Aside from being the “first” next-gen console, as well as providing many, many people with their first DVD player, the PlayStation 2 launched in something of a Golden Age of the non-PC gaming industry. Gaming tech was becoming extremely sophisticated … Sony seemingly knew the exact route toward popularity, turning the console with the least powerful hardware of that generation into a juggernaut of success.
-James Plafke, ExtremTech
Today’s the big one, NPCs!
It’s the 21st Day of our Console Challenge and we’re talking about the best-selling home console of all time. Sitting at a whopping 155+ million units sold, the PS2 is the ubiquitous system. This thing was everywhere. Heck, I went through three of them myself. I still unfailing find PS2 games stashed everywhere, in homes, in thrift stores, bargain bins, and retro shops in great quantities. Its impact is undeniable.
This is not a console to handle with kid gloves and so we’ve summoned forth our own columnist the Infernal Accountant Mage to render his verdict on the top 7 best games for the system. I don’t envy him his task; the PS2 had over 3,000 games in its library! Still, I have the best confidence in Infernal. I haven’t known this mystery man that long and he came to me as if out of the proverbial blue, already running and operating his own successful online pop culture site, Popzara. How exactly this bluntly (occasionally brutally) honest writer stumbled into our little TWRM and why he purposed to join up as a mage, I’ll never know, but I don’t look gift horses in the mouth. I just take ’em in.
Fresh from his trip to E3, here’s our provocateur and practitioner of accountanology. Either way, it’s bound to be somewhat controversial. It’s the PS2.
-The Well-Red Mage
I write a weekly column for The Well-Red Mage called Accounting the Years that’s basically an excuse to blog about my life with some video game underpinnings here and there. It was at least partially inspired by the writing of Tim Rogers for actionbutton.net. Rogers has a way of intertwining his life and the games he plays; that’s something I’ve always admired and it’s something I’ve tried to emulate in my work on Accounting the Years.
See, video games are an intensely personal medium, perhaps more so than any other. That’s something that Rogers understands on a very fundamental level. A game is something that you invest a part of yourself into through interactivity. Rather than being a passive observer, in many games you’re making yourself part of the story. Major events in my life have had recent game releases as milestones to mark them by, and often my feelings on any given game are colored by what was happening to me in the real world at the time – Dynasty Warriors 2 was coupled with a nasty breakup, for instance, and to this day it remains my least favorite of the series. I can’t talk about a game without considering what perspective my life is giving me on it. To do so would be painting an incomplete picture.
With that in mind, then, let’s talk about the PlayStation 2. In my book, it’s one of the greatest consoles ever released. From a technical perspective, it rocked gamers’ socks off when it launched, while from a personal perspective it marked my return to the United States after spending most of my childhood overseas. Young me didn’t have a job or really any money to his name, but he did have plenty of retro game goodies and he was willing to trade them all in for a PS2. Modern audiences would facepalm – I certainly do – but the time and fun I had with the resulting PS2 helped me get through both good and bad times. The PS2 stuck with me through high school and college alike, since new games just kept on coming out for the thing, while the console itself was built to last.
So here we go, then: the seven best PS2 games from my perspective. I’m going to almost guarantee that your favorites aren’t going to be on here, but these are the ones that stuck with me.
#7. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
Devil May Cry was essentially responsible for the advent of the spectacle fighter or character-action genre – take a cool protagonist, give them a vast array of cool moves, integrate an awesome combo system and let the player go wild. Devil May Cry 2 proceeded to accept the proffered torch, then trip on its shoelaces and fall flat on its face. Devil May Cry 3, though…
Well, it took everything Devil May Cry showed us and made it better. Loads of weapons, each with a complete moveset to master. Multiple combat styles that each offer their own unique benefits, encouraging you to look at your arsenal from various perspectives. Tons of enemies to battle and understand, then multiple difficulty levels to crank up the challenge once you think you’ve figured the game out. All of this, plus a kickin’ hard rock soundtrack and some of the best self-aware humor in video games. That’s Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. It’s action gaming done right.
#6: God of War II
Speaking of action gaming done right, God of War and its sequel did their part to revolutionize the genre by implementing cinematic elements, blurring the line between games and blockbuster films. Today that probably doesn’t seem like much; that’s because gaming as a whole has learned from God of War and the games that patterned themselves after it. Games-as-movies is standard now, and I’d argue that we have God of War to thank for it in no small part. The God of War games are primarily about awe: how big will the next boss be? How cool with Kratos’ next abilities be? How deadly will the next mythological weapons be? How brutal will the next kill be? They specialized in consistently upping the ante, all while pushing the PS2 to its technical limits, and despite all this they maintained solid and classic gameplay rather than degenerating into something you watch rather than play.
Naysayers will, of course, complain about quick-time events. Naysayers will complain about everything. They’ll complain right up until you successfully complete a quick time event where you kick them into the raging heart of a volcano. Then they’ll stop complaining.
#5: Kingdom Hearts
As they’re plummeting into that volcano, the naysayers might have a thing or two to say about Kingdom Hearts and its sequel. They’ll probably say something about how confusing the plot apparently is, forgetting that these are games written for Japanese schoolchildren that really aren’t all that difficult to grasp. Then, mercifully, they’ll land in the caldera and their nitpicking will be silenced forever.
Kingdom Hearts, when it was announced, sounded like an April Fools joke: Squaresoft and Disney working together to make a crossover RPG. It wasn’t a joke, though, and when it released, astoundingly enough, it was actually a solid adventure that made the most of both properties. Again, we must emphasize the value of spectacle and awe here: this is something the PlayStation 2 was absolutely fantastic at, as we see with games like Okami and Shadow of the Colossus. In Kingdom Hearts it took the form of gorgeous animations and eye-watering boss battles, not to mention the overall aesthetic that captured the Disney feel. I’d argue that the sequel is a better game with its additional gameplay concepts and longer running time, but that’s really a matter of opinion more than anything.
#4: Drakengard (actually Guitar Hero)
I’m really fond of Drakengard but that’s more of a personal quirk than anything. Instead, we can’t talk about the PlayStation 2 and not talk about Guitar Hero. It ushered in a revolution of plastic-instrument games that ended up defining my college experience. There’s just something about having some of your first legal alcoholic beverages and hammering away on a strum bar that really clicked for me. The trend eventually died, as trends do, but the mid-to-late 2000s were basically defined by Guitar Hero guitars and the jamming on thereof.
I mention the first game specifically here, but the sequels were generally all pretty solid.
#3: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
The PlayStation 2’s heyday coincided with an interesting trend in mainstream games journalism: namely, everyone simultaneously decided that we didn’t like Japanese RPGs anymore. Yup, the whole genre was just straight up garbage. JRPGs would eat a couple points off the top of their review scores for daring to include turn-based combat, an anime aesthetic and so on. It was hard times for JRPG fans.
Shockingly, though, Nocturne and the next couple of games largely managed to stay afloat. That’s probably because they represent some of the peaks of the genre as a whole. Nocturne in particular revels in difficulty, encouraging you to recruit and fuse a diverse array of demonic allies so you’re versatile enough to address new threats as they appear. No matter how hard you try, though, you’re bound to be surprised every now and then…and that’s usually going to mean death and a renewed urge to try again. Something something Dark Souls comparison.
#2: Final Fantasy XII
I mean, I had to include the best Final Fantasy other than VIII on this list, right? Shame VIII was an original PlayStation game, but XII’s pretty solid gaming as well. By allowing you to essentially program your characters, much of the busywork associated with JRPGs is simply automated away. You’re free to enjoy the combat and story at your own pace while your characters simply do what you’d have done anyway. That’s pretty much how I’d like to live my life one day.
#1: Persona 3 (and Persona 3 FES)
And here it is, the best game on the PlayStation 2. It’s a JRPG. It’s the JRPG. We can argue about whether this, Persona 4 or Persona 5 are the best JRPGs ever released. I think that’s going to be a difficult argument, so instead I’ll go with an easier one: Persona 3 is the best game released on the PlayStation 2. It’s incredibly stylized, it touches on mature and interesting themes without turning into A Very Special Episode Of Video Games, it has some of the best music in gaming as a whole and, like Nocturne, it’s brutally difficult while being largely fair in its execution. It is a masterpiece and we can likely credit it with the modern acceptance of the JRPG genre, dragging us out from the Era Where It Was Cool To Be Down On JRPGs. If you haven’t played it yet, you probably should… though you might want to consider the expanded version, Persona 3 FES (which includes some epilogue content that is pretty mediocre in my view), or the generally-improved Persona 3 Portable on PSP.
The Infernal Accountant Mage believes the pen is mightier than the sword…well, depending on how sharp the pen and sword are. A child of the ’90s and a prolific writer, he strews his work about like Legos made of words, just waiting for your brain to step on them. He enjoys a devilish challenge, so when it comes to talking about some of the more difficult games out there, you might just run into the Infernal Accountant Mage. Some advice: hold on to your soul around this guy, and don’t sign anything. Read more at popzara.com