The 15 Best JRPGs Of The PS2 Era
If the PS1 represented the golden era for J-RPG fans, the PS2 was the rare sequel that was just as good as the original. From the system’s beginnings in 2000 until the PS3 finally took its place in 2006, the PS2 cranked out classic title after title.
Publishers like Square Enix, Konami, and others not only managed to produce sequels to beloved PS1 franchises like Final Fantasy or Suikoden, but we also got to see the rise of newer franchises as well. Again, this is an era someone could get lost in if they weren’t careful, so this list exists to point out the fifteen best J-RPGs of the PS2 era, to give both experienced and novice J-RPG fans the perfect checklist.
Updated January 18, 2021 by Thomas Bowen: Not only has the JRPG genre provided us with a plethora of top titles, but it has also helped to shape and influence the direction of many modern Western RPGs. The late nineties and early two thousands marked a period during which the genre was starting to make the leap from 2D to 3D graphics, with full voice-acting also working its way towards becoming standard. Without these seminal titles, the landscape of modern gaming would likely look very different than it does today.
15 Suikoden V
Despite Suikoden losing its series creator after the third installment, some still regard Suikoden V as the best Suikoden title ever. It manages to make up for the mistakes of the fourth game, while also improving on other aspects like graphics and character development.
Players take on the role of the Prince of Falena, a matriarchal queendom which is gradually beginning to be torn apart thanks to the machinations of royals acting behind the scenes. Eventually, the Prince finds himself cast out of the kingdom and forced to assemble his own army to take his land back for the sake of his sister, the next Queen.
14 Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time
Once a generation, tri-ace manages to bring out a Star Ocean title. This time around, the game focused on Fayt Leingod, the son of a famous scientist. Fayt was enjoying a peaceful vacation until an alien race known as the Vendeeni cause him to hastily abandon the vacation planet, sending him on an adventure across the stars.
Though not quite as perfect as its predecessor, Star Ocean 3 is still a fantastic game, working at a much larger scale than the previous games. Players are able to travel between multiple planets on their way to figuring out just what’s declared war on the Pangalactic Federation. Though the ending has raised the ire of numerous fans in the past, it’s not enough to put a blemish on this classic.
13 Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
The Shin Megami Tensai series didn’t really make much of an impression in the west until fairly recently. Well, at least not when compared to other huge JRPG franchises, that is. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is the third entry in the mainline series and one of the very best pre-Persona games developed by Atlas.
Some of the environments could perhaps have done with a bit more work, but, other than that, it really is a fantastic title. Each of the game’s characters have interesting personalities and designs and gameplay is both tight and challenging without ever feeling unfair. Its biggest asset is its story though, which is well presented and remains gripping throughout.
12 Rogue Galaxy
Jaster Rogue was a simple boy living on the planet Rosa when a pair of space pirates invite him onto their ship believing he’s the legendary Desert Claw they’re searching for. Though Jaster certainly isn’t the so-called Desert Claw, after being pulled onto the ship the Dorgenark he winds up involved in a massive galactic conflict, learning his true destiny is something far greater.
Like many of Level-5’s games, you don’t buy Rogue Galaxy for its plotline, as it’s pretty barebones. But the enjoyable action-focused combat, unique way of leveling up characters, fun side quests, and mini-games make it one of the most solid games on the PS2.
11 Xenosaga Episode I
A spiritual successor to his legendary Xenogears game, director Tetsuya Takahashi decided to leave behind the confines of a single planet for something significantly more science fiction influenced. Shion Uzuki is an employee of Vector Industries battling against the alien Gnosis, who – alongside the android KOS-MOS – is pulled into a completely different mystery over the course of three other titles.
If there’s one flaw that holds this game back, it sometimes feels more like a film than a game, boasting cutscenes so long they need save points in between. Nonetheless, the first Xenosaga is still a great first part to a great, if slightly convoluted, trilogy.
10 Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness
Disgaea is another one of those Japanese franchises that hasn’t received too much love in the west until fairly recently, but its very first entry is every bit as good as those modern offerings; if not better. Its creative approach to game design would go on to become one of the series’ defining traits; as too would its fantastic character designs and wicked sense of humor.
Not many people picked this one up when it first released, but thanks to a string of enhanced ports and remasters, it’s never been more accessible and is finally starting to receive some of the love and recognition that it deserves. With the series’s sixth entry releasing in the west later this year, there’s never been a better time to give it a try.
9 Shadow Hearts: Covenant
One of the odder games to come out during the PS2 era, Shadow Hearts: Covenant was set in the early 1900s in an alternate universe version of World War I. During that time, German lieutenant Karin Koenig meets up with Yuri, the protagonist from the original Shadow Hearts, and a group of other warriors who wind up facing off against a secret society who turns out to be behind the Great War.
Nearly everything about Covenant made it stand out as unique among other JRPGs at the time. It drew on both a time period (the 1900s) and setting (Eurasia) that no other game was even thinking about, and also leaned into the occult and supernatural, making for an experience unlike any other.
8 Kingdom Hearts
Not even Square Enix can escape the mouse. In 2002, Square and Disney teamed up to release Kingdom Hearts. The action-RPG combined some of Square’s own original characters – Sora, Riku, and Kairi – with some of Disney’s most famous characters from their animated films as well as classic Disney heroes like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.
Not only that, as players explored other worlds, they would also come to meet Final Fantasy characters. Cloud, Squall, Tidus, and many more make an appearance, pushing this firmly into the realm of dream crossovers for kids who grew up fans of Disney’s movies and entered their early teen years playing Final Fantasy titles.
7 Suikoden III
Suikoden director Yoshitaka Murayama pushed the experimental nature of his series even further with the game’s third installment and first appearance on the PS2. As ever, the nature of Suikoden titles doesn’t put the fate of the world on the line. Instead, it becomes about a separate area of the world we’d seen already, the Grasslands, and the people who sought to control them, as well as the story of the Runes, the sources of magic in the Suikoden world.
What made this game special is it actually has three different lead characters, and the story switches point of views between them, making it a perfect game for players willing to pay attention to the narrative it was weaving.
6 Kingdom Hearts II
For as great as the original Kingdom Hearts game was, it had its fair share of teething problems when it came to narrative structure and combat. It’s here that the team at Square Enix seems to have devoted the bulk of their attention; and it really shows in the final game.
Kingdom Hearts II is bigger and better than its predecessor in almost every way and helped to cement the series’ place as one of the developer’s most popular franchises. The overarching narrative may be impossible to follow for most, but the Kingdom Hearts games remain incredibly enjoyable to this day thanks to their intuitive gameplay and lovable characters. Much of that can be traced back to right here.
5 Dark Chronicle
Also known as Dark Cloud 2 in the states, Dark Chronicle is the spiritual successor to Level-5’s cult classic title Dark Cloud, which released for the PS2 in 2000. It followed just two years later and won numerous awards for its excellence despite not selling anywhere near as well as its predecessor.
In the game, players take control of two protagonists as they embark upon a quest to stop the evil Emperor Griffon from destroying the planet. The combat system is incredibly innovative for the era, as too are the game’s customization and weapon enhancement features. This innovation is supported by some great writing and stunning visuals, which together make for a truly wonderful game.
4 Dragon Quest VIII: Journey Of The Cursed King
Level-5 was tasked with developing on Square’s prized franchises for its sole PS2 outing. When the kingdom of Trodain is placed under a spell by an ancient scepter, it’s up to the lead character, a “simple” guard, and a handful of people he collects along the way to defeat the jester Dhoulmagus and bring the kingdom back to normal.
This title brings the world of Dragon Quest into the realm of 3D, using cel-shaded environments and characters to create a beautiful world for players to explore. Seen as one of the strongest entries in the Dragon Quest franchise, the game was a massive success for everyone involved, becoming the best selling PS2 game in Japan.
3 Persona 4
Atlus catapulted itself into the spotlight with the fourth installment of their Persona series. Playing as an unnamed character that winds up in the Japanese countryside, players have to investigate the strange city they’ve found themselves in, all while tending to the mysterious Persona powers they have.
The game’s simulation elements add an additional layer of role-playing, limiting actions to certain times of day to keep up the feeling of actually being a high-schooler. Despite releasing well into the following generation, this title captured the attention of J-RPG gamers everywhere thanks to both the simulation aspects as well as the world and cast, resulting in incredible sales and making Persona one of the strongest remaining J-RPG franchises left in the new HD world that came after.
2 Final Fantasy XII
Director Hiroyuki Ito and writer Yasumi Matsuno teamed up to bring us back to the world of Ivalice for Final Fantasy XII, the last time the franchise would be on PlayStation 2. The series sees Vaan, a young boy with dreams of being a grand sky pirate adventurer, team up with Ashe, a young princess seeking to protect her kingdom in the midst of a grand war between two far larger armies.
This game was massive, easily something players could sink over a hundred hours in if they chose thanks to the length of the story and size of the world. Plus, the game was addictive, as its License system gave players absolute control over how they wanted each member to be developed, while the Gambit system gave them total authority over how their AI companions play. This game was so forward-thinking, long-time Final Fantasy fans still long to see what could happen if these two creators teamed up again.
1 Final Fantasy X
Seen by many as the high-point of the series, Final Fantasy X was the first mainline Final Fantasy game to be released on the PS2 and features some of the best storytelling in the series. Its fantastic cast of characters are really well developed and the refinements made to the combat system helped to make the game feel truly next-gen.
As well as its engrossing story, the game also features a plethora of mini-games and end game content which help to pad out playtime without ever feeling too grindy or pointless. What’s more, its soundtrack is arguably the franchise’s very best with great tracks like To Zanarkand and Hymn of the Fayth providing the perfect accompaniment to its top-notch gameplay.
NEXT: Final Fantasy: 10 Most Badass Female Characters, Ranked
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