The Gameboy Color was a short-lived stopgap upgrade between the behemoth releases of the long-lived, but outdated Game boy and the far superior Gameboy Advance. It was only really in full swing production for about three years, but that didn’t stop the little portable NES from releasing some great classic RPGs. So without further ado, let’s go through the top 10 best RPGs for the Gameboy Color!
#10 - Survival Kids
This is an extremely unique RPG that combines action and survival mechanics splendidly well. The story follows a 10 year old child, you can choose your gender at the start of the game, who becomes shipwrecked on a deserted Island and is forced to learn how to survive on his own. On your journey you will encounter ferocious animals, a monkey companion, foodstuffs, as well as a multitude of other items and weapons to assist you in the wilderness and to help you fend off the wild animals, who can be quite vicious. While you may feel very alone on the island the amazing soundtrack is there to keep you company and there’s some devious puzzles and as well as diverting mini games. On your journey you will stumble across the secrets of the island and even uncover 8 different endings depending on the choices you make as you play. Similar to a choose your own adventure book, not all the endings are happy. Considering most games of the time, especially portable games have only 1 ending, having 8 was no small feat!
#9 - Revelations the Demon Slayer
This was quite possibly my first Altus game and my first Shin Megami Tensei game, although I didn’t know it at the time. It’s extremely similar to Dragon Quest in its over world graphics and dungeon design. You take on the role of El, a mage who is on a quest to become a grand wizard and the 2 mutes who follow him around because he saved their lives. The story is nothing to write home about, but back then we didn’t really play portable games for their story, we played them for their game play and the thrill of discovery. The battle system is your standard turn based affair, but with the twist of demon recruitment, which is done through the talk system. Basically, you have to answer the demon’s questions correctly, and if you do so, they join your party. The demons don’t level up, however, once the humans in your party attain certain levels you are able to fuse your recruited demons into more ferocious forms. Considering that this little title was the west’s first taste of the behemoth SMT franchise, it’s quite groundbreaking.
#8 - Magi Nation
This game is a strange bird. It’s unique in that it’s an RPG made by an American company, and therefore has excellent writing with witty and humorous dialogue, but it’s stale in the fact that it’s also somewhat of a Pokémon rip-off, but done worse. Much like Pokémon, the story is nothing too complicated, it follows the adventures of Tony Jones who was bullied by his so-called friends to go into a cave and get a crystal, but upon claiming said crystal, the floor opens beneath him and he is whisked away to the magical land of Magi Nation where he is declared the legendary hero and he has to save their world. The graphics are extremely pretty, I would go as far to say that they are arguably the best on the entire system, along with the catchy, upbeat music. And the world is a joy to explore, it boasts non-linear exploration with multiple unique locales to explore, but like Zelda, the game does still insist that you find certain items in a specific order to be allowed to proceed. The game could have easily been the best on the system, but they screwed up the battle system, basically, similar to Pokémon you have to capture Dream Creatures to fight for you, but it’s not as simple as throwing a Poke ball, you have to fight the Creatures over and over again, hoping they drop enough of their animite to be able to eventually capture them. This continues for every single encounter and gets real old, real fast, and to make matters worse, the battles are slow, card -based affairs, with non-skippable animations that just drag on.
#7 - Dragon Warrior Monsters 2
Yet another Monster catching game but this one is pretty darn similar to Pokémon, even down to having 2 different versions. You play as either Cobi or Tara, siblings who have to save the land of Greatlog from sinking into the Ocean by finding a navel plug… to plug up the hole. Wow, such imagination on the story here /sarcasm. In order to find the navel plug you have to traverse five worlds while capturing and breeding monsters to help you survive the trek. You can take up to three monsters with you and once they reach level 10 you can pair males and females together to breed more powerful offspring, but it looks like Enix condones child abandonment because upon birth the parents leave, never to be seen again. However, this is the only way to get the rarest, most powerful monsters. After the 15ish hour journey to find the navel plug is complete, the real journey begins where you can go to a myriad of different worlds to find magic keys to open up more worlds where more powerful monsters and hunters reside. Here you can play to your heart’s content, capturing and breeding the most powerful monsters you can find, then battling and trading with your friends over the game boy link cable. If you’re a dragon quest fan, this is a spin off definitely worth your time, unlike some other ones. Looking at you Dragon Quest Swords.
#6 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Yes, I know, this is based on popular culture, and the rule of thumb is, if a game is based on popular culture, such as a TV show it’s automatically terrible, but this gem bucks the trend. There are something like 9 different versions or “cash-in’s”, of this game, many of them awful, but surprisingly, the little underdog on the Gameboy Color is easily the best version. The story follows the book to a ‘T’, even including events that the movie left out. Hogwarts and the surroundings are expansive, exquisitely detailed and a blast to explore to find all the treasures hidden around every corner. The game does a good job telling you exactly what your next mission is, which could be anything from going to class, to finding a certain character, to playing Quidditch; the quests are varied and fun, not just fetch quests. Ron and Hermione join Harry in battle as the story dictates and your pals have their own special abilities to use and learn useful and spells as they level up also, there are, thankfully, no random encounters as enemies are shown on screen. Although you may have overlooked the humble Gameboy Color game in your rush to buy prettier versions, you would be remiss, as this game blows all the other versions out of the water.
#5 - The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
It’s a 2D Zelda game, that means its actually playable to me, thank God! If you don’t know, this is actually kind of a package deal where they released two Zelda games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, on the same day, but this isn’t like Pokémon where the games are the same except for what monsters you encounter. The two games are completely different, but I don’t really want to go into the differences here, just know that of the two, I like Seasons better, although they’re both great games. The story is nothing to get excited about, basically Hyrule is perfectly fine, but Link, never one to be complacent, finds his way into the land of Holodrum where the seasons are out of whack and the world is in need of a hero to rescue them! Game play is par the course for a Zelda game, if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all, but the twist here that makes this such a standout game is the Rod of Seasons. Utilizing the rod allows you to change the seasons at will which opens, as well as closes, certain paths throughout Holodrum. For example, using the winter power may pile up some snow closing off a path, but it will also freeze some water, allowing you to cross where you normally wouldn’t be able to. This mechanic allows for tons of variety and experimentation in the game and for a plethora of hidden secrets. But that’s not all, once you complete the game you are given a password which you can use in the companion Ages game which will allow you to see added storyline as well as an ultimate ending!
#4 - Dragon Quest I and II
Two games bundled together into one package is a lot of bang for your buck. Even if you’ve played the NES versions, you owe it to yourself to play these classics again because this time around all the bugs have been fixed and its been rebalanced as well. This is because it’s actually based upon the SNES remakes of the games which were released only in Japan. There are more items to find, including stat raising nuts, and with the monsters giving increased experience and gold, the entire game has been streamlined for a much faster paced time. They are both just as fun as you remember them, and as an added bonus there’s even new cinematic scenes peppered throughout the game. The games we all know and love got an upgrade and it’s high time we played them in English!
#3 - Lufia: the Legend Returns
This is what I consider to be the last great Lufia game. The sinistrals are back with avengence, the storyline, probably the best on the Game boy Color, is very well fleshed out and your characters each have a unique back-story and personality. Speaking of characters, there are nine to recruit, each with their own equipment sets, magic spells and special abilities, there’s no “everyone can do everything here”! Monsters appear on screen and the battle system is also extremely unique, I don’t think there’s been anything like it before or since, but I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of it here, just know that all of your members take part in each battle and can fight at the same time which lends itself extremely well to some very strategic battles. The only drawback I can think of for this classic RPG are the randomly generated dungeons, but everything else is so well done that I can overlook that minor flaw.
#2 - Pokémon Crystal
Yes, it’s still true, I’ve never played a single Pokémon game, but it would be remiss for me to leave this off the list, especially since it inspired all the previous monster catching RPGs we’ve seen thus far. Pokémon Crystal is a mash up of Gold and Silver which introduces a few new quirks, such as choosing to be a boy or a girl, pinpointing routes on the map, updated graphics, animated Pokémon in battle, and a new storyline which upon completion rewards you with a legendary Pokémon! The radio show and telephone system have been upgraded to be much more interactive and useful and the battle tower is here to test your skills. A really cool feature they added was an internal clock which allows for different Pokémon to appear in the same areas based upon whether it is night or day or even on a particular day of the week! This alone gives you reason to play all throughout the year, let alone the monumental task of collecting all 250 Pokémon.
#1 - Dragon Quest III
This is the pinnacle of Gameboy Color RPGs, just like it’s predecessor it’s based upon a Japan only SNES remake, but, different from them, it’s not just streamlined, it’s a whole new experience from the original. There’s an entirely new class, new weapons, new mini games, tiny medals to collect and monster medals to gain access to bonus dungeons. The storyline is just as grandiose now as it was back in the early 90s and when played together the trilogy comes full circle and the intricately woven storyline of the three games comes to light. The world map ingeniously based upon the Earth’s map, complete with little nods to cultures around the world. The game plays at a much faster pace and is the benchmark of what all Gameboy Color RPGs should aspire to be.