Background: Flavivirus NS1 is a non-structural glycoprotein that is expressed on the cell surface and secreted into the extracellular space, where it acts as an antagonist of complement pathway activation. Despite its transit through the secretory pathway and intracellular localization in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi vesicles, NS1 is as an essential gene for flavivirus replication. How NS1 modulates infection remains uncertain given that the viral RNA replication complex localizes to the cytosolic face of the endoplasmic reticulum. Methods and Results. Using a trans-complementation assay, we show that viruses deleted for NS1 (-NS1) can be rescued by transgenic expression of NS1 from West Nile virus (WNV) or heterologous flaviviruses in the absence of adaptive mutations. In viral lifecycle experiments, we demonstrate that WNV NS1 was not required for virus attachment or input strand translation of the infectious viral RNA, but was necessary for negative and positive strand RNA synthesis and formation of the endoplasmic reticulum-associated replication complex. Conclusions: WNV RNA lacking intact NS1 genes was efficiently translated but failed to form canonical replication complexes at early times after infection, which resulted in an inability to replicate viral RNA. These results expand on prior studies with yellow fever and Kunjin viruses to show that flavivirus NS1 has an essential co-factor role in regulating replication complex formation and viral RNA synthesis.