Putting together a list of “must play” PS2 RPGs is both easy and difficult. It’s easy in the sense that there’s no dearth of role-playing games—the system has more RPG titles than some short-lived consoles, like the TurboGrafx-16, has of any kind at all. The difficult part involves separating the wheat from the chaff. The good news is that it can be done, and the below entries make up a list (in no particular order) of titles that any self-respecting RPG fan needs to check out now. Some of these options, dare we say, rise to the level of modern classics.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
There’s something to be said for packaging. While substance of storytelling and good mechanics are a must for any game, how it looks also plays a crucial role. This is the first “Dragon Quest” iteration that utilizes 3-D graphics, which is a great presentation method for Akira Toriyama’s artwork. As for the gameplay, this story of evil wizards and heroes is a throwback to the days of simpler RPGs—classic battle systems, solid boss fights, traditional menu screens, etc.
Final Fantasy XII
Despite the occasional departure, Square always maintained the high standards of their “Final Fantasy” series of games. “XII” was the first entry in a few years, but it lived up to expectations. This story takes place in the familiar world of Ivalice, and it does a good job of melding a “Star Wars” spirit with an Anime execution. The game has it all, political intrigue and rebellion, aerial dogfighting, sleek spacecraft, and an eclectic cast of characters.
Kingdom Hearts I
What do you get when Square teams up with Disney? You get a game that combines two diametrically opposed worlds. How else can you describe Donald Duck and Goofy fighting alongside spikey-haired Sora? Fans of Square’s other RPG entries will recognize some gameplay staples, such as the magic spells and summoning spells, and the whole thing really plays like an action-adventure title. It’s a good option for gamers who enjoy button mashing as opposed to turn-based combat.
Kingdom Hearts II
The first “Kingdom Hearts” entry initially confused many gamers and reviewers by throwing Disney Characters into a “Final Fantasy” world. This game sticks with the same basic premise but improves on almost everything else its predecessor did. The camera is better, the gameplay mechanics are better, and the gummi-ship sections have been overhauled to deliver high-octane action. But where this game really shines is in the presentation. Even by today’s standards it’s a great looking game, and the lush coloring and animations in the world all but beg you to adventure through it.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Best RPG game ever made for the system? Maybe. Most inviting cover-art for any PS2 game ever? Probably. The game takes place in an alternate WWI-era setting that is rife with fantasy elements, and it has a rich cast of characters including vampires, wolves, military officers and… a puppeteer. The battle system is unique in that it features a “judgment ring,” which acts as a timer to deliver crucial hits. Overall a game that will leave a lasting legacy.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
The “Shin Megami Tensei” series earned rave reviews for its willingness to break with RPG convention. This was especially true of the third installment, which features a dark plot and overt sexuality. “Persona 4” improves on the previous entries by delivering better animation and mechanics. The plot centers on another high-school protagonist who must overcome spirits, murders and killer fog. Persona-3’s “one more” fighting system is back, and gamers who haven’t yet it experienced the group brawling would do well to give it a go. And by all means read why we think persona games are so damn good.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
To say that some people love this most notorious entry in the “Star Ocean” series while others hate it is an understatement. TTEOT is the third in the series, and it does depart noticeably from the second. In this entry, the onus is more on the sci-fi aspects of the story, which features a protagonist named Fayt Leingod being kidnapped by aliens and dumped on a remote planet. Whether you like the game depends on your tastes. Will you find the story to be solid or unsound? Will the plot-twist at the halfway point induce you to throw in the towel, or does it enhance the game? Does the inventory system cause you to lose your mind? These are things you’ll only find out by playing the game.
There isn’t much of a rift when it comes to this title—gamers tend to love it unreservedly. In “Rogue Galaxy” you play as Jaster Rogue, a hunter who finds himself on a space pirate ship going on quests with a few unique sidekicks like a dog-headed warrior and a tribeswoman. The game is a slow burn, but the plot kicks into gear about the mid-way point, and the story is off and running. Also, the fighting system does a nice job of managing real-time combat with the more traditionally RPG item menu.
One RPG series that enjoys a truly cult following is “Suikoden.” Many gamers enjoy the third entry the most because it almost acts as a stand-alone game. What truly broke the mold is that in “Suikoden III,” the story is told through three different protagonists. That means gamers will play as a mercenary, a knight and the son of a chieftain. So it’s a great game for those with short attention spans.
Final Fantasy X
Blitzball, Spyra, Wakka—mention these names to any hardcore RPG fan and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. “Final Fantasy X” is beloved for its solid story, richly layered characters, and ahead-of-its time animation. Those who don’t know it need to know it now.
These are the PS2 RPGs you need to play now. So kick the Xbox One to the curb for the afternoon and fire up that PS2. And if you don’t have one, put your money down for that sleek PS2 Slim, which is still available via the World Wide Interwebz.