1. Trauma Center: Under the Knife
I'd like to top the list with the top of the list: Trauma Center is the most innovative, exciting, and unbelievably satisfying title in the past five years. That's quite a claim. Medical dramatizations have been attempted before, mostly on the PC, where the mouse technically served the same function as the stylus. There were two crucial missing elements, however: the tactile feeling of holding and using an instrument, and the lack of any professional game design whatsoever. Trauma Center is not only the single greatest use of the touch screen in the history of the DS, but the underlying game mechanics are absolutely brilliant. Maybe I'm a bit too involved, but my hand was shaking, my brow coated in beats of sweat during some of the later missions. The story was a bit silly, and the difficult too high for many, but saving a patient in the midst of a parasitic infection that could kill them within granted a satisfaction unequaled in the past several years. Plus, saying I beat X7: Savato grants me this aura that makes me better than everyone else.
2. Phoenix Wright: Justice for All
Anyone who reads DS Fanboy on even an occasional basis knows that we're obsessed with the spiky-haired lawyer. My comrades are convinced that the original is gospel, but I happen to think the second installment is even better. To be fair, it has its flaws: the script, not translated by the legendary Alexander O. Smith, is slightly less clever than the original, and it lacks the fifth, extra case that graced the first. Still, what makes Phoenix Wright great is its collection of lovable characters and courtroom drama, and in this category, the sequel is king. The fourth case, "Farewell, My Turnabout," stunned fans of the series by adding a dramatic element outside of the outcome of the case, putting some of our beloved characters in real, actual danger. A certain detective touched us with his unflappable courage, and a certain whip-toting hotshot astonished us with surprising character depth. Plus, the added gameplay mechanic of "psyche-locks" spiced up those ever-so-boring investigation sequences.
3. Final Fantasy III
Finally, in 2006, the complete Final Fantasy franchise was available in properly localized form. However, unlike the majority of these ports, the game was given a complete graphical and textual overhaul. If only they'd do it for Final Fantasy VII, right? The original FFIII was the birth of the job system, perhaps the most popular of all development schemes; modern gamers, however, were put off by the obviously antiquated look and feel. Final Fantasy III for the DS not only managed to bring the title up to modern standards while allowing the core gameplay to shine through, it is quite possibly the most beautiful title on the DS to date. On a system lacking tried-and-true traditional jRPGs, FFIII is an effectively brand-new title that fills the niche perfectly. Oh yeah, and the two new jobs rock out loud.
4. Hotel Dusk: Room 215
The DS has become a veritable breeding ground for a lost and forgotten species: the adventure genre. It's good to see some classics come back, and it's even better to see a new title with an original noir spin. Sure, Alisha has committed blasphemy by slandering Phoenix's wonderful name, but if a single game drove her to this mockery of faith, then it sure as hell better be this one.
Why, I ask myself, do we see these hackneyed and stale plots in multi-million dollar console masterpieces, yet we can see brilliantly composed dialogue and character depth in a little-known title like Dusk? A game's story is such a critical element to success these days, and Hotel Dusk uses a basic-yet-stylish graphical style while, shall we say, keepin' it real. Plus, I just love that line in Chapter 3: "What is it, Hyde? I'm busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest."
Here's an interesting choice, but hey, I never said this list was of my top five games. I had imported Electroplankton before it was announced for American audiences (who would have believed they'd localize such a bizarre title?), as I'm attracted to the occult and bizarre. Okay, not really. But it looked cool, and that E3 DJ presentation hyped me to hell and back.
It's difficult to describe why I still to this day pick up Electroplankton and suddenly lose ninety minutes of my day. There are no goals, no levels, and in truth, is it a audiovisual experience not intended for classic gameplay in any sense of the word. It is a tool, like Photoshop or Fruity Loops, and how far you're willing to take it is limited by your own musical imagination. I love to mess around and create interesting things, and if life were an RPG, having this game equipped would give you a -40 to stress.
Favorite game that no one ever seems to remember: Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time
While not main entries in the revered Paper Mario RPG spinoff series, the two Mario and Luigi games have been nothing short of excellent. The game took some flak for its confusing control scheme, involving the rotation of four characters to access various special abilities, but the magic that made the GBA original so great was alive and intact throughout the entire experience. I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a more light-hearted RPG fare, or who thinks seeing Mario and Luigi as babies is just so cute.