Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke's Recommendations
1Super Robot Taisen Original Generation Saga: Endless Frontier
2Infinite Space
3Radiant Historia
4Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
5Front Mission 1st
6Shining Force Feather
7Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

I've spent a lot of time with the DS library of RPGs. While the system has more than its share of justifiably forgotten crud, a number of its games seem not to have attracted the audience they seemingly deserved. I can't claim the following list is anywhere close to comprehensive, but all of its parts are games with which I had a great time, and they deserve to be remembered with more than apathy. Also, I didn't have a clear system in place for comparing these games, so the numbering is mostly arbitrary.

#1 · Super Robot Taisen Original Generation Saga: Endless Frontier

My enthusiasm for the Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation series shouldn't need repeating. Endless Frontier, not being a tactical RPG, could have caused my enthusiasm to wane, but it turned out a smashing success thanks to Monolith Soft's devotion. Enemies may have a lot of HP in the later game, but smashing them with repeated combos never stops being entertaining, and the sheer amount of spectacle in combat is a wonder to behold. Plot-wise, the game is nothing special save for its parade of well-translated humor courtesy of Atlus, but amusing jokes have been enough to carry plots in other forms of media, and the many references to the other Original Generation titles make it constantly compelling for series fans. For those unfortunate enough never to lack that grounding, the universality of gutter jokes regarding women's assets will amuse. The only real down point of the game is that the odds of getting Endless Frontier EXCEED localized get longer by the day, but when longing for its sequel is the worst I can say about the game, a lot of things were done right.

#2 · Infinite Space

Space... the final frontier. These are the missions of the starship [insert name here]. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, while trying not to be killed on the way. To seek out new life and new civilizations, even if they are bent on conquest. To boldly go where no one has gone before. Infinite Space may not have been a complete success in everything it attempted, but it did enough right to make this an instant recommendation for fans of the sci-fi RPG. Yuri's tale of seeking his way among the stars gets rather involved, and covers an impressive stretch of time, rarely becoming uninvolving. The narrative may be mind-bending in the home stretch, but I always prefer something a little crazy to something deadly dull. As for its combat and customization aspects, Infinite Space can be unforgiving at times, but tinkering with the ways to modify spaceships is actually quite fun. There's a lot to praise about a game that may have attempted just a little too much, and it's a shame Sega did such a lousy job of promoting this very worthy title, since it deserves a bigger audience than it's received.

#3 · Radiant Historia

Not many games have been released during the DS's twilight, but Atlus took a chance and published this one, which was a wise move. Using time travel is not exactly an original concept, but switching between two different versions of recent history in the hunt to stop a world's desertification is executed quite well here. Outside of its compelling chronicle, Radiant Historia also has a fascinating fight function, in which enemies can (and should) be slammed into a group for the most effective disposal. I also appreciated the ability to skip cutscenes simply by pressing Start, which is essential in a game in which the same events occur multiple times as Stocke goes back and forth through time. It may be too soon to consign Radiant Historia to the ranks of unfairly overlooked games, given that it was released just this past February, but its sales certainly don't seem to have set the charts afire, which is unfortunate.

#4 · Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Portrait of Ruin is the middle child in Konami's DS Castlevania trio. Sandwiched between Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia, it somehow seems to be the least-favorably remembered of these games. Liking this one the best of the DS Castlevania titles may be strange, but somehow I had exactly that reaction. I enjoyed the different ways Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin controlled, and the different reactions they would sometimes receive from the enemies, which continued to be a well-designed and dangerous lot. I liked the excursions to a number of areas outside Dracula's castle that varied the terrain considerably, and even if those areas were recycled upside down, this too is hardly unprecedented in the Castlevania series. The game's 1944 setting isn't used well, but Castlevania games have never been plot-centric, and the action inside Dracula's castle is addictive enough to make this something I had a tough time putting down.

#5 · Front Mission 1st

Now here's a game that really should have done better. After all, the original Front Mission had traveled from the Super Famicom, PlayStation, and WonderSwan before this version finally made it into English. Apparently the Front Mission fans were too peeved about Square Enix not localizing the fifth game to give a damn about this one, however, and thus its pitiful North American sales helped assure disinterest in further tactical entries for the series. Front Mission 1st, being the first game in the series, isn't a powerhouse of unique game design, and that may have also had something to do with its muted reception. Customizing the Wanzers is quite fun, though, and even this artifact from the SNES era delivers fun, somewhat challenging battles. The touch screen controls weren't well thought-out, but they're thankfully optional, and this is a fine tactical title that should be better known.

#6 · Shining Force Feather

Someday I hope to experience more DS RPGs that stayed in Japan, from the Summon Night titles, to 7th Dragon, the port of Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru, Front Mission 2089, Soma Bringer, and more. Just because every localizer outside Japan passed on translating Shining Force Feather was therefore no reason for me to ignore the first new tactical Shining Force since the Saturn years, and my reward for doing so was a fast, fun tactical title. Combat may not be closely related to the games in this series designed by Camelot, but Flight Plan really did a good job in coming up with a system that allows two characters to concurrently smash the enemy. The AI may not be brilliant, but moving characters carefully to put multiple people in range of the same target on a gridless battlefield is quite fun, and stays that way throughout the game. The side missions also show a welcome variety, with several races against treasure hunters for the prizes, and a nifty battle in which goblins must be dislodged from their dangerous tank. Shining Force Feather also showed that DS voice acting is not necessarily a waste of cartridge space, and the high percentage of the central story that receives good performances is easy to appreciate. Sadly, the game did not sell well in Japan, and never got a release elsewhere, so this may be the final hurrah for the Shining Force series.

#7 · Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

I should preface writing about this game by saying that Final Fantasy Tactics is not something I have experienced. Therefore I am not comparing FFTA2 to its series originator, though I will someday play that game. Grimoire of the Rift doesn't possess a scintillating narrative that provides new insight into the human condition, nor did I expect it to. Instead, it contains an immense variety of missions, plenty of jobs with which to play around, an impressive variety of other content, and enough material to make me spend over 100 hours with it. Perhaps it is, in fact, dumbed down from FFT, but when the result can still solicit so much playing time from me, clearly the developers did a lot of things right.

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