I took a long break from owning a proper gaming system in the years between college and my late twenties. It didn’t hurt that I had a roommate who cycled through every system of the PS3/360/Wii generation which allowed me to taste test everything from that time period. Regardless, around the announcement of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I began to get the craving. A full-on SNES-style Zelda throwback you say? And a 3DS costs only how much? Oh god, is it backwards compatible with all DS games that came out over the past decade?! Time to buy a ticket on the No Longer Even Trying To Be Cool Express!
Once I had successfully defeated Ganon for the zillionth time, I was ready for the next big thing and that came in the form of Bravely Default, Square-Enix’s gorgeous 2012 epic. Finally, they gave us a game that seemed to be directly influenced by the old SNES and pre-FFX Playstation jrpgs that I had so dearly loved back in middle and high school. Have I mentioned that I didn’t kiss a girl until my freshman year of college? And I sucked at it. Didn’t get the whole tongue bit until sophomore year.
After awakening the corrupted crystals (four fucking stupid fucking times), and taking down the world-consuming final boss Ouroboros, I had a craving for more. Luckily, the 3DS and DS provide an incredible amount of jrpgs that one could sink hours upon hours into. Below is a synopsis of each one of these gems.
I believe that every single one of them are underrated and not talked enough about. They each combine a fantastic sprawling story with fascinating, at times inventive, leveling and fight mechanics, and pretty sweet graphics to make the ideal 70+ hour jrpg.
Sure, I think it would be easy to argue that there are other consoles out there that have provided some of the greatest jrpgs of all time. What sets the 3DS apart from these systems is that it continues to provide excellent games from the genre to this day, and they all bring something fresh and new to the table keeping this once-stale alive and well.
The World Ends With You
This one may be the most unique entry on this list. It takes place in modern day Shabuya, Japan, which is the big hip shopping district in Tokyo except no living humans can see you because you’re dead as hell and they don’t have time for that. It’s a sort of purgatory situation in which you have to play a game to make it to the afterlife by defeating “reapers” over the course of a three week period. The aesthetic is very mid-2000s graffiti punk kid.
What makes this game undeniable is its fantastic battle system. You use your stylus on the bottom screen in different ways to pull off your moves. For example, a swipe up might do some kind of fire move, while a zigzag can shoot off a water attack. Also, there’s a special move that forces you to yell into the microphone in order to activate it. I looked like a complete asshole doing this on the subway train.
While swiping your stylus around on the bottom screen, you can use the D-pad to control another character on the top screen by entering specific button combinations at the same time. It is as insane and difficult as it sounds, but you get used to it after a while, and then you get downright addicted to it.
It’s definitely a game that is hard to get into, but will become one of your favorites if you stick with it long enough. The story has a lot of heart as well. And the shopping mechanic is pretty neat. Just buy the stupid game already.
A much more classic take on the jrpg genre, Radiant Historia offers a fantastic twist on the aged genre in the form of time travel. Yes, they did time travel in Chrono Trigger, but it’s different here. In this game, you control Stocke, member of the Alistel army, who gets caught up in a giant holy war. He ends up going to a mystical realm where he is given a book that allows him to jump around between two parallel time lines. This mechanic lends itself towards a very complex plot that has you manipulating time like Marty McFly.
The fighting is pretty sweet as well. They use a grid system here in which you can move the enemies around in order to line them up for sick combos. Each of the characters have different move sets, so success comes down to how well you can make these characters work together in battle. I will admit, it does get a little repetitive, but the fantastic story timeline elements keep you playing this puppy through to the end.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
It’s like Pokemon but instead of cute furry animals, you collect horrifying demons. Oh hell yes, that is my shit right there. But Holden, wouldn’t it be way cooler if you could fuse those demons together to make new crazier demons that out-demon your previous demons? Shut up voices in my head, because that’s exactly what this game offers. This is the same series that produced the Persona games and they each have similar battle mechanics.
This game mostly takes place in a dome-covered demon-infested Tokyo. You are a samurai named Flynn that must collect demons and use them to fight against other demons. As opposed to just throwing a ball at their heads, the way to obtain demons is by talking to them and making correct conversation choices. The fighting is very interesting as you must play against your adversary’s strengths and weaknesses to damage them. This calls for a strategy that involves having demons with a strong range of powers.
It probably has the best graphics of all the games on this list aside from maybe Bravely Default. You move around in 3D environments like city streets and dungeons that look like something you might see on a Playstation 3. Like all of the other games, this one is as long as Pinocchio’s nose on an OK Cupid date. I think I sank at least 80 hours into it, and not a whole lot of that was spent grinding. It’s one of those games where just when you think it’s going to end, a whole other section opens up.
There are three different endings and they are based on choices you make through the game. There are a lot of morality decisions that the player is forced to choose between and they do an excellent job of making it so that there is no clear good or evil answer.
I want to make a quick shout out to the Devil Survivor series. They are two excellent Shen Megami Tensei games in their on right. Both came out for the DS and recently received full remakes for the 3DS.
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
I personally was not aware of this going in, but this game harkens back to old dungeon crawlers one might find on the PC back in the day. It’s not the type of thing that I really had much experience with since I did not spend a lot of time PC gaming when I was a kid. I was too busy watching Sonic the Hedgehog choke to death in those God forsaken water levels. Etrian Odyssey is a series of games that has you navigating through monster-infested mazes in first person. What makes it truly unique is its mapping system. You are put in the position of cartographer using the stylus to draw out the map as you go. They give you a menu of different symbols to work with in order to do so. It sounds like a meticulous piece of shit, but it’s actually really quite fun to do it.
The story in these games is generally less memorable, but the art style is pretty sweet. What’s even stronger is the game’s difficulty level. These games are tough as hell. If you play them on the preset difficulty, you lose all of your progress if you die in a dungeon, which adds a tense level of risk and reward to your exploration. I would highly suggest playing this way.
Though several games came before it on the DS, I picked Etrian Odyssey IV because it is the one that I played and the one that came most highly recommended. Etrian Odyssey 1 through 3 and the spin off Persona Q are all worth taking a look at however.
As stated earlier in this article, these gamesspecifically scratches theFinal Fantasy itchthat I had due to the games I loved back when I was a kid. You control a party of four, which uses the job system that you may be familiar with if you’ve ever played either Final Fantasy 3 or 5. It is a very fun way to make battling and learning skills complex and customizable based on how you like to play. Eachplayable character is equipped with a job like Monk, Archer, or Summoner, and you can change their job at any time. Once you learn certain skills with jobs, you can equip them permanently and pair these skills with other jobs to optimize your move set. It’s the sort of thing that’s a bit tricky to learn, but makes for some fun as hell experimentation once you get the hang of it.
I want to take a second to talk about the environments. Each one is hand painted by artists, and it really shows. I sometimes like to flip on the 3D switch and just marvel and how beautifully detailed each town, forest, castle, or dungeon is in these games.
The story and characters are absolutely fantastic. I was shocked to find myself laughing out loud at sections of the dialogue. Sure, it is not without its faults. Agnes Oblige is a whiny uninteresting damsel in distress, and Ringabel is just a little too one horny note. The final act of the game is a repetitive slog-fest. In its defense though, that repetitive shit show is deeply ingrained in the story which is actively trying to make you lose your mind. I don’t want to spoil anything so I will say no more.
If someone is picking up a 3DS for the first time, this is the first game I recommend. Well, this and the next game on this list…
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Back in college when the word “emulator” was first explained to me, I quickly found one for my own beloved first console, the Sega Genesis. My roommate Ken was a dude from Boston who loved the Patriots and hackie-sack. He also dug games about as much as I did and turned me on to some major hits that I missed. One of those quickly became a personal favorite and was called Shining Force. It was a strategic rpg, which is kind of like chess but in sprawling environments with pieces that level up and have character. You move your army around on a grid in epic battles that can last an hour.
Cut to the year 2012 when I had just picked up my 3DS, and was looking on-line for great games to play. Fire Emblem: Awakening was on the top of every list, and I was pleased as a middle aged house wife at a fireman convention to find that it was like a much further evolved version of the Shining Force games that I had grown to love freshman year of college while sipping on Nattie Lights in my crappy dorm room. Ah, those were the days. Actually, those days kind of sucked an ass now that I think about it.
More than just some flashy anime cut scenes slapped onto a tried and true battle system, Awakening added a relationship mechanic that took the whole series to another level. In this game, you can position your warriors next to each other when fighting to make them form a stronger bond. If they form a strong enough bond, you can marry them off, and they can eventually have a kid that you may also use to fight in your army. Unfortunately, you can only have heterosexual relationships but they did fix that with the next entry in the series. Adding this layer to the already excellent story, combat, and graphics makes for an incredibly addictive experience.
Not only are there exciting new jrpgs to experience on the 3DS, but you can also find several of your favorite titles from the past. These ports are fantastic, and are a great way to conveniently play the classics. Final FantasyIII and IV as well as arguably the greatest jrpg of all time: Chrono Triggerare all available for the handheld console.
If you are a Dragon Quest fan, look no further, because there are ports to the DS of Dragon Quest IV, V, VI, IX, and the fucking Halloween special where they try and visit the great pumpkin but then Charlie Brown ruins everything like he ALWAYS DOES.
Did I forget to mention any gems? I never got around to Golden Sun: Dark Dawn but I heard that was a drunken horse of a good time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above games, any I may have missed, or if you feel that there was a system out there that has a stronger roster of jrpgs. For the modern era, I think that the 3DS strongly makes the argument that jrpgs are not a fading genre in the gaming industry like some might claim.