also be sure to check out this list of great Vita downloadable titles if you're in the market for more on-the-go gaming!



 Last updated on February 12, 2013

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Comments 20 comments

girlincape profile image

girlincape 3 years ago from California

I loved The World Ends With You. Like you said, it was hard at times, but well worth it. So many different things to collect, too! I'm currently in the middle of playing Disgaea DS and it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics. So far I still like Final Fantasy Tactics better. There's one for the DS; I was sort of surprised it didn't end up on your list!

Len Cannon profile image

Len Cannon 3 years ago from Brooklyn, NY Hub Author

I wasn't in love with either FFTA titles, but I made it about 80% through the DS one. If you like the FFT series you're better off playing the remake of the original on the PSP.

Hey 3 years ago

Hey, what other rpgs are good? I loved this article, but like I think you also forgot DQ IX =D

Len Cannon profile image

Len Cannon 3 years ago from Brooklyn, NY Hub Author

DQIX came out like two days ago, haha, not enough time to even beat it let alone sit back and rank it.

pb3847 profile image

pb3847 3 years ago

Very cool list! Never heard of some of these games, but I'll check them out.

soccerpig73 profile image

soccerpig73 3 years ago

Thanks for the list. I was looking to buy some new games, and I can't wait to try out some of these!

Christian H. profile image

Christian H. 3 years ago from College Station, Texas

Great list. I haven't played a lot of these, but the ones I have have been great. Good job!

lukecore profile image

lukecore 3 years ago from Manchester

Some good selections! If you haven't played it yet I recommend checking out Infinite Space - a brutal learning curve but well worth it!

Matt 2 years ago

Pokémon HeartGold and Soulsilver are shit, man. Black/White and DPPT owns this crap.

hah 2 years ago

hey matt - drop the e-thug bullshit.. youre talking about pokemon games.. you really play those? ahahahhahaha

Matt 2 years ago

For someone referencing "e-thug bullshit" you sure are missing the irony of making fun of someone for playing the EXCELLENT Pokemon series. You're trying to act "grown up" but in fact you're showing your immaturity.

Lanturn 2 years ago

Those looking for 'real' rpgs with that magic/medieval feel to it, try both Sands of Destruction and Radiant Historia. Two very very underrated RPGs that I really enjoyed to the end.

Yves 22 months ago

Randiant Historia was amazing, I don't know why it didn't make at least top 5 of this list, the game play was so involving, the story like was really long and you had to remember what you did before you got to a certain point to be able to continue, it made you think of everything you've done throughout the game in order to advance, it made you care about the characters, over all I think it was one of the best RPG's I have ever played.

Sean 21 months ago

I'm playing Radiant Historia at the moment, I have to say the storyline is one of the most engrossing I've played in an rpg and I've played many rpgs.

It's disheartening to see Radiant Historia not mentioned in a lot of these top ds lists.

Shawnia 17 months ago

does anyone know of any other cool adventurous e10+ games that at least let you be a girl?

some examples of ones i like r summon night: twin age and avalon code.

i've been searching for games like those but i think i might have fished out every one there was lol

Matt 16 months ago

Personally, I'd recommend the Luminous Arc series if you're a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics. The characters, although not that far from your usual archtypes tend to really grow on you; especially when it throws the visual novel aspect at you of interacting with the characters in between chapters.

Since the games take place thousands of years apart from one another, it's perfectly alright to play either one first since it really doesn't matter. I feel the story, characters, and battle systems are much better in LA2.

Matt 15 months ago

My very favorite DS RPG is Fighting Fantasy:The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,and no i am not talking about final fantasy,and Fighting Fantasy is not copying final fantasy because the Fighting Fantasy game is based off the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks which were made before final fantasy was made,and Fighting Fantasy is way different,its a First-Person RPG much like the first couple Elder Scrolls games.though the Fighting Fantasy game is not very well known and the reviewers say this game is crap,but do not listen to them,and anyway almost all users say its real good.and i almost forgot this game is not like shin megami tensei,because Fighting Fantasy does not have grid walking and in Fighting Fantasy it has real-time combat.

rondmrn profile image

rondmrn 2 months ago from Orange County, CA

I hope they release these games on the Virtual Console for the Wii U. Nintendo will be releasing DS games for the Wii U soon. If not, I wouldn't mind playing Gold and Silver again! Great article!

ilikegames profile image

ilikegames 2 months ago from Australia Level 4 Commenter

So many great RPGs, happy to say I can nearly tick them all off. Love the Hub.

ECRiley profile image

ECRiley 7 weeks ago from California, USA

The Hub may be three years old but still a great list. The DS was an awesome system for JRPGs.

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