There might be better games in the DS library, but these are five that I really enjoyed and would recommend to anyone wanting something a little out of the box. Take most of these with a grain of salt, as they are not all masterpieces. I enjoyed them and can't be alone in that, can I?
#1 · Rondo of Swords
Rondo of Swords came out of nowhere in 2008 when Atlus USA released it stateside. Instantly, many comparisons were drawn to the Fire Emblem series, but it was by no means Fire Emblem. Though lacking in graphical prowess, this brutally challenging tactical RPG might look like a simple copycat, but instead offered a unique twist in terms of gameplay. Rondo's grid-based combat layout steers away from moving next to an enemy and attacking, instead offering the Route Maneuver System where players select a path through the enemies they want melee characters to attack. Strategy plays a major part in all battles, as units can dodge, counter, or create a Zone of Control (ZOC) to stop the oncoming charge of an attacker. Each character also has a threat gauge called the momentum counter, which will draw more enemies to them when higher and make it easier to hide when lower. This combined with powerful OverBreak abilities for each characters takes Rondo of Swords well beyond being just another tactical RPG clone. The game is hard, at times painfully so, but that shouldn't deter anyone looking for a unique gameplay experience.
#2 · Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
Though I had briefly played Dragon Quest VIII prior to this, I officially call Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime my first Dragon Quest game, even though it is a spin-off. This game consists of two styles of play: slime combat and tank battles. During slime combat, Rocket uses his Elasto Blast skill to knock enemies around and capture them, before sending them back to town to become part of his arsenal for tank battles. The tank battles are the highlight of the game, as Rocket is tasked with loading his tank's cannon with items he's found around the stage. He can also traverse across the battlefield and sabotage the inner workings of his opponent's tanks. Rocket Slime is a fun, pun-filled game, as is par for the course with the Dragon Quest series. This game never takes itself too seriously and is all the better for it.
#3 · Summon Night: Twin Age
Another game that made good use of the DS touch screen is Summon Night: Twin Age, also localized by Atlus USA. This game was a simple, hack-and-slash RPG where players only had to tap the screen to attack an enemy. There were two characters to swap between, one melee-focused, one a magic user. The best part about this title is that the A.I. of the party member not being controlled was fairly handy, healing when needed, buffing and attacking when not. A third, non-playable NPC would even be available during most of the game's chapters, too. Though Twin Age offers very little challenge outside of one or two boss fights, the gameplay was very straightforward and the interface for everyone worked perfectly. It worked very much like a PC point-and-click action RPG would, though in portable form.
#4 · Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
While I do consider Rocket Slime to be my first Dragon Quest game, it is still a spin-off. So thanks to the DS, I was able to play through my first proper Dragon Quest in the form of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. While I'm actually a bigger fan of Chapters of the Chosen, I found Hand of the Heavenly Bride to be the better gateway to the series. Offering a multi-generation format where you can actually make a decision that will alter your path, it is a nice change of pace for the series and one that could easily convert those who showed little interest in the series prior. Anyone yet to step into the world of Dragon Quest would do well to give this one a try. If you get a taste of it and like it, there are more on the DS to enjoy.
#5 · Orcs & Elves DS
For my last game, I wanted to list Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, but that game is getting more love elsewhere in this feature, so I chose a more obscure title. Orcs & Elves DS is the creation of id co-founder John Carmark and uses the Doom II RPG engine first seen on cell phones. This DS port takes a fantasy twist and offers up a first-person, turn-based RPG adventure. In the style of roguelikes, players alternate turns with the enemies in the dungeon and must make the most of all their position and equipment in order to survive. While not a fantastic game, its first-person style works perfectly on the DS and makes for a quick but fun adventure. While Orcs & Elves and its ilk might be better suited for mobile phones, the concept could easily be expanded upon and made into something more substantial based on the foundation laid on the DS.