The PS2 was the clear “winner” of its generation, and with good cause. Despite murdering my precious Dreamcast with mostly unfounded hype, it was home to a very wide range of games from huge and tiny developers alike. The PS2 embodied both the best of Western gaming and Japanese gaming and this balance is what, in my opinion, allowed it to so thoroughly whoop the competition.
Ace Combat 4 (Namco/2001) – Flying through the skies never felt so fun. The dog fights were intense, but the presentation was even better. The way the story was played out (with a nice anime look) was genius. I was generally surprised at how much effort Namco put into the story, especially for an arcade flight game.
Shadow of the Colossus (SCE/2005) – Awesome music, amazing story, and epic gameplay. It’s one of those games that you can watch someone else play and still have fun.
Final Fantasy X (Square/2001) – I loved the laid-back battle system for this entry in the Final Fantasy series. I was finally able to enjoy those random battles for once. The story, although seemingly by the books, was rife with wonderment and beauty. Also one of my favorite Nobuo Uematsu scores.
Silent Hill 2 (Konami/2001) – Although I played this game before the original, it was still the weirdest and freakiest game I’d ever played. The music, as well as the immense fog, really creep me out. And Pyramid Head will go down as the one of the coolest villains of all time. Best scene: the elevator game show where they name you as the contestant.
Dynasty Warriors 3 (KOEI/2001) – The series has stagnated since, but DW3 had varied, interesting maps, good music, and most importantly co-operative play. It solidified the “strategy beat-em-up” genre and made winning battles great fun. Playing with a friend keeps it fun despite the occasionally high difficulty.
Suikoden III/V (Konami/2002,2006)- Both of these games have refined the series’ traditional system while keeping the majority of its flair. Not only do they have fun battle systems and engaging characters, both are fairly long games.
Katamari Damacy (Namco/2004) – A great break from the usual game. Not much replay value, but it’s such a whimsical game that it’s hard not to get sucked back in every so often.
Backwards Compatibility! – Not a game per se, but probably the nicest feature of the PS2 is the huge backlog of PSX games it can also play, a major advantage over the other two systems.
Grand Theft Auto 3 (DMA Design/2001) – There were the sequels that were bigger, brasher, and had more famous names in them, but nothing ever captured that amazement that I first got when I played this game. This was truly what the PS2 was all about. It was GTA, apart from 3D, and a damn sight more freeform. Probably the most addicted I’ve ever been to a game, ever. It was truly what the PS2 was all about. It was GTA, apart from 3D, and a damn sight more freeform. Probably the most addicted I’ve ever been to a game, ever.
ICO (SCE/2001) – While the gameplay is probably not as good as its successor/prequel (?) This game did a better job of playing on archetypes and allowing the player to construct the story around the game’s loose framework. Puzzles were interesting, and fighting was as bad as it comes, but I felt this fit better with the rest of the game than a good fighting engine would have.
Psychonauts (Double Fine/2005) – An old fashioned collect – a – thon with outstanding graphics, and a clever and quirky style and story. Didn’t want this one to end even though I really did care about the characters and story and wanted to see what was going to happen.
Beyond Good and Evil (Ubisoft/2003) – Did everything really well, including racing scenes and sneaking sequences. The dynamic of being an investigative journalist/photographer was interesting enough to complement the solid fighting and creative story/world.
Katamari Damacy (Namco/2004) – Quirky and fun. Creative control scheme made me rethink what games should be and could do. Unique style reminded people (hopefully they continue to remember) that photorealism is not the be all and end all of graphics.
Final Fantasy X (Square/2001) – This just barely missed making the list for me. Overall it was good, and I really liked switching characters in and out of battle, but the plot was mostly nonsense and the fact that most monsters could only be attacked by certain characters made it seem as though the whole game was rock paper scissors with really nice graphics.
Culdcept (Omiya Soft/2003) — Magic + Monopoly = Orgasm. I may have put more hours into Culdcept than any other game (its only real competition being the 75 hours I put into Final Fantasy VII) and I don’t regret a minute of it. In fact, I may buy a 360 just to get the new Culdcept.
Gradius V (Treasure/2004) — I went into this game assuming it wouldn’t compare to Treasure’s other recent shooter, Ikaruga. Well, it does. It is a lot slower and less artsy, but the level design and sheer quality crammed onto the disc make it my second or third favorite shooter ever.
Devil May Cry (Capcom/2001) – After holding out on buying a PS2 for several years, this is the game that sold me on the console. Everything I had seen or played before for the system gave the impression that most PS2 games were lazy affairs, looking like cleaner Playstation games, and playing about as well. Devil May Cry offered a level of presentation, style, and playability that showed what a new generation of consoles could really do. Even if the third game plays better, I still go back ot this one more frequently. It has simple and elegant gameplay that still plays well, and the visuals hold up remarkably. Devil May Cry may not be one of the absolute best games on the PS2, but damn if it didn’t help usher in what the generation should be.
Shadow of the Colossus (SCE/2005) – Okay, so this one is a bit cliched to put on the list, but there’s a reason why. There were times in Shadow where I held on tighter onto the controller thinking that if I didn’t, my hero would fall. We’ll all hear about how a game made us cry, or took us by surprise, but how many of them have immersed you so much that you forgot that your real world actions aren’t going to translate into the game? This is a modern classic that everyone should at least take a look at (and for more reasons than I can write in this small space).
Metal Gear Solid 3 (Konami/2004) – I’m not going to rant and rave about how amazing or post-modern MGS3 is. There’s one simple reason why this game is on my list: In a series filled with confusing plots, strange dialogue and ridiculous twists, Snake Eater shows that Hideo Kojima can still have some fun, and in turn, so can we. This game is a giant Cold War spy thriller, equal parts dramatic and hilarious. You can be stealthy as easily as you can be Rambo, and the amount of freedom offered here is far and above other games in the series. MGS3 is an enigma in the Metal Gear universe, but for the general gaming population I think that is quite a good thing. Killing parrots has never been so fun before.