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7: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

The Nintendo 3DS featured an incredible selection of RPGs that pushed the boundaries of what was possible on a handheld system. From long-running franchises that released some of their finest entries to date, to exciting original properties that got their start on the 3DS, RPG fans were treated to an embarrassment of riches. Developers took advantage of the system‘s stereoscopic 3D capabilities, dual screens, and increased power over the original DS to craft unforgettable adventures. Narrowing it down to just seven games was no easy task, but after extensive research, analysis, and hands-on experience, we‘re confident we‘ve assembled the absolute best of the best. These are the cream of the crop – the 7 essential RPGs that defined the 3DS and raised the bar for handheld role-playing games.

Originally released for the Wii in 2012, Xenoblade Chronicles was given new life on the New Nintendo 3DS in 2015 with Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. While some concessions had to be made to get the massive open world of the original running on a handheld, the core experience remained intact. Players could now explore the boundless world of the Bionis and Mechonis on the go, taking the deep combat, heartfelt story, and memorable characters with them wherever they went.

Despite the visual downgrade compared to the Wii version, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D still managed to impress with its huge environments to traverse and 100+ hour campaign. The 3DS hardware allowed for some UI enhancements as well, such as moving the map to the bottom screen for easy reference. While it may not be the definitive way to play Xenoblade Chronicles, the 3DS port is a marvel of handheld game development and an unforgettable adventure in its own right. Being able to experience Shulk‘s journey and the unique world in portable form earns Xenoblade Chronicles 3D a spot on our list.

As the first original Monster Hunter game for the 3DS, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate set a new standard for the series. The high difficulty the franchise is known for remained intact, but a slew of new features and refinements made it more approachable than ever for newcomers. Chief among these was the addition of online multiplayer, allowing hunters to team up over the internet to take down fearsome beasts together.

Verticality also played a larger role, with levels featuring more elevation changes and monsters that could more easily knocked down, mounted, and attacked from above. Not content to rest on its laurels, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate also introduced two new weapon types in the Insect Glaive and Charge Blade, giving players even more options for how to approach combat. The monster designs were some of the series‘ most inspired yet, with highlights including the dark Elder Dragon Gore Magala and the returning fan-favorite Tigrex.

With hundreds of hours of content to master, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate kept 3DS owners busy for years. The satisfying gameplay loop of defeating monsters to craft better gear to take on even tougher challenges proved as addicting as ever, and the refinements made it the perfect place for newcomers to get their start. Even now, it remains one of the high points of the series and one of the 3DS‘ finest.

The Persona series has always marched to the beat of its own drum, blending elements of Japanese RPGs and social simulation together into a wildly stylish package. That trend continued on the 3DS with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, a crossover between the casts of Persona 3 and 4.

While the Persona series is known for its turn-based combat, Persona Q instead adopted the first-person dungeon crawling gameplay of the Etrian Odyssey series. Exploring maze-like dungeons in first-person on the top screen while drawing your own map on the touch screen below made for a perfect marriage of Persona‘s dark urban fantasy with Etrian Odyssey‘s engrossing labyrinths.

Of course, it wouldn‘t be a Persona game without plenty of opportunities to spend time with the memorable cast of characters. Persona Q allowed players to pick between the protagonists of 3 and 4 and build up their relationships with the other party members by talking to them between dungeon runs. The chibi art style was a departure from the main series‘ more realistic look, but it worked well for the 3DS and the characters‘ expressive faces still shone through. With two lengthy campaigns to complete, Persona Q was a sweet treat for fans of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey that pushed both series in exciting new directions.

As the first mainline entries in the series for the 3DS, Pokemon X & Y had a lot riding on them. Luckily, they more than lived up to the hype, delivering a stunning graphical overhaul and introducing new features that would go on to be series staples.

The transition to fully 3D graphics was the biggest change, and it made the world of Pokemon feel more alive than ever before. Seeing your favorite monsters rendered in polygons added a whole new dimension to the tried-and-true gameplay. The battles in particular benefited from the change, with dynamic camera angles and flashy attack animations making them more exciting to watch.

In terms of new features, Mega Evolutions gave select Pokemon temporary superpowered forms to bust out in the heat of battle. The Fairy type was also added to the roster, shaking up the long-established type matchup chart. More than anything, however, X & Y felt like a celebration of everything that made the series great. The new Pokemon designs were some of the most creative yet, the story took some surprising turns, and the endgame provided plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

Pokemon X & Y set a new standard for the series on 3DS, one that subsequent entries would be measured against. To this day, they remain some of the most popular and beloved entries in the long-running franchise.

With A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo took a page from one of the most acclaimed games of all time: A Link to the Past. Set in the same world as the SNES classic, A Link Between Worlds built off that foundation while introducing new ideas of its own.

Chief among these was the ability to turn into a painting and merge onto walls. This opened up new possibilities for exploration and puzzle-solving, as Link could now reach areas that were previously inaccessible. The mechanic also factored into boss fights, adding an extra layer of strategy to the proceedings.

A Link Between Worlds also shook up the Zelda formula in other ways, such as allowing players to rent or buy items from a shop rather than finding them in dungeons. This gave players more freedom in how they approached the game, as they could now tackle the dungeons in any order they liked.

Of course, it wouldn‘t be a Zelda game without masterful dungeon design, and A Link Between Worlds delivered in spades. The brain-bending puzzles and clever boss fights were some of the series‘ best, and the gorgeous 3D visuals brought the world to life like never before.

More than a simple nostalgia trip, A Link Between Worlds built upon the legacy of one of the most beloved games of all time to create an unforgettable adventure in its own right. It stands tall among the best Zelda games ever made, and is an essential play for any 3DS owner.

As a new IP from Square Enix, Bravely Default had a lot to prove. Luckily, it more than rose to the occasion, delivering a classic JRPG experience with some fresh ideas of its own.

The job system was the star of the show, allowing players to mix and match abilities from a variety of different classes to create their own unique playstyles. The brave and default mechanics also added a new wrinkle to combat, letting players bank turns for future use or spend them all at once for a burst of damage.

Bravely Default also featured some of the most gorgeous visuals on the 3DS, with hand-drawn backgrounds and expressive character designs that popped in 3D. The world was a joy to explore, with each new area bringing its own visual surprises.

But Bravely Default‘s greatest strength was its story. The game wasn‘t afraid to tackle some heavy themes, and the characters were some of the most well-developed and likable in any RPG. The twists and turns of the plot kept players guessing until the very end, and the game‘s multiple endings provided incentive to dive back in and see things through to the true conclusion.

In a sea of remakes and sequels, Bravely Default stood out as a wholly original experience. It was a breath of fresh air for the JRPG genre, and proved that there was still plenty of room for innovation within the classic formula. For that, it earns a spot as one of the very best RPGs the 3DS has to offer.

As the first mainline Fire Emblem game to be developed specifically for the 3DS, Awakening had a lot to live up to. Not only did it need to prove that the series could work on a handheld, but it also had to win over a new generation of fans in the West.

Luckily, Awakening more than rose to the challenge. The strategic turn-based gameplay the series was known for was as compelling as ever, with the new pair-up and dual strike mechanics adding an extra layer of depth to the proceedings. The visuals were also a huge step up from previous entries, with gorgeous 3D battlefields and animated cutscenes bringing the world to life like never before.

But it was the characters that truly made Awakening special. The game‘s cast was one of the most diverse and likable in any Fire Emblem title, with each character bringing their own unique personality and backstory to the table. The support conversations that played out between battles only served to endear them to the player even more, with some of the most heartfelt and hilarious writing in any RPG.

Awakening also featured a robust character customization system, allowing players to create their own avatar and build relationships with the other characters. This added an extra layer of investment to the proceedings, as players felt a personal connection to their avatar and the bonds they forged with their comrades.

All of these elements came together to create an unforgettable experience. Awakening wasn‘t just a great Fire Emblem game – it was a watershed moment for the series, one that brought in a whole new generation of fans and put the franchise back on the map. It‘s a true masterpiece of the genre, and an essential play for any RPG fan. That‘s why Fire Emblem: Awakening tops our list as the absolute best RPG on the Nintendo 3DS.

The 3DS was an absolute powerhouse when it came to RPGs, with an incredibly diverse selection of games that appealed to all kinds of players. From classic dungeon crawlers to narrative-driven adventures, there was truly something for everyone. These seven games represent the absolute pinnacle of what the system had to offer, showcasing the incredible talent and creativity of the developers who brought them to life.

Whether you‘re a longtime fan of the genre or a newcomer looking to dip your toes in, you owe it to yourself to check out these incredible games. Each one offers a unique and unforgettable experience that showcases the very best of what the RPG genre has to offer. So grab your 3DS, pick up one of these games, and prepare to lose yourself in a world of adventure, discovery, and unforgettable characters. Trust us – you won‘t be disappointed.