The 8 Ball 01.08.13: Top 8 PS2 RPGs
Welcome to another weekly installment of The 8 Ball games column. The topic this week is that of the top 8 Playstation 2-era RPG’s that came out. I’ve talked about a few of the games on this list in prior columns on the site, but I’ll do it again, anyhow. There is no real “definite” list of any top RPG’s for the PS2, mainly because there were just a lot of them, and people’s opinions are always different. If your favorite games aren’t listed, you may want to check below. In any case, let’s begin:
8. Kingdom Hearts 1
While Kingdom Hearts wasn’t the first Square-released RPG for the Playstation 2, it certainly felt a lot more fresh than the prior RPG that was released, which was Final Fantasy X. Kingdom Hearts struck a chord with a lot of people with its simple mechanics but a fun combat system, likable characters, and just the overall wonders of exploration. The mixture of classic Disney characters, with Final Fantasy characters, as well creating its own few original characters made the game popular with several different groups of people. The combat might not have been the deepest in the world, the Gummi ship stuff was largely garbage, and some of the areas were underwhelming, but Kingdom Hearts was still an experience to be had on the PS2. The game provided a sense of wonder and just general excitement that few RPG’s dare to even approach.
7. Suikoden 3
Suikoden 3 isn’t the best in the Suikoden series; that honor goes to Suikdoen 2. However, it is still an extremely capable RPG that has a lot going on within it. The most notable thing is the “Trinity system” which lets you choose between three different characters and see how the story progresses in each of their viewpoints. You have to go through each story to ultimately come to the conclusion of the game, so it forces you to try and see each side of the conflict that is happening in the world. Like in other Suikoden games, there are 108 “Stars of Destiny” (characters) to collect which provide you with new characters in your party, or give you improvements to your headquarters. The biggest knock against this game is the battle system took a step back. In the prior Suikoden games, you controlled each of the 6 in-party characters, independently. In this game, you only control the top 3 characters, with the bottom 3 characters being linked to them. It’s not a great system at all, and feels awkward and clumsy when you use it.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the tactical turn-based roleplaying game, but even I appreciate Disgaea. The story and the characters are the biggest draw for me actually, since everyone in the game is hilarious in their motivations. Laharal is always hilarious, as is Etna and her never-ending army of Prinnies that cater to her. The game has a solid tactical foundation though; with the square grid strategy focus that many tactical RPG’s use. The addition of the Dark Assembly adds another lair onto the game, with you having to try and sway them to your side as you create new characters or try and upgrade the in-game stores. The item world is also a nutty concept, wherein you can travel into your inventory items in order to do random battles and hopefully upgrade the item in question. Every 10 levels you face a boss and are given the chance of going down further (to reach the max 100th level), or else to go back into the real world.
5. Persona 4
I’m giving the slight nod over Persona 4 over Persona 3, just due to a few of the mechanical changes they made, and a slightly better story. Either Persona game is brilliant though, with Persona 3 having tons of Tara Platt voice acting and teenagers shooting themselves in the head with their Evokers. Persona 4 though was a more cohesive package, with better characters, a more emotionally resonant story, more things for you to do, and a better battle system. Persona 3’s battle system was weird because you only controlled your main character. Your other party members were on an AI system where they acted independently. You could guide their actions with a tactics system, but there were still instances of them screwing up and your party getting wiped out. In Persona 4, you just control your party members directly, which was a godsend. You also don’t get tired exploring the dungeons in Persona 4, which happened after a while in Persona 3, which was rather annoying. All in all, Persona 4 is a great roleplaying game for you to try out.
4. Kingdom Hearts 2
There are two Square games on this list, which is kind of a shocker. I think there are elements of KH2 that are better than the original, but also slightly worse. The worst thing about the game is just how convoluted the story got and how much of a mess Square made it. The beginning few hours when you’re playing as Roxas are kind of incomprehensible and the story only goes off the rails from there, in spectacular form. Aside from this issue, Kingdom Hearts 2 is a much better gameplaying experience. With the additions of the different battle suits, and opening up a few more characters for you to partner up with, as well as the Reaction Commands that are available in certain instances. You also get to visit Tron world, which was a lot of fun to see. Square also managed to fix the Gummi ship stuff which was nice of them. It’s just too bad Square hasn’t seen fit to do anything good with Kingdom Hearts in almost a decade. And no, none of those handheld games count. I’d kill for Kingdom Hearts 3 with Sora, Wolverine and Luke Skywalker running around.
3. Shadow Hearts Covenant
I like this game so much that I actually own two copies of it. I bought a used copy that didn’t work at all in my PS2, but did in a PS2 emulator. I then went out and grabbed another copy to have the same problem happen. After getting another PS2, the problem fixed itself. Shadow Hearts: Covenant is just a very deep, action-oriented rpg that is largely brilliant in what it aims to do. It’s a turn-based RPG set in World War 1 where the main character is a demon (in the form of a man), Yuri, has been weakened by an evil Russian with delusions of trying to take over the world. You and your motley crew, including a puppeteer who uses his female puppet in combat are all the stand in the way of the planet being taken over by Rasputin (and others). The Judgment Ring system returns from the original Shadow Hearts and is improved upon by letting you customize each area, making it easier or harder based on your own preference and skill. It’s flown under the radar a lot, especially with it being published by Midway (not exactly known for RPG’s), but it is a great game to check out.
2. Suikoden 5
The second to best Suikoden game makes it on the list just due to it being a great distillation of what a good Suikoden game, and a good roleplaying game is all about. It features the same concepts as previous Suikoden games, the Rune system, 108 characters for you to unlock, an upgrading castle, and so on, but everything felt better then in Suikoden 3 and Suikoden 4. The principle thing that returned was the classic 6-character battle system, where you could control everyone. It also had a great story that kind of turned some RPG conventions on their head with you being a prince that meant nothing; since it’s a “Queendom” you’re a member of. The story was expansive but well told, with some solid voice acting guiding it along. The only mis-step the game had was a problematic camera system at times. One instance had me scouring the castle for a door to trigger the next event for over an hour, before I stumbled upon that the camera’s perspective was hiding an entirely other side of the castle. It’s still a great Suikoden game to play, and unlike Suikoden 2, you can actually find it used for a decent price.
1. Shin Meami Tensei: Nocturne
Could any game be at the top of this list? No. Nocturne is not just the best PS2 RPG made; it’s one of the best RPG’s to have ever come out. The basic premise is that Tokyo/the World has been destroyed by a cataclysmic event and that demons are unleashed upon the landscape. Your character gets reborn as a half-demon “fiend” who is trying to find his friends, find out what caused the world to end, and to see if he can find a way to fix it. There are multiple ways to end the story, which drive a real reason for you to go through it multiple times. The battle system is akin to a Persona game, only you can gain and lose turns based on exploiting enemy affinities. If you attack a fire-weak demon with fire, you’ll gain an extra turn for doing so. The game has a haunted look to it, which adds to the desolate feeling, as well as the music. It is truly an amazing game and should be played by everyone. Plus, Dante is great in it.
Here’s a list of a few of the games that people will be outraged over, that aren’t currently on the list. I’m sure I’ll get to a few of these next week during the general roundup (notably, FFX which is a terrible game). Some of these I either haven’t played, don’t quite think measure up (compared to other games), or just think are awful games. Here it goes: Dark Cloud 2, Persona 3, Rogue Galaxy, Odin Sphere, Grim Grimoire, Front Mission 4, Jade Cocoon 2, Growlanser, Dragon Quest 8, any of the Xenosaga games, any of the other Shin Megami Games, and finally any of the Final Fantasy games.
Judging from some of the comments, there is some debate over what constitutes a Metroidvania game over an action/adventure type of game. I tend to classify Zelda as a Metroidvania, but not something like Mario 64 or Kirby. The difference between Zelda and Mario is there being a world to really explore (that has stuff to do in it), as well as upgrades. Aside from the caps, you don’t pick up any upgrades in Mario 64 at all. That’s where I tend to draw the distinction, at least. And Shadow Complex is still an amazing game.
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