The SNES-like power of Nintendo’s GBA made it the perfect home for a fascinating collection of convenient ports of older favourites as well as enhanced remakes and all-new titles, running the gamut from colourful adventures to carefully woven tales of revenge and war.
The list below represents what we think are some of the very best on the system in any language; names we hope will stir up fond memories, make you dig a forgotten cartridge out of a dusty corner, or finally place a bid on that one game you always meant to buy but never did.
Do remember these aren’t shown in any order, and represents nothing more than our own personal preferences…
If you're a fan of RPGs in general, don't forget to check out our other lists:
- Best SNES / Super Nintendo RPGs
- Best Nintendo Switch RPGs
- Best Nintendo Switch Action RPGs
- Best Nintendo 3DS RPGs
- Best Nintendo DS RPGs
Whether you think Marche is the ultimate evil or just a boy trying to make his friends see sense, there’s no doubt this vibrant meeting of two very different kinds of Ivalice successfully reimagined a traditionally console-bound style of gaming for Nintendo’s handheld, and brought a colourful range of Nu Mou, Viera, and Moogles with it. The in-depth job system remains as engaging as it ever was, and the innovative use of Final Fantasy XII’s Judges keeps these extended skirmishes feeling fresh and unpredictable. Sure, it's not as gritty and mature as the original Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's still an amazing strategy RPG.
EarthBound’s legendary sequel was originally envisioned as an N64 release, although the game’s tumultuous development ended up outlasting that entire generation of Nintendo hardware before it finally arrived on the GBA in 2006. At least Lucas’ thankfully fan-translated tale turned out to be well worth the wait, taking a varied cast of characters on an often dark and emotive adventure. International fans may still be waiting on a port, re-release, official acknowledgement, anything, but if Itoi’s series ended here, at least it went out on a high.
How could anyone not love seeing Square’s SNES classic in a new take-anywhere format with a whole host of extras and enhancements on top? The remade pixel art is nothing short of stunning, clearly different from the originals without becoming unrecognisable, the English script has been brought up to modern standards, and the Cave of Trials/Lunar Ruins give even the most experienced fans brand new challenging content to work their way through.
Echoing in many ways Camelot’s previous stellar work on Shining Force III and Shining the Holy Ark, what may on the surface appear to be a straightforward fantasy-puzzle RPG is actually an epic quest where the line dividing allies and enemies isn’t as clear-cut as you may think. Golden Sun is also one of the most gorgeous games on the console (although the CGI characters are somewhat divisive, we'll admit), and it's backed up by a stellar soundtrack, too.
The rather plain English title gives no clue this is actually the seventh game in the series and the second made for the GBA, but back in 2003 most Western gamers were grateful for the chance to play a game in the series at all. At late as we may have been to the party, this was (and still is) a great first Fire Emblem for anyone hoping to get into the series and was so well-made it made instant stars of Eliwood, Lyn, and Hector, confirmed beyond all doubt the series had real international appeal, and played a part in securing the now-expected translated releases of all the Fire Emblems that came afterwards.
A lavish remake of the Game Boy’s Seiken Densetsu, AKA: Final Fantasy Adventure, currently AKA: Adventures of Mana sees either a hero or heroine, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (no prizes for guessing which of the two is more magically-inclined), initially off to avenge the deaths of various loved ones at the hands of the Dark Lord before tackling the now traditional Mana Sword/Mana Tree shenanigans. Playing as something of a pick ‘n’ mix between all the then-current entries in the series gives Brownie Brown’s (Mother 3, Magical Starsign, Fantasy Life) interpretation of the original’s events a dreamlike feeling of familiarity, where everything is exactly but never quite how you remember it to be.
It’s rare that an RPG decides to pin its entire adventure on humour, but if Superstar Saga is the result then we wish more of them would give the political intrigue a rest and give us more laughs. Utterly committed to its absurdity in every form possible, from the visual meta-gag of Princess Peach’s explosive dialogue or very deliberately tying Luigi’s actions to the B button, there’s not a single moment of this game that couldn’t be described as an absolute delight.
Even though Golden Sun: The Lost Age plays much like any standard RPG, there is something very special about it. Even with its lack of structure towards the beginning of the campaign, there is an accessible and engaging nature to it that keeps you wanting to play and experiment. The Lost Age builds on almost everything from the original Golden Sun – a longer campaign, extended Djinn mechanics, greater challenge, clever puzzles, minor graphical improvements, etc. Newcomers would do well to start with the first entry, as the game does take for granted that you know the basics in some cases and the plot-line will make little to no sense – at least initially. However, for those who've played the first instalment, recommending this concluding chapter is a real no-brainer.
For many series, the words “side story” are seen as a convenient excuse to trot out a half-baked rehash of a popular title – but Tactics Ogre has never been like other series. This GBA exclusive entry in the long-running Ogre Battle saga is as richly detailed and politically intricate as any other you could mention, and lurking underneath that already fully-featured surface are a whole host of secret characters and special endings just waiting to be discovered.
We may be fans of the rare and unusual, but we couldn’t possibly create an RPG list without Pokémon on it, could we? As you’re well aware, they’re multi-million chart-toppers every time, responsible for creating an army of would-be challengers and then effortlessly crushing them underfoot with almost frightening punctuality. Whether you consider these particular entries new features, Pokémon, and region the best thing since Professor Oak welcomed everyone to the world of Pokémon for the first time or a disappointing blip in Game Freak’s unstoppable franchise, their success is so all-encompassing there’s no doubt you’ve played it anyway. Pokémon Emerald – an enhanced version of these two titles – is also worth a look.