This welcome remake of the Mega Drive classic may not have the depth or difficulty of Fire Emblem, Tactics Ogre, or indeed a range of other SRPGs available for the GBA, but in many ways, that’s all part of the game’s charm. This is a game you play for the pleasantly chunky and deeply colourful pixel art, for the sake of seeing Max and his titular Shining Force overcome the evil machinations of Darksol. Tactical thinking is still necessary if you want to succeed, but copious resetting due to an unlucky crit is not.
Well worth the three-year wait between the Japanese and Atlus-handled US release, this thrilling mix of world-saving, father-honouring adventure with dungeon exploring, weapon crafting, and a battle system that looks and plays more like a side-scrolling action game is a true highlight in the genre that stands out from the crowd no matter how many other GBA RPGs are already weighing down your shelves. The sequel is also worthy of investigation.
Who could resist Dragon Quest’s timeless charm combined with the irresistible gameplay of the Shiren the Wanderer series? It may not reinvent the roguelike wheel, but when the gameplay’s already this good it doesn’t need to; everyone going in already knows to tread carefully, use items wisely, and hope they don’t wander into a deadly Monster House along the way – and if they don’t this is as good a place to start as any. There is sadly no fan translation of this Japanese exclusive portable version currently available, although the PlayStation version of the same game did receive a US release under the title Torneko: The Last Hope.
The unworkable tangle of multi-series licenses prevented previous entries in this popular line of SRPGs from leaving Japan, forcing fans of hot-blooded tactical mech action to procure games on import or silently appreciate from afar – until the 2006 release of this original-units-only GBA title finally made the game available in English. As well-designed as capably plotted as any other Super Robot Taisen featuring a more famous selection of mechs, this customisable multi-plot adventure is a must-play for any fan of any part of this polished package.
The GBA may not seem to be short of isometric SRPGs, but as far as problems go, it’s one we wish more formats had. This Japanese exclusive tactical clash of the winged and the wingless naturally results in even more religiously-charged plot than the mighty Final Fantasy Tactics, and the engaging multi-height battles are sure to keep anyone staring into their GBA’s screen until the battery fades away. A partial English translation is available, enabling users to at least navigate some of the menus.
A practical blend of the SNES original with some of the later tweaks present in the (Japan only) PlayStation remake, the international release of Phantasia in 2006 finally allowed international fans the chance to play through Cress’ adventure and experience where this popular series began. With the action-based Linear Motion Battle System present and correct, portable gamers could enjoy the game’s fantastically energetic brawls for themselves as they marvelled at the big and beautiful sprites within.
Notable for being the first "enhanced remakes" of previous entries in the Pokémon series, FireRed and LeafGreen take the Game Boy originals and transform them into something truly spectacular. While the monochrome titles always felt like they were limited by the hardware, these GBA updates allow the artistic vision to shine through via some eye-catching hand-drawn graphics and catchy music. If you're a total newcomer to the franchise and are looking for an "old school" entry point but aren't keen on slumming it with the black and white originals, we'd argue that these titles serve as the perfect introduction to the world of Pocket Monsters.
Hideo Kojima’s PlayStation 2 sci-fi mech action series was always the perfect setting for some quality dialogue-heavy SRPGing, and The Fist of Mars' tactical take on Orbital Frame action proves it. The IAS – Interactive Action System – is an innovative nod to the game’s real-time, slash ‘n’ shoot roots, enabling pilots to line up their own shots or avoid incoming enemy fire for themselves rather than rely on dry statistics to keep them safe.
If there’s one thing you can expect Sting to do, it’s the unexpected, and Yggdra Union is no exception to that rule. Notable for its strong visual style, unusual battle mechanics, and general difficulty, there’s really little like this tale of a sword-wielding princess out to reclaim her kingdom other than the game’s own remakes – even it’s own DS spinoff, Yggdra Unison, plays differently to Union’s thrilling multi-unit battles.
Riviera, Sting’s first entry in the Dept. Heaven series, first released on the WonderSwan Color in 2002 and there it would have likely remained if Nintendo’s GBA hadn’t the graphical muscle to handle the game’s gorgeous sprites and striking redrawn character portraits. A range of limitations force players to carefully consider their battle team as well as which items to bring along with them, and multiple endings ensure this is well worth playing through more than once.