The Game Boy Advance (GBA) was released in the US in June 2001 as part of Nintendo’s sixth generation of video game consoles. The GBA was Nintendo’s next handheld console after the Game Boy Color (GBC). They were largely similar as far as color palettes and the use of external batteries go. The GBA still lacked the use of an illuminated screen, which would be implemented with the GBA SP in 2003. Despite this, the GBA went on to be the fastest-selling video game console in the US in the first week of its launch, helping popularize portable gaming even further.
Part of the GBA’s success was due to its backward compatibility with Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles. This allowed players to continue to play their favorite games from these consoles. Notable upgrades to the GBA included a wireless adapter, a GameCube link cable, and an e-reader for scanning classic games onto the console.
RPGs, or role-playing games, are games in which players take on the role of a character in a fictional environment. While the GBA was mostly known for its action, platformer, and racing games, some memorable titles among the absolute best Game Boy Advance RPGs are worth a play. If you’re a fan of the RPG genre, join us for a deep dive into which games are the best to add to your collection.
Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (Metacritic Score: 88)
Fans of tactical RPGs are probably not strangers to the Ogre Battle series of games. The series premiered on the SNES in 1995 with the release of Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. The series entered the handheld arena in 2002 with the release of The Knight of Lodis. Technically a spin-off from the main series, the Knight of Lodis acts as a prequel to the main games. The story follows Alphonse Loeher, a knight of Lodis in the Order of the Sacred Flame. As he uncovers the truth behind the knights’ oppression of the land of Ovis, this leads to some narrative choices and plot twists throughout the game.
Combat in the game takes place on a panel-based playing field, with height and terrain differences affecting the player’s movement. During story-based battles, players can command up to eight units, each with their own race, class, and attribute growth, such as strength, intelligence, and agility. Units also have an alignment from chaotic to lawful, which affects which classes are available for that unit. Attacks range from melee attacks to ranged and magic, performed on adjacent units or those at a distance, respectively.
While noted for its subpar musical score and outdated design, Knight of Lodis did achieve perfect scores from Play Magazine and RPGamer for its storyline and gameplay. Considering the best GBA RPGs, Knight of Lodis is near the top with its high difficulty and strategic elements.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Metacritic Score: 89)
The Minish Cap came out in the US in 2005. Bridging the gap between action-adventure and RPG like most of the Zelda series, it continues the storyline from The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. This entry serves as a prequel to explain the origins of the sorcerer Vaati, who released monsters into Hyrule by destroying the Picori blade. Link was tasked with gaining help from the Minish, a race of tiny creatures also known as the Picori.
The gameplay features many Zelda staples, such as a top-down view and the exploration of a world map and dungeons. It also features the ability to acquire new items, skills, and heart containers, which increase your life meter. Link also has the use of the Minish Cap, allowing him to transform into a tiny-sized Link to traverse smaller environments.
Minish Cap was the best-selling game in Japan during its debut week and the best-selling game the month of its release in the US. The game received critical acclaim, mostly for its traditional gameplay and Wind Waker-inspired graphical style. GameSpy in particular noted the soundtrack as one of the most impressive to be featured on the GBA. Dungeon design was also praised, although the length of the dungeons themselves was criticized for being somewhat short. Overall, Minish Cap was rated as one of the best Zelda games of its time and easily one of the best Game Boy Advance RPGs released.
- This renewed game will not come with the original case or manual; cartridge only. It has been cleaned, tested, and is in nice condition.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Metacritic Score: 91)
Circle of the Moon was released in 2001. It would begin Castlevania’s foray into the GBA world as one of the console’s launch titles. The game is set in an alternative universe but continues to focus on the war between Dracula and the Belmonts. This entry introduces a non-Belmont character as the protagonist, Nathan Graves. Trained by Morris Baldwin, Graves is chosen as the successor of the legendary Hunter Whip. Graves and Baldwin arrive at the castle with Baldwin’s son, Hugh, and the adventure to defeat the dark lord begins.
Like many previous Castlevania games, Circle of the Moon features a 2D side-scrolling style and includes a variety of weapons. However, developers added RPG-style features such as hit points, magic points, and attributes such as strength, defense, intelligence, and luck. Equipment can be attained by defeating enemies, giving the player experience points, and new abilities when fighting boss enemies. The game also introduced a unique system known as the Dual Set-up System (DSS). In the DSS, magic cards can be combined for up to 100 combinations of magic attacks and magical effects. Alternate playing modes are also available upon completion of the main game. Certain attributes can be increased or decreased and abilities may be restricted for a different playing experience.
Widely acclaimed as one of the best Castlevania titles, Circle of the Moon’s challenging gameplay and storyline were highlighted by critics. Konami’s traditional side-scrolling playing style, although not particularly innovative, is considered timeless. As far as best Game Boy Advance RPGs go, Circle of the Moon is not to be missed by fans of the series.
- Play as Nathan Graves, hunting down the resurrected Count Dracula
- Use your whip plus an array of magical items as you fight your way through the castle
- Beautifully rendered 2D environments
- Store up to 8 different quests
Golden Sun (Metacritic Score: 91)
Golden Sun had a lot to offer upon its release in 2001. The story centers around the Adepts, a group of teenagers mysteriously blessed with magical abilities. Players follow the teens as they try to save their world from the destructive power of alchemy and uncover the secrets of why it was sealed away. Originally intended for the Nintendo 64, the game eventually found its way onto the GBA instead. It’s worth mentioning the story is partially incomplete because it’s intended to be played before the sequel, The Lost Age.
Typical RPG elements feature heavily in the gameplay, such as exploring dungeons, solving puzzles, and random encounters. The game is notable for its use of magic to solve puzzles, whereas most RPGs restrict the use of magic to battles. Characters’ classes can be switched through the assignment of Djinn, powerful beings obtained during the story, or through battle. This changes their statistics as well as which spells are available to them.
The graphical quality of the game was lauded, along with its music and refined gameplay. This is especially impressive considering the restraints of the system. Critics at G4 TV and Game Informer view the game as one of the very best Game Boy Advance RPGs. Golden Sun feels like a throwback to the golden era of SNES RPGs while feeling fresh at the same time. If you’re looking for an innovative yet nostalgic RPG with hours of gameplay, look no further than Golden Sun.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Metacritic Score: 91)
Aria of Sorrow, released in 2003, departs from the traditional storytelling of the Castlevania series. The game takes place in the year 2035, 36 years after the defeat of Dracula. The story also differs in its focus on the reincarnation of Dracula instead of the original dark lord. The protagonist is a student, Soma Cruz, who is surprisingly not a member of the Belmont clan.
Many RPG elements continue to be incorporated, such as experience levels, statistics, magic spells, and equipment upgrades. However, Aria of Sorrow has a standout feature with the use of its Tactical Soul System. By absorbing the souls of enemies upon defeat, players gain various types of abilities, namely Bullet, Guardian, Enchant, and Ability souls. These offer capabilities such as the use of projectile weapons, summoning familiars, and transformation. Players can also increase statistics and gain permanent skills used for traversing the castle in different ways. Like most Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow is set in Dracula’s castle, so exploration is limited by the player’s abilities and story progression.
Aria of Sorrow has been favorably compared to Symphony of the Night, largely seen as the best in the Castlevania series. The visuals and gameplay were rated highly, particularly the Tactical Soul System for being a fresh and fun addition. For its new take on the typical storyline, addictive gameplay, and colorful graphics, Aria of Sorrow is a must-play for Castlevania fans and those seeking out the best Game Boy Advance RPGs to add to their library.
- For Gameboy Advance
- Futuristic storyline set in the year 2035
- Follow the journey of teenager Soma Cruz, who was given dark powers as a potential reincarnation of Dracula
- Introduces the "Tactical Soul" system
Final Fantasy VI Advance (Metacritic Score 92)
As one of the best of the Final Fantasy series, perhaps even the best, it’s no surprise Final Fantasy VI would make its way to a handheld console. The story remains largely the same, centering around the Gestahlian Empire’s mission to take over the world by reviving the use of magic. The protagonist is known as Terra, a girl with mysterious magical powers. She has a strange connection to Espers, mystical beings from whom the power of magic originates.
Final Fantasy VI uses turn-based battles, levels, and vast exploration like most of the series. The game differs from previous entries in that magic is available with all playable characters through the equipping of Espers. The GBA version brought many updates to the classic title, such as improved visuals, some new Espers to be obtained, new post-game areas to explore, and a handful of new spells to acquire.
Final Fantasy VI for GBA brought some welcome elements and, most importantly, didn’t try to fix things that weren’t broken. The game is a fan favorite with elaborate cinematic scenes and a story that continues to age well. You can’t go wrong with this title when thinking about the best GBA RPGs to play.
- Learn new spells and how to summon creatures known as espers
- Interact with other characters and fight beside them as they journey with you through the story
- Lead Terra through an adventure spanning two worlds and a variety of environments
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Metacritic Score: 95)
A Link to the Past was originally released for the SNES in 1992. The game hit handheld platforms in 2002, along with the release of Four Swords. Set before the previous two Zelda games, A Link to the Past brought the best from those games and took them further. The story follows Link as he attempts to save Hyrule from Ganon and rescue the Seven Sages’ descendants. After Ganon obtains the three pieces of the Triforce, the realm in which he was sealed turns into the Dark World. Meanwhile, the evil wizard Agahnim was trying to free Ganon from the realm. Link must fight many different monsters to reach the Dark World to defeat Ganon once and for all.
Returning to the overhead perspective of the first game, A Link to the Past utilizes but improves upon, many of the same gameplay elements. For example, arrows became finite items instead of consuming Rupees. Controls were also refined so Link’s sword swung sideways instead of making stabbing motions. Heart Containers were found in heart pieces, where four combined to make one heart. The game also introduced the concept of parallel worlds, which would be seen in later titles such as Ocarina of Time. A magic mirror made travel between the two worlds possible, allowing access to previously inaccessible areas.
The game was a critical and commercial success upon release, holding the top spot in Nintendo Power’s top games list for five consecutive years. It has been called the greatest video game of all time by a number of critics. IGN ranked it the second-best game of all time in 2015 and 2019, while Metacritic named it the best GBA game ever released. The gameplay and graphics were high points, as was the interesting cast of characters. Fans and critics likewise praised the faithful retention of the mechanics that made the original great. Out of the best Game Boy Advance RPGs, this spectacular classic is an essential addition to any action or RPG gamer’s collection.
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