Fans of role-playing games have plenty of options these days — modern RPGs come from most corners of the world and in many different styles. And that's great, except it's not always so easy for players to choose the right game for them. But take heart! This monthly column breaks down each new batch of RPGs with gameplay descriptions and the word on the street about each game's quality.

November may be a big month for blockbusters, but most of the big RPGs came out in October. Still, don’t let that fool you. A good number of worthy stragglers are waiting for someone to play them. Better yet, they’re all portable, so you can take them with you when you're traveling for the holidays. Let's take a look!


The Main Event:
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS)
Release Date: November 29

It's been a while since we've seen the Golden Sun series. The two Game Boy Advance releases were a breath of fresh air on an RPG-starved system, with satisfying combat and clever puzzles that bring to mind the best of the Lufia series. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Camelot's previous work. But can a Golden Sun game survive on a platform crowded with RPGs? The first two games benefited from the lack of genre support, but Dark Dawn has no such luck. Now the series must compete with a long list of fine games that call the DS their home.

Fortunately, improvements abound, and this is no mere retread. The graphics take a huge leap forward from the GBA and utilize the greater power of the DS nicely. And the battle system has been expanded to give the player more options. Each character can now equip up to nine Djinn at once, meaning even more customization possibilities. And though this is the third game in the series, it also serves as a fresh start for the story, ensuring that players new to Golden Sun can jump right in with no problems. Though the jury's still out on whether the game will feel fresh or not, Dark Dawn promises to be a solidly-constructed JRPG. Plus, you can count on one hand the number of DS RPGs with fun dungeon puzzles.

 

Most Promising:
Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)
Release Date: November 2

This one is a little bit strange. The Oath in Felghana is essentially Ys 3…but not really. The real Ys 3 was a departure for the series that played more like the second Legend of Zelda than Ys. The side-scrolling perspective was a fresh take, but the game itself was kind of terrible. It amplified all the flaws of The Adventures of Link, pumping up the number of hits it takes to kill bosses and not compensating for Adol's short weapon. At the same time, it missed the point by not capitalizing on The Adventures of Link's biggest strengths, with long, often linear levels instead of a nonlinear world.

Fast-forward to 2005. Falcom releases The Oath in Felghana for the PC. It was the same story as Ys 3 and the same setting, but Falcom had reworked the entire thing to play like a normal Ys game instead of a side-scroller. Fans generally regard The Oath in Felghana well, unlike the original Ys 3. It took everything Falcom learned from Ys 6 and refined it into an awesome evolution of the formula. Fans of Ys Seven will find a lot to like here, but I'd forewarn them that this game plays a little differently. Most notably, Falcom has streamlined the need for an inventory by removing it. You use items as soon as you pick them up. This makes the flow of the game different than Ys Seven, but not in a bad way. It's also a lot less chatty than Seven, so if you found the pace of that game too inconsistent, then The Oath in Felghana might just be the Ys game for you.


Biggest Risk:
Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon (DS)
Release Date: November 9

Let's get one thing straight right away. The Rune Factory games are some of the best and freshest Harvest Moon games in years. Mixing the typical farming with an action RPG seems like a no-brainer in hindsight, but it worked especially well here. And after two DS games, the series made an impressive leap to consoles with Rune Factory Frontier, a gorgeous Wii RPG. This reputation alone is what looks to make Rune Factory 3 a lone disappointment. After three games with the formula, one wonders how long it will take before it gets stale — much like Harvest Moon did. If you aren't tired of the series yet or you have never played a Rune Factory title, this game comes highly recommended. But those who are weary of it might want to consider passing.


The rest:

Knights in the Nightmare is getting a PSP port this month. Sting's Dept. Heaven games have always been wildly inventive, and Knights is no exception. It deftly mixed a Strategy RPG with a bullet hell shoot-em-up to create something wholly unique. It is also one of the only RPGs to extensively use the the DS' touch screen in a positive way, which is probably the most worrying thing about this port. How can the PSP hope to match the control that the touch screen provided? It probably won't, but it seems to not be as much of an issue as one would think. On the positive side, each copy of Knights in the Nightmare PSP will come with a digital copy of Yggdra Union, the previous game in the Dept. Heaven series, so you're getting two games for the price of one. That also means you're going to need to scoop it up while its new since you never know how long Atlus games will stay on shelves.


Delay of Game:

Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman released at the end of last month on PSN, but retail copies were strangely absent. Now it seems as if this was an official delay, as the new release date for the retail version is November 2. So if you were holding out for a physical copy, this is your chance.