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Nintendo DS: The RPG Frontier

Pardon the delay in writing another blog, I've been busy and/or procrastinating, and unfortunately I am extremely susceptible to writer's block. I know that's no excuse, but at least I got this over with.

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This generation of games has been known for its dearth of JRPGs available on consoles, a sad thing when you consider how prolific and beloved they were in the past generation. There is one particular space of gaming where JRPGs have seen a resurgence, at least in terms of acclaim if not always success.  I'm referring of course to handheld consoles, and in particular the DS. I'd like use this blog to show off a few examples of great RPGs available on DS, and I hope that with it you can see why I think this is a great place to enjoy some good old fashioned fantasy exploration just like in the old days of 8 bit pixels and unforgiving bosses.

 

 

 

 

1. Chrono Trigger

 

I'd like to keep this blog's focus on original rpgs, but this remake is an exception. Not that there aren't any other great rpg remakes on DS (there are), but if there's only one that you can get your hands on, make sure this is it. Chrono Trigger is the direct result of a dream team collaboration of rpg developers all bent on creating the best RPG experience they could make. And they did. The music, gameplay, visual aesthetic, setting and characters all come together in a package no rpg fan can afford to miss. What's more, this remake on DS includes all extra content from the PS1 remake and the option to play the game in whatever way you want, be it classic and familiar or new and obstructed. If you're not already familiar with this game and you like rpgs, you owe it to yourself to play this game, and the DS version is most definitely a great option.

 

 

2. Pokemon Black & White

 

Technically these are two games, but for the sake of simplicity I'll treat them as one (for those unfamiliar with the Pokemon series each generation of games brings along a twin set of games). Monster catching is the name of the game here, as you set out on your journey to ultimately become the Pokemon Champion. It's a classic formula that dates back to the original installments in 1998, but the foundation is so great that complaints are really nitpicking. Anyways, this fifth gen is definitely a step up from the previous 2 generations in this blogger's opinion (though I still loved those). It provides a lot of cool new gameplay features (more on that soon) and for once doesn't recycle past generations of Pokemon out in the wild until much later in the game. This in turn leads to a fresh new experience as you start out your journey since ALL these critters are unfamiliar, and it's a nice break of pace for those already used to encountering the series mainstays (I'm looking at you Zubat and Geodude). The expanded connectivity online and the addition of the Dream World make this a really solid experience that adds a lot to the table, and what's more the story is actually pretty interesting for once. For those looking for an excuse to spend dozens (if not hundreds) of hours with the tried and true formula of Pokemon, this DS installment is definitely worth it.

 

 

 

3. Suikoden Tierkreis

 

The previous two games on this list are pretty well known among rpg fans and even the general gaming populace, but this one can easily be missed in the DS library even for rpg enthusiasts. I have to confess I've never played the main titles in the Suikoden series (I plan to), but this spinoff was really great, and it lends itself perfectly to the DS. Combat is your standard turn based affair, but you can play it at a fast and intuitive pace, and it helps keep battles interesting. The most striking thing about the game is the amount of voice acting in it, since pretty much all characters have voices, and they are constantly talking. You know those speech bubbles you usually see when an rpg character talks? It's there, but it's also fully voiced. My only complaint in regards to this is the main character's voice, who sounds so rushed and jumpy throughout the whole game it makes me wonder if the voice actor had ingested copious amounts of sugar before recording. Aside from that, the music, art style, animated  cutscenes are all standouts, and yes the story is pretty good, though it takes some time to develop, and the HUGE cast of people who can potentially join your party is staggering, numbering 108 (a Suikoden tradition as I understand). It's a bit of an obscure title but I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

4. The World Ends With You

 

I've talked about this game before, but it's definitely worthy of being on this list. While other DS rpgs may look like they could also be easily handled on consoles, this game was perfectly tailored for the DS, and it shows in every gameplay aspect. The unique stride cross battle system takes some getting used to, but once you do it's quite simply a blast. Aside from that this game just oozes with style, and it forgoes standard rpg conventions for a truly one of a kind presentation. It doesn't hurt that the story is filled with interesting characters and is riddled with twists that keep you wondering what's next. If you're looking for a whole new rpg experience look no further than TWEWY, you will not regret it.

 

 

 

5. Dragon Quest IX

 

When you talk about rpg series that keep changing things up and evolving its basic concepts over time, Pokemon is a series that would not be included... or the Dragon Quest series. Why is this here then? Because even though Dragon Quest is about as traditional as it gets, this installment takes that to its fullest potential. The combat is turn based, and basically consists of spells and moves that have been used throughout the entire series, and yet battles move quickly in this game, and the strategic element is always there, challenging you to figure out the best way of engaging foes. More than that, the 50+ hour story can be quite engrossing, and even touches themes otherwise ignored by other video games. Oh, and did I mention the ridiculous amount of content? Out of all the games on this list this game is easily the biggest, and it even includes its own in game achievement system for crying out loud. Finishing the story is nothing when you realize the amount of quests and characters waiting for you out there is just plain ludicrous. The classic Toriyama art style and immense world are just icing on the cake, and those hoping to fully complete this game will find themselves playing for hundreds and hundreds of hours. Easily the biggest time sink on this list, don't hesitate to get it if you enjoy rpgs.

 

 

Bonus: Radiant Historia 

 

Thought I was done? Nope, one more to go. This rpg caught my eye a while back with its premise of time travel (like in Chrono Trigger), and critics were largely positive about it though the game still fell into relative obscurity. Let me just say this: this game is amazingly executed, with a story that takes just a bit of buildup but crescendoes drastically soon after and pulls you in for a ride you won't soon forget. The combat is turn based, but you can manipulate the order of turns and mess with enemy placement (battles take place on 3x3 grids) to unleash devastating combos. The concept of time travel and alternate timelines is handled really well, and my biggest complaints with the game are the bland environments and the aforementioned slow buildup at first. The characters and music are superb, and this is juat an all around great portable rpg experience.

 

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Well, that's it for this list. Obviously there's wayyyyyyy more rpgs to watch out for on DS, but for now these are the ones I'd like to highlight. Hope you enjoyed.

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