For the 15th anniversary of the PS2's North American release, I decided to be super uncreative and count down my top 15 PS2 exclusive games. Keep in mind, I'm counting games originally released as Playstation 2 exclusives, so games like Okami and GTA III, which got ports to other systems two years later each, do count. I'm also doing my usual one per franchise, and I'm excluding Konami games, as my last list was Konami games, and I don't think either of us want me to repeat myself so soon. So yeah, the list.
(Watch/listen or read)
15. Sly Cooper and the Thevious Racoonus - It's very possible that Sly 2 and 3 are better. However, this is another beloved series that I didn't get into until recently. I only finally purchased the original game a couple years ago. That being the case, I haven't put any time into the rest of the series, save for a demo of Thieves in Time for the PS3. Anyway, I must admit to feeling pretty stupid upon finally playing it. Even for the first entry, the controls, personality, creativity, and atmosphere are already performed almost flawlessly. The characters are great, the platforming is fun, and gives me a Crash Bandicoot vibe in some segments, which is always a plus, and some of the boss battles are really fun. What keeps it from climbing higher, aside from the nostalgia I'm sure many people have for it, is that the game can get tedious at times. Some segments require brutally precise timing that's more luck than skill-based. There are also many levels or at least sections of levels that feel very similar and therefore there are times that you're immediately bored of a level structure you've seen before. Add in the frustrating mini-games, and an amazing experience is pushed down a bit. Still an excellent game though, as it beat out many other great games.
14. Devil Kings - A little over a year ago, I rented this awesome looking PS3 game from Gamefly called Sengoku Basara. It took everything Dynasty Warriors had done and just blew it out of the fucking water. The characters and story-lines are so much deeper and more creative, each character is wildly different in combat and utilize far more diverse weapons and skills than those in the aforementioned series, and it's just an absolute blast to play, along with being far more challenging. However, upon looking into the series, I found that this was the third in the series, not counting spin-offs, and the second released in North America. The first game being titled Devil Kings for its North American release. Because them Americans don't like no foreign words? I dunno. Basically, even at the time, Devil Kings was blowing away Dynasty Warriors in every way. Which doesn't mean I hate Dynasty warriors, I thoroughly enjoy it, but these games offer so much more. Its own unique and deep lore, awesome characters, amazing depth in combat, and a great musical score. I personally prefer the PS3 title we got a while ago, but that wasn't a PS2 game, and this one is still awesome.
13. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec - The Gran Turismo games, while not my favorite racing series, is definitely among the best, as well as being one of the few of its type that's exclusive to PS2. I loved Twisted Metal: Black as a kid, and while it was in consideration for this list, going back to it, I don't find it quite as enjoyable as many other games. It reeks of trying super hard to be "dark" without knowing what that means, a lot of the levels are bland and there's little variety to the game modes. Also, the controls can be kinda floaty. As for Gran Turismo 3, it still holds up very well. It's one of the best feeling racing games out there, it has a massive amount of cars to choose from and a relentless number of races and challenges to compete in. Despite being an early PS2 game, it's still one of the best looking games on the system, and having had my copy over half my life, there are many things in the game I haven't touched yet. This is still among the best and deepest racing experiences ever made.
12. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal - Much like Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank was another now beloved series I didn't pay attention to during the PS2 era. However, I can honestly say that I missed out on some of the best pure fun on the console. The massive weapon and enemy variety, huge levels, perfect controls, and a cheat code that gives you a fucking double-bladed lightsaber! Combined with the surprisingly well done Captain Quark-centric 2D side-scrolling levels makes Ratchet & Clank an expertly crafted mix of humor and fun, with Up Your Arsenal obviously being the one I thought best exemplified this. Its simplicity keeps me from having a rush of adoration and memories like some on the list, but it's a perfect execution of pure mayhem in game form.
11. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core - While Arc System Works has long been legendary among fans of the fighting genre, their games have always gone underappreciated by the mainstream market. They've never released a poor fighting title that I'm aware of, and franchises like Supersonic Warriors, Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, and of course Guilty Gear, are all adored franchises. Guilty Gear is the oldest and most polished series. Like many of its contemporaries, it's slowly built up a diverse and awesome cast of both awesome and bizarre characters with fighting styles unique to both them and fighting games in general. Guilty Gear X got me into the series, but not having a chance to play the most recent entry, XX Accent Core is the most polished, not only in the series, but among fighting games as a whole. It controls perfectly, it's absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack is perfect for a fighting game. It would likely be higher if I had more time with it than just recently, but it's among the best fighting games ever in my opinion.
10. Okami - This counts because it wasn't released on the Wii until two years later, meaning Capcom clearly had no plans for this to be anything but an exclusive until well after its release and realizing the potential of incorporating the painting mechanic into the Wii's motion controls. Okami is the most recently played game on this list. So obviously it did something special to crack the top 10. I actually gave it a try, not expecting much, because I figured it was the only small investment game I felt I needed to try before making this list. Though my backlog is still pretty extensive. I must admit, I was very stunned by how much I loved this game. From its gorgeous water-color painting world, to its crazy designs, the awesome brush-themed powers, the humor, and the perfect mix of feudal Japan and high fantasy made it an absolute pleasure to play all the way through. Not to mention the beautiful soundtrack and creative boss fights. Reviewers weren't lying when they said it was the best 3D Zelda game yet. If you think Ocarina of Time is something special, I dare you to play this and still say that.
9. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance - First of all, I count this because it was always planned as a PS2 exclusive, not receiving the official greenlight for its Xbox port until half a year later after its surprise success. Baldur's Gate is among my favorite gaming franchises, as well as one of the most heralded by PC gamers, and this is the entry that introduced me, and basically anyone who didn't play PC games at the time, to the name. It was the first in the series not helmed by BioWare, but instead Snowblind Studios. Snowblind took a more Diablo, real-time approach to the gameplay, as it implemented a different D&D system, I don't know specifics, but its pacing is about in between Diablo II and the original Baldur's Gate games. Anyway, Dark Alliance basically introduced the Isometric RPG to consoles and with surprising success, as it sold over a million units and received a sequel, with a third game never seeing the light of day. Dark Alliance still plays amazingly compared to any modern RPG, has some of the most beautiful visuals on the system, has both intense and witty dialog and characters, and has a superb leveling system that adds tons of replay value. Outside of the same developer's later projects, there isn't really another game on the console like it, and luckily, it's among the best of its kind on any platform.
8. Yakuza - Yakuza is easily one of the most overlooked game franchises. Basically being the spiritual successor to Shenmue, Yakuza curbstomps what its massive open-world crime-centered brethren, GTA, which I do love, was doing at the time. The story is powerful, the characters are extremely complex, and it's one of the more emotionally potent games out there. I've played most of the original and some of 4, but if the reviews for the games in between are any indication, I'm in for a treat when I finally finish this one. The game still looks amazing, and later games are among the best looking games for the PS3 and 4. The world you can explore is massive and almost entirely interactive. You can get lost doing odd jobs, playing arcade games, buying and running companies, and the like. There's still little like Yakuza, providing a huge open-world to get lost in, while giving RPG fans a deep leveling system and amazing story, while even providing an almost Tekken-esque combat system for the fighting game fans. I myself am a fan of all 3. If I'd finished it prior to this, or didn't have nostalgia for most of the rest of this list, OR the PS2's library wasn't so monstrous, this would be higher up.
7. God of War - I honestly expected this to be in my top five when I decided to make this list, even knowing the PS2 is probably my favorite console. Which I suppose goes to show just how excellent its games are. The God of War trilogy is among the most excellent in video games, and 2 is probably the best, but I have the most personal adoration for the original. I still vividly remember how in awe I was of that opening sequence. Being stuck on a ship with hordes of enemies in the middle of a storm, with unprecedented graphical fidelity and an epic orchestral score. Quickly plowing through your enemies and making your way through the ship, before fighting a fucking HYDRA, as the FIRST BOSS, that you defeat by slamming its fucking head into a sharpened mast.
6. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness - Disgaea is very hard to grasp without experiencing it for yourself. It's a Tactical RPG in the vain of Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's so much more than that. Its gameplay is diverse enough to stand out, its recruiting mechanics give it endless replayability, it's among the toughest and longest games on the console to complete, and it's oozing with its own distinct personality. It not only utilizes a very anime-inspired art style, but also feels liek watching an anime during dialog and cutscenes. It balances the serious story of being The King of Demons' son, awakened from a long dormancy and dedicated to claiming his father's throne for himself with ninja penguins and other absurdity extremely well. The humor is great, the gameplay is great, and the game itself is absolutely massive. Though there are 5 games in the series now, all great games, this entry alone will keep you sated for hundreds of hours if you feel so inclined.
5. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 - I'm a massive Dragon Ball fan. I don't care how much people over-sell the length of fights, how popular it is, none of that affects its quality. It has amazing characters, great action, and gripping drama. One of the best things about its popularity in the 2000's was fighting games. It was fairly close between this and Budokai Tenkaichi 3, but as a fighting game experience, this is definitely the superior product. The original Budokai was impressive for its time and its sequel was an improvement, but Budokai 3 was a revolution of a game. Not only am I a Dragon Ball fan, but I also love 2D fighters like Street Fighter, King of Fighters, and many lesser known games I may make a list of some time. My point is that, having recently played it, Budokai 3 is still one of the best fighting games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. The controls are smooth, utilizing the stereotypical "easy to play but hard to master". It has a huge cast of characters from the original Dragon Ball through GT and makes every single one play differently. Add to that the story mode, the customizable loadouts, and the insane amount of bonus challenge content, and you have a game that will keep Dragon Ball and fighting game fans coming back almost endlessly. Also, if you can, get the HD Remaster. It's no more expensive, and it looks gorgeous.
4. Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening - Devil May Cry 3 is among the later titles on this list, but over a decade later, it's still one of the best action-adventure hack-n-slash... things ever released. The combos are slick and the controls perfect, it's intense and difficult but just fair enough to keep you going, the story is the only really interesting one in the series, all of the boss fights are spectacular, and Dante himself is just fucking awesome. Not just because he looks cool, but he's the king of the smart-ass bad-ass and doles out some of the best quips in video game history while you're juggling demons in mid-air with bullets or spinning your sword around on your fingertips. there's not a whole lot to say about this kind of game. It's a simple game type, but done to perfection with deep combat, a good story, great characters and fights, and a perfectly fitting soundtrack. Also, that opening cutscene is among the greatest things to grace a video game.
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 - Persona 3 and 4 both could have easily been in this spot. While I think Persona 3 creates a more intense atmosphere, 4 has a deeper city to explore. Where 3 has the larger cast, 4 has the more consistently memorable characters. 3 Makes the main character the focal point, whereas you're part of something bigger in 4. They both have amazingly well-crafted narratives within their very different themes, and only controlling your character in 3 or controlling all three of them in 4 both have their strengths. Overall, it comes down to preference. 3 is damn near a masterpiece, as is 4, but I just enjoy 4 more. I adore choice and character interaction in RPG's and this idea has grander depth to it in Persona 4. I also considered Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga getting their own entries, as they're both stellar games, but the fact that I haven't gotten all that far in either, and it making it even harder to narrow this list down, kept me from doing so. Now that my rant is over, much like its predecessor, Persona 4 is, in the simplest terms, about the simultaneous struggle of maintaining a social life in a new town, performing well in school, and of course, hunting demons as part of an investigation into a murderous conspiracy plaguing said town. Well the reason for demon hunting is different, but still. It's rife with plot twists, lovable characters, a fun atmosphere that can be crushingly intense when it decides to, the only great J-Pop I've heard to this day, Persona 3 notwithstanding, and a massive amount of depth to the battling and demon summoning aspects that will make RPG nuts salivate when they're not busy with one of the better mystery stories I know of. Honestly, if I wasn't oozing with nostalgia for number 2, this easily could've taken that spot. It's near perfect in every way.
2. Tekken Tag Tournament - Tekken Tag Tournament is probably my favorite fighting game of all time. I have fond memories of annihilating my grandparents' coin purse at a little arcade area they had at a local steakhouse every time we went there. It was also the game I got with my PS2. Number one is likely the only game on this list I sank more hours into, and it's among the few fighting games I've played enough to actually say I think I'm good at it. Tekken Tag still holds up absurdly well today and I dare you to find a higher quality fighting game, even in 2015.
1. Final Fantasy X - Honestly, Final Fantasy X is one of my favorite games of all time. I feel it was shunned by many series fans upon release because it added voices to the characters and switched up leveling and battle mechanics in ways still rarely seen to this day. What lies underneath all this horrible "it's different" stuff, is a masterpiece of a game in my opinion. It's still one of the most beautiful games on the system, and maybe in general, both in terms of graphical quality and artistic design. Said visual fidelity is only enhanced by the absolutely awe-inspiring soundtrack that I'd dare say hasn't been matched since. Even with all that notwithstanding, the actual gameplay is a blast. The quick and fluid animations, the swapping mechanic and the wide variety of enemies mean every battle plays out differently, unless you're brutally over-leveled, as with any RPG, and even level-grinding never gets stale. That being said, I played this game for the first time when I was 10, having no concept of leveling, and beat it with a high level of difficulty, so it can be as challenging or rewarding as you want it to be. The aforementioned leveling system is also great. It's structured almost like a crazy Chinese Checkers board with different segments with different boosts you can unlock like extra health and new spells. The genius part is that you can move each character anywhere on this board when leveling, leading to a near infinite number of different combinations that lead to every character never playing the same, and sometimes dramatically differently. The game also boasts tons of extra content like super bosses, an arena where you can challenge massively powerful monsters, secret summons, weapons, and areas, and the surprisingly fun Blitzball sport that you can partake in at any save point and recruit teammates from all around the world for. All of this enhances an already amazing experience within a massive and vibrant environment with a rich and often tragic backstory and underbelly, with one of the deepest stories, both personally and globally, one of the best villains ever, THE best boss battles in my opinion, and an overall wonderful experience that I think everyone should have.
So there ya go, hope you liked it. Feel free to comment about my forgetting your favorite game, or your favorites, or PS2 memories, or how amazing and always right I am, or whatever. Thank you for reading, or listening, or whichever you did.