Nintendo's last gen handheld was home to one of the deepest, varied, and satisfying gaming libraries in the history of this industry.  In that library one set of games seemed to resonate most with gamer's.  Perhaps it is because Japanese RPG's themselves are some of the deepest, varied, and most satisfying  games.  As many of you know I consider myself quite the Japanese RPG fan. The following list of titles I consider "Essential" for not only Japanese RPG fans but all owners of the Nintendo DS.  This will be a list of 10 brand new games ( no ports and no Japanese only games). I also tried to make sure no series was represented more than once. I am almost guaranteed to miss  some games perhaps you think are essential. Please let me know in the comments. I gladly welcome all feedback. It is my with that I can educate and inspire you to go out and play one of these excellent games. On a sappy note, I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my blogs on Game Informer.  It means the world to me.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (2009)

Dragon Quest IX was the first main line Dragon Quest title made for a portable system.  Party interaction, which was an important focus of past Dragon Quest's was basically nonexistent and the story was shorter than most entries before it. The gameplay remains basically unchanged from its turn based routes.  Sidequests became a major focus of this title essentially making the playtime potentially infinite. What I liked about this title, is you had the option of re battling every past boss in the series 20 year history (optionally). It was a nice was to celebrate the series without turning it into a joke.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (2007)

When the first Final Fantasy Tactics Advance hit the scene on the GBA most gamers were pretty bitter about not only the change in system, but the change in story/character direction. While some of those misgivings were proven correct. It was the gameplay that initially prevailed. This sequel improves everything. From the story to the characters to the already stellar gameplay,  to the improved spritework, everything was just better.  Hell I would even say it's as good as the PSone original. I probably put 250+ hours into this game. With 400+ missions, all of which felt fresh it was almost impossible for me to put the title down.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (2010)

The third game in the Golden Sun series was met with jubilation when the E3 2010 trailer was shown. It had been 7 years since the last game and people were starting to give up hope.  While the game might not have hit every lofty hype filled goal it still is a game which every RPG lover should play. Although you can play the game without playing the first 2, it's a much better experience if you do. I put it on the list because I found the characters and world charming. 

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (2009)

The first Mario & Luigi was brilliant. The second was not brilliant but still fun. The third returns to the radiant brilliance of the first game. Why? Why is the third game just as good as the first? Well  the third game shares the same mad linguist boss that made the first so memorable. Fawful. The same baddie who said "Princess Peach's sweet voice will soon be the bread that makes the sandwich of Cackletta's desires! And this battle shall be the delicious mustard on that bread! The mustard of your doom!"/ "Fawful scattered your minions like litter from a sad, ugly cat. Are you wanting to hear them? For they are on the TV show. The TV show of your tears!". The game also had a beyond original setting. Bowser's....well....insides. It also really felt like Bowers was the main star of the game.

Pokemon Black Version 2 (2012)

The first direct sequels in the history of the main line pokemon franchise, Pokemon Black 2 took the world of the first and just expanded on it in new and interesting ways.  I think Black 2 is a better game than White 2 because of its exclusive advance difficulty mode. This mode not only increases the enemy trainers pokemon levels, it changes the move sets, items, and amount of pokemon in the team. White 2 has a mode that makes the game easier, who wants that as a special mode?  Also included in Black 2 which I really liked was a sort achievement medal system. All you had to do was achieve a goal in game whether that be walking a certain amount of steps or catching a certain amount of one type of pokemon. It added replay value. Another cool thing this game had was the tournament mode. You could battle not only all the gym leaders from the past games, but the champions as well. We haven't been able to face off against Red since Pokemon Gold/Silver.  Made the game special.

Radiant Historia (2010)

I admit when this game was announced at TGS 2009, I didn't think much of it. By that point the DS had received so many rpgs very little got me going. After playing it however I think its the closest thing to a real SNES like Chrono Trigger 2 that we might ever see.   The game's development team mostly consisted of Atlus staff who previously worked on games like nocturne, Persona 3 and Strange Journey as well as the Etrian series.  The development team also includes other members who had previously worked on Radiata Stories.  A stacked lineup. The best part of this game was also the best part of Chrono trigger but taken much further. You have the freedom to travel backwards and forwards through a timeline to alter the course of history, with each of their choices and actions having a major impact on the timeline. The player can return to certain points in history and live through certain events again to make different choices and see different possible outcomes on the timeline.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (2011)

The Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor series was not the first time Atlus tried to make an SRPG out of the brand (see Majin Tensei) but it was certainly the best. You do not need to play Devil Survivor 1 to understand 2. A new cast of characters and a new story make the game fresh and interesting. My favorite part of this game is how it makes no excuses about the difficulty. The game is hard. Really hard. Playing so many SRPG's I tend to breeze through them. So when I found this game a real challenge, I had to recommend it.

Suikoden Tierkreis (2008)

Perhaps not the Suikoden most people wanted ( Konami start working on 6 darn it) but it's the one we got. Despite your misgivings about the multiverse, Tierkreis is an amazing rpg. It still has plenty of things that Suikoden is known for like the strategic turn base combat and the 108 heroes. While the story is somewhat simplistic, it never gets in the way of the gameplay which is all that matters.

The World Ends With You (2007)

Another game nobody really saw coming from Square. Its hard to adequately describe this title and what makes it so good without ruining that sense of discovery. All I will say is its story/setting are unique, its gameplay fits perfectly with the DS, and the music, my god the music.

Enhanced Ports

Chrono Trigger DS

Dragon Quest IV,V,VI

Final Fantasy III

Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth Remix

Pokemon Platinum


7th Dragon

Ni No Kuni DS

Soma Bringer

Super Robot Taisen L

Tales of Innocence


Note From the Author: Like I mentioned before there were many RPG's I wrestled with including (SMT: SJ being the major one).  Despite that I hope you can agree those are some dynamite games. 


Happy Gaming,