Top 20 DS Games
By the RPGFan Staff
November 21, 2013 – Into every generation of consoles, some great games must fall, and on the DS, when it rained, it poured. In fact, the DS saw its cup of great games runneth over so immensely that we had 100 games on our initial list of those that we thought had a legitimate chance to make our top 20. We had to vote, debate, vote again, debate some more, and finally make a ruling that we'd only include one game from each franchise. Even then, the choices were mighty difficult, but the rule saved us from ending up with a list that included multiple Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, and Pokémon games, among others.

The truly amazing thing is that when the system was released, people throughout the gaming industry were fairly skeptical about its chances of success. Who needs two screens? And what will people use them for? Will there ever be a developer who does more with the second screen than a minimap or an inventory? It is certainly true that when the system first arrived on the scene, many developers had a hard time thinking of good ways to use its capabilities (as you'll see mentioned in connection with at least one of the games below). But after the initial awkward phase, there seemed to be no end to the possibilities offered by this great piece of hardware and its seemingly infinite battery life.

Thus, while there are plenty of DS games that are worthy of your time, here are the games that we consider the best of the best on Nintendo's little two-screener that could.

10) Chrono Trigger
Sure, Chrono Trigger has several ports, but with very good reason. The 1995 SNES classic remains one of the most beloved of a 16-bit RPG generation already filled with many gems. After all, who doesn't want to take a whimsical journey through time as a spiky redheaded teenager with the oddest group of friends... several times? While the Nintendo DS version lacks the anime cutscenes of the PSone, it also does away with the infamous load times and adds in an optional, sizable new dungeon. Additions aside, Chrono Trigger's plentiful memorable moments — from being taken to trial in Guardia to finding yourself in the floating palace of Zeal for the first time — remain, for a lack of a better word, timeless.

9) Final Fantasy IV
As with most remakes, the appeal of Final Fantasy IV DS is based on nostalgia, and when it comes to improving the aesthetics with nostalgia in mind, Final Fantasy IV DS does so masterfully. On the DS hardware, the game brings the world of Final Fantasy IV to life with impressive 3D models that capture the spirit of Amano's artwork as well as new arrangements for the music. The gameplay is designed with fans in mind too, but it plays around with the concept by redesigning enemy encounters and forcing players to rethink the way they approach familiar situations. Final Fantasy IV DS brings the past and present together to give a classic RPG a modern context and in doing so, transforms it into something great.

8) Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
The well-beloved gentleman solves yet another mystery that seems to defy logic. Far from exhausting the series, Unwound Future breathes a dynamic yet melancholic spin on the world of puzzle lovers. The 3 new mini-games involving pictures books, a toy car, and a parrot — all equally adorable — can be delightfully devious, and the staple puzzles are just as charming. Character development shines in this entry, complemented by one of the most moving endings in recent years.

7) Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver
Sure, Diamond and Pearl were all right, and Black and White had some cool features, but Nintendo blew us all away with the gorgeous remakes of HeartGold and SoulSilver on DS. The vibrant new graphics brought life to Johto like never before, and I, like many others, threw hundreds of hours into exploring it all. There may not have been any new Pokémon in these versions, but other new features such as the Pokéathlon and the PokéWalker accessory brought new depth to the world of Pokémon. Perhaps best of all was that any of the game's 493 creatures could follow you around on foot. It may not sound like much, but after 300 hours with my Jolteon, I was seriously attached.

6) Radiant Historia
In RPGFan's 2012 feature spotlighting the best male protagonists, Radiant Historia's Stocke was our chosen runner-up in the "born leader" category. That he can stand in a feature whose pantheon includes such beloved heroes as Crono, Hiro, or Commander Shepard speaks volumes. Stocke is a leader who can quickly and confidently instill camaraderie in his troops so they feel like family and work like a well-oiled machine. In much the same way, the various components of Radiant Historia coalesce into something truly special. Classically handsome visuals, an amazing Yoko Shimomura soundtrack, an intriguingly political storyline, and engaging gameplay by themselves are wonderful things, and in Atlus' capable hands became one of the finest JRPGs of the past decade.

5) Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
There's nothing to object to in this successor to the popular Ace Attorney series. Apollo Justice fills Phoenix's shoes without losing himself in them, while Wright gains a depth befitting his age and experiences. Gameplay doesn't stray far from its formula, but the addition of Apollo's "Perceive System" based on signs of anxiety and nervousness adds a realistic spin to the courtroom drama. The "mini-games" and evidence examination effectively use the touch screen function in a way that was lacking in previous iterations. With a fantastic story and refreshing characters, Apollo Justice is clearly guilty of surpassing Phoenix.

4) Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Causing a terrible accident. Taking on your father's duty. Marrying the love of your life. Watching the world pass you by. Happy reunions and triumphant victories. A series of smaller moments slipping out of memory. In Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, Yuji Horii's talent for creating powerful vignettes is on display for all to see, connecting the stories of one man on an adventure as he learns, loves and lives. All of the Dragon Quest staples make a return: Toriyama, Sugiyama, slimes, the whole package. The gameplay is standard, but it is polished to perfection. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is a landmark game, not because of any particular innovation, but because it tells its tale of adventure perfectly.

3) Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Maybe the key to a fantastic RPG is its setting. Home to the apocalypse, Tokyo offers a sense of realism that grips players and immerses them in a sort of alternate reality. But what's a realistic setting without authentic characters and dialogue that's not only well-written, but expertly translated? The Protagonist, Atsuro, and Yuzu serve as representatives to the human condition in a genre typically flooded with stalwart heroes who selflessly aid others. Certainly, that is a choice players can make, but the diverse cast offers different points of view that may ultimately change the fate of the world, depending on how the Protagonist reacts. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor's strong emphasis on player choice facilitates the immersion offered in every other regard. Combine all of this with challenging gameplay that boasts bountiful customization, and SMT: DS is absolutely one of the best RPGs — nay, titles — on the DS.

2) Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
At first you're resistant. "There's no way this could be as shocking as people say." You make your way through mountains of exposition and character introductions, some great puzzle-solving, and lots of pseudoscience. "I like where this is going," you say to your friends, "but if they end up pulling a cliché out, I'm so done with this game." And then, just as you're fully enraptured in the struggles of nine (technically eight) strangers trying to escape a sinking cruise ship, a sickening splorch echoes from your DS' tiny speakers and the screen fades to black. "What?!" you scream, "that can't be it! I don't have any answers!" Your data saves, and you're informed that you received the "hatchet" ending. And so begins the experience of 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, one of the most wholly engaging games on the Nintendo DS. It is a game that demands patience and more than a little repetition, but as it slowly doles out answers to your burning questions, you'll find it harder and harder to put down, until at last you reach the climactic moments of the game. The ultimate revelation is one that will floor many players, and the character development, devious puzzles, and great music will happily carry you along to it.

1) The World Ends With You
Square Enix's plunge in quality is nothing new; for several years now, SE's future has been called into question, with few beacons of hope along the way. The World Ends With You is a shining example of what SE is capable of at their best, which they made this brief return to in 2008. What makes TWEWY arguably the best RPG on the Nintendo DS is its entire package. Amidst some tough competition during the DS's nearly decade-long tenure, TWEWY boasts attractive artwork, engrossing music, innovative and fast-paced gameplay, an imaginative story with deep existential considerations, and some of the best use of the DS's dual screen offered on the handheld. And to think: a company that unashamedly resells titles of its former glory from two decades ago has put out one of the best new IPs in the past five years.

RPGFan would like to thank Creative Uncut for the use of several pieces of artwork used in this feature. Creative Uncut hosts tens of thousands of high quality video game artworks covering hundreds of games, so definitely check out their collection if you're a fan of artwork.

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