By Jerry Hrechka / March 6th, 2015
The PlayStation 2 has yet to be dethroned as the best-selling console ever made, but what were its best games? Herein lies one man’s opinion of what the best games were.
5: Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
This generation of consoles was an excellent one for horror games in general. Even excluding the PS2 and its phenomenal library, the GameCube alone had the remake of Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, and Resident Evil 4 (which was also on the PS2 but did not make the list due to the inferiority of the port). The PS2 also had no shortage of horror games, one of the the best being Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly. Featuring one of the most creative and immersive mechanics I’ve seen with the camera obscura, Fatal Frame manages to have its combat be fluid and fun while still being tense and frightening.
Story-wise, the game may seem sparse, depending on you picking up various records around the Lost Village. Plenty of horror writers have used this tactic to grant a level of ‘authenticity’ to their horror stories. However, the interactive element which requires you to piece together and figure out the horror of the situation yourself makes for a genuinely chilling storytelling experience.
It might be easy to dismiss the concepts of the game, both being based on an urban legend and for being about something as played out as ghosts. The garish ‘BASED ON A TRUE STORY!’ which marred the already ugly cover of the first game no doubt made horror fans scoff. The joke’s on them, because this game used the ethereal, distant abilities of ghosts to create tense scenes. Not only are the ghosts themselves horrifying, but the circumstances you learn about them makes their presence tragic, magnifying the horror. Such a great game being on the bottom of this list only speaks to the power of the PS2 library.
4: Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
Devil May Cry 3 is easily the best action game on the PS2. There’s a level of polish and precision put into this game that makes for a slick, intense, and satisfying game. There are plenty of imitators, such as God of War and Ninja Gaiden, but none of them achieve the depth and variety of combat. It’s truly tragic that Capcom has decided to abandon such a full experience for the Quick-time-event-heavy, setpiece-heavy generic game that is the reboot. It’s understandable that such a difficult game may be inaccessible to many players but the continual pushing out of intense, demanding game experiences from the high-profile game industry can only foretell of a poorer future.
Beyond its intense and peerless gameplay is the character of Dante. At its core, spectacle-based action games are about making you feel powerful and cool. While games like God of War and Ninja Gaiden certainly achieve the former, they rarely make one feel cool. Kratos’ dour scowl and juvenile bouts of rage make for a bleak, depressing world. Ryu himself might look cool, but exudes no personality whatsoever. Dante, on the other hand, is not only good on the eyes but full of a personality that pushes one idea: Being Dante is an absolute blast. Dante whoops and cheers as he fights. ‘This is what I live for!’ Dante cries at the end of the game before blasting away a ton of monsters. It’s that sheer joy that the game shares with you, letting you be in a world of bombastic over-the-top action, as happy to have you as you are to be there.
3: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. King Abaddon
Imagine if Pokemon were an action game where you fought alongside your Pokemon. Now imagine that instead of Pikachu and Charizard, you summoned gods from myth and legend. Now, imagine you’re a slick-looking private detective investigating twenties-era Japan. Now, imagine you’re close friends with Victor Frankenstein, who fuses demons together to create new ones for you. If those last four sentences didn’t get you excited for this game… well, I’m sure you’re a nice person but I don’t see how we can get past this difference.
Devil Summoner 2 isn’t just a cool concept though, it’s a huge JRPG that is brimming with dozens of enemies to fight and recruit, places to go, tons of sidequests, and a fantastic story that manages to be both epic and personal in scope. What starts out as a simple case of a missing person turns into a dangerous, world-sweeping event. Despite this escalation, all of it feels like a natural course of events and all these characters have good reason for doing what they’re doing. As a result, you’ll be faced with choices more complex than your usual ‘good or bad’ moral choices. Here the game gives you the question not of if you want to be good or bad, or whether one should work within a system despite its cruelties and problems or overthrow it and welcome that chaos for its more violent but potentially more fair world? It’s heavy stuff and while its a theme that many of the Shin Megami Tensei games have, this one reaches a level of intimate moral complexity very few stories of any medium does.
2: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Persona 3 is a game I’ve played four times and the ending has had me in tears every time. This speaks not only to my emotional instability but the power of the characters and ideas pushed by this game. Persona 3 is a game about the attachments people build. It’s a game about how difficult life is and how little things make the pain and the suffering worthwhile. It’s a game that is as much about saving yourself as it is about saving the world. The symbolism of the game isn’t subtle. You shoot yourself to summon monsters and the malady afflicting people is called the apathy syndrome. However, this works in the games favor. Persona 3 doesn’t fool around and lets you know exactly what it’s about.
Persona 3 is also the game that popularized the social link mechanic. You can see variations of it all over the place from other Shin Megami Tensei games to Danganronpa to Fire Emblem, but none of them have the synergy of gameplay and story as it is here, where both story and gameplay emphasize the power of human relationships as something that give us strength. So many games give you the power to kill, but Persona 3 is one of the very few that is about the power to live.
1: Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 isn’t just the best game on the PS2. It may very well be the best game made. I love Resident Evil and Fatal Frame and numerous other horror games, but none of them achieve a level of personal horror, of being alone with nothing but your own sins and demons to face. This game pushes its quiet, unsettling edge of stream-of-consciousness logic to the extreme.
The strongest games can turn their issues into a feature. The developers of these games looked at the limited processing power of the console and developed the fog which was not only a way to hide loading textures but also a way to make the game far more atmospheric and frightening. The awkward puzzles and dodgy combat also serve to make for us to become unsettled, to realize this isn’t quite the world you’re used to. Even the awkward voice acting emphasizes the off-kilter world we’re playing in. It’s also a gruesome, disturbing world, with imaginative, sickly-looking monsters as well as Pyramid Head back when he was still scary and not the Mickey Mouse-esque mascot for the franchise he’s devolved to. I don’t think I can ever possibly overstate the haunting and touching soundtrack of Akira Yamaoka if I tried.
Silent Hill 2 is a game that is starting to be recognized as one of the horror greats and for good reason. For all the games that have the word ‘Mature’ on the front, this game really does take a mature, downright depressing look at dark things that lie in the hearts of men. It’s the kind of game that many developers have tried to copy, that people have dissected inside and out, never to have created anything resembling its equal. Anyone with any interest in games or horror as an art form owes it to themselves to play this game.
Want to check out what other contributors think? Click here for the rest of the lists.
Devil May Cry 3Devil Summoner 2Fatal Frame 2Persona 3Playstation 2