Top Ten Tuesday 33

My Top Ten Playstation 2 Games

Disclaimer: There are many top ten lists but this one is mine, if you think a game is missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I just hate you.


Pre-List Notes

If you've been following my blog you might realize I sneak in a top ten list about once a month for each console I've owned, and I completely skipped over the original Playstation. While some of my favorite games reside on the PSOne, I acquired one literally months before getting a PS2, very late in its cycle (after having played many PSOne games on a PC emulator, as was the style at the time) and only played about seven or eight games total. If you're curious, my top three PSOne games are Suikoden II, Chrono Cross, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

The Playstation 2 is a strange console to make a list for, due to the sheer volume and variety in its gaming library. I received the system my freshman year of college in 2002, having already grown disappointed with my GameCube. It was also a time that I was introduced to high-speed, always on internet and becoming more absorbed into the wondrous world of online PC gaming; so while I didn't enjoy a huge amount of PS2 games, I still had my die hard favorites.


Top Ten PS2 Games


10) Suikoden III

I was crazy excited for this sequel to one of my all time favorite RPGs, and Suikoden III was one of three games that caused me to NEED a PS2 (all three games make this list). Although I was ultimately disappointed with the follow-up (though not enough to make this list) that was more because of how infatuated I was with Suikoden II, as the third game remains a fun and capable title in the series, introducing a clever Trinity system that gives you three different protagonist to switch between throughout the first half of the story. A fun battle system that saw a return of the runes, an epic story filled with war and prophecy, and the elements of a Suikoden game I love with building up your own castle and collecting over a hundred allies to fight and work for you made Suikoden III an early PS2 classic.



9) War of the Monsters

When it comes to fighting games I almost exclusively stick to the 3rd person or 2D arena style battle games like the Smash Bros series. A game that really came out of nowhere for me was one such game that pit you as a giant monster in various cityscapes battling other giant monsters with a very old school 50s sci-fi retro theme. The fighting wasn't all that refined but the levels were fairly gigantic relative to the creatures' size, giving you a ton of freedom to scale buildings, survey your surroundings, and pick up and use various objects as weapons. Up to four players could battle it out in multiplayer, and a very 1950s aliens and giant monsters single player campaign was available complete with giant boss battles. It was an incredibly fun game that I sunk dozens of hours into unlocking new skins for each character and the characters were wildly inventive enough that I had fun playing as just about everyone.



8) Amplitude

Before Harmonix hit it big with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises they made a pair of lesser known but crazy fun rhythm games called Frequency and its more mainstream sequel Amplitude. Both games have nearly identical gameplay with players navigating a track as the music plays and switching between different elements such as drums, guitar, and vocals on the fly. It was nothing like anything I'd ever played before, and the techno heavy soundtrack in Frequency gave way to a more pop friendly recognizable song list in Amplitude. To this day Amplitude remains the only game I've ever bought back years later after trading it in just to relive the magic.



7) Shadow Hearts: Covenant

I remember a post on Penny Arcade that I'm not going to bother searching for but which accurately described this sequel to Shadow Hearts as including a gay vampire wrestler character who collects gay porn. This was a unique case where I was intrigued enough by an odd JRPG that took place during World War I and included the usual demon enemies and crazy story and cast of characters typical in the genre that I actually bought Shadow Hearts and the Covenant sequel and played both back to back. The original was fairly forgettable but the sequel added just the right amount of crazy to make it truly memorable, with an odd combination of real world European locations and demon morphing heroes, a fun action-oriented turn based combat system, and aforementioned hilarious vampire wrestlers.

Interesting tidbit - I finally acquired the third game in the series, From the New World, so late in the PS2 lifecycle that it remained unfinished when my PS2 was unceremoniously bumped from living room to office to make room for the new consoles, and I've yet to touch my PS2 since.



6) Suikoden V

Suikoden III might've helped motivate me to get a PS2, but it was not the amazing sequel I was hoping for. The fourth game in the series came and went with poor reviews, and I opted to skip it entirely while worried about the fate of one of my favorite JRPG franchises. Thankfully a fifth entry was finally released in 2006 and the previews and reviews said all the right things - it was a return to Suikoden glory and everything I loved about the series. I picked it up and played through it start to finish over the Summer and loved every minute, and while I'm upset that this is still the last true entry in the series, I'm happy at least that it's seemingly ended on a strong note, even if it was a prequel along with Suikoden IV.



5) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Grand Theft Auto 3 was released the year before I would get a PS2, but thankfully came out for PC just a few months later. I devoured the game after reading all the reviews about this crazy new open world gameplay, and when a sequel was announced that took place in the 80s, well, then you have game #2 that served as my primary PS2 motivation. Vice City gave me everything I wanted in another GTA title with a great crime-filled story heavily influenced by 80s classics Scarface and Vice City. Riding motorcycles, entering buildings, a fully voiced protagonist by the amazing Ray Liotta, and an insanely amazing soundtrack that started me down a path of 80s music love from which I've still yet to emerge will always make Vice City one of my favorite PS2 games.



4) Kingdom Hearts

The third and final game of the Big Three that was my starter pack of the system, Kingdom Hearts was a unique game that had a crazy formula for success - combine the confusing story of a JRPG and coming of age tale, 3rd person action combat typically not seen in an RPG, and the wide universe of Disney properties including locations and characters from decades of familiar films and television. The result was a captivating game that captured the hearts of many a gamer with its child-like (but also universally resonating) tale of good and evil, friendship and betrayal, and just about every awesome Disney scene and character you could want. Sora and the keyblade traveled to the lands of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and more with his faithful companions Goofy and Donald and enlisting the aid of various familiar faces in each location. While the sequel leaned so heavily into the utterly confusing story that I never could finish it, the journey through Disney with a fun combat and RPG system laid on top was an incredible ride that remains one of the brightest highlights of the entire PS2 library.



3) Burnout 3: Takedown

I've never been a huge racing game fan, nor a big car guy in general. I was a huge fan of Carmageddon back in the day, thanks to the freedom to go off track and basically do what you wanted during a race (side note: super excited to see its return after a successful Kickstarter campaign). For consoles I am completely satisfied with my slavish devotion to a single racing franchise - Burnout. Having played each game in the series since the beginning, Burnout eschews realism for action movie adrenaline-pumping speed, and its trademark slow motion crashes have never ceased to be utterly enjoyable. Burnout 3: Takedown, the first in the series I played on the PS2, propelled the series from a fun racing game with a unique twist to an awesome franchise that became one of the most well known and fun racing experiences on the console. New modes like Road Rage brought back so much of what I loved about Carmageddon - wrecking your opponents - while maintaining the crazy speed and high risk gameplay of the Burnout series. It was all topped off with a huge soundtrack of licensed pop and rock music that blended perfectly with the action on scene.

Fun Fact - I requested the signature title song for the game, "Lazy Generation" by the F-Ups, to be played during the "friends" montage of our wedding video several years ago.



2) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

For years I had believed Vice City to be my favorite of the PS2 GTAs, but the more I thought about it, the higher San Andreas went on my list. The timing couldn't have been more perfect - it was my last year in the dorm rooms, and my roommate was a huge horse racing and gambling fanatic, playing the dinky little horse racing minigame for hours at a time. I had $99,999,999 well before I ever beat the game - which to give you perspective, you receive $1 million as a reward for beating it - and we had a ton of crazy stupid fun with the limited two player co-op (so much so that it was one of my Top Ten GTA Moments). But on top of all that, San Andreas was a great game that built upon everything the GTA series had brought us while giving us a ton of new player mechanics like fully customizing protagonist CJ by working out to build muscle, or eating tons of fast food to make him a walking heart attack. The story ranged from small town hood and gangster life up to big city mob work and a corrupt cop voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. San Andreas also boasted the best area to explore of all the GTAs I've played (before and since) with multiple cities and countryside to traverse, and I'm super excited to see this finally get recreated in the next big GTA game, Grand Theft Auto V.



1) Guitar Hero II

If you know me, you might've guessed a Guitar Hero game would make it on the list, but even I was surprised that I gave Guitar Hero II the coveted #1 spot as my favorite PS2 game. I was utterly fascinated with that little plastic guitar and the gameplay with Guitar Hero, and Harmonix offered up the perfect sequel a year later that I went out and bought it right on release day. Like San Andreas it was also perfect timing - now we were living in an apartment off campus and playing Guitar Hero just about every damn day. When the sequel came out I'm pretty sure it was just about the only console game I played for months afterward. With an expanded and amazing song selection, and most importantly the ability for two players to play both bass and guitar in multiplayer, GH2 hit all the right notes (zing). I bought almost every iteration since then but we all know what happened to the poor rhythm game genre that fell just as fast as it rose. Someday hopefully we'll see a revival that acts as the next logical evolution that started with Frequency and ended with Rock Band, but for now those way too fun little guitar controllers will reside in a place of honor in our garages, in our closets, and in our hearts.



Wrap Up

No God of War? Metal Gear Solid? Devil May Cry? Final Fantasy? Console gaming got away from me for much of the mid 2000s, and I passed over a lot of popular franchises, while doubling down on others like Grand Theft Auto and Suikoden. Many popular PS2 games I actually ended up playing on PC, like Grand Theft Auto III and Psychonauts, and wouldn't have felt right ranking them here.

I recognize this is one of my more personal lists and for that reason I won't broach any arguments and naysayers. Most likely if your favorite games aren't here I simply never played them, but hopefully with HD remakes and digital downloads maybe someday I can give them a chance.