July 24th, 2022: Our Top 25 Nintendo 3DS RPGs feature was originally published on October 10th, 2018. We’ve reposted it as a reminder, as players will no longer be able to add funds to their accounts for use on the 3DS eShop on August 29th, 2022. See all the details in our February coverage.
When the Nintendo 3DS first became available, it was a pretty big deal. The upgraded dual-screen handheld brought glasses-free 3D to the market, plus upgraded hardware over the original DS. Along with all-new IPs, we ended up with new ways to play some old favorites and some surprising entries that revitalized existing game franchises, from Pokémon to Shin Megami Tensei.
You’ll hear a lot about both of these situations in our list, which was not at all an easy thing to compile. We ran polls. We looked at our review scores. We discussed. Many of these games were ranked closely in our internal polls because they are top games in a variety of unique ways. On the whole, we’re hoping you get something out of our personal thoughts on these titles and that we convince you the 3DS can offer a host of wonderful gaming experiences. So now, we present our Top 25 Nintendo 3DS RPGs!
[Editor’s Note: Unlike when we ran our Top 20 DS RPGs and Top 20 PSP RPGs features, the 3DS is getting games, albeit at a reduced pace. If we find something new in 2018-2019 that blows us away, we may update this list later.]
Introduction by Hilary Andreff
The Mario & Luigi series ended up being fairly prolific on 3DS, with four entries as of this writing (including a yet-to-be-released Bowser’s Inside Story remake). But Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions deserves special mention for bringing the original Game Boy Advance classic into the modern age. It’s a remarkably faithful remake that offers some of the improvements made in later M&L games without diluting what made Superstar Saga so compelling. The writing and humor on display is as sharp as ever, and the updated visuals are impressive even if they aren’t quite as striking as the original’s spritework. And the Bowser’s Minions campaign added to this remake is a fun bit of nonsense, offering a look into what Bowser’s goons get up to when the boss isn’t around.
Shame about Geno’s cameo getting cut, though.
24) Ever Oasis
by Nathan Lee
With the Switch dominating everyone’s minds in 2017, the 3DS faded into the background. That’s a shame, since 2017 still contained a number of good 3DS games like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, and Monster Hunter Stories. Arguably the most underrated of them all is Ever Oasis, developed by Grezzo and directed by Koichi Ishii of Mana fame. Released to little fanfare in June 2017, this title was probably on people’s minds for under a week, if at all. Ever Oasis is a charming game where you gather people to set up shop in your town, assist them with their projects, and battle creatures possessed by Chaos. Despite the repetitive gameplay, it’s addicting to see your town grow and your members prosper.
23) Rune Factory 4
by Nathan Lee
Neverland’s first (and unfortunately last) game for 3DS was the ambitious Rune Factory 4. Producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto has said that the game’s motto is “passionate love, sweet marriage.” Rune Factory 4 delivers by delving deeper into the romantic side of the game, adding a boyfriend/girlfriend phase of your chosen romance and a side story that you must complete before the two of you can tie the knot. These side stories really give the bachelors and bachelorettes depth far beyond previous games. The rest of the game is full of things to do, and each in-game day that passes is busy. Hours melt away before you as you farm, fight, and woo your way through this game. “Just one more day” will be something you mutter to yourself during each play session.
by Tina Olah
The 3DS remakes of Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire (the third generation of Pokémon games, originally made for Gameboy Advance) offer an excellent series introduction for newcomers, as well as plenty of bonuses and additional features for those who have already completed the classic games. The graphics have been given an attractive 3D makeover, and a new day and night system has been implemented, giving a whole new look to the Hoenn region.
Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire‘s battle system is very easy to pick up and get accustomed to, especially if you’re a new player or someone who has been away from the series for a while. The many user-friendly features (such as the all-important “save anywhere” function) make these ideal games for those slow and boring trips on public transit. Meanwhile, the charming new mini-games offer plenty of relaxing diversions from the main quest, and Pikachu’s various fashionable ensembles are sure to make even the most gruff and serious gamer squeal with delight. Overall, these games provide an adorable and intriguing look into Pokémon history. Definitely worth playing!
by Patrick Gann
Admittedly, there weren’t many significant changes from the N64 original to this 3DS port. But if any game from the N64 library deserved a handheld port, this was it. It’s hard to overstate the historical significance of Ocarina of Time. Few franchises from the 2D era made strong entries in 3D. Because this was Link’s first outing in a 3D environment, perhaps it would also demonstrate the value of the 3DS’s actual 3D visual hardware. Though the novelty of the 3DS’s “top screen” wore over time (2DS, anyone?), Ocarina of Time was a wholly strange and new experience in fuller 3D. Also, pumping Gerudo Valley music from tiny speakers while commuting to work on a subway? Life doesn’t get much better than that.
by Tris Mendoza
“Dead men tell no tales,” right? But what if they can show them instead? It has become tradition that every installment following the original Ace Attorney trilogy contains its own unique gimmick, but Spirit of Justice has the most intriguing one by far. In addition to cross-examining the living, Phoenix Wright finds himself delving into the metaphysical realm to cross-examine the final memories of the dead through a process known as the Divination Séance. So how did Phoenix end up being entangled in this paranormal predicament? Two words: Maya Fey. That’s right, folks! Our favorite spirit channeler is back after 12 years of being gone from the main series, and boy does her return hit you “Wright” in the feels. These, along with Apollo’s long-awaited backstory, make Spirit of Justice the game fans have been waiting for.
by Nathan Lee
These days, what’s old is new again. Even if it’s 25 years old. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series that was released in 1992 for Japan only. Considered the dark horse of Fire Emblem by those who have played translated versions of it, Nintendo recreated Gaiden for a modern audience in 2017. Returning to a classic Fire Emblem formula felt like a breath of fresh air after Awakening and the Fates games. With a small cast of characters that you can truly get to know over the course of the game, in addition to some new modern enhancements, Echoes proves that remakes can work well.
As far as portable Kingdom Hearts games go, while Dream Drop Distance doesn’t quite match up to the excellent Birth by Sleep, it’s still a solid entry in the series. The roster of Disney worlds on hand is as varied as ever, with stages based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, TRON: Legacy, and Fantasia making appearances. The Flowmotion system is a flashy and fun addition to combat, although the level design admittedly takes a hit to accommodate the added mobility. The game even makes good use of the 3DS’ touch controls by having players feed and cavort with their Dream Eater allies in order to gain new abilities. Plus, the story of Sora and Riku training to become fully fledged Keyblade Masters leads directly into Kingdom Hearts III, making Dream Drop Distance a must-play for fans.
Everyone’s first complaint about Bravely Default is its penchant for repeating things in the second half of the game, including a few boss battles that are repeated five times in order to obtain the best ending. Bravely Second doesn’t abandon Bravely Default‘s repetitive nature, but uses it in a new context that pokes fun at classic RPG traditions. Bravely Second is exploitative and subversive of RPG traditionalism quite often, ranging from the ability to switch random battles off to equippable jobs that can undo enemy actions. Bravely Second has inconsistent storytelling and tone and all the weaknesses of a grind-heavy turn-based RPG, but as a celebration of classic JRPG traditionalism and a meditation on “what is a save file?,” Bravely Second is a must-play. Plus there are cat-maid butler, pastry-maker, and swashbuckler jobs. Very important new additions.
Like most 3DS ports/remakes, Dragon Quest VII was streamlined to meet the expectations of JRPG fans in 2016. The winding, completely mysterious, hour(s)-long opening sequence present in the original PS1 version is shortened and features less backtracking, for better or worse. This new package feels designed around the idea of playing Dragon Quest on the go, with many quality of life improvements, and a smoother difficulty. Here, Square Enix did a thoughtful job with reviving the almost two decades old classic. The game looks gorgeous for a 3DS game in all its tiny 3D-model glory, though fans feeling nostalgic may prefer the retro look of the original.
As far as JRPGs on the 3DS go, Dragon Quest VII is one of the longest, oddest, and most charming journeys. Its slow pace may put off players looking for a quick RPG fix, but players willing to stick with the game through its first handful of sequences will be rewarded with a quest of pure, varied magic.
Persona Q exists so far outside the Persona canon that the characters even acknowledge how impossible this game’s version of Yasogami High School is. Persona Q feels like a half-baked excuse for the casts of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 to interact, but it is a full-baked game in its own right, both for Persona fans eager to see the two casts together and for fans of Etrian Odyssey thirsty for more RPG dungeon cartography. Persona Q has five enormous dungeons, nineteen playable characters, over a hundred Personas to customize, and a killer soundtrack with contributions from three Atlus composers alongside the legendary Yuzo Koshiro. Sure, the personalities of the characters in PQ are one-note versions of their incarnations on the PS2, but Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a fun, elaborate RPG union of two Atlus stalwarts that’s an excellent time on 3DS.
Xenoblade Chronicles was quite the swan song for the Wii. Boasting a huge, unique world, a compelling story, memorable characters, fun battles, and an amazing soundtrack, it made us remember how good JRPGs could be. Stuffing that epic experience onto the 3DS was no small feat, and while the graphics have kind of suffered for it, the game as a whole is largely untarnished by the transition. And that is simply ridiculous. Assuming you have a New 3DS, which is required to play it, Xenoblade Chronicles is a must-have for all fans of RPGs.
by Alana Hagues
Tales of the Abyss is often dubbed the best game in the Tales of series, and it’s easy to see why. Originally released on the PS2 back in 2006, this 3DS port does away with the long loading times and glitches to bring a portable, tidied up version of the game, as well as reaching European shores for the first time. Celebrated for its story, cast and word building, Abyss is the first game in the series to introduce the free-run feature. This enabled characters to run all across the battlefield rather than simply towards or away from their opponent, and opened up a whole range of new tactics to players. Luke fon Fabre is the series’ most developed protagonist, starting out as a bratty, spoilt teenager but completely transforming over the game’s 50 hour story. The supporting cast are memorable too, with Colonel Jade Curtiss’ biting wit stealing the show in almost every scene. Abyss is a memorable, magical experience that asks some difficult questions and leaves even bigger questions once the game’s credits roll. Those JRPG fans who haven’t picked up Tales of the Abyss yet are truly missing out.
12) Bravely Default
by Keegan Lee
When it comes to capturing the essence of classic RPGs, no game does it better than Bravely Default. Created by the team who brought us Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default perfects the job system found in many classic RPGs, giving players a large amount of customization concerning team set-ups. While only a few playable jobs are available from the beginning, the game delivers new and exciting jobs at a steady rate, ensuring that players will never become bored with their party formation. Along with the ability to change the random encounter rate, Bravely Default truly excels when it comes to combat. A fantastic battle system isn’t all that Bravely Default has to offer, however. Featuring a quirky cast of playable characters and bosses alike, Bravely Default also delivers a memorable story and setting that will be talked about for years to come. The narrative has many twists and turns throughout, and by the halfway mark, players will still be wondering who exactly is their true enemy. Bravely Default is such a wonderful all-around experience, and it truly deserves its title as one of the best 3DS RPGs of all time.
11) Pokémon X & Y
by Tris Mendoza
Emerging from the tumultuous weather wars of Black & White is a generation unlike any other. Pokémon X & Y are the first games in the main series to receive a complete 3D overhaul with fully animated sprites and flashy battle animations most akin to the Pokémon Stadium spinoffs. In addition to these graphic revamps, players are now also able to customize their trainer to their liking making the Kalos journey feel like a more personal one.
But the makeover goes beyond mere cosmetics. X & Y also address several of the balancing issues from the previous installments. The all-new fairy typing is an undeniable boon since it provides a welcome counter to the overpowered dragons that ran rampant in the previous meta. Most importantly, weather-inducing abilities are no longer permanent and are instead limited to a maximum of five turns. And last, but certainly not least, is the radical concept of Mega Evolution. With edgy artistic designs and an overall boost in stats, several underwhelming Pokémon from the past are given the chance to redeem themselves. The introduction of these mechanics — and the fact that Snorlax finally stands up after nearly two decades — makes Pokémon X & Y pivotal installments in the franchise.
Less cluttered than before, Strange Journey Redux gives fans of hardcore dungeon crawling another chance to experience this masochistic RPG on 3DS. With its insistence on brutal, long dungeon stretches, Strange Journey Redux recalls the survival horror-like nature of old-school JRPGs, as players spend their energy on managing health, items, and their sense of direction (or sanity).
Stripping Shin Megami Tensei of its sometimes anime leanings, Strange Journey Redux follows in the footsteps of its darker predecessors, the original SMT games and Nocturne. The player is part of a special task force investigating the Schwarzwelt, an ever-expanding stretch of black hole currently engulfing Antarctica. What follows is a true descent into the abyss, from which the player will emerge battle hardened, covered in blood, and commanding a demon horde.
Perhaps one of the most mature tales on 3DS, Strange Journey Redux shouldn’t be missed by fans of tough JRPGs. It may just be the best example of Atlus’ string of excellent Nintendo handheld first-person dungeon crawlers (Etrian Odyssey, Persona Q, etc).
Radiant Historia was one of those wonderful surprises that tend to appear out of the ether late in a platform’s life cycle. Initially developed in 2011 by an all-star team of Shin Megami Tensei, Langrisser, and Radiata Stories alumni, plus one inimitable Yoko Shimomura, Radiant Historia was a rare grim and pessimistic JRPG that followed espionage operative Stocke as he traversed parallel timelines in an effort to save the dying continent of Vainqueur. While captivating and pensive, the game’s limited advertisement and a low print run kept it from wider acclaim when it originally released on the DS. Atlus have now remedied that with 2018’s Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, a 3DS remaster featuring new art, full voice acting, and an entirely new extra scenario to tantalise fans both old and new.
by Greg Delmage
Back in the N64 days, Majora’s Mask seemed strange with its foreign gameplay mechanic of time coupled with the reuse of many assets created by its predecessor. Over the years, praise for the game’s unique world and spin on Ocarina of Time‘s gameplay garnered a need for it to be presented to a new generation of gamers. Thus, Nintendo released it on 3DS with a few quality of life upgrades that make the game much more accessible.
The crisp revitalization of the graphics makes the dynamic world and quirky people of Termina a delight to adventure with, especially in 3D. It offers fun mechanics with the mask powers Link gains, allowing him to embody races made famous in OoT. Finally, the mechanics limiting players’ time is wonderful, making every moment in the game matter and adding high stakes to the emotionally charged adventure as Link pursues the troubled Skull Kid. It’s likely folks know what this game is all about, but if players have not had the chance to experience this bizarre, heartfelt story of loneliness and compassion, this is the definitive version.
by Alana Hagues
Pokémon has long been a stalwart on Nintendo’s handheld consoles, but Sun & Moon mark the series’ biggest shake-up in its storied twenty-year history. The new Alola region is a kaleidoscope of colour, life and all new Pokémon, with 81 brand-new species introduced to the series. Exciting new variants of some favourite Kanto Pokémon are introduced in their Alolan forms, with Vulpix getting an Ice type twist and and Exeggutor getting a Dragon type extension — literally. Perhaps most importantly, Sun & Moon changes a lot of staples in the series for the better. Gone are HMs, and in comes Poké Ride, which enables the player to call a Pokémon to carry everyone across the ocean or fly to various destinations. Gyms are also a thing of the of the past, replaced with Island Challenges which involve solving puzzles, finding items and fighting the Totem Pokémon — ultimately the boss. These updates freshen the experience for veterans while making things even more accessible for newcomers. With an outstanding score and a gorgeous world to explore, Sun & Moon might just be the best Pokémon games for years.
Let’s face it — Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is an excellent game, but one full of harsh mechanics and outright bologna that the average RPG fan may not be able to tolerate. Enter 2013’s Shin Megami Tensei IV, released a staggering eleven years after its mainline prequel. Drawing upon lessons learned from 25 years of MegaTen, SMT IV brings just enough ease-of-use tweaks to appeal to potential players who found the series’ reputation too intimidating, without erasing any of the core mechanics that longtime fans have grown to love. SMT IV‘s take on the apocalyptic conflict between the forces of law and chaos isn’t just one of the finest 3DS RPGs out there, but also one of the best titles in a consistently impressive franchise.
by Greg Delmage
Music has always played an important part in the RPG genre, as music can define a game. It sets the tone and invests players even further into the journey played out on screen. Compositions for the Final Fantasy series are some of the most iconic, making 2014’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call a joy for RPG music fans to play. This rhythm game boasts improvements on its already solid predecessor and a massive song library, bolstered further by affordable DLC tracks pulling from extended Square Enix titles like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and even Romancing SaGa. With a robust cast of fan-favourite heroes and villains, it is a game meant for the nostalgic as players adventure through the familiar backdrops of Midgar or the fields of Final Fantasy V. The various game modes make it easy to jump in for a quick stint of a few songs, a one-on-one battle, or a prolonged quest of random tracks. With so much packed in, it’s easy to return to and remember each adventure the franchise has offered over the years.
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors wowed audiences with its blend of Chunsoft-style sound novel and puzzler, but nothing could have prepared us for its sequel Virtue’s Last Reward: a stark, fully voiced sequel considerably larger in scope than its predecessor. Drugged and kidnapped to a strange facility, college student Sigma is forced to play a sinister game with eight other victims. When it’s revealed that a key part of the game is to decide whether to ally or betray your partners, alliances become tested as smiling faces hide sinister motives. Virtue’s Last Reward is a twisted web of philosophy, pseudoscience, speculative fiction, and suspense that draws from a staggering number of external references. Intricately plotted and emotionally devastating, this is a must-play for fans of adventure games, visual novels, puzzle games, and mind-bending narrative.
Riffing on the Nintendo’s beloved A Link to the Past on SNES, A Link Between Worlds is not an enhanced remake but instead a completely new game that challenges our expectations of what a Zelda game can be. Link now purchases items instead of finding them, and dungeons can be tackled in various orders, giving the game an open-ended, playfully experimental vibe. His titular power, the ability to turn into a mural and explore walls as a 2D being always feels clever and quick, unlike other tasks Nintendo has forced Link to do in previous series entries.
A Link Between Worlds might best be understood as a link between two vastly different eras of games: Nintendo does an incredible job of recalling the original ALttP without ever once pandering to nostalgia or retreading too familiar ground. The game feels wholly contemporary, and will be equally loved by new Zelda fans, kids that have played ALttP one hundred times, fans that hate 2D Zelda, and fans that hate 3D Zelda. It’s pure joy.
The best video game remakes accentuate the original version’s strengths, help correct its weaknesses, and add new material that provides more content or new context without detracting from the spirit of the first edition. Dragon Quest VIII‘s 3DS version executes all that beautifully, with a host of changes (large and small) too numerous to list here. Re-imagining NPCs Red and Morrie into new playable characters is perhaps the biggest apparent change, but the small bits like a fast-forward option in combat and adding more visual aids to the skill system are every bit as impactful. Giving players a new choice for Dragon Quest VIII‘s delightful fairytale ending is the icing on the cake. Dragon Quest VIII holds the unique distinction of being one of the best RPGs on both the PS2 and 3DS.
by Nathan Lee
Early in development for Fire Emblem Awakening, Nintendo told Intelligent Systems that the series would be cancelled if Awakening failed to sell over 250,000 units. With this in mind, Intelligent Systems pooled their minds together to create an uber Fire Emblem game, just in case this was indeed their last hurrah. The result was a game that moved the series from the verge of death to one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises. Breaking 240,000 in just its opening week, this Fire Emblem title would go on to sell over 1.8 million units. The reason? Awakening is easily considered the most accessible game in the series, allowing newcomers to pick up the game without being tactics experts. Hungry for games, and backed up by high review scores, 3DS owners gobbled up Fire Emblem Awakening.
It’s now the benchmark for all future Fire Emblem games, and it will be a tall order for Intelligent Systems to deliver Fire Emblem games on the level of Fire Emblem Awakening.
Bonus: The Starship Damrey
One of the more slight and obscure entries on this list, The Starship Damrey is one of the most overlooked titles in the 3DS’ library. Initially part of Level-5’s Guild02 compilation, this adventure game from Chunsoft boasts a scenario from Kazuya Asano (Banshee’s Last Cry) and Takemaru Abiko (428: Shibuya Scramble) in which the protagonist is trapped in a cold sleep pod within the titular spaceship. Trapped in suspension, players soon find they have access to a remote-controlled drone and begin to explore the ship to try and find a release to their prison. It soon becomes apparent that a terrible tragedy has befallen the Damrey, and things take a sharp turn into horror as you come across the mangled bodies of the crew. The Starship Damrey offers no tutorial or hand-holding, resulting in an incredibly immersive experience. Clocking in at around two hours, this bite-sized adventure game with a twist ending is well worth its cheap price of admission.
[Editor’s Note: We went one above our 25-game limit because The Starship Damrey is just too obscure and interesting of a choice that we couldn’t bear to cut it.]
We hope you enjoyed our Top 25 Nintendo 3DS RPGs feature! Be sure to check out our main Features hub for other console lists, and more!
Dedicated to Michael A. Cunningham
This feature is dedicated to Michael A. Cunningham, former Editor-in-Chief at RPGamer, who passed away in August 2018. Michael — also known as Macstorm, or “Mac” for short — was a pivotal part of so many people’s lives. Besides running things at RPGamer for years, he was a dear friend to us at RPGFan, and even appeared on each of our Music of the Year podcasts.
Mac was a huge fan of handheld gaming, and somehow had the time outside of RPGamer to run his own handheld blog, Pocket Console, along with being the founder of the #TeamHandheld tag. So really, how could we not dedicate a handheld feature to him?
Please be sure to read RPGamer’s tribute page, which collects memories and thoughts from his friends at RPGamer, RPGFan, RPG Site, and from several other people who valued his friendship. In addition, RPGamer compiled a list of selected works from Mac’s career both on- and off-site.