Top Ten Tuesday 41

My Top Ten Nintendo DS Games

Disclaimer: There are many top ten lists but this one is mine, if you think a game is missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I just hate you.

Pre-List Notes

Despite being a longtime diehard fan of Nintendo handheld devices, I didn't jump on board with the DS until years after it had come out. In fact it wasn't until the much improved lighter and sexier DS Lite was released that I finally opened my eyes and saw this funky dual screen, touch screen capable device had quite a few great games, and that once again Nintendo proved to be brilliant innovators when it came to handheld gaming. Sometime around 2008 I acquired my sister's old DS that she gracefully bestowed upon me, and I immediately turned around and traded it in for a DS Lite, a device that I continued to use up until about a month ago when I just got a 3DS XL! As a fitting fond farewell to my DS Lite - here are my Top Ten DS Games.


Top Ten DS Games


10) Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

Pokémon was such a crazy huge success that it basically spawned its own genre of monster collecting and battling games. The best of these clones was the Dragon Quest Monster series, originally released on the Game Boy Color (and made my list) that combined the dorky but recognizable foes from the venerable Dragon Quest RPG series. DQM: Joker was the long awaited follow-up and sported some nifty 3D graphics that gave it an impressive edge over the elder pokémon games. The battling wasn't near as sophisticated but a complex breeding system allowed you to mix and match abilities while trying to breed the perfect monster.



9) Fossil Fighters

Fossil Fighters just received a nod in my Top Ten Dinosaurs game list, and although many pass it off as "another pokémon clone" it really was a fun game in its own right. Finding and cleaning fossils actually made the stylus and touch controls useful and fun, and the battle grid inspired more thought to a balanced team and approach to combat. But I'll admit it: Pokémon + dinosaurs sold me from the very beginning and never let go.



8) Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

The original puzzle quest was the one of the first big original success stories on the Nintendo DS. It had a simple but brilliant design - combine the addictive match three puzzles of Bejeweled with many RPG mechanics such as skills, inventory, and levels. Each character class used vastly different abilities that could change or alter the gem-filled playing field and different foes could have varying abilities or tasks you needed to overcome. Sidequests, boss battles, and an incredibly huge campaign made Challenge of the Warlords an instant hit. Its legacy was somewhat tarnished after a mediocre sci-fi spinoff and a mixed sequel but the original should be in everyone's list of awesome DS games.



7) Suikoden Tierkreis

I'm a pretty big Suikoden fan, and it's one of the few JRPG series I kept up with. This handheld spinoff took place in an entirely different universe (and the plot involved parallel universes) but retained most of the classic gameplay elements of the series: 108 recruitable characters, building up your own castle, customizable rune slots for spell casting, and a great storyline dripping in political battles and large scale warfare. Sadly the handheld nature of the game reduced the combat party from six to four, and the voice acting was particularly horrendous. Alas it still sits atop my pile of unfinished games, as newer and shinier DS RPGs games would come out at just the right intervals, but even a handheld spinoff of my favorite JRPG series is better than most games. I swear I'll finish you Tierkreis...someday.



6) Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

I was a big fan of all the awesome 2D metroidvania Castlevania games on the Gameboy Advance, but for whatever reason I never got around to playing any of the followups on the DS until earlier this year when I played the most recent release - Order of Ecclesia. Now of course I hate myself for glossing over them, as Ecclesia has everything I love about those games - pitch perfect 2D combat and exploration with an impressive bestiary and array of abilities. Ecclesia also gets credit for trying new things - like a Diablo-esque central town with all the vendors (whom you have to rescue first) and at least the first half of the game takes place in different locations around the world before you ever get to the infamous Castle, giving the world some much needed variation. Shanoa's glyphs worked almost identically to Soma's rune system, which was awesome, and for the first time in a Castlevania game I actually cared about Shanoa's story and motivations. Order of Ecclesia is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre.



5) Radiant Historia

I first heard of this game thanks to Kim's excellent article last year titled "Lost RPG Franchises: Where Are They Now?" As mentioned above I'm a big Suikoden fan so when I saw her recommend this title under the Suikoden section, I jumped all over it. Took about six months to actually find one nearby (ok, I took my time looking for it) and another two months to actually finish the 40 hour game. In short, I really liked it but didn't love it. It's actually much closer to Chrono Trigger than Suikoden, which is still damn good company to be around. The time travel is used well throughout the entire adventure as Stocke and company travel between alternate time lines righting wrongs and solving a crapload of sidequests. The story wasn't as compelling as I'd hoped and the big twists at the end are painfully obvious but the miniature grid based combat was just interesting enough to keep me going. All in all it was a good recommendation to any JRPG fans and DS owners.



4) Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

One of my first purchases with my fancy DS Lite was the most recent pokémon title at the time. While a big fan of the original Red/Blue in the late 90s I had all but skipped over the second and third generations as I got older. Something about Generation Four caught my eye, however, and I'd end up spending a good 80 hours exploring the world of Sinnoh and meeting new faces and old favorites. I even got to transfer a few of my old friends from Emerald thanks to the GBA Slot on the DS. There wasn't a huge amount of innovation in this generation but I got sucked in all the same.



3) Chrono Trigger

Despite doing it on countless lists before, it still feels a bit like cheating to put a remake or re-release on a top ten list for a console. Still, it's bloody Chrono Trigger and it's amazing. One of my favorite games on SNES is easily one of my favorites on DS as well, and since I didn't get a Playstation until very late in its cycle I never played the remastered version with the spiffy animated cutscenes until this port came along. Given the longevity of Nintendo's handheld systems and their friendly backwards compatibility I have no excuse not to visit this amazing world more often.



2) Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

I remember that Dragon Quest IX was a major enough release to warrant actual prime time commercials with Seth Green at the time, and knew I had to give it a shot. Over 70 hours later I finally put down one of the best JRPGs I'd ever played, and certainly the best non pokémon handheld RPG. I'd never actually played a single DQ game before (besides the DQM spinoffs) but this one blew me away with both its simplicity and brilliance. Enemies were encountered on the field like Chrono Trigger - no random battles! I got to customize and build my own party from a multitude of classes! Tons of fun sidequests with an easily organized journal! Enjoyable crafting system! Randomized optional dungeons! All with a surprisingly memorable story about a fallen angel and an interesting world with the perfect amount of variety. I cannot recommend DQ9 enough; it may look like your typical old school JRPG on the surface but underneath lies a perfected formula combined with enough new mechanics to make you wonder why there aren't a dozen of these released every year.



1) Pokémon Black/White

After Pearl I took another significant break from the pokémon world, and at least a year went by at some point that I hardly played my DS at all. Suddenly earlier this year a friend and I had a weird hankering for pokémon, the same good friend that I'd played Red/Blue with all those years ago. Maybe it was the X/Y mania that was slowly building, but I got Black, he got White, and suddenly I fell in love with the damn series all over again. This time there were significant improvements across the board - better animations and sprites, new gameplay mechanics, and an impressive new roster of 150 pokémon native to the Unova region. Only after beating the game did you unlock the ability to find all the old ones as well as a huge chunk of the map. 120 hours make it my most played handheld game ever, and the last 1/3 of that was all of the impressive post-game content. I got really into it and transferred my entire group over from Pearl and racked up a pokédex of over 400 (Before X/Y there were 649 total). I also really enjoyed the Dream World, which was a surprisingly fun group of browser based minigames that let you catch other pokémon and transfer them to your game cartridge. It was a brilliant move and kept me playing daily.

The original plan was then to play Black/White V2, but I knew it would kill me to try and squeeze that one in just months before X/Y's release, so I opted to skip the weird sequel completely. I am happy to announce that I did get a 3DS (this one...jealous?) and am currently playing the crap out of Y. It's the first time I've played a pokémon game on release since the original Red/blue, and I couldn't be happier. I owe it all to Generation Five for sucking me back in permanently.



Wrap Up

JRPGs have been a disappointment to me on consoles for years; it just seems like the voice acting and 3D graphics turn me off of a genre that I've enjoyed so much in the past. The solution, for me at least, is the handheld system. Specifically the Nintendo DS saw host to a wonderful amount of awesome JRPG titles that kept me enthralled and gave me everything I wanted out of the genre. The DS Lite has been my most longstanding system I've ever owned since the original Game Boy, as I was playing it right up until I got my 3DS a month ago. It saw a particular resurgence this year as I managed to catch up on a lot of older games I had never gotten around to playing: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, Pokémon Black, and Raidant Historia I all played this year. Crazy to think that the system was out several years before I jumped on board, and to have mine last for a good five years!

Nintendo has always made a quality handheld system, and even if you don't find yourself in a situation for portable gaming it's still worth jumping on just to play some of the amazing titles. I'm definitely not going with my usual plan of waiting a few years and then getting the new system and a bunch of games for cheap - I needed that 3DS XL now with all the incredible games that are already out or on the horizon. Despite the woes Nintendo may be having with their home consoles, the handhelds remain a masterpiece of innovative design and more importantly, amazing games.


By the way, if you're playing Pokémon X/Y, feel free to add me on as a friend! My code is 4656-6947-7603, share yours in the comments!