Today is the 10th anniversary of the 3DS’s release in the Japan and, while the Switch has certainly captured our hearts these past four years, Nintendo’s 3D handheld still left quite an impression over the past decade. The system might have ceased production just last year, but the titles will live on forever in our hearts. So in honor of its great games library, we here at Engadget have put together a list of our favorite 3DS titles and what they meant to us.
Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice
My love for the Ace Attorney franchise waxed and waned year to year while waiting for the next installment after Apollo Justice. There was no way I’d miss the titles released for the 3DS, though, and I snapped them up as soon as they became available. While neither game quite captured my heart the way the first four did, I prefer Spirit of Justice over Dual Destinies, because it finally showed us what happened to Maya Fey.
In Spirit of Justice, Phoenix Wright’s former assistant was (again) accused of a murder she didn’t commit. The spirit medium got caught up while studying in the country of Khura'in, and Wright (of course) takes up her defense. To me, it seemed very fitting for Wright to reunite with his old friend that way — after all, they met in the first game when he acted as her defense lawyer after she was accused of killing her older sister (and Wright’s boss) Mia Fey.
Spirit of Justice introduced a new mechanic called Divination Séance, where you could see the victim’s final moment through their eyes, performed by priestess Rayfa Padma Khura'in. It took a while to get used to, since you had to examine the victim’s vision, as well as Rayfa’s interpretation of the scene, at once. That said, you get used to it the longer you play. If anything, my biggest gripe with the Ace Attorney 3DS titles is that they’re not quite as difficult and challenging as the first four games. — Mariella Moon, Associate Editor
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I’ve written about Animal Crossing a lot in the past year because I do love New Horizons, but I also still have warm feelings about its predecessor on the 3DS, New Leaf. One thing I’ve always maintained over the years is that Animal Crossing works better on handhelds, so New Leaf was a nice return to the format after the disappointing City Folk.
But that doesn’t mean New Leaf didn’t learn anything from City Folk. A lot of the more interesting features were carried over into the new game, including a strip of shops you could visit and fun characters like Kicks. But it also introduced new locations like The Roost and the Happy Home Showcase for even more activities to wile away your time. Most notable was the return of the tropical island where you could vacation and catch rare bugs — the predecessor to the Nook Miles Tours of New Horizons.
While I’ve appreciated the quality of life improvements in New Horizons (especially the character customization), there’s a lot I miss about New Leaf, like the Gardening Store and Club LOL. And Brewster, of course. I need my caffeine fix!
However, I don’t miss the mean-spiritedness of New Leaf. Jack took my favorite shirt and replaced it with rags, and I’m salty about it eight years later. — Kris Naudus, Buyer's Guide Editor
Fire Emblem Fates
I adored Fire Emblem Awakening, but I’d still pick Fates as my favorite 3DS installment of the franchise. Yes, Awakening was the game that saved Fire Emblem, and a lot of people consider Awakening’s story to be the stronger of the two. But it’s hard not to get attached to a game and its characters when you spend over 300 hours playing a title to completion.
Fates was the first FE title with three storylines — each a full-length game on its own — featuring the same characters. You’ll have to buy each route separately, though, unlike Fire Emblem: Three Houses for the Switch, which is sold as a single game. 'Birthright' was the easiest route of the three, though achieving victory in the battlefield almost always meant killing all the enemies on the map. I personally prefer the 'Conquest' story and characters, but it has more challenging victory conditions and a darker theme compared to Birthright that may not be the best starting point for beginners.
Choosing between Birthright and Conquest means picking between your birth family and adoptive family, so you’re getting two different sides of the story. The third route, 'Revelation,' ties things together and sheds light on the remaining mysteries in the game, including the identity of the true enemy. At this point in time, Three Houses has already taken the top spot in my list of favorite FE titles, but Fates will always have a special place in my heart. — MM
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The first Zelda game that hooked me was Link’s Awakening on the original Game Boy. While I loved Ocarina of Time and almost every entry in the series since, after the release of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword (my two least favorite games), I felt like a lot of Zelda fans were begging for the formula that A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening hewed to. A Link Between Worlds was the game we’d all been waiting for.
Pitched in Japan as a literal sequel to A Link to the Past, booting up Between Worlds is an immediate nostalgia hit to anyone familiar with the SNES and Game Boy era of the series. Of course, Nintendo rarely gives fans exactly what they want, always trying to subvert its well-established formulas in some way. While the most memorable mechanic was the ability to merge into walls, in retrospect the game made genuinely interesting use of both the 3DS’ stereoscopic display and its StreetPass system. More than anything, though, it’s just Zelda at its non-linear, exploratory best. — Aaron Souppouris, Executive Editor
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Persona Q isn’t exactly considered a classic, but for people who love the Persona series, it’s unmissable. And when Buyer’s Guide editor Kris Naudus asked me to nominate some titles for this article, it was the first game that came to mind. While its combat, lethargic storytelling and stylish presentation tick all the Persona boxes, it’s the map mechanic that’s so memorable to me. Pulled straight from developer Atlus’ Etryian Odyssey franchise, it has you literally drawing out the dungeon map with the 3DS’ stylus, putting an additional layer on top of the often-laborious act of dungeon crawling. While I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, it feels like a game that could only have worked within the unique form factor of the DS family. — AS
Pokémon X & Y
Between two generations and four mainline games, the 3DS had a lot to offer to Pokémon fans. But the one I kept coming back to was the game that reintroduced me to the series: Pokémon X and Y. Not a popular choice among longtime fans, I know, but as someone coming back to the franchise after a long break, it was an easy one to love.
It was the first mainline game to move to a 3D battle system, with all 721 Pokémon modeled with personality and style. Then there was the charm of Professor Sycamore, Lumiose City and the other inhabitants and locales of the Kalos region. The French inspiration of X and Y translated into some of its best features. Some people might not have liked Mega Evolutions, but no one was happy when Game Freak didn't include player customization in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. That same inspiration helped produce some memorable Pokémon as well. Who can forget Furfrou, the poodle-like Pokémon you could take to a groomer to give it different coat trims.
I spent countless hours playing X and Y at a time when I was underemployed and taking care of a dying parent. More than anything, I'll remember the comfort it gave me at a time when I needed it most. — Igor Bonifacic, Associate Editor
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology
I first played Radiant Historia for the DS and fell in love with the characters, story and the game’s time-traveling mechanics. When the expanded remake came out for the 3DS, I snapped it up and was thrilled to realize that the game truly was as good as I remembered. The new features added to the 3DS version, including voice acting, made the game even richer.
I loved the redesigned artwork Atlus did for Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, even if a lot of old fans were unhappy with the change. And I definitely appreciated the new route made for the 3DS. In the game, you play as the protagonist Stocke, who can use the power of a magical tome called the White Chronicle to travel across multiple timelines.
'Possible History' is the name of the additional timeline, and it features a mysterious new character named Nemesia. It’s not quite as long and as robust as the other routes, and it may not be enough new content to convince you to buy the game again if you still have the old version on DS. However, it does let you explore 'what if' scenarios and leads to a brand new ending. — MM
I don’t really know where to begin with Tomodatchi Life. Imagine directing a reality TV show starring the Miis of your friends, family and invariably some sort of hideous monster. And having no control over what they do. I think I played it for a month straight and then never touched it again, but that month was the weirdest, most special time. Watching my brother (‘s Mii) attempting to woo my then-partner (‘s Mii), only for the human embodiment of a Tic Tac to come along and spoil the party… yeah it’s something. Something special, something unique and, for now, something that you can only experience on the 3DS. (Please give me a sequel, Nintendo.) — AS
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gave us an almost endless world to explore in a portable console, there was Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. A port of the 2012 Wii title, it was the first 3DS game I played that made me marvel at what was possible on a handheld system. It was so epic, it couldn't even run on the original 3DS — it was exclusively built for the New 3DS, which featured more RAM, a faster processor, more stable 3D and a second analog stick (that was admittedly more of a nub).
While I never fell in love with Xenoblade as much as I did with its spiritual predecessors (the mind-bending Xenogears and the Xenosaga series), playing it on the 3DS almost felt like I was breaking the laws of physics. It featured an open world that had you facing off against enormous enemies in fast-paced combat, and the title was filled with cinematic in-game cutscenes. You could tell the textures were a bit too muddy and low-res, but that didn't matter much. It was a deep JRPG I could play anywhere!
Xenoblade Chronicles was also a great introduction to the New 3DS, a console that fixed almost all of the problems I had with the original. I was one of the unlucky few to buy a 3DS at launch for $250. The 3D was wonky, the early games weren't super compelling and, as if to rub salt in the wound, Nintendo dropped the price of the console to just $169 a few months after launch. And no, the 20 free games didn't really help much, especially since they didn't carry over to my new system. I'm still mad about it. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor
Zero Escape series (Virtue's Last Reward/Zero Time Dilemma)
I have a confession to make… I haven’t actually finished Zero Time Dilemma. But in my defense, both it and Virtue's Last Reward are very time-consuming games thanks to their branching narratives where the split is part of the main story. That is, you will need to play through several possibilities or timelines, if not all of them, to reach the true ending of each game.
At least both titles let you jump around in the story, so you’re not forced to rewatch the same dialogue scenes over and over again. Which is a lifesaver when the characters can be rather… wordy. If you’re big into metaphysics and time travel mechanics these are the games for you. They also have pretty great characterization that will definitely keep you guessing who you can trust and who will inevitably betray you… which in some cases is the same person.
Aside from the intriguing (and often confusing) story, the puzzles you’ll have to solve are probably the biggest draw of the series. They aren’t too hard, but not that easy either — your calculation and deduction skills will be tested and you may be tempted to pull up GameFAQs from time to time. I certainly did, if only to figure out how to unlock all the different timelines. — KN