There are many notable games that were released on the Wii U Virtual Console, and while many have since been re-released on the Switch Online service or the likes of Konami’s Castlevania Advance Collection, there are some notable titles whose most current availability is the Wii U or 3DS eShop. These include games originally released on the NES, SNES, N64, GBA, and DS.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
by Sam-James Gordon
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a bit of a black sheep as far as sequels go: while it is loosely set in the same Ivalice as Final Fantasy Tactics, its tone and themes are almost polar opposites. FFT had a politically driven narrative and a muted colour palette, whereas FFTA is a bright, colourful, and overall more lighthearted story.
The narrative of Tactics Advance follows Marche, a young boy who gets spirited away to another world. There are some poignant moral issues raised; some of the themes surrounding “friendship” are surprisingly more complex and relatable than the done-to-death idea that “the power of friendship will save us all.”
FFTA also introduces the version of Ivalice we see in Final Fantasy XII, establishing a lot of the world-building for its mainline successors. For example, Montblanc and Clan Nutsy made their first outing with FFTA, and for fans of Final Fantasy XIV, FFTA was also the birthplace of the ever-popular Viera. Not a bad legacy for a somewhat niche Game Boy Advance game!
Fire Emblem, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
by Brian Mackenzie
Fire Emblem was the West’s introduction to Nintendo’s now beloved tactics RPG series on the Game Boy Advance. Its pixel art graphics have aged well, including some truly over-the-top critical hit animations. The tactical gameplay is deep and engaging, though it can be more punishing than more modern entries since permadeath is always on. The game’s lengthy and complete tutorial will ensure new players are ready for everything the game has to throw at them.
Still on the GBA, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones took the core gameplay of Fire Emblem and refined it with features like split path promotions, route splits, a postgame, and trainee units that you can raise from zero to hero. The story explores themes of friendship, grief, and betrayal and offers a fresh, desert-themed aesthetic. In my opinion, Sacred Stones is the best introduction to the Fire Emblem series, as it’s a little more forgiving than its contemporaries.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon retells the story of the first Fire Emblem game, and brought series protagonist Marth to western audiences for the first time. Shadow Dragon has a simpler narrative than the GBA entries but started the trend of customization features in Fire Emblem games. Players can customize weapons, and completely reclass their units. For players who love to experiment with their armies, Shadow Dragon has some of the most depth in the franchise.
Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age
by Sam-James Gordon
Golden Sun, and its direct sequel The Lost Age, were both originally on the Game Boy Advance. While they are two separate games, The Lost Age picks up directly after the ending events of Golden Sun; they are very much two halves of a whole game.
Gameplay-wise, the games are nearly identical, using the same systems and user interfaces. Battles are standard turn-based fare, but thrown into the mix are Djinn. These are little spirit critters, equippable to every party member, that affect their stats, skills and even character class. While their role in battle is a little more complex, they can also be used to deploy visually stunning Summon attacks.
The Golden Sun games really are a triple threat, boasting appealing visuals, a memorable soundtrack (composed by Motoi Sakuraba) and compelling gameplay. They might look a bit out-of-place on a huge, modern TV, but the Wii U’s gamepad is the perfect alternative to their native console.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
by Peter Triezenberg
Three of Link’s portable adventures made it to the Wii U’s virtual console service, and all of them are worth playing in their own right. Of course, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap needs no introduction. Developed by Capcom (who also made the excellent Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons), The Minish Cap sees Link shrinking down to microscopic proportions to solve puzzles and explore dungeons, a fun gimmick used to great effect. Meanwhile, the two DS entries in the Zelda series get a bit of a bad rep these days, but I find them to be really fun as well, as they made great use of the DS’ features. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a direct follow-up to The Wind Waker, with Link sailing the seas using the DS’ touchscreen (or in this case, the Wii U gamepad), while Spirit Tracks iterates on Hourglass‘ touch controls and delivers one of Link’s most unique adventures. The Wii U offered an inexpensive way to experience these titles, which have become somewhat scarce lately (The Minish Cap moreso).
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
by Adam Arter
The Mario & Luigi RPGs are thrilling oddities worthy of your attention, and if you’re looking to experience the original versions without changed graphics or the added content that you’ll find in the 3DS remakes, the Wii U is arguably the best place to experience Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Partners in Time.
What you get with the Mario & Luigi titles are some of the funniest and most charming games to grace Nintendo platforms, adding new dimensions to the Mario universe through witty dialogue and superb visual comedy. Superstar Saga and Partners in Time are both likely to get you invested in their bizarre plotting and entice you even further with a surprisingly solid turn-based battle system. They’re also visually adorable, with some of the best sprite design and animation of the era. As a series it’s fairly overlooked: If you enjoy RPGs, Mario or good humor, you owe it to yourself to give them a shot!
Mega Man Battle Network Series (1–6)
by Giancarlo Vazquez
If you’re a big fan of the Mega Man Battle Network series, the Wii U Virtual Console editions are essential if you’re also the only fan in your immediate friend group still playing them. The original Battle Network games have harder difficulty modes locked behind multiplayer and linking both versions of your specific entry together. This is, unsurprisingly, a lot harder to unlock on original hardware in our day and age. The Virtual Console versions lack multiplayer but will grant you the link-cable exclusive items and unlocks by navigating to the defunct communications menu. These versions also had some cosmetic adjustments as well, reducing the harsh, bold colors of the originals (which looked very nice on the GBA) into softer tones (which look much nicer on the Wii U, and don’t strain your eyes as much). Add a few bug fixes and a cheat code to unlock a secret boss without committing to tedium, and the Wii U ports of Battle Network edge-out the competition. The community more or less agrees: those Virtual Console patches will do you a ton of favors in the long run.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
by Joshua Lindquist
The Nintendo 64 is infamous for its limited lineup of RPGs, but Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is one of the most unique strategy RPGs I have ever encountered. Ogre Battle 64 is a hybrid that combines real-time and turn-based strategy. Players create squadrons (think of them as individual RPG parties) that are given commands during real-time overhead missions, like a traditional real-time strategy game. However, when your squadron encounters an enemy squadron, a turn-based battle begins.
It’s a unique experience for the combat alone, but the story sets it apart from all other Nintendo 64 RPGs. The story combines war, politics, and the supernatural and offers several branching story paths that change events both during and at the end of the game. Your choices in battle and cut scenes always make a difference.
Ogre Battle 64 is easily the most ambitious RPG for the Nintendo 64 and among the most ambitious of its generation. If you enjoy strategy games at all, it’s well worth your attention.
If you’re already a fan of Ogre Battle 64, be sure to check out our in-depth feature on it, too!
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
by Hilary Andreff
Do you want to be an honorary member of the Koopa Troop? Of course you do! Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is your chance to adventure with Bowser, Mario, and company to win back Bowser’s castle from Smithy, who has also taken the seven Star Pieces from Star Road and threatens the entire Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. It has a unique isometric perspective that works and uses an early implementation of timed button presses during battle that functions pretty smoothly — and it’s oddly satisfying to time Mario’s jumps on enemies’ heads.
If you enjoy Mario games and characters at all, this one is definitely worth the time. It sets the stage for later Mario RPGs and has an amazing soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura. It’s also a fun and engaging adventure in its own right. It’s a silly romp with loveable characters; Shigeru Miyamoto worked as one of the producers, and it’s well known for its humor and charm. Most importantly, its availability will be more limited once the Wii U eShop closes. If for no other reason, get it so you can understand why so many people want Geno in Super Smash Bros.
by Peter Triezenberg
Of the three Operation Rainfall games, Pandora’s Tower is unfortunately the black sheep, but it’s a unique action RPG that deserves more attention. Players assume control of Aeron, who fights his way through a series of thirteen towers in an effort to save his love, Elena, from a curse that is gradually transforming her into a monster. Using Aeron’s Oraclos Chain to fight enemies and solve puzzles, Pandora’s Tower has a sort of Zelda-meets-Castlevania vibe to it. What makes the game truly special, however, is the budding relationship between Aeron and Elena, which grows over the course of the story and even affects the game’s ending depending on how well the player treats her.
Developed by Ganbarion for the Wii, Pandora’s Tower hasn’t been re-released in any other format, meaning that once the Wii U eShop closes, the only way to play it will be to hunt down an increasingly expensive Wii disc. While Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles and Mistwalker’s The Last Story have gotten more attention over the years, I truly hope that this adventure isn’t lost to history.