For many of us, the Game Boy Advance is a symbol of our childhood. We burned long hours playing familiar games from the GBA’s massive library, with no microtransactions or real life timers in sight. Yes, many handheld games were licensed garbage, but there were enough gems to compensate.
What follows are the top ten games in GBA history. Keep in mind that rankings are subjective- there’s plenty of great games that didn’t make this list, and your favorite could very well be missing.
10. Kirby & the Amazing Mirror
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards had more depth and replay value thanks to ability fusion and shard collection, but The Amazing Mirror still had a fair amount of depth as well. It’s well worth adding to your collection, even if it’s just to have a platformer to play on the go.
9. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
The gameplay in Chain of Memories was certainly… unique. This CCG/action/RPG mashup was the first sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and the last KH game that didn’t over-complicate the series’ story. The cards could be combined into new abilities during battle, and it certainly felt like pulling a combo in a fighting game. In the end, the combat was a little too funky, keeping it lower on this list.
8. Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green
Personally, I want to rank the two versions of this game higher on the list. They’re strong games when standing alone, and the Sevii Islands were a nice addition. However, they’re still just remakes that didn’t add much content to Red, Blue, and Yellow. Since GBC cartridges could be used in a GBA, there’s no real need for these games unless you played with friends or competed in serious events, hurting their ranking.
7. Metroid Fusion
Most of Nintendo’s flagship franchises provide addictive exploration and ability hunting, and Metroid is a prime example. Metroid Fusion brought a touch of that nostalgia to the handheld, providing hours of entertainment and a maze of passages to explore and unlock. Sure, hardcore Zelda fans would prefer to see Minish Cap or the port of A Link to the Past on this list, but Metroid Fusion was the superior game.
6. Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls
This is a great example of how to properly remake previous games. Enough time passed between the NES and GBA releases that there were real upgrades to be made, with greatly improved graphics, reduced bugs, and a swarm of new content. Oh, and you got two complete games (FFI and FFII) for the price of one.
5. Fire Emblem
While many would prefer to see Advance Wars on this list, Fire Emblem does more to make you care about your units, and the tactical situations are a little more complex. There’s also an actual plot to follow, and your units grow as they gain experience or you upgrade their equipment.
4. Yu Gi Oh GX – Duel Academy
Of the eight GBA games released in the US that actually featured the cards, Duel Academy is far and away the best. Most other versions were easily beaten with a basic “build a bigger monster and blow up their stuff” strategy, while Duel Academy required actual synergy in your decks. The collection aspect also felt truer to a real life TCGs, with new sets releasing as you completed various in-game events.
3. Final Fantasy VI Advance
Once again, there’s a similar game that certain fans would probably prefer. However, FFVI has the deepest character customization of any 2D entry in the series, while FFIV comes with preset character trees. The Esper system allows players to create any strategy they can imagine, adding endless hours of gameplay. The story also wins many fans over, with some declaring FFVI’s story the best in the entire series on any platform, launching this game to a high ranking.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
With the ability to change jobs, combine abilities between those jobs, and use certain pieces of situational equipment, there’s literally endless possibilities for your party. The story was only so-so, but the gameplay was addicting, and at times, tense. New Game+ also added a lot of replayability, extending the enjoyable play time of this game far beyond most portable offerings.
1. Pokemon Emerald
Notice that Ruby and Sapphire got left out? It’s because Emerald has something that renders them both obsolete: Battle Frontier. Maybe you tried it, maybe you didn’t, but it provided more challenging battles than even Pokemon Stadium. It also introduced an NPC who could read the genetics of your critters, introducing many casual players to the math behind the scenes. Players have literally sunk hundreds, even thousands of entertaining hours into building new teams and long Battle Frontier win streaks, putting Emerald at the top of the list.
Yes, this list is RPG heavy, but with good reason. By the time the GBA was released, there were numerous action games on console with far superior graphics and/or gameplay. The best GBA games compensated by adding some level of depth and/or complexity through RPG elements instead of relying on portability to drive sales, creating endless hours of entertainment and standing up to any platform.