Breath Of Fire II (GBA)

Breath Of Fire II (GBA)Breath Of Fire II (GBA)
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 15th Apr 2002 (USA) / 28th Jun 2002 (UK/EU)

The GBA exclusive features found here may not be as extensive as those found within Squaresoft’s RPG ports, but the thoughtful additions and enhancements Capcom made to the SNES original still make this portable version of Ryu’s adventure more than worth playing through. Come for the likeable cast and dramatic adventure, stay for the fishing.

Samurai Evolution: Oukoku Geist (GBA)

Samurai Evolution: Oukoku Geist (GBA)Samurai Evolution: Oukoku Geist (GBA)
Publisher: Enix / Developer: TeaSet
Release Date: 2002 (JPN)

At first glance, this Japan-only title published by none other than the legendary Enix itself looks more than a little like one of the classic Phantasy Stars, and the game’s all the better for it – the combination of naturalistic motifs (cherry blossoms are a common sight here) with slick sci-fi buildings and advanced technology looks stunning, and more games should use it more often. It only gets better when the fights kick in, using an animated side-on style that wouldn’t look out of place in a full-blown fighting game over the static sprites normally found in the genre. Sadly, no fan translation currently exists, but we can always hope.

Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (GBA)

Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (GBA)Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (GBA)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Square
Release Date: 29th Nov 2004 (USA) / 3rd Dec 2004 (UK/EU)

Ported by Tose, this pack includes the first two Final Fantasy outings which originally appeared on the Famicom / NES. Bolstered by improved presentation, four new dungeons, an updated bestiary and a smattering of other improvements, this collection is a great way of familiarizing yourself with two of the most influential JRPGs of all time.

Lunar Legend (GBA)

Lunar Legend (GBA)Lunar Legend (GBA)
Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Japan Art Media
Release Date: 10th Dec 2002 (USA)

Originally released on the Mega CD and later enhanced for release on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, Lunar: The Silver Star Story is one of the quintessential RPGs of the '90s. Developed by Japan Art Media under licence from original creator Game Arts, Lunar Legend is a handheld adaption of Silver Star Story Complete, and naturally has to omit the speech and FMV elements the series is famous for. However, what makes the first Lunar adventure so compelling remains in place, and the visuals are impressive for a GBA release.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA)

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA)Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: 23rd Mar 2005 (USA) / 4th Nov 2005 (UK/EU)

For such a long-running series, it's hard to believe Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was only the second game to leave Japan after GBA predecessor Fire Emblem. The Sacred Stones further refines the series' battle system with subtle additions, while the writing and animation is as good as ever. The introduction of a world map, branching unit promotions and unique chapters for the two lead characters mark this as the best GBA entry in the series.

Shining Soul II (GBA)

Shining Soul II (GBA)Shining Soul II (GBA)
Publisher: THQ / Developer: Nextech
Release Date: TBA

It's fair to say that when Sega announced the original Shining Soul for the GBA, fans were perplexed. They wanted either a first-person dungeon-crawler (like Shining in the Darkness) or a strategy RPG (like Shining Force). What they got was a Diablo-style action RPG with a focus on link-up play between GBA consoles. While Shining Soul and this sequel are light on the storytelling elements which make the Shining series so beloved, they're still fine handheld RPGs that are well worth a look.

Phantasy Star Collection (GBA)

Phantasy Star Collection (GBA)Phantasy Star Collection (GBA)
Publisher: THQ / Developer: SEGA
Release Date: 24th Nov 2002 (USA) / 7th Mar 2003 (UK/EU)

This compendium of the first three Phantasy Star entries might not be totally perfect – the translation isn't great, the audio emulation has issues and Phantasy Star IV (the best of the first four games) is annoyingly absent – but there's no denying the quality of these titles. Sure, the Master System original is showing its age these days, but the second and third instalments are fine '90s RPGs, and being able to play them on the go is a real bonus.

Lufia: The Ruins Of Lore (GBA)

Lufia: The Ruins Of Lore (GBA)Lufia: The Ruins Of Lore (GBA)
Publisher: Atlus / Developer: Atelier Double
Release Date: 6th May 2003 (USA)

This is the fourth title in the Lufia series and takes the form of a side-story that is not connected to other entries in the lineage. Unlike most RPGs of the period, battles do not occur at random; instead, monsters are visible as you navigate the game world, giving you the chance to pick and choose when you enter combat. Ruins of Lore also showcases a "Job" system seemingly inspired by the one seen in Square's Final Fantasy series, although it's not quite as deep and involving. Lufia is a series that has been largely forgotten by modern gamers, but this pint-sized adventure shows why it's worth rediscovering.

Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA)

Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA)Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA)
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square
Release Date: 6th Nov 2006 (USA) / 20th Apr 2007 (UK/EU)

A Super Famicom exclusive at the time of release, Final Fantasy V offered a dizzying amount of control over its cast of characters, thanks in no small part to the massive expanded "Job" system which would continue to evolve in future instalments. This Game Boy Advance port wasn't the first time the game had come to the west – it was localised on the PlayStation in 1998 – but it does feature enhancements such as a new dungeon and optional boss fight, as well as a totally new English language script. A quick-save feature was also included – perfect for when you're questing on the go and need to end your game quickly.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories (GBA)

Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories (GBA)Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories (GBA)
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 7th Dec 2004 (USA) / 6th May 2005 (UK/EU)

It's easy to see why Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was seen as something of a disappointment at launch; it was the first title to be released after the PS2 original, so some fans were less than pleased that it was hosted on a system that was far, far weaker technically than Sony's best-selling home console. The game also introduced a card-based battle system to replace the real-time action of the PS2 version, making this feel more like a traditional RPG. However, time has been kinder on Chain of Memories, with series fans now ranking it as one of the highlights of the franchise. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was remade for the PlayStation 2, under the title Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.

The GBA had a strong and varied list of RPGs and arguably marked for the first time console gaming, accurately presented as we remembered it on the 16-bit consoles that came before it, could be casually carried around in a bag or pocket. This naturally led to a range of ports of a few old favourites but also brought with it a new wave of innovation and ideas, gifting gamers with exclusive titles too powerful for older hardware but also unsuited to the home hardware sitting under TVs at the time – and mean much of the handheld’s library is still unique to this day.

Did you spot a treasured favourite in our list, uncovered a new game to play, or bewildered by the absence of a true classic? Let us know in the comments below!