For one reason or another, strategy games aren’t nearly as prevalent on DS as certain other genres. This may be due to the nature of portable consoles, which are suited more for short bursts of gaming than the long, drawn-out play sessions such titles would normally require, but that does little to explain the general lack of strategy games on the platform in light of the vast amount of epic RPGs it houses. Whatever the reason, the genre is sorely underrepresented on DS, but despite this, the system has amassed an impressive collection of strategy games over the years, so many that the staff was unable to agree on the very best three. That, more than anything, gives credence to the adage “quality over quantity” and proves that although the system may not be synonymous with the genre, there are still many excellent strategy titles to be found on it.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Despite being one of its earliest titles, Advance Wars: Dual Strike remains one of DS’s best. Released at a time when the console was just beginning to hit its stride, Dual Strike was one of the first in a veritable flood of “hardcore” games to justify the system’s unorthodox hardware. On the surface, the title looks quite similar to its Game Boy Advance predecessors, but where it really sets itself apart is in its integration of DS’s two screens into its gameplay. While the top one primarily functions as a terrain map, a number of missions require the player to wage a second battle on it simultaneous with the one occurring on the touch screen. Successfully being able to juggle between the two is integral to completing the game and adds an interesting twist to the standard Advance Wars formula. New COs, new units, and wireless multiplayer round out the package, making it easy to see just why Dual Strike has earned its place among the best strategy games on DS.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Where Dual Strike is a faithful continuation of the series, Days of Ruin is an outright reboot of it. Uncharacteristically dark and gritty, DS’s second Advance Wars title eschews all of its playful conventions for a much more serious take on turn-based strategy. Gone are the familiar COs gamers have grown to love, and in their place are a host of new ones struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity had all but perished. Such a relentlessly bleak atmosphere seems like it would make the title a beast of a completely different nature, but despite these extreme aesthetic and thematic changes, the gameplay of Days of Ruin remains classic Advance Wars fare. Another slew of new units and the inclusion of Wi-Fi multiplayer make the title another excellent installment in its series, one that has been– and will continue to be– regarded just as highly as any of its predecessors.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2:
Grimoire of the Rift
Another sequel to a Game Boy Advance classic, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 retains the look and feel of its predecessor while building upon it. Set some ten years after the events of the original, the game reintroduces players to the world of Ivalice after protagonist Luso Clemens happens upon a mysterious book in his school’s library and is magically transported there. A stranger in a strange land, Luso joins a traveling warrior clan for safety until he can find a way back home, encountering countless characters and doing battle with the shadowy Khamja along the way. The gameplay strays very little from the previous title: battles occur on isometric grids, and the player must maneuver the characters in his party strategically in order to successfully clear the game’s 300 missions. Like in its predecessor, individual units are assigned jobs and learn related abilities through equipping the appropriate item. Grimoire of the Rift may not break much new ground, but it successfully expands upon the foundation laid down by its predecessor in every way, offering up a deep, lengthy adventure that is sure to appeal to any fan of turn-based strategy games.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon rounds out Intelligent Systems’ hat-trick of strategy games in epic fashion. A remake of the very first Fire Emblem title (which had never seen release outside of Japan), Shadow Dragon chronicles the homeward journey of Prince Marth and his loyal retainers after being ousted from Altea’s throne by the treacherous nation of Dolhr. As with any fantasy epic, things are not quite as simple as they may initially appear to be, and Marth will soon discover his exile was part of an insidious scheme to resurrect the Shadow Dragon, Medeus. The gameplay is largely similar to that of any other Fire Emblem title, but now players are given the ability to manually re-class certain units using the game’s new Class Swap feature. Dozens of potential recruits and Wi-Fi functionality for online multiplayer make Shadow Dragon one of the longest Fire Emblem titles to date, and a range of difficulty settings (from devilishly challenging to frustratingly impossible) make it easily one of the hardest games available on DS.
Lock’s Quest is something of an anomaly on this list. Where all of the other games are turn-based affairs, Lock’s Quest is played in real-time, a tower defense-cum-RTS game quite unlike any other on DS. That it is also the only title not a part of an established series makes its inclusion all the more notable as an original concept that was able to succeed on its own merits without having to rely on the strength of a backing property. The game, developed by Drawn to Life creators 5th Cell, has the titular protagonist Lock set out on an adventure to find his missing sister and defeat the evil Lord Agony. Gameplay is primarily divided into two sections: Build, the first, gives players a limited amount of time to construct various defenses, while Battle, the second, has Lock either repairing his constructs or fending off enemies. The title’s incorporation of tower defense elements into its design makes it a truly unique take on the strategy genre, and its inclusion on this list attests to the success of this melding.
Did we mention your favorite strategy game, or is it something different? Tell us in the comments below.