After getting our open world on for two straight The Top 5’s it’s time to focus on one platform again. This time it’s The Top 5: PlayStation 2 games. All right, ramblers! Let’s get ramblin’!
We can only pick five, so five is what you’re getting. There are many games that I wanted to add to this list, but I have to follow the rules and distill each PlayStation 2 game to its essence and what it meant to me. That being said, here’s the ones that made my list:
5. Final Fantasy X – The first Final Fantasy on the PlayStation 2 also just happened to be one of the most heartfelt and well told stories in the series to date. It’s the first game in the series to start the story off with a setting set well into the middle of the actual game, punctuated with somber notes played on a piano (“To Zanarkand”). Final Fantasy X had great characters, a primarily Asian driven aesthetic (compared to the series’ more Western influence in previous games), and a malevolent force that just seemed too great for any player to try and defeat. Also, it had the Sphere Grid, which was one of my favorite leveling systems in series history.
4. Resident Evil 4 – While this game originally came out on the GameCube the PlayStation 2 version of Resident Evil 4, which I gladly double dipped for, had a noticeable dip in quality in terms of shaders and textures. Still, this was the version that I really wanted and played a lot through, and I was happy that I could finally talk about the game with people who didn’t want a GameCube just for this game. It revolutionized third person shooters forever, introducing an offset camera, with the center positioned to the right of the character, and can be seen in modern games like Gears of War and Max Payne 3.
3. God of War II – Cory Barlog’s magnum opus God of War II refined every single thing that the original God of War needed to have refined, including an expanded combo system, smoother gameplay, more bombastic action, and a storyline worthy of a Greek myth. To me, this is the definitive God of War experience, and it definitely helps that Kratos gets to fight against the Moirai aka The Fates, which are some of my favorite Greek characters of all time. And there’s that battle with Zeus! This game just keeps on giving.
2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – Grand Theft Auto V may have the most well thought out map out of the entire series, but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had the most diversity. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas are all rolled into one in this game, and it really helped that there were lots of RPG elements thrown in that really helped immerse players into the world. Want to lose weight? Go to the gym and work it out. Hungry? Got to a Cluckin’ Bell and get food… but don’t eat too much, or you’ll throw up! Yea, it’s often kooky for what it was, but it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had with the series to date.
1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was probably one of the most anticipated games on the PlayStation 2. It was also one of the most divisive games in the series, with its very tech-heavy proselytization that the digital future is coming with peril, coupled with a narrative that just brought out more questions than answers. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater cleverly answered many of these questions and even managed to spend time some poking fun at itself. It was also the most visually stunning and had the most complex gameplay out of all the Metal Gear games! With survival features that the latest Tomb Raider could only dream of, Snake could hunt for wild life, pick them up, have them rot if you haven’t played in a while, and even get poisoned by snakes… ironically. And the last battle and the revelation that followed was not only one of the biggest shockers in series history, but also set in motion the events that followed, which spans the entire Metal Gear Solid series and the original two games. There was never any question for me: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater stands proud on the top of my list as a game whose depth and storytelling still needs to be met in this gen.
Picking out only 5 PlayStation 2 games for a list like this is nearly impossible. There are just too many great games! So here are my honorable mentions: Katamari Damacy (for its immense creativity and unique soundtrack), Okami (for its beautiful art style and interesting mechanics), Gran Turismo 3, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Persona 3 and Persona 4, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, God of War and God of War II, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Final Fantasy XII, and Suikoden III.
5. Suikoden V – The Suikoden series is one of my favorites among role playing games, and Suikoden V was an excellent return to form after the disappointing Suikoden IV and the great, but drastically different Suikoden III. I don’t often have time to replay games, but the next time I get a chance, Suikoden V will be the game I play.
With an excellent storyline, a massive and varied cast, a fast paced battle engine and some appreciated nods to Suikoden and Suikoden II, Suikoden V is one of the greatest RPGs on PlayStation 2. I was so happy that my army’s headquarters was actually a castle again! That boat from Suikoden IV and the mansion from Suikoden III just weren’t cutting it.
4. Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 – Most Shin Megami Tensei fans love Persona 3 and Persona 4, and the most hardcore among the community will vouch for Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. Personally, I prefer Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 to all of those and they are in fact my favorite Shin Megami Tensei games not only on PlayStation 2, but across all platforms.
That might seem unusual considering that these games are different from most of the other games in the series in that there is no demon compendium to fill up. Instead, the human characters that can be controlled in combat can each be individually customized to learn many of the skills seen throughout the series. Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 also feature one of my favorite battle engines, the Press Turn combat system, which mandates paying very close attention to character and demon strengths and weaknesses. These games are brutally challenging, with difficult combat and massive mazes filled with traps.
They also take place in very interesting settings. The first game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (normally NOT a setting I enjoy) where six tribes are all fighting each other to earn passage into Nirvana. To say any more would take us deeply into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the transition between the first and second game is incredible. These games are a bit hard to find, but I highly recommend them to any hardcore fan of RPGs.
3. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness – Strategy RPGs are typically serious business. Take a look at Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics or many other games of the genre and you will find politically involved storylines filled with warring nations and backstabbing royalty. Then Disgaea: Hour of Darkness came along to tell this story of the prince of the netherworld who was forced to defend his claim to the thrown after his Dad died choking on a pretzel.
Despite its wacky cast of characters and its light-hearted overall storyline and setting, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness manages to pack an emotional wallop by the end of the game, no matter which of its main endings you end up with. This is in part due to the amazing chemistry between the three main characters, Laharl, Etna and Flonne. The numerous sequels may have improved upon the gameplay mechanics, but none have told a better story or featured better characters. It’s no wonder that instead of making Disgaea 5, Nippon Ichi decided to make Disgaea D2, a direct sequel to the original game.
I should also mention that Disgaea: Hour of Darkness took some of the ideas from La Pucelle: Tactics and refined them into a much more infinitely playable endgame so that there was a greater incentive to actually get characters up to level 9,999. The randomly generated item world provided not only dungeons to explore but a method of improving gear, and was a fantastic way to add replay value to the game.
2. Grand Theft Auto III – Although I consider its sequels, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas each substantial improvements upon their predecessor, Grand Theft Auto III is still the game that made the open-world action genre what it is today. It is without a doubt one of the most important video games ever made. Check out our Grand Theft Auto Top 5 for more on these games.
1. Final Fantasy X – As the “RPG guy” here at Gamer Horizon, it may not come as much of a surprise that I put Final Fantasy X at the top of this list. But what may be a bit more surprising is that Final Fantasy X is not only my favorite game in the series on PlayStation 2, but it’s also my favorite game in the entire series, period. As much love as I have for Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI, I have to admit that it’s nostalgia that makes me so fond of them, and they are not quite as fun to play as they once were. And while Final Fantasy XII is a great game in its own right, I really didn’t like the main character and the battle engine didn’t feel like Final Fantasy to me at all (though I have a great deal of respect for it being one of the best examples of allowing the player to create A.I. for the characters to use in combat).
Final Fantasy X on the other hand is aging well. I love the “Conditional Turn-Based Battle” (CTB) system, and I was disappointed that Final Fantasy X-2 went back to ATB and that we haven’t seen another game use CTB since. The sphere grid was also an interesting way to level up characters, and it was improved in the International version of the game that will be finally available to play in North American when Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is released.
I also really enjoy the storyline. Say what you must about Tidus and the talent of his voice actor and feel free to make fun of that scene where he and Yuna are laughing off a cliff, I still thought he was a great character and I enjoyed the rest of the cast as well. I thought the emotional payoff at the end of the game was fantastic and I always enjoy the story more each time I go back and play it again. The game also has a memorable soundtrack and a lot of beautiful landmarks and settings. It’s just a quality game from start to finish.
5. Resident Evil 4 – This is the first time the gameplay changed for the series and it was a relief. The old tank controls were good for their time but it had worn out its welcome. It wasn’t exactly survival horror anymore but it was a much needed change in my opinion.
4. God of War, God of War 2 – Kratos kills his wife and daughter because Ares tricked him into doing it. He then kills Ares to become the God of War. As bad as things are for Kratos, it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for him because he brings it all upon himself. I was impressed with Sony’s reinterpretation of Greek mythology and the attention to detail that was put into the game. I’d look forward to the third game in the franchise, but I already played it.
3. Ratchet & Clank – Ratchet, the last Lombax in this dimension, teams up with a tiny robot named Clank to save the Galaxy from different evil villains. The game features a host of different secondary weapons that change for each game. That’s one of the things I like about the game. Crazy secondary weapons like the Suck Cannon, Morph-O-Ray, and Tesla Claw that can destroy any enemy in the game.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3 – This was one of the better Metal Gear games that have come out. It introduced the “Boss” character and gives the franchise the much needed background information. Metal Gear Solid 3 had a much better story and game mechanics including the ability to treat Snake’s wounds and eat the animals Snake kills. Just be careful, rations do spoil which can make Snake sick and throw up.
1. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy – Players take control of Psi Operative Nick Scryer whose job it is to infiltrate a terrorist organization and stop them. Nick uses two types of weapons at his disposal, guns and psychic powers which are the main focus of the game. When Nick runs out of psychic energy, he can drain it from enemy soldiers which causes their heads to explode. Between psychically throwing object and lighting enemies on fire, I liked the exploding head trick the best. I’d love for Capcom to release the game on PSN or XBLA, all it needs is the control scheme for a third person shooter. The controls it has right now are old, outdated, and Nick practically moves like a tank.
5. Max Payne – Sure Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne was probably a better game, but holy s$@# did I love the original. Innovative, violent, insane and darkly comic, Max Payne was brimming with style and was a blast to play. People forget about the little things, like pausing the game seeing the shell casings suspended in the air after having been ejected from Max’s handguns. Truly a classic. And I quite prefer Sam Lake’s version of Max Payne with his blocky head and the constipated look on his face.
4. Final Fantasy XII – Yep, there are two more numerals after that X. For me Final Fantasy XII is the absolutely peak of the Final Fantasy franchise. I loved the characters more, the story more, and most of all, I liked the combat more than any other Final Fantasy game. The Gambit System was so good, and I was so good at it, that I could literally enter a boss fight and get up and make myself lunch to return and watch my strategy play out against any and all bosses until they were defeated. It’s a shame that they dropped the system altogether in Final Fantasy XIII.
3. Primal – A wholly underrated gem, Primal has such great writing, gameplay ideas and concepts and performances that it’s easy to forgive the simplistic combat. Part adventure game, part beat ’em up, part platformer, Primal was truly the first game I played in which the story moved me and set the standard in quality in presentation and storytelling. A standard that has been taken up by Naughty Dog to carry on the legacy for the PlayStation brand. Primal made my my number 1 most underappreciated game for good reason. I’ll say it again; it’s available on PSN for a measly $10. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Resident Evil 4 – As someone who hasn’t owned a Nintendo console since the SNES, I had to wait for Resident Evil 4 to hit PS2 before I could play it. And play it I did. I seriously can’t think of a game I’ve played more times just for the hell of it. Improving on the Resident Evil formula in nearly every conceivable way, Resident Evil 4 is drastic and welcome departure for the series and one the series hasn’t topped yet.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – Yep. For three weeks in a row, San Andreas is the number one game on my list. If you want to know why, you can visit the last two The Top 5’s here and here. I promise this game won’t be on my list at all next week. I swear!
5. Tekken Tag Tournament – The PS2 had a pretty light launch lineup. One game that stood out was Tekken Tag Tournament, a port of the arcade hit that was made to look so much better with the power of the new PlayStation 2. It also helped that it had a ton of play modes, so that it stuck around for many years to come.
4. Gran Turismo 3 – After the PlayStation 2 launched, this was the first game that I think everyone agreed that they had to have. It looked absolutely stunning and had a great soundtrack. There was a lot expected of the first Gran Turismo of the next generation, and it delivered.
3. Final Fantasy X – You could argue that JRPGs made the PlayStation 1. Final Fantasy VII was a huge title for the PlayStation, and so people wanted to see what their favorite franchise would look like with the power of the next generation. Final Fantasy X had its quirks, but the game had a very satisfying combat system, and character progression mechanic. As the first fully-voiced Final Fantasy title, it was hard to believe that the game came on only one disc, as we had been so used to 4 or 5 disc experiences on the PlayStation 1.
2. Grand Theft Auto III – When it came out, you had to get it. You’d never played anything like it. And for so long, it was exclusive to the PlayStation 2. This was a title that made people stand up and pay attention. We’ve already written enough on this game in our top 5 GTA games, but you have to appreciate the role this game had on the PlayStation 2.
1. God of War 2 – After the release of the PS3, Sony still had a major game for the PlayStation 2. God of War 2 represents Sony’s commitment to the console, and the faith it needed to put in it while the PlayStation 3 floundered for a bit at launch. God of War 2 brought insane boss battles and even more over-the-top action than its predecessor. As the last major original first-party release for the PlayStation 2, it stands the test of time as the greatest PlayStation 2 title.
So there they are, The Top 5: PlayStation 2 games according to the Gamer Horizon crew. Some of these games we all agree on, with some truly surprising gems on there as well. What about you? Do you agree with our choices or do you have some games that you feel should be on these lists that aren’t? Let us know in the comments!