Upon its release in 2000, the PlayStation 2 quickly became one of the best gaming consoles of all time. By 2019, if you prefer PS4 over XB1, it’s probably because of the exclusive titles: Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, or The Last of Us. Even as far back as the PS2 era, the platform was home to many incredible games. Looking back, here are 12 of our top favorites:
Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King
A role-playing video game developed by Level-5 and published by Square Enix, Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King is the first in the series to have fully three-dimensional cel-shaded visuals, and a huge game world for the player to explore. The nostalgic, simple gameplay and choice to star fewer characters allowed for players to become genuinely invested in their journey. As far as gameplay is concerned, the randomly-occurring battles are reminiscent of Final Fantasy, and would set the stage for turn-based combat for many titles to come.
Okami is a true visual delight. A Zelda-inspired adventure game in which you play as the wolf god Amaterasu, you traverse your way through a lush cel-shaded landscape of feudal Japan to save the Earth from the rebirth of wicked gods. You can’t get much more epic than that. Clover Studio created a uniquely picturesque twist on the traditional open world fantasy game, where broad visual strokes accompany memorable puzzles and boss battles. The game’s since been remastered for Xbox One, PS4, and Switch, meaning that even if you don’t currently own a PS2, you can experience the adventure!
Final Fantasy X
There’s hardly a ‘top games’ list that doesn’t include Final Fantasy somewhere, and Final Fantasy X was one of the real outstanding achievements of the PS2. Even today, the graphics still look good, and the strategic turn-based combat remains fresh and compelling. Final Fantasy X continued the long-standing tradition of combining magic and science, a blend that few other game series (save Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura or perhaps the Bioshock series) have accomplished. Even though we had to put up with Tidus and Wakka, we still look back on this title fondly. If you haven’t tried this one, we promise it’s worth a look.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
By 2003, Prince of Persia wasn’t on anybody’s mind. You were either repressing Prince of Persia 3D from your mind, or reminiscing the days of the prior two entries in the series. As such, Sands of Time really came out of nowhere. Exploration-based platforming, precise controls, a strong plot, and an innovative rewind function, Jordan Mechner easily proved that he and Ubisoft were a creative force to be reckoned with.
Silent Hill 2
Of the eight games in the Silent Hill series, Silent Hill 2 stands out for being the one that best achieves what it set out to do: thoroughly scar the player with psychological horror and nightmarish imagery. It doesn’t go for the cheap jump scares, but for deeper, more impactful, and more intelligent themes: Mental illness, personal guilt, child abuse, and misogyny. Was that real? Was it all in your head? Either way, you won’t come back the same.
God of War 2
God of War set the stage the now-famous Kratos – the god-killing, testosterone-packed hero who tackles Olympus and raises a son in his spare time. Kratos picks his Blades of Chaos back up in God of War 2, leading the action-adventure genre charge with larger, gorier, fiercer and better-looking visuals – even on the then-aging PS2. If you’re a fan of Greek mythology you’ll love this game. If you love taking to Greek mythology’s best monsters with a sharp blade while soaring on wings that you stole from Icarus, you’ll love it even more.
Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus starts you off in an empty world. There’s little living, there’s little dialogue. You’ve only your trusty sword, a steed, and a task: Destroy 16 colossi to resurrect Mono. In a narrative that’s sparse and tragic, the world does much of the story-telling for you. Travel long distances, watch the plot slowly build around you, and The fights are not just simple button-mashers, either; they’re puzzles to be solved. Shadow of the Colossus has gone down as one of the greatest games to ever grace the PS2, and it’s a title that every gamer should play at least once.
Resident Evil 4
Silent Hill 2’s horror was psychological. Resident Evil 4‘s horror is more what you’d classically expect in a video game: Run-and-gun shooting, creepy cultists, limited ammo, tough bosses, and of course more zombies than you can shake a big chainsaw at. The game isn’t really “scary,” per se, it’s an extremely fun romp through traditional horror set pieces, non-linear maps, and a priority of gameplay over needless jump scares. RE4 was a huge influence for every third-person shooter that followed it, and few have matched it.
While there are many amazing games for the PS2, Kingdom Hearts is usually the reason you’d buy one in the first place. You can pilot gummi ships to ferry between worlds, each of which is unique and interesting, and if you’re a fan of JRPGs then you should own this game. No exceptions. All that, and we’re not even scratching the surface of why this game is so memorable: They combined Final Fantasy and Disney and somehow made it work, and work well. That’s an achievement … if you can get past the oddball absurdity of embarking on an adventure with Donald Duck and Goofy.
There’s not a gamer out there unfamiliar with Guitar Hero. Heck, there was even a “South Park” episode about it. Guitar Hero was the genre-defining rhythm game that spawned numerous offshoots, such as Rock Band, DJ Hero, and Ultimate Band. With five colored buttons and a potpourri of classic tracks, inviting over a friend or two and working to master a song made you feel like a real rock star.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
What can be said of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater? The game is another Hideo Kojima masterpiece (maybe even his best work) that stars Naked Snake (soon to be Big Boss) on the journey that sets him on the path of darkness. You’ll battle the Cobra Unit, sneak through the soldier-infested jungles and mangroves of Russia, destroy super weapons, and finally take on the legendary Boss herself in an emotional showdown that still brings a tear to our eye. The title moves the action from urban environments to the forest, forcing you to use camouflage to hide in plain sight, heal your wounds with a field pack, and hunt animals to survive. There’s content galore, and Konami’s really at the top of their game with this masterpiece. One of the best titles for PS2, and one of the best titles ever.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
GTA 3 was a huge innovation, and Vice City did all those innovations better, but it was San Andreas that widened the scope to jaw-dropping effect. Carl Johnson starts off as a no-name thug in a petty turf war in Los Santos, but rises through the game as a man with a family, a personality, and a real destiny. By the time you’re busting into Area 51 to steal a jetpack for the CIA you’ll have to take a step back and think how far you’ve come. With a vast area to explore, gang wars to quell, and sports cars to steal for joyriding, San Andreas sold over 27.5 million copies worldwide as of 2011, and remains the best-selling PlayStation 2 game of all time.
Agree with our list? Let us know your favorite PS2 game in the comments below, and we’ll see you online!