Best Level-5 Games, Ranked

Highlights

  • Level-5 is a highly respected studio known for creating beloved series like Professor Layton, Ni No Kuni, and Yo-Kai Watch.
  • They have dabbled in various genres, including JRPGs, puzzlers, sports, and dungeon crawlers, and their games are known for their quirky charm and effective world-building.
  • Some of their standout titles include Inazuma Eleven, Snack World, and Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

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One of the most prolific and respected third-party studios of their time, Level-5 have more than made a name for themselves. They’re the creative force behind beloved series like Professor Layton, Ni No Kuni, and (at least in Japan) Yo-Kai Watch.

Related: Best Standalone JRPGs

Level-5 have dabbled in a variety of genres; JRPGs, puzzlers, sports, dungeon crawlers, they’ve done it all. Their characteristic quirky charm and effective world-building ensure that every time they release a new title, players are in for a good ol’ treat. Here’s a look at some of their very best.

Updated October 24, 2023 by Bobby Mills: With Level-5 experiencing a significant comeback in 2023 — there are new Professor Layton, Fantasy Life and Inazuma Eleven titles on the immediate horizon — we decided the time was right for a full rejig of our ranking of the company’s best games. No longer shackled to their Metacritic scores, this list now represents our personal order. Another puzzle solved. Enjoy!

10 Inazuma Eleven

A screenshot of the opening cinematic of Inazuma Eleven

This off-the-wall DS soccer title attempted to marry the gameplay of series like FIFA with RPG stats and a level-up system. While not necessarily a new concept, Level-5 worked their magic and injected Inazuma Eleven with a bucketload of charm. Wandering the school campus and enlisting players (of all shapes and sizes) to your posse of ball-kickers is a riot.

The matches are frenetic and fast-paced, asking that you react in a split second to slides or tackles; because if you don’t, your opponent surely will, costing you the lead. It isn’t perfect – a steep learning curve and nigh-impossible side missions preclude all but the most dedicated. On the whole, though? You’ll have a ball.

9 Jeanne D’Arc

Jeanne d'arc psp gameplay screenshot

Hailing from Level-5’s golden age in the mid-2000s, this oft-forgotten PSP adventure puts a fresh, distinctly Japanese spin on the tale of Joan of Arc. Set during the Hundred-Years War, you’ll directly control Joan (or Jeanne, as the Francophonic writers more accurately call her) as she makes her way across France, slaughtering all who stand in her way.

The historical aspect of the game’s story makes it stand out; you really do feel like you’re helping this legendary saga play out, and that the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Top that off with a satisfying turn-based battle system, and meticulously customisable loadouts, and you’ve got a hidden gem worth your attention. Merci beaucoup.

8 Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters

promotional art for Yo-Kai Watch 2 Psychic Spectres featuring Nathan Adams on the right and various evil Yo-Kai beneath the game's logo

After the unexpected roaring success of the first Yo-Kai Watch title, Level-5 wasted no time getting to work on the sequel. And when you’re a monster-catching game, the obvious model you’ll want to ape is that of Pokemon; hence, we got the usual deal of there being two versions of the same game, with a third ‘definitive’ edition coming later. Psychic Specters is that third iteration, and it’s by far the optimal way to experience the game.

Related: Every Yo-Kai Watch Game, Ranked

All the rough edges from the first Yo-Kai Watch are sanded off here. Befriending Yokai no longer feels entirely randomised, and the story is deeper, incorporating time travel and exploring lead character Nate’s origins. It’s also packed with content – if you plan on catching all available Yokai, expect to be putting in 100-plus hours.

7 Snack World

The player walks through the hub town in Snack World

Most fans assumed Snack World would never see a Western release. It had launched exclusively on the 3DS in Japan, a system that was well and truly dead by the time 2020 rolled around. Then, out of nowhere, a full HD remaster in English was unveiled for Switch – just in time for lockdown.

Was it worth the wait? It depends on your tolerance for grind. What we’ve got here is essentially a dungeon crawler, distilled down to its most rudimentary form. Yourself and a band of CPU characters (or your friends) set off from the town of Tutti-Frutti to slay ‘Snack’ creatures and gather treasures in procedurally-generated labyrinths.

The difficulty level soon spikes, and you’ll have no chance making a dent in late-game bosses without hours of popping open RNG chests for better weapons. If you can stand this time sink, you’ll find the game’s dripping with the typical Level-5 whimsy. A particular nod to the openly gay trio of genies that run the town’s hotel.

6 Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

Three Heroes Of Ni No Kuni 2

As is often the case with sequels, Ni No Kuni 2 tries so, so hard to recapture the magic of the original, but falls just short. There’s not much in it, though. This is still a fantastic, visually sumptuous RPG set in a captivating world that builds on an already-robust foundation.

You’ll principally play Roland, president of an unnamed nation, who’s whisked away to the kingdom of Ni No Kuni mere seconds before his city is nuked. Teaming up with young Prince Evan, whose feline heritage has made him the target of a coup by the evil Rat King, they set about restoring the world. Tight and fluid hack-and-slash combat ensues. Half the game is an extended town-building simulator, wherein Evan founds his own kingdom and you get to manage it, right down to its finances. Better hope you took an accounting course!

5 Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright point while Maya and Luke stand beside them

Talk about your dream crossovers. This special title was spawned when Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino got to talking with Capcom about the similarities between their golden boy, Hershel Layton, and everyone’s favourite lawyer Phoenix Wright. Though it seemed destined never to happen thanks to pesky copyright, fortune smiled on fans everywhere and Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney hit the 3DS in 2014.

Related: Every Ace Attorney Game, Ranked

The game combines the best aspects of both series. In one half, you’ll be pounding the streets of the fairytale town Labyrinthia as Layton and Luke, solving puzzles and gathering clues; which Phoenix will then use in the game’s other half, the Witch Trials. These courtroom segments are tense as anything, with the prospect of your client being lowered into a firepit should you fail. The game even wraps up with the traditional loopy Layton plot twist, which stretches credulity but somehow still manages to elicit tears. Pure magic.

4 Yo-Kai Watch 3

Yo-Kai Watch promo image

If any evidence were needed that the Yo-Kai Watch franchise is criminally overlooked, this threequel is it. Launched in 2019 onto an aging 3DS, it’s perhaps unsurprising it flopped spectacularly and copies now go for upwards of $200. With the eShop having closed, that price will only go higher; and it’s a crying shame, because this is easily one of the greatest RPG experiences on the handheld.

The battle system has been fully revamped, taking place on a strategic grid, which makes fights all the more dynamic. You can now explore not only Springdale, but the hyper-Texan town of BBQ, doubling the map size. The number of befriendable Yokai tops 700 – and this is all without even mentioning an entire dungeon-exploring side mode. Hey, if you’re going to spend that much cash, might as well know you’re getting your money’s worth!

3 Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Professor Layton looking up.

Unwound Future is often regarded as the cream of the Layton crop, and though it can sometimes be fun to be a contrarian, that assessment is pretty much accurate. Everything you could want out of a point-and-click puzzler is here: arresting visuals, pleasingly eccentric characters, and an eye-moistening storyline. That ending, folks. That. Ending.

The puzzles themselves are as fiendishly ingenious as they’ve ever been, and the formerly crunchy anime FMVs have (somehow) been rendered with crisp HD audio. This thing is pushing the DS to its limits, and it’s all in service of a captivating journey between past and future London you won’t soon forget. Put some time aside, and dig in.

2 Fantasy Life

Fantasy Life title art

Fantasy Life was, in many gamers’ opinions, where Level-5 peaked. This humble 3DS title represented the pinnacle of their quirky approach, packing in hours and hours of pure, unadulterated JRPG goodness. Everything about it is sublime. The world design, gorgeous. The battling and levelling, endlessly engaging. The bulging cast of NPCs, memorable. And the music! Sweet heaven, the music.

Related: Animal Crossing VS Fantasy Life: The Biggest Differences

Fantasy Life is equal parts RPG and life-sim. Sure, you could spend your time gutting dragons, but if you fancy a quieter existence, you can become a cook or woodcutter, which are equally viable ventures EXP-wise. There are more than ten of these ‘Lives’ to pick from, and they all feed into one another marvelously, resulting in a gameplay loop that’s borderline impossible to put down. With the Switch sequel inbound, there’s never been a better time to lose yourself in Reveria.

1 Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch

Oliver, Esther, Swain and Drippy in Ni No Kuni

And yet, they went one higher. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is, quite simply, one of the finest RPGs ever made. It set a bar that numerous imitators have tried and failed to replicate, and does what it sets out to do with effortless, near-flawless panache. It probably helps that Studio Ghibli animated the cutscenes, to boot.

Things kick off in exceedingly traumatic fashion when young Oliver’s mother, attempting to save him from a river after his homemade go-kart crashes, drowns alive. Damn, Level-5. Oliver is soon visited by Drippy, a Welsh-accented fairy from the kingdom of Ni No Kuni, who claims there may yet be a way to save her: by rescuing her alternate-world counterpart.

Ollie is more than suited to the task, and with a magic wand and an entourage of loveable party members, he explores this wondrous, painterly dimension. There really is no experience like Ni No Kuni – pick it up, and be spirited away.

Next: The Best RPGs Of All Time

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