The Gameboy Advance had a pretty short lived life coming out in 2001 before being replaced wholesale by the ‘supposed’ “third pillar” DS in 2005. Similar to the PSP, the GBA is known for its bevy of ports, but for the purposes of this list, I will not include any of them here, so say goodbye the Final Fantasy series, Breath of Fire series, and many others. This will only be original top quality JRPG goodness, So without further ado, let’s get started!
#10 - Shining Soul 2
Like Diablo? Like Phantasy Star Online? Like controlling your characters growth with stat and skill progression trees? Then you’ll love this game. Shining Soul 2 is a hack and slash action RPG which oozes replay value, not only can you choose between 8 different classes, but there’s single and multiplayer modes. Playing very similarly to the aforementioned games, Shining Soul 2 is a full fledged experience with its innovative leveling and class system, also, don’t let the cute graphics fool you, this game is hard, you can’t even pause the game without an enemy giving you a sucker punch! Yes, the story leaves a lot to be desired, but honestly, who really plays these games for the story?
#9 - Summon Night Swordcraft Story 2
Unlike the main series which we have only recently seen released in America, Summon Night Swordcraft Story 2 is an action RPG with plenty of replay value, allowing you the option to choose either a male or female protagonist, along with 4 choices of summon beast. The sequel improves upon its predecessor in almost every way possible with little “quality of life” gameplay adjustments. And the story, while longwinded at times, is genuinely funny and a joy to go through. There’s a great variety in the dungeons you will traverse and a simple but cool crafting system as well. Keep in mind though, this crafting system came to fruition before pretty much every other RPG jumped on the crafting bandwagon.
#8 - Fire Emblem
I have to be forever grateful to this game as the introduction of the series for western audiences and since its debut we’ve gotten all of the subsequent entries. This is the great-granddaddy of strategy RPGs harkening back to the NES days and still staying true to its roots. However, many people either love it or hate it because when your characters die, it’s permanent. Thankfully though, the game is rather forgiving by giving you many different characters each chapter, some mandatory, some found only after you scour the map. Each character is wonderfully developed and distinct as well, which is quite the feat considering the sheer amount that can join you!
#7- Megaman Battle Network 2
There are 6, you heard me, 6 different battle network games on the GBA however, they’re not all created equal, and I’m here to tell you that this is the best of the bunch. The first traditional RPG on the list features random battles, however, they’re not a turn based affair, instead they take place on a small grid, and depending on the stage that you’re going through the panels of the grid may have different traps that you must either avoid or learn to deal with using your battle chips. As you progress and explore you’ll find more and more chips to give Megaman even more powers which makes gameplay fun, involved and strategic and I wish more games would go the tactical turn based route.
#6- Dragon Ball Z:Legacy of Goku 2
Where most sequels are just small upgrades building on the success of their predecessors, that’s not the case here. Legacy of Goku 2 is leaps and bounds beyond the first game. To switch up the action RPG gameplay you can control different characters and swap between them anytime you like, with each having radically different playstyles. I like when games allow you freedom of choice and don’t lock you into a certain gameplay style for the entire game. While the storyline does follow the TV show almost to the letter, it still allows for diversity with open, but not overwhelming, freedom of movement between the different areas in addition to optional sidequests available.
#5 - Magical Vacation
A cult classic in Japan, but never released in America, this is the prequel to Magical Starsign later released on the DS. Thankfully it has been translated to English and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Battles are random turn based affairs, but with a twist. In order to power up your attacks as well as increase your defenses you must summon various elemental spirits, however, enemies will do the same. If you don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the field you can be destroyed quite quickly. It’s kind of similar to the elemental system of Chrono Cross that way. There’s boatloads of content here with a story surpassing 30 hours, give it a shot if you’ve never heard of it.
#4 - Mario and Luigi Super Star Saga
This is by far the best Mario RPG, other than the first one for the SNES of course. You control both Mario and Luigi on the field where you solve exploratory puzzles utilizing teamwork. Battles are involved with timed attacks and dodges, making you actively engaged in the encounters, which, by the way, are not random. The dialogue, like most games on my list so far is robust and humorous and the graphics are expressive and fun. The locales are diverse and varied and the game doesn’t last forever and wear out it’s welcome like some RPGs have a tendency to do, everything is done with a purpose, and I can really appreciate that nowadays.
#3 - Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart
While the first few Dragon Quest Monsters games were nothing to write home about, this game is the real deal. It takes the original formula of raising your monsters and twists it into something more akin to the rest of the DQ series. There is now a coherent plot centered around Prince Keifer from Dragon Quest 7, and a complete and consistent world that will be familiar to long time fans. It’s so much more than random dungeons surrounding a hub town. There are real fleshed out locations to explore, hidden places to stumble upon, and characters to recruit who will join your wagon and grant you special powers. Too bad it wasn’t released in America, but like Magical Vacation, it has a great translation patch.
#2 - Golden Sun 2:The Lost Age
Here’s another amazing gem in the GBAs crown, it’s a package deal and the second one starts off right where the first left off, and let’s just say it’s doozy of a cliffhanger. While the first Golden Sun game was fun, it felt more like a long tutorial to me rather than a full fledged game, I feel that the developers really hit their stride in the second outing. I can’t think of another game that allows you to use abilities that let you interact with the world in the same way that Golden Sun does, it was extremely innovative at the time, and still, even now, there’s not really another series that can compare. The gameplay is a solid turn based system and the world map is a joy to explore with tons of hidden secrets around every turn. And now, what we’ve all been waiting for…
#1- Mother 3
The highly acclaimed sequel to the masterpiece earthbound, does not disappoint, the game is quite simply, a masterpiece and is by far, not just the best RPG, but the best game on the system. Mother 3 does something with its story that not many games do, it teaches the player a lesson about greed, corruption and the true meaning of happiness. The story is an emotional rollercoaster that you will not want to put down. The gameplay is, of course, very similar to Earthbound, but with added rhythm attacks which do extra damage when you time your button presses to beat of the music. The game is a joy to explore with secrets around every corner and humorous dialogue, they’ve done a great job bringing the world to life. Thankfully, like the other Japan only games I’ve listed, it has been masterfully translated into English. If you play nothing else on the GBA, play Mother 3.
Well, these were my Top 10 best gba RPGs, but I do have a few honorable mentions that just didn’t make it such as Sword of Mana, Tactics Ogre: Knight of the Lodis and CIMA The Enemy. What are your top 10 gba rpgs? do you agree or disagree? let me know in the comments!