2010 might just mark the last big year for the Nintendo DS, with the 3DS coming out early in 2011. So even with the DS on the way out, it's nice to see the year still had a lot of quality RPGs left in it. Dominated solely by Japanese RPGs, this year was a time when sequels ruled the system. For some series, it was the first time to see a DS release, for others it is old news. Whatever the history, 2010 had some great titles.
Eight years is a long time in the video game business, and whether Camelot had lost its touch was a legitimate worry. Fortunately for all concerned, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn turned into a spectacular demonstration of how to do a DS RPG the right way. The Psynergy puzzles of the series actually benefited from the use of touch screen input, while in most other respects Camelot wisely adhered to the very successful blueprint of the earlier games. The story excelled at depicting the changes that took place in the world of Weyard (while admittedly being somewhat redundant in the dialogue department), and the further fleshing-out of the setting was fascinating to behold. Camelot's technical skill finds the company in fine fettle, demonstrating the company's skill in producing pretty visuals and a moving score. Dark Dawn blends numerous aspects from its predecessors. These include the shorter length and regions rendered permanently inaccessible in the first Golden Sun and the larger party size and plentiful side quests in the second. This blending stands at the head of the DS releases for 2010.
Dragon Quest IX expanded beyond what had been seen in the first eight games in the Dragon Quest series without losing what made it so popular in the first place. This iteration was the first one to be initially released on a handheld platform, allowing the developers to explore with multiplayer, downloadable content, and even stylus controls. Not all of these were a hit with the fans, but other changes include creating the party from scratch, all armor and weapons are visible on characters, and cosmetic changes to the battle system to look more enticing. Even with these changes, staying with Dragon Quest VIII's visual style while making sure to include a strong story and the music everyone can recognize, Dragon Quest IX was a front-runner for RPG of the year on the Nintendo DS.
The Rune Factory series is notorious for moving one step forward, one step back. When early screens for Rune Factory 3 surfaced, even seasoned Harvest Moon fans on staff were skeptical about it being an excellent game. It's hard to look at a game with a protagonist who can transform into a sheep (wooly) and expect greatness. Rune Factory has always been terribly flawed, yet it manages to improve itself with each new installment. Rune Factory 3 not only improves on its predecessors, but blows them completely out of the water in terms of story, combat, music, and above all else, its originality. Not only is it a fast and fun experience, but its one with so much replayability and charm that it becomes a great addition to anyone's DS collection.
by Sam Marchello, Mikel Tidwell, Mike Moehnke, Michael Cunningham