The 8 Best Nintendo DS Role-Playing Games of 2020

See which titles earned a spot on the short list

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The Rundown

Best Mario: Mario & Luigi - Bowser’s Inside Story

Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story
 Courtesy of Amazon

The third installment of the Mario & Luigi series throws everyone’s favorite plumbers inside the belly of Bowser. Unlike other Mario games, the cartoony role-playing adventure has you help Bowser battle a new invading enemy force threatening the Mushroom Kingdom.

Gameplay in Mario & Luigi: Bower’s Inside Story revolves around the player alternating between Mario and Luigi on the bottom screen of the Nintendo DS while controlling Bowser on the top screen, giving off two separate storylines. The game’s unique, turn-based battle system utilizes timed attack and defense sequences and adds Bower’s ability to inhale enemies to have Mario & Luigi battle them. The best Mario game on the list packs well-written dialogue inside a humorous plot with fun gameplay that makes for a solid RPG gaming experience.

Best Pokemon: Pokemon Black Version 2

Pokemon Black Version 2 captures the same magic you’ll find when you first picked up a Pokemon game. Though it’s not “just another Pokemon game," Pokemon Black Version 2 finds its own ground with more dynamic battles, extra features and a bigger story-driven character plot than its predecessors.

Like other titles in the series, Pokemon Black Version 2 revolves around a character (you) collecting various types of Pokemon (or, pocket monsters), all of whom have various abilities that can be perfected and used in battle. The turn-based action RPG is a direct sequel to Pokemon Black Version and introduces new Pokemon, areas to explore, as well as more gameplay mechanics and activities. Even long after you’re done, the game’s Pokemon World Tournament feature offers a challenge against powerful trainers from previous games in the series, including the very first Pokemon game.

Best for Adults: Shin Megami Tensei - Strange Journey

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey mixes a sci-fi space adventure with apocalyptic biblical themes. The easy-to-play, first-person navigation RPG game has you recruiting demons to do your bidding as you save the world from a spatial distortion that threatens to engulf the world.

Like an adult Pokemon, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey has you fighting over 300 demons by first recruiting them via negotiation or bribery, leveling them up and then fusing them to make stronger demons. Turn-based combat has enemies facing off against a four-member party team of you and the three of your chosen demons. If you’re interested in various world mythologies, moral dilemmas, the supernatural and multiple endings based off the choices you make, you’ll find Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to be right up your alley.

Best Classic: Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV for the Nintendo DS takes the classic 1991 SNES game and revamps it with enhanced gameplay, 3D graphics, cutscenes and voice acting. The game stays faithful to the original story and active time battle system.

If you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, then you’ll find Final Fantasy IV’s stylized battle system and graphics to be similar in its update. Final Fantasy IV makes no exception to the series’ style of gameplay that has you strategizing over when to attack, use an item, defend or cast spells. Its fresh mechanics and cinematic vibe give the game a kind of movie-like feel that does it justice in describing its more complex, character-driven plot.

Best Old-School: The Dark Spire

The Dark Spire is your classic, old-school, dungeon-crawling, role-playing experience for the Nintendo DS. It lacks any complex cinematics or modern graphics in exchange for using your imagination in a heavy text and dialogue-based, first-person RPG with random encounters and equipment.

Gameplay for Dark Spire centers on exploring a dungeon called the Dark Spire while upgrading skills and stats of your characters by gaining experience from defeating 80 different types of enemies. Its art and graphical direction are akin to monochromatic, old-fashioned computer screens and similar in style to 1980s RPG games such as Wizardry and Bard’s Tale. The game includes an alignment system that affects who can join your party, as well as an option to render graphics and music in a black-and-white wire frame similar to old PC RPGs.

Best Action: Castlevania - Dawn of Sorrow

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is an action-adventure game with role-playing elements that are never short on excitement. The side-scrolling RPG sets you as the reincarnation of Dracula where you suppress your transformation and battle a cult that’s set on bringing forth a new dark lord.

Though not an RPG in the traditional sense, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow uses role-playing mechanics with platforming in a dark and gothic atmosphere. Players will level up, gather experience points, upgrade their stats, including health and magic, and acquire new weapons and armor to fight against a horde of supernatural forces. Unique to the game is the ability to use the Nintendo DS stylus to draw out and use a “Magic Seal” for defeating bosses; if you fail to draw the pattern correctly, the bosses come back to life!

Best for Earthbound Fans: Contact

Contact is an homage, a substitute for the brokenhearted Earthbound fans who may never see another Earthbound game in existence. The quirky and unique role-playing game on the Nintendo DS hits a soft spot and stands out on its own in a world of humor with a story that will give you a “deeper meaning in life.”

Having crash-landed on a strange planet, a scientist, known only as “Professor,” sends out for the help of Terry, a young boy who agrees to find “cells” that power his spaceship. The top-down, 2D role-playing game has a dynamic auto-combat system where players direct Terry in range of enemies while Professor directs the player with tips and instructions. Along the way, you’ll collect various costumes and stickers that give you new powers and unravel a strange plot while fighting against the CosmoNOTs (Cosmic Nihilist Organization for Terror).

Best for Rivaling Chrono Trigger: Radiant Historia

Much like Chrono Trigger, Radiant Historia is a role-playing video game where you travel through parallel timelines that ultimately decide your fate. Hailed to be one of the best RPG games on the Nintendo DS, the time travel mechanic is crucial to gameplay and player fulfillment, progressing both you and the story.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds; Radiant Historia is a well-paced, role-playing adventure game set in a fantasy steampunk world with warring nations and fleshed out, believable characters that jump right off the screen. Combat uses a simple turn-based system on a 3x3 grid battlefield where proper maneuvering helps create better strategies and an onslaught of attacks and combos on either side. The 2D, overhead RPG won’t require you to have multiple save files — if you make a mistake just go back in time to fix things.