Note: Writing a top 10 list is tough. It is hard to narrow down criteria and to further narrow it down to the actual games because each has its own pros and cons and opinions vary. And those opinions that vary tend to be lambasted. So to eliminate some of that, I made this an accumulative list where they are not ranked individually.
I have decided not to include remakes here so that would exclude the Final Fantasy Advance series as well as the Breath of Fire series and such. Also, if there are multiple sequels across the platform, I will tend to just name the original but will mention the others as odds are they will be just as good.
This is to try to allude to other series as well. The Game Boy Advance had an extremely great selection of games in its library, so I could list 50 games and still leave out excellent games. I tried to aim for a mix of JRPG and SRPG.
1. Mother 3
Developed by Brownie Brown and HAL Laboratory with publishing by Nintendo, Mother 3 was the long-anticipated latest installment to the Mother series which at the time had only one installment released to the west—Mother 2 or localized as Earthbound for the Super Nintendo. Mother 3 was released on April 20, 2006 in Japan but was never released in the west. A fan community named Starmen.net released an unofficial fan translation in English two years later in 2008.
Everything that made Earthbound a cult-classic including great humor, great story, great music, and great gameplay is there. You start out in a place called the Nowhere Islands sometime after the events of Mother 2. The story is kind of heavy and family is a key point. New to the battle system is musical timing where matching the background beat allows the player to combo up to sixteen times. This is probably the last Mother installment and is highly recommended to anyone.
2. Tactics Ogre : Knights of the Lodis
Released exclusively for the GBA several years following the release of the original Tactics Ogre, this title acts as a spin-off of it. The team who made this game would later develop the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance after the company Quest was incorporated by Square Enix.
Alphonse Loeher, a soldier in the Lodis region opposes his country’s oppression of other nearby places. He is given a big choice to make mid-game in which the outcome can lead to several possible endings of which have time prerequisites. The gameplay and other game elements albeit not the exact same as the original game but is still Tactics Ogre at heart.
3. Mario & Luigi : Superstar Saga
While the Paper Mario franchise was still in its infancy, this game came as a pleasant surprise for those who liked the Mario Brothers in an RPG setting. Developed by AlphaDream and published by Nintendo, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga delivers with its own charm which presents itself in a comedic fashion along with its unique art style and environmental settings.
The story starts with Fawful and Cackletta as fake ambassadors of the Beanbean Kingdom visiting the Mushroom Kingdom. The two steal Princess Peach’s voice which is replaced by explosives when she talks. This predicament dissuades Bowser who was going to kidnap her once again.
All three want to get her voice back but the story progresses with the player as Mario and Luigi. Gameplay is heavy on teamwork and timing. One button is affixed to Mario while the other is affixed to Luigi. This goes for battles and overworld actions. It is great series all-around and I recommend this game to everyone.
4. Golden Sun
Developed by Camelot Software Planning and published by Nintendo, Golden Sun was one of the earlier RPGs for the Game Boy Advance. It has spawned two sequels, one the following year in 2002, and another eight years later for the Nintendo 3DS. The creator, Hiroyuki Takanashi, has not ruled out a fourth one as of this writing.
A group of heroes led by Isaac must stop another group letting loose something called ‘Alchemy.’ Battles are conducted via random encounters for the most part in traditional RPG style with magic points being replaced with Psynergy Points. Psynergy can be in used in the field also in battles. Players are also allowed to summon Djinns as well. The graphics and sound were great at the time of its release.
5. Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade
The first entry released for the GBA is actually not the Fire Emblem that first appeared in the west but rather the game before. Coincidentally enough, the game actually that was released in the west in 2003 is a prequel to the Binding Blade was released in 2002. Both were developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo.
Set on the continent of Elibe, the story takes place in a world following the aftermath of a war between humans and dragons hundreds of years earlier. The hero Roy, from the country Pherae, is determined to stop King Zephiel of Bern, who is taking over Elibe somehow slowly by slowly. Gameplay, music, and story are solid here and would set as precedent for the remainder of the GBA titles. The difficulty is toned down from the previous Thracia 776 which is one of the hardest titles in the Fire Emblem franchise.
6. Advance Wars
Originally released on September 10, 2001 for North America, for reasons claiming to have to do with the effects of the September 11, 2001 incident, Europe’s release would be on January 11, 2002. Japan’s release wouldn’t come until it was released as a compilation titled Game Boy Advance 1+2 three years later on November 25, 2004. The western commercial success is cited as why the Fire Emblem series was brought over to the west according to Kentaro Nishimura of Intelligent Systems.
There are four nations on the continent in which Advance Wars takes place: Orange Star, Blue Moon, Yellow Comet, and Green Earth. When one of the commanding officers (in this case Andy of Orange Star, the protagonist) of the two warring nations of Orange Star and Blue Moon is accused of attacking the remaining two nations, it’s a recipe for all-out-war.
Advance Wars is more militarily tactical where commanding officers order troops to defeat other troops, capture neutral territories, and capture the enemies headquarters. All this while accounting for terrain and the various types of military units and weapons at ones’ disposal. It is a very balanced game with greatness all-around. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp was announced in 2021 as a pending compilation release for the Nintendo Switch.
7. Magical Vacation
Developed by Brownie Brown and published by Nintendo, Magical Vacation was released exclusively in Japan on December 7, 2001. If the cover as well as the graphics look familiar, it is because the company also did development work for Sword of Mana which was localized for North America.
Long story short, when a monster named Enigma starts abducting students from the hero’s magic school, he must save them and discover the secrets behind Enigma. Oh yeah, he also has to unravel secrets about a three-day war civilians never knew existed that took place in his kingdom.
Magical Vacation has random encounters although you can interact and receive items from living things in dungeons and such. The layout of fighting is reminiscent of Breath of Fire where there are different rows for allies and enemies. There are 16 spiritual elements. Spirits can be summoned and perform combos.
8. Pocket Monsters Ruby / Sapphire
Developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, this game franchise hardly needs an introduction. I kind of wanted to choose another game here for the list as I felt it might be too obvious but the impact it has had overall monster-raising type RPGs is too great even if these two iterations for the Game Boy Advance are very similar to the previous generations. But in my opinion, that is what made them great in the first place.
135 new Pokemon are added from the previous games brings the total amount of Pokemon to 386 in these two compatible games. The re-release of these games for the Nintendo DS named Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire adds even more content. Just another step in the long set of stairs that is the Pokemon franchise.
9. Lufia: The Ruins Of Lore
Developed by Atelier Double and published by Taito in Japan and later by Atlus in North America, Lufia is kind of an RPG that went under the radar a little bit except for those that were Lufia fans. This entry although the fourth title in the Lufia series is considered a side-story because of its lack of common themes from the previous games.
20 years after the results of Lufia II, the power-hungry Kingdom of Gratze is intent on ending peace by conquering nearby nations in search of the Beast. Eldin and his comrades must stop it from happening. Gameplay is generally the same although there seems to be a reductions in puzzles from the previous iterations. Despite this, it is still a solid game and definitely worth checking out.
10. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Developed and published by Square Enix, this first portable installment of the Final Fantasy Tactics franchise is quite different from the previous title. The story is less serious in ways although that doesn’t mean it is light-hearted. The system in which you progress is different as well. Rather than going from battle to battle like in the first one, you are part of a clan and must take on missions some of which require rare items to accept.
You control Marche, who one day with his friends Ritz and Mewt, get a magical book that teleports them from their ordinary everyday world to the magical world of Ivalice where creatures like Moogles and such are commonplace. Gameplay is somewhat similar to the first one albeit with many changes.
You learn through weapons in which those ability points are gained after each battle rather than during it. Sometimes the menu wasn’t the most user-friendly and you could get confused on which items to keep for the story. Despite this, the game is still fun and is recommended. My advice is use a guide to avoid missables with the games vast 300 missions. I wasn’t really a fan of the ending for this or its sequel but opinions vary.
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