The 100 Best PS2 Games of All Time
Sony found an immediate hit when they released the very first PlayStation console back in 1995 (’94 in Japan). The disc-based console offered amazing new graphics, solid soundtracks, and entire new worlds to play in. Companies like Square Enix even decided to use the new platform to bring celebrated series such as Final Fantasy into the realm of 3D. As great as Sony’s first foray into the video game scene was, it would be the company’s second console, the PS2, that would set records and truly cement the PlayStation family in video game history. It currently sits as the best-selling video game console of all time and for good reason as it had one of the strongest video game libraries ever.
Seeing as how the library is so darn good, we’ve decided to undergo the arduous task of choosing the 100 best games on the PS2. This was no easy task, and after quite a bit of debating we’ve nailed down our selections. You’ll find our picks for the very best the PS2 had to offer in alphabetical order (it would’ve been impossible to actually rank these gems). Just prepare yourself for a rush of nostalgia and a lot of “oh man, I loved that game” moments ahead.
Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies
Released in November of 2001, while the PS2 was still relatively young, Ace Combat 4 helped to show off just what the console was capable of while also providing one of the most advanced entries in the series. Its cross between flight sim mechanics and more arcade-style gameplay helped the title to feel serious yet accessible while offering stellar dogfights using classic jets as well as real-world prototypes that had yet to be fully released to the world. The addition of anime-styled cutscenes and crew chatter helped to engross players into the action.
Rhythm-based games have been around for decades, but not many can stand up to the frenetic fun and colorful action that was Amplitude. Managing multiple tracks while tackling increasingly difficult songs was far more fun than we’d hoped for and things just got even better when multiplayer was thrown into the mix.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
There’s just something about brutally forging through dungeons with friends that never gets old. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance brought deep, RPG-rooted gameplay to the PS2 alongside some other consoles, and its story and intense action kept players enthralled for hours on end.
Created by Michel Ancel (creator of the Rayman series), Beyond Good & Evil brought players a darker, action-packed experience on the PS2. Its simple yet engaging action, interesting protagonist, and tight visuals made it a cult classic and we can only hope that Ubisoft hits us with a sequel (which fans have been waiting on for 14 years) sometime soon.
Black was a fairly standard first-person shooter in many ways when it released in 2006 on the PS2 and Xbox, but it used a few tricks to be one of the most beautiful shooters out there which really helped players entrench themselves in the action. Beautiful graphics, destructible environments (which weren’t as common as we would’ve liked in FPSs) and a more cinematic approach made for an interesting experience that pushed the PS2 to its limits.
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Call of Duty: WWII may be the new hotness, but Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 was showing players the ugly side of the great war over a decade ago on the PS2. Commanding your own teams and taking the fight to your enemies in large battlefields was ahead of its time, and the deep story made this one impossible to forget.
What could’ve easily just been a less bloody GTA, ended up being one of Rockstar Games’ greatest titles. Set in and around Bullworth Academy, players must infiltrate the teenage cliques and take over the school. The gameplay consists of several different styles including stealth, exploration, fist-fighting, ranged combat, and more instances that are specific to certain situations. The city around the school is as lively as you’d expect from Rockstar, and each of the characters leaves a memorable mark on the experience. You may not be running over pedestrians or shooting down helicopters, but Bully was not a watered-down version of its older, more mature sibling. Everything you expect from the studio and then some was crammed into this high school adventure.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Burnout 3: Takedown is more than just a typical sequel, it’s one of the best racers ever made and it’s for good reason. Criterion (who now works on Need for Speed games) put fast-paced fun ahead of realism and it led to something truly special. You raced through packed tracks slamming opponents and going impossibly fast as deadly obstacles whizzed past you. It’s the perfect representative of Burnout as a whole and easily the best game in the series. If you love arcade racers, there’s never been anything better than this.
Dark Cloud 2
Dark Cloud 2 was an action RPG on the PS2 that mixed tight gameplay, beautiful visuals, and world building into one memorable experience. Fighting through dungeons full of evil monsters and watching your progress manifest itself through the world you rebuild yourself was truly something special.
Calling Dance Dance Revolution a huge game back in the 90s is an understatement. You couldn’t go to an arcade without seeing the queue for this game wrap around its station or see dozens of spectators watch as a player exhibited their best crazy legs. Even better was going to a friend’s house and seeing them whip out the control mat. DDRMAX 2 took that feeling and dialed it up for one of the most memorable PS2 dance experiences ever.
Dead to Rights
Dead to Rights took the bullet time craze and ran with it. It featured incredible gunfights that required players to take out enemies in order to stay armed. Since you relied on what was around you, it offered a bit of strategy as you systematically took out entire groups of foes and used their weapons to destroy their buddies. Also, you had a badass dog named Shadow who you could play as in some sections and who was a very deadly tool against a corrupt government.
Def Jam: Fight for NY
Normally games with licensed content aren’t very good. They tend to balance game mechanics with something that feels like a constant advertisement and that weighs on the experience. Yet Def Jam: Fight for NY, which took the music company’s biggest stars and placed them into a fighting game with one seriously good soundtrack, was just a damn good fighting game with deep customization that still stands out today.
Destroy All Humans! 2
Destroy All Humans! 2 took everything that made the first game so enjoyable and upped the ante. New weapons, new abilities, and the option to enjoy the story mode with a friend made the act of enslaving the planet even better.
Devil May Cry
This Hideki Kamiya (known for his work on Resident Evil, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami) creation started development as a Resident Evil title. Its precise action and over-the-top combat earned itself its very own identity that would go on to be one of the most recognized series on the PlayStation platform.
Devil May Cry 3
While the first game was great for mixing horror themes with great characters and solid action, Devil May Cry 3 upped the style factor that the series is known for and really stepped up the challenge. In fact, the challenge was so high that Capcom had to re-release a special edition so many players could actually beat it.
Tactical strategy games are often complex experiences, but Disgaea really took things to the next level. With an absurd amount of stats, combat rules, and ridiculous damage counters, Disgaea is a dream come true for hardcore strategy enthusiasts. Even better, it’s got a fun sense of humor as you play through a story that flips tropes on their head as you play as the villain of the story.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3
The best entry in the Budokai series, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 offered players another opportunity to play through DBZ’s incredible story line. It improved the experience by adding more characters from outside of DBZ (such as from movies, the original Dragon Ball, and GT), and had the action more closely resemble the anime.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Dragon Quest is one of the longest running JRPG series around, and Dragon Quest VIII is easily one of its best entries. The series’ trademark charm and style are ever present, while Dragon Quest VIII is the first entry to fully render the world in 3D. A simple but deep combat system and likable main characters keep this JRPG gem moving forward at all times.
Dynasty Warriors 5
Dynasty Warriors might be the same thing every single time, but, look, it’s entertaining all the same. There’s very rarely been a sequel in the series that didn’t improve on something, and Dynasty Warriors 5 is definitely the best PS2 version of this hack ‘n’ slash. You play an iconic historical Chinese general, and you literally just run around the battlefield getting combos as you kill thousands of enemies. It’s timeless.
ESPN NFL 2K5
This is the only legitimate sports game on this list and for good reason. ESPN NFL 2K5 is the perfect football game. Presentation, mechanics, attention to detail, it’s all there. It actually still holds up pretty well to more recent NFL games and that’s saying something. It’s a shame that EA ended up getting full exclusivity to the license because we would’ve had something great to look forward to every year.
Final Fantasy X
The release of the PS2 meant a lot of new, impressive opportunities for classic series and one that really took advantage of the new horsepower was Final Fantasy X. The game was absolutely stunning and it evolved the games into the style we see today with better character models, new leveling systems, and a new battling system with the introduction of the “Conditional Turn-Based Battle” (CTB) system. The story was everything we wanted in a Final Fantasy game, and the new look showed that the franchise was willing to continue evolving right alongside technology.
Final Fantasy XI
The PS2 was also our first glimpse into what it would be like to play Final Fantasy with millions of other people, and it was truly impressive. Even for its time and the fact that it was running on a console, Final Fantasy XI was stunning and set a new standard for RPGs on home consoles.
God of War
Who would’ve thought that an angry man covered in ash would become one of Sony’s most iconic protagonists? Kratos took the world, and Olympus, by storm when he vowed vengeance on the god of war. The brutal combat that saw blades swinging across the screen and mythical creatures being torn to shreds will always stand out as a highlight on the PS2.
God of War II
God of War II stepped things up a bit while still keeping the rage-fueled action at the forefront of the experience. New abilities such as the use of Icarus’ wings open up the gameplay and make for even larger set-pieces than the first game had. Plus Challenge of the Titans was a great way to test your might.
Gran Turismo 4
Gran Turismo is one of the best driving sims you can get on console, and there was a time when it was the clear king of the road with nobody coming even close. One of the best examples of the admirable attention to detail and excellent gameplay was the PS2’s Gran Turismo 4.
Grand Theft Auto III
There are not many games that achieve popularity across the entire globe, but GTA as a franchise has done just that. It was all great when it was a top-down, 2D mayhem-fest, but the gaming landscape changed when we saw Claude walking down the streets of Liberty City for the first time. All the vehicular insanity, the huge armory, and the crazy events we watched pulled off by cute sprites were finally available in full 3D and other games have been trying to replicate its greatness ever since.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
While all of the GTA games pushed to put you in control, San Andreas was when the series really started playing with RPG mechanics. You could change CJ’s appearance by altering hair and tattoos and even changing how his body looks by working out and eating horribly. Stats revolved around use as well, letting players increase their skills through actual gameplay such as being able to jump higher on bikes, run for longer, or hold their breath while swimming.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Vice City is considered by many to be the best GTA ever released. It just did so many things right. For starters, you could actually fly in this one, which was teased in GTA III with the hidden dodo plain. There was more variety to vehicles, you had tons of clothing options (many of which perfectly fit the ’80s Miami-inspired backdrop) and the soundtrack is just perfect. The game was like Scarface on steroids and it’s still spoken about with high praise to the present day.
Guitar Hero 3
There’s something incredibly satisfying about strumming away on a plastic instrument as iconic rock songs blast out of your TV and your score racks up. Guitar Hero 3 not only had a sleek presentation and offered more of the compelling rhythm action that fans had come to know and love, but it also had a stellar tracklist. Seriously, there’s something for everyone here from Slipknot to Kaiser Chiefs and everything in-between.
Few games offer an experience as endearing and rewarding as Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life does. You’re not only given the complete freedom to build and run your farm as you see fit, but you’ll also have to build a successful family life with one of the romance options. While farm life might not sound appealing, A Wonderful Life offers one of the most compelling gameplay experiences you’ll find on the PS2. The more you play, the harder it’ll become to pull yourself away, so you better have plenty of time spare.
Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland
Harvest Moon holds a special place in many hearts, but Save the Homeland specifically has a heartfelt story that has players not just working to establish themselves as a farmer, but to literally save their homeland from a corporation who wants to put a resort there. With multiple endings, your choices became paramount as you went about your farming life, providing ample reason to start all over again once the credits rolled.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
The first Hitman game was definitely onto something, but it was still a bit rough around the edges. The second installment, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin added more variety to Agent 47’s missions and rewarded players for their playstyle. It also maintained what made the original so great by keeping in the high-pressure assignments that really left you scratching your head.
Ico is the first game that gave us a taste of what wonderful adventures could come from the mind of Fumito Ueda. The gameplay was simple at a glance, as it was a platformer with some environmental puzzles. However, it was the story of Ico that really left this game burned into the memory of players. Escorting Yorda, a young woman who you can’t even understand, dealing with the shadows within the mysterious, abandoned castle, and discovering why it exists was done through memorable art direction and a gripping narrative that kept dialogue to a minimum. It was a masterclass in storytelling and still holds up to this day.
Known as Fahrenheit in other parts of the world, Indigo Prophecy was one of the first times that David Cage’s vision for a truly player-controlled story manifested itself. It’s a game that plays unlike anything else on the PS2 and offers an immersive narrative that takes all of your actions and decision into account as you switch between the playable characters while solving a mystery. It was, and still is, quite unique and far ahead of its time, making it a standout on the PS2.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Before Nathan Drake or Ellie and Joel, there was Jak and Daxter. The duo of the young Jak and his ottsel friend Daxter brought tons of charisma to the screen, but it also showcased what a stunning platformer that balances platforming, combat, collection, and puzzles can be.
Jak II took a very different approach to gameplay when compared to its predecessor and it worked exceptionally well. It was almost as if GTA and the first game collided to make something that was truly unique and downright fun.
Karaoke Revolution was the best party game to have owned, after Mario Party and before Rock Band. It turned karaoke on its head by scoring the singers based on how closely they can sing along to the likes of Michelle Branch and Hoobastank. It wasn’t just a fun game, though, it also boasted a ton of amazing hits, covering a wide range of genres and tastes. It’s a shame the series fell off because it absolutely made everyone’s PS2 a karaoke machine at home.
Katamari is an odd one. The gameplay revolves around rolling up hundreds of object into a ball so that your father, King of all Cosmos, can rebuild the stars and planets that he accidentally destroyed. It’s simple and that’s what really makes it a standout as you just peacefully roll things together.
RTS games are generally reserved for PCs because they lend themselves best to mouse and keyboard. That is, except for Kessen II. This game should be revered alone for its accomplishment in making the controls work well on a PS2. It was Total War for people that didn’t have the fancy computer, and its difficulty really offered a challenge to players.
A game that only Suda51 could think up, Killer 7 had an interesting noir plot tied with crisp cel-shaded visuals. It was an action-adventure game, yet it used first person and rail shooting mechanics to provide a unique experience on the PS2 as well as the GameCube.
Kingdom Hearts is a perfect example of something that probably shouldn’t work, working better than anyone could’ve imagined. Combining the works of Square Enix with the worlds of Disney, Kingdom Hearts presented players with an action RPG that was built from our very childhoods. Jumping into movies to do battle with evil while stumbling across iconic Final Fantasy characters was trippy yet it somehow all clicked perfectly. I never thought I’d thoroughly enjoy a game where Goofy and Donald Duck followed me around, but Kingdom Hearts helped cement the magic of Disney and the talent of Square Enix by kicking off one of the best RPG franchises ever.
Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts II took all the wonder of the first game and dialed the gameplay up quite a bit. Thanks to the introduction of the Drive Gauge, players had a lot more options in combat which added some much-needed depth and strategy. This also allowed for Square Enix to up the challenge quite a bit since you now had means to deal with tougher foes (though Sephiroth was still more difficult in the first game).
LEGO Star Wars II
It may be difficult to believe, but there was a time where LEGO games weren’t a common occurrence. Yet, during the early 2000s, Traveller’s Tales along with LucasArts decided to try it out using one of the biggest entertainment franchises ever, Star Wars. What resulted was an incredibly fun game that was easy to pick up and play and combined a beloved childhood toy with space battles and a dash of humor. The sequel decided to squeeze in the entire original trilogy letting us face off against a blocky Darth Vader and enjoy all those sets we couldn’t afford as kids.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
It’s like some sort of unwritten rule that licensed video games need to be terrible. But every now and then there comes a rebel that decides to snub their nose at such a silly requirement and deliver something truly enjoyable. The Lord of the Rings games were among this exclusive club (as were a lot of EA’s licensed games at the time honestly) but the third entry, The Return of the King, was the best. Switching between the different characters while reliving epic scenes from the film was a blast.
Manhunt wasn’t without its controversy which almost saw the game not releasing thanks to its graphic violence which had you executing enemies in horrifyingly realistic ways. It provided a palpable tension in each of its “scenes” offering up a unique take on horror.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Capcom and Marvel each have incredible rosters when it comes to great characters who are perfect for a fighting game, so it was a no-brainer that they’d pit them against one another. The second installment in what would become a beloved franchise is arguably the best. Its lineup of characters may not be as large as more recent installments, but it had a perfect balance and offered some great frenetic action.
Max Payne’s story may not be the most original thing in the world, but the gritty backdrop and copious use of bullet-time made for one of the best third-person shooters on the PS2 and helped to put Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake, Quantum Break) on the map.
Medal of Honor: Frontline
Saying there have been a lot of military shooters set during World War II is an understatement, but not many captured the second great war as well as EA did with Medal of Honor Frontline. It wasn’t a prettied up experience and that lent itself well to the game’s appeal.
Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Mercenaries was just pure fun. It’s a sandbox that allows you to play how you want and the buildings in the world are fully destructible. Sure there’s a story, but it’s not what will keep you engaged for hours on end.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Sons of Liberty originally caught a lot of flack for not having players control Solid Snake for the entire game. He was in the cover art and was used in the opening section, but then you were given Raiden. Looking past the whole switcheroo, though, what you have is one of the most solid entries in the series, offering another zany story that has you questioning what’s real, an interesting cast of enemies, and some beautiful areas to explore. New weapons and game mechanics made this a step above its predecessor, and after the sourness of watching Snake not be controlled by you wears off, there’s something truly great here.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Snake Eater took the “tactical espionage action” and threw a healthy dose of survival gameplay in there that had you hunting, using disguises and camouflage, healing, and just being a straight up badass. Taking it back in time was a good touch too, as you got to see why Big Boss is held in such high regard and discover the origins of many of the series’ central characters.
Midnight Club 2
Is there anything that Rockstar can’t do? On top of the critically acclaimed GTA series, Rockstar Games also created a series of racing games that were all about style and customization. With some lush visuals and excellent gameplay to boot, Midnight Club 2 was an arcade-y alternative to the Gran Turismo series.
Mortal Kombat: Armaggedon
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon kept up with the improvements that Midway was bringing to the violent fighting series. One of the biggest additions was the ability to create your own fighter and test their mettle against the franchise’s deadliest warriors.
NBA Street: Vol. 2
NBA Street was an instant hit, but the second game in the series introduced legends such as Michael Jordan (who was just about never in video games). It kept up the style and fun, trick-filled gameplay too, making this a must-have sequel.
Need for Speed Underground 2
Need for Speed was one of the best arcade racing series you could get on consoles, but the developers really stepped it up when it came to Underground. This series was all about keeping it to the streets and customizing your dream ride complete with all the latest trends and a solid soundtrack as well as some stellar races.
Vanillaware makes games that look like living paintings and are filled with challenging fights that push players to their limits. One of their best, Odin Sphere, found a home on PS2 and was so good that it eventually got ported to PS3, PS Vita, and the PS4.
Controlling Amaterasu in this beautiful game as you solved puzzles, explored the world, and did battle with enemies was like watching a work of art transform before your eyes. We’re still waiting on Capcom to do a full remake taking advantage of current hardware, but the original still holds up exceptionally well.
Oni was actually developed by Bungie West, a studio that was part of Bungie (which went on to create Halo and Destiny) and published by Rockstar Games. It mixed third-person shooting with fast-paced action and beat ’em up gameplay for one of the most frenetic and fun games on the PS2.
Onimusha 3: Demon Siege
Onimusha 3 was just a marvel to behold thanks to visuals that didn’t seem possible on the console and smooth, fast-paced action. Jumping from Feudal Japan to modern day France while switching between the two characters was a nice touch that offered new mechanics to the series. But the core combat and ability to use supernatural abilities as well as upgrade your weapons made sure that fans could still find what they were looking for here.
Persona 3: FES
Persona 3 was a wild departure from 1 and 2, and the entire Shin Megami Tensei series itself. Being the first entry to introduce the Social Link system, Persona 3 offered up a joyous mix of fun, turn-based JRPG gameplay and a more visual novel-like social/dating simulator. The character development here is on point, and the story gets its hooks into you pretty quickly.
Persona 3 FES improved upon the original release by adding more events, Social Links, and a brand new campaign called The Answer, which provided closure to the main story.
As the follow-up to the wildly popular Persona 3, Persona 4 ended up improving upon a lot of the mechanics introduced in its predecessor, and it’s arguably the most popular entry in the series to date. The real draw of Persona 4 is its core cast of characters – all of whom are unique, likable, and each adds a charming flavor to the group dynamic. The Social Links and character side stories were vastly improved upon as well, making the NPCs feel more realistic and relatable.
Though the story was a lot more light-hearted than anything SMT fans were used to, Persona 4 proved to be a feel-good JRPG with a gripping plot and fun gameplay that holds up even today.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Ubisoft’s first stab at Prince of Persia was a fantastic entry, and while Warrior Within has its detractors, it’s also still a worthy title. Two Thrones was the studio yet again hitting a home run, capping off the trilogy with a rather earned and satisfying conclusion. Switching between the Prince and his dark counterpart is great in combat, and the parkour is as dazzling as ever. A return to the more lighthearted aesthetic of Sands of Time allows for a charming rapport between our lead character and the returning Farah, and it’s hard not to be enchanted by the visual design and music. All good things must come to an end, and this was quite a good one.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is on a lot of gamers’ top lists, and with good reason. It was not only a really good platformer, but it brought something new to the table by allowing players to manipulate time to ensure their survival. The story was engaging, to boot. Not just when you die and Prince needs to be all, “No, that’s not how it went.” But its entire storyline right down to the ending made the already fun journey even better.
If you’ve yet to play Psychonauts, do yourself a favor and go do so right now. It was amazing on many levels from its mechanics to how each world was someone’s mind and you could discover little details about them just by observing your surroundings. The story is cute and funny while also offering a bit of darkness, helping this title stand out among most of Double Fine’s other games.
Published by Square Enix back in 2005, this tri-Ace developed action RPG follows the adventures of Jack during a time of war between humans and non-humans. The beautiful visuals, wonderful musical score, large roster of characters, and fun gameplay made this a standout on the PS2.
Ratchet & Clank III
The Ratchet & Clank franchise has proven to be consistently entertaining since it first arrived on the scene, but the third entry in the series is still arguably the best in its existence. Simply put, it was just fun to travel around the galaxy blasting robots and monsters with a wide variety of guns that allowed for experimentation, along with some clever challenges and boss fights. Put in some multiplayer and the series’ trademark challenge mode, and there’s no doubt that Up Your Arsenal is still a benchmark for the series. The only downside, truly, is that there hasn’t been a remaster/remake in the same vein as the 2016 game yet.
Red Faction 2
Red Faction 2 was a step above its predecessor that further solidified the series’ place in shooter history. The Geo-Mod concept was still coming into its own, but it was useful, and the split screen multiplayer made for memorable gaming sessions.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 was a turning point for the franchise. It’s when the series started going for more of an action approach. It was something that was decried by many fans, but 4 is the entry that did the transition well. It maintained the sense of horror and mystery, while keeping meaningful puzzles in effect. If only its successors followed suit. Thankfully RE7 has given us a return to the series’ roots.
Resident Evil CODE: Veronica X
CODE: Veronica X is the PS2 version of the Dreamcast entry that offers new cutscenes and improved visuals. It received critical acclaim thanks to its genius puzzles and better combat, all without sacrificing the horror that earlier entries in the series were praised for.
Resident Evil Outbreak
While not a typical Resident Evil game, Outbreak utilized upgrades that were introduced in the Resident Evil remake from the Nintendo GameCube. It switched the action into a scenario mode which dropped players into dicey situations with little ammo, their wits, and a list of objectives to complete. It was a different take on the survival horror genre that worked exceptionally well and kept players embedded in the gory action. The addition of online made everything even better and even allowed players to create their own scenarios.
REZ didn’t look like much at first glance. Just sort of a trippy, musical, cyber adventure. However, it combined interesting visuals, a strong soundtrack, and a cross between rhythm and shooting that just meshed perfectly.
Rogue Galaxy is a massive space-faring RPG that comes courtesy of Level-5, also known for Dark Cloud and Professor Layton. You play as Jaster Rogue, a young man who gets mistaken for a famous bounty hunter and sets off with a group of pirates on an intergalactic adventure. A gorgeous art style, fun and well-developed characters, and fast-paced action combat system keep the game moving forward at all times. It’s certainly a lengthy quest, but one that always keeps you interested.
Shadow Hearts was a masterpiece for a number of reasons: its dark but compelling story, its absolutely killer soundtrack, the witty characters, and the innovative Judgment Ring system. Combat is turn-based, but if you actually want to land your attacks, you’d need to clear the Judgment Ring mini game. A ring appears on screen with several hit areas, and you have to press a button whenever a rotating needle enters those areas. It’s essentially a quick-time event, but the Judgment Ring always felt satisfying (with each hit area corresponding to a hit in your combo string), and it tied directly to how you performed in battle.
The story is certainly filled with mature themes, and Shadow Hearts isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with issues like religion, cannibalism, and parental care gone awry. The plot won’t be for everyone, but if you like well-written characters and tongue-in-cheek humor, don’t miss out on this cult classic.
Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus is arguably the best project to come out of Team Ico. For starters, the game was stunning, showcasing wide open expanses and towering colossi backed by a beautiful soundtrack. What really made this so memorable, though, was the twist in the story that left you thinking about the hours you poured into Wander’s adventure. It’s no surprise that this game is often found on greatest games of all time lists.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is one of the toughest JRPGs you’ll ever play. But if you do decide to give it a try one day, know that the payoff is worth it. Nocturne contains a lot of elements that will be familiar to Persona fans. The demon fusion system is as complex and satisfying as ever, and the negotiation system opens a lot of possibilities when it comes to party building and other important aspects of battle.
Like past games in the SMT series, Nocturne features multiple endings, and they all depend on the player character’s alignment with order, chaos, and neutrality. It also features Dante from Devil May Cry. What more could you want?
Silent Hill 2
Resident Evil helped push the survival-horror genre into the mainstream, but Silent Hill 2 is quite possibly the best representative of the genre. It didn’t rely on jump-scares or loud noises but instead left you with disturbing imagery, a mistrust of your surroundings, and your own thoughts to drive terror right into your very core.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is on this list for two reasons. The first is that it’s a seriously amazing game that helped uplift the collect-a-thon sub-genre. Its fantastic cel-shaded visuals and responsive gameplay made it an absolute joy to jump into. The second is that the game’s title is absolutely glorious.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Just when you thought nothing could possibly be more fun than playing an anthropomorphic raccoon with a penchant for thievery, Sucker Punch decided to throw in more playable characters (a turtle and a hippo) that each offered fresh takes on the heist gameplay.
While shooters were just starting to become really popular on consoles and online console gaming was still in its relative infancy, Zipper Interactive pushed the envelope by creating a stellar realistic, tactical, online, team-based shooter that let you step into the muddy boots of a US Navy Seal.
Soulcalibur as a series has lost its luster over the years, but there was a time when it was one of the fighters to beat. Soulcalibur 2 is one of the pinnacles of the franchise and making things even better was the fact that each platform had an exclusive character. In the PS2’s case that character was Heihachi from the Tekken series, and he proved just how terrifying a foe he is in the new setting.
One of the best superhero games ever made, Spider-Man 2 is a great licensed movie title and a superb Spider-Man game. It’s proof that games starring the beloved web-crawler don’t have to suck and why NYC makes for a truly mesmerizing sandbox.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
To be honest, all of the Splinter Cell games on PS2 are worth playing. They took a darker approach to the stealth gameplay that was made extremely popular at the time by the Metal Gear Solid series. The third entry, Chaos Theory, doubled down on the darkness by allowing Sam Fisher to be a lot more lethal when previous games were more anti-confrontational and focused more on knocking enemies out.
EA Sports Big was around for a majority of the 2000s offering more extreme versions of EA’s usual offerings. One of the best games to come out of the publisher was EA Canada’s SSX Tricky, an over-the-top, hyper-stylized version of its snowboarding franchise that was equal parts style and substance.
Star Wars Battlefront II
You really can’t go wrong with a Star Wars game, but Star Wars Battlefront II was a dream experience for fans. Getting in on the action in some of the biggest battles the franchise has ever seen and getting to play as everything from a random rebel to one of the series’ many Jedi Masters and Sith Lords is what we all wished for as kids and this game brought that to life.
Although it may not reach the heights of Suikoden II, Suikoden III is another worthy entry in the long-running franchise. The most impressive thing about Suikoden III was its mature story told in a unique way. You saw the events of the game through three different viewpoints, swapping between characters and being able to view events from multiple sides.
Tekken Tag Tournament
Depending on who you ask, Tekken is either still a great fighter or has been going downhill since the third installment in Namco’s fighting franchise. Yet, just about all fans can agree that the first Tekken Tag Tournament was just what the series needed to keep fans engaged. Tag team battles and a bunch of multiplayer minigames made for a tight fighter and oddly fun party game.
It’s true that beat ’em ups have come a long way since The Bouncer released on PS2, but at the time it was a great example of what could be. Its visuals were refined in a way that’s expected of Square and the combat was fun. While it did have its issues, there was no denying that popping this disc into your console would lead to a good time.
While so many studios were trying to be the next GTA, Team Soho was busy making a gritty, realistic look at London’s criminal underground and it was great. Combining challenging action segments with nail-biting driving sections, you had to work to get back at the gang that’s ruining your life.
The Mark of Kri
San Diego Studio has long been one of Sony’s best, and The Mark of Kri is just another instance of their exemplary work. A deep story and solid gameplay made owning a PS2 in 2002 a special experience.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run
No, this is not a joke entry, The Simpsons: Hit & Run is a seriously good video game and if you ever had a PS2 you needed this title. While many games have tried to copy GTA’s success, Radical Entertainment perfectly spoofed the popular series while bringing the Simpsons and all their friends perfectly into the gaming universe.
You may have noticed that there are a lot of Rockstar titles on this list, but they were truly on top of their game in the early 2000s. Tackling the classic film of the same name, Rockstar created a gritty world that was beautiful to look at while also capturing the despair of the film.
Time Crisis II
While it’s not as popular now as it used to be (though we’re hoping VR changes that), shooting at your screen during the PS2 era was the bees knees, and no game did it better than Time Crisis II. A cheesy story, great visuals, and rapidly blasting away at your TV with a GunCon 2 controller was a great way to spend your after-school hours.
TimeSplitters 2 is quite possibly the best shooter of its generation. Its art style stood out among the competition, it was one of, if not the, smoothest shooters on the PS2, and its multiplayer rivaled anything else on consoles. Although, it did lack online functionality.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
The Tony Hawk series was becoming a bit dull after four entries and it was time for Activision to mix things up. Enter Tony Hawk’s Underground and its sequel which let you create your own skater and go on a true adventure. Full of awesome competitions, tons of customization, and a world waiting to be tricked on and you have easily one of the best entries in the entire franchise. Now if only they decided to give us a third game…
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
What could be more fun than playing as a boomerang-wielding Tasmanian Tiger? Very little it turns out. Players are tasked with collecting magical talismans throughout the world in order to free the other Tasmanian Tigers. With a range of different boomerangs to use to your advantage and 16 different levels to fight your way through Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was a fun, albeit rather easy platformer and a hidden gem on the PS2.
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
Valkyrie Profile was a bit of a surprise hit for Square on the PS1, and Valkyrie Profile 2 functions on PS2 as a prequel. The story revolves around two characters, Silmeria and Alicia, trapped in the same body. The two must work together to stop a catastrophe that would cause a war between humans and gods. Valkyrie Profile 2 let players explore its world and towns much more than the first game, and featured an engaging and fast-paced combat system. It really just improved on everything the first Valkyrie Profile did, while translating the series into 3D.
Originally a GameCube exclusive, Viewtiful Joe was one of the best Capcom games of the PS2 era. It was fast, challenging, and downright entertaining as your screen lit up with various types of enemies and you pulled off sweet combos and abilities. Style was of the utmost importance with Joe pulling off absolutely “viewtiful” attacks to take down powerful foes. The PS2 version even let you play as Dante, Capcom’s first truly stylish protagonist.
Virtua Fighter 4
If you’re into really technical fighters then one of Virtua Fighters’ many entries may have crossed your screen over the years. Virtua Fighter 4 on PS2 maintained the precision fighting but was a bit more accessible for newcomers, while also reworking evades to be both more rewarding and punishing. It also got rid of the different stage designs from its predecessor to keep things fair at all times.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
The X-Men haven’t had the greatest track record with video games, especially in recent years. But, once upon a time, X-Men games were legitimately fun, such as the games on Sega Genesis or the amazing X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse which saw a release on PS2. You could create your own team by choosing from a respectable pool of options and their powers would work together to create new effects. Boss fights were epic and the multiplayer component was great. It’s no surprise that Activision decided to capitalize on the solid recipe to create Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
The Yakuza series is a truly special one. It combines a serious narrative with just the right amount of humor and tight action gameplay. The second entry on the PS2 brought more romance and a much-improved fighting engine which made for one of the best experiences of controlling Kiryu.