The DS has been the seat of an enormous number of quality RPGs in recent years, and 2009 continued that trend. It had something for just about every taste, no matter how niche. Game developers the world over know that the user base of this system makes it impossible to ignore, and their collective response has been to make games in mass quantities for it. Below are just some of the best on a system that had too many games to keep track of.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is the second part of a trilogy of stories, and it once looked like the game would never make it out of Japan. Enix America closed down operations at the end of the NES era, creating a gap in the series from Dragon Warrior IV to Dragon Warrior VII. Until the remakes for the DS were annouced, it looked like we would never know what happened with the tale that Dragon Warrior IV started.
Dragon Quest V has one of the best stories of the series. Coupled with monster catching, DQV manages to keep from feeling like a grind. While the hero is hunting rare monsters in the hopes of having them join his party, the extra battles needed to accomplish this goal level the party members enough to make them prepared for whatever challenge faces them next. This combination of a compelling story and compelling gameplay creates a fast-paced romp around the world to stop the powers of evil. What else could you expect from Dragon Quest?
Upon first glance, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes does not look like a major RPG of the year. The cute art style is somewhat hampered by the limitations of the DS and the small size of the sprites. The forgettable sound and mediocre story does not impress. However, the game surprised us with its outstanding, well-implemented gameplay. Combining puzzle mechanics with tactical planning and a leveling system, the battle system is well thought out, original, and addictive. The AI opponents provide a stiff challenge without being overwhelming, giving a sense of satisfaction missing from many RPGs today. These qualities elevate Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes to our second best DS RPG spot for the year.
Continuing developer Sting's habit of creating inventive RPGs, Knights in the Nightmare holds nothing back with a battle system that combines elements of a tactical RPG with those of a top-down shooter. The hectic result keeps you using your brain along with your twitch reflexes, simultaneously planning future attacks while frantically dodging the bullets that blanket the screen. Not content just to shake up the combat, the tragic, somber tale is told through a series of flashbacks mingled in with current events, leaving the player guessing how exactly the game's horrible catastrophe was caused right up to the final cutscene. The package is wrapped up with the most interesting and detailed 2D artwork on the DS this year. More unique than fantastic, Knights is not for everyone, but it provided enough unforgettable enjoyment to stand out as one of the best RPGs of the year on a system flooded with great RPGs.
by Mikel Tidwell, Phillip Willis, Glenn Wilson, Michael Cunningham