Adieu, Playstation 2 – Mark B.

With no new titles in development on scheduled for publication in 2011, we can now officially declare Sony’s Playstation 2 dead. It becomes one of the longest lasting systems of all time, outlasted only by things like the Neo*Geo and its original arch-rival, the Sega Dreamcast (which still has games on tap for 2k11). To celebrate the life of the Playstation 2, a different Diehard GameFAN staff member will be presenting their list of their ten favorite games for the PS2.

1.) Persona 4
2.) God Hand
3.) Melty Blood: Actress Again
4.) Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land
5.) Gungrave
6.) Fire Pro Wrestling Returns
7.) R-Type Final
8.) Namco X Capcom
9.) Disaster Report
10.) Rez

So, if it wasn’t immediately apparent, I like weird Japanese games. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my fair share of more mainstream titles, both Japanese and US created, nor is that to say that these were the “best” games I played on the system, but when I remember my time with the Playstation 2, these are the games that immediately stand out as the games I found to be the most interesting or enjoyable. I had to whittle a lot of games off of my initial list, either because they simply didn’t inspire the same feelings in me as my top ten or because they didn’t hold up well in retrospect. For example, Monster Hunter is one of my favorite franchises coming out of Japan right now, but the PS2 release never really connected with me as much as the PSP games did. Shadow Hearts is one of my favorite PS2 RPG’s, but the sequel left a lot to be desired plot-wise, to the point where despite having owned the third game for something like five years now, I still have no interest in actually playing it, which unfortunately negatively affects my opinion of the first game as a result. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is the most impressive game of its series I’ve played relative to when it came out, but it’s archaic in a lot of respects and kind of hurts my feelings when the game one-shots my main character while I’m grinding. Shadow of the Colossus is artistically beautiful, but I never want to fight the final boss ever again. Shadow Tower: Abyss likely would have made the list, had Sony not killed the game’s US release and left me following a translation guide to make any progress at all. Frequency and Amplitude were both great examples of what Harmonix was capable of as a developer, but neither has held up especially well in retrospect. Armored Core: Nexus is one of my favorites in the series, Yakuza is the starting point of one of Sega’s best modern franchises, Sakura Wars V was a fantastic way to end a franchise I wish we’d seen more of, and Growlanser Generations was a solid swan song for Working Designs shortly before Sony murdered them in their sleep, but none of them really springs to mind in the same way as my top ten, either because the games in said list were so fantastic as to bring me a surprising amount of joy relative to my three decades on this Earth, or because I am very strange. Take your pick.

#10 Rez
Publisher: Sega
Developer: UGA
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: 01/07/2002

As a game, Rez isn’t especially exciting. It’s basically Panzer Dragoon in a wireframe universe with a techno soundtrack, and even if that sort of concept “speaks” to you, it’s not so great a concept that it sells what is essentially a fairly short game otherwise. But as Robert Brockway has so eloquently argued, Rez is one of those rare “games as art” experiences that manages to transcend its obvious concept in a fashion that makes it notable not because of what it does, but because of what it wants to do. Rez is a fairly interesting digital simulation of synesthesia, a neurological condition where the sufferer might perceive things, such as numbers or sounds, as having a color or personality, among many, many other things, and this is something that the game attempts to replicate. By interacting with the game world, normally by shooting down enemies, you in turn change the visual elements of the world itself as well as the tempo of the music, which in turn also influences the vibration of the controller, making the game something of a multi-sensory experience that goes beyond simply playing a video game. Is it something that everyone is going to enjoy? Hell no. Someone who isn’t interested in the artistic concept of the game, or who doesn’t really see and understand what the game is trying to do, isn’t going to have much use for the game unless they like arcade style shooters, but that’s hardly a problem. At the end of the day, Rez is, to me, significant for what its creator tried to do, and continues to try to do with games like Lumines and Child of Eden and musical endeavors like Genki Rockets, and because of that, I find the game memorable enough that it merits a spot in my top ten.

Also, I imported the Trance Vibrator, so the idea of some day finding a girl nerdy enough to want to use it in the fashion the internet has decreed it be used is somewhere on my list of “things I’d like to do before I die”, so there’s that.

#9 Disaster Report
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: Irem
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 02/15/2003

So, true story: way back when several of the folks who presently comprise Diehard GameFAN made up the staff of 411 Games, I was part of the writing staff over there for about a year, and no one really noticed. In fairness, it was my first writing gig and I was AMAZINGLY bad at it, to a level where Bebito Jackson, who is likely the only person who actually remembers what I wrote all those years ago, informed me that I sucked out loud, but I had fun writing the six or seven reviews I wrote over there, so I have no regrets. The very last review I ever wrote, which, amusingly enough, was the only review Bebito ever actually read of mine that he didn’t completely hate, was for a little known game called Disaster Report that most of you have likely only experienced in any way because Penny Arcade made a comic about it. It is, put simply, an immensely obscure survival horror game based around the idea that you’re trying to survive, not zombies, not demons, not aliens, but natural disasters and the consequences thereof. The whole game plays into this concept, in fact, from the fact that the “enemies” are falling buildings, floods and debris to the fact that you have to drink water to keep your character in decent health (as dehydration due to exertion is a serious concern), and the whole game is incredibly innovative in its approach and design, even if the game is mechanically similar to other games in the genre. I mean, it’s still somewhat goofy in practice, as you can acquire different accessories for your character while wandering around trying not to get crushed by falling skyscrapers, and there is only one section of the game where you’re asked to fight an actual enemy (that I can recall, anyway), so it’s quite unconventional and likely to be a game that’s not for everyone, but I loved the game and its sequel Raw Danger because of that, and because of the fact that these sorts of games simply aren’t common. Hell, except for Ubisoft’s I Am Alive, it’s nearly impossible to think of anything that tries to do what Disaster Report did, let alone as well as the game pulled it off, and that, if nothing else, is why I remember it so fondly as to include it here.

#8 Namco X Capcom
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Monolith
Genre: Strategy/RPG
Release Date: 05/26/2005 (Japan)

I’ve been importing games off and on since the Sega Saturn, back when EB started experimenting with selling import titles and I managed to acquire a 4MB RAM Cart and King of Fighters “Ëœ97 for the system, so I’ve gotten used to the idea of playing great video games that non-importers scratch their heads about. That said, Namco X Capcom is one of those rare Japan-only games that has made the rounds through the US market, mostly because it’s a team-up game between two companies who are fairly notable that features all sorts of crazy teams of characters fighting each other, and it is awesome. Now, granted, it’s hardly a perfect game, and between it being a strategy RPG and 2D to boot, I can see why Namco might not have wanted to bring it to the US for fear of it tanking, but by the same token, for anyone who’s a fan of Namco and Capcom, it’s a great product, both as a game and as a fan service piece. Characters from all different franchises pop up in the game, from the more notable Tekken and Street Fighter sorts of games to the somewhat more obscure Captain Commando and Tower of Druaga, so both casual and hardcore fans get some serious fan service out of it right from the get go. Further, the game features all kinds of obvious signature attacks and crazy-ass combination moves of various shapes and sizes, and the actual gameplay is simple enough that anyone can really figure out how it works and play the game with little learning time. I’d love to see the game get some sort of a US release, especially in the wake of Street Fighter X Tekken/Tekken X Street Fighter, perhaps on some variant of the PSP or the various console arcade services, but there is a translation patch out there in the world for the enterprising gamer who has an import friendly PS2 at least, and while the translation patch isn’t perfect, it’s free, and it’s good enough that I’m infinitely grateful for its existence.

#7 R-Type Final
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Irem
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: 02/03/2004

It’s funny… I tend to prefer shooters that allow for two-player co-op play in all cases, but when thinking about my favorite PS2 games, given the choice between Gradius V and R-Type Final, the latter struck me as the game I had the most fun with of the two. I mean, Gradius V is a fun game, and Treasure sure as hell knows how to make an enjoyable shooter, but R-Type Final was presented as the culmination of decades of work on the franchise as well as a strong ending point for the series, and for reasons I cannot even begin to properly express, knowing that as I went in, I felt like it paid that intent off nicely. There are one hundred and one ships in the game, for one thing, be they various different versions of ships from the series, ships named for other Irem games, or original ships entirely, and each has a unique weapon loadout and design. There are branching paths through the storyline, depending on how you handle different stages, and multiple endings that come up as a result of this, and each of which is, in its own way, satisfying. The game plays great, even after all this time, and the aesthetics of the experience are still exciting, both because of the visual and aural presentation of the game and because of all of the elements that pop up from prior games as you play, including enemies, bosses and even whole stages that are modeled after those of other games. As a shooter, R-Type Final is full of variety and depth on its own, but as a fan product and a celebration of history, it’s one of the best shooters ever made and easily one of my favorite shooters ever for any platform.

#6 Fire Pro Wrestling Returns
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: S-Neo
Genre: Wresting
Release Date: 11/13/2007

My first real exposure to the Fire Pro experience, outside of ten minutes I spent with Six Man Scramble, came when I bought a copy of Fire Pro Wrestling D off of a friend of mine some time towards the end of the Dreamcast’s original run, along with a VMU that contained a completely translated roster. The game was excessively full of Japanese, to a point where creating a character and navigating the menus was often daunting, if not impossible, but after spending a couple days really playing with the settings and options available, I really started getting into the game and what it offered, and began to wish that someone would release a US version of one of the games so that I could really get into the game and start making characters and such. Well, the two Game Boy Advance releases satisfied that desire somewhat, but it wasn’t until Agetec, as one of their last great acts before they kind of faded into obscurity, brought Fire Pro Wrestling Returns to the US that I really got what I was looking for, and I never regretted it. As a wrestling game, the series has always been pretty basic: walk up to your opponent, wait until you grapple, then be the person who presses the button fastest and hope your opponent is weak enough to take the move you chose, repeat until you win or lose. The fact that the franchise has stayed in 2D for its existence also isn’t the greatest thing for many people, though the recently announced upcoming Xbox 360 version will feature 3D visuals… and Avatars wrestling, but whatever. The fun of the game, however, comes from the fact that there’s so much to do with it that you’ll be occupied for months if you’re into what the game does. With the ability to use something that can copy game saves to your memory card, you can download name updates for the characters to make them into who they’re supposed to be or download all new user created rosters, so you could, for example, have the entire Ring of Honor or SHIMMER roster in a save file ready to go with little effort. It’s also great that you can basically leave the game to fight itself and it can actually put on entertaining matches, or that you can run crazy matches like Jushin Liger versus Triple H without having to edit anything except the names, just because of how the roster is configured. For wrestling fans, this is basically a must-have for multiple different reasons, and it’s easily one of the best wrestling games on the PS2 all around.

#5 Gungrave
Publisher: Sega
Developer: RED Entertainment
Genre: Third person shooter
Release Date: 09/16/2002

Yeah, so, I can’t really point at Gungrave and say “I love this because it’s massively in-depth” or “I love this because of how challenging it is” because, to be completely honest, it’s not really that kind of game. Gungrave is entirely a game about wasting countless enemies by spamming bullets from your handguns, diving around like a crazy person, and firing gigantic rockets out of the massive coffin hanging on your back, and my love for the game is purely stylistic in nature. I love the art style of the game, I love the Beyond the Grave character, I love the goofy over-the-top violence that starts off with every stage screaming “KICK THEIR ASS!” and ends with you performing a super move that obliterates the living hell out of whatever idiot decided to commit assisted suicide by facing you down, and I love the whole Yakuza-meets-Western aesthetic of the product. The game is the exact opposite of deep, mind you, and it’s generally not an especially involved game all around, but at the end of the day, sometimes wiping out everything in your view in ridiculous fashion by spamming a button for a couple hours is the best thing at the moment, and Gungrave is a hell of a lot more aesthetically satisfying than Dynasty Warriors, so there you go.

#4 Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Racdym
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 12/19/2001

Japan is mostly associated with the now-standard “JRPG”, where the game is mostly focused on plot development and linear progression over any sort of a sense of role playing in the Dungeons and Dragons sense, but every now and then we get a more traditional Western-feeling dungeon crawl from them that shows that, at the end of the day, not every Japanese RPG is about fifteen year olds with stupid hair saving the world. In the past few years the DS has played host to several of these sorts of games, but one of the best Japanese-bred dungeon crawlers to make its way Stateside was the poorly received but quite awesome Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land. I didn’t end up finding out about the game until over a year after the fact, and ended up having to get a used copy, sans box, from EB Games to play it in the first place, but to say that I straight up fell in love with the game all the same would be something of an understatement. The game has strictly old-school Western sensibilities in a lot of respects: characters can suffer permanent death if you fail to resurrect them twice, you make and customize your own characters as you see fit, you spend a good amount of your time slogging through a giant dungeon and grinding your way through enemies who can easily mess you up but good, and so on. That said, the game isn’t your typical dungeon crawling RPG, thanks to some worthwhile and interesting additions, like a massive amount of mini-quests you can take on, the ability to perform tag-team attacks with multiple members against the enemy, and the fact that Death will literally stalk your party through the dungeon and attempt to do you in if you spend too long goofing around. Put simply, this is one of the best RPG’s on the console, if not ever, and the fact that a game that’s so utterly counter culture to what sort of RPG’s are expected from Japan came from that very country is, honestly, quite entertaining.

#3 Melty Blood: Actress Again
Publisher: Ecole
Developer: Ecole
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 08/20/2009 (Japan)

Given that I’m a serious fighting game fan, it might seem somewhat surprising that the only fighting game on my list is a weird Japanese-only fighting game based on a series of partially hentai adventure games, but this comes down as much to how much of the PS2’s library of fighting games are ports and multiple platform releases as much as it does to how good Actress Again actually is. On one hand, a lot of the fighting games I love on the PS2 are available on other consoles, like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or the various Street Fighter collections, and while I like them plenty fine, I like them just as much in their other incarnations. On the other hand, Actress Again is easily on par with most of the best exclusive fighting games on the system, despite its somewhat dated visuals, largely because it’s a fighting game that IS complex without FEELING complex. It’s rare that a developer can pull that off, as you often end up either making a game that’s significantly less complex than you’d hope or making a game that’s only going to appeal to the hardest of hardcore, but Actress Again not only manages to do this thing, it manages to do this thing in a way where I’ve showed the game to most of my friends and they’ve all come away impressed with the game, whether they’re fighting game fans or not. The game has personality to spare, easily understood controls and mechanics, a large amount of depth and substance, and a surprisingly decent amount of balance, and while Actress Again likely isn’t the fighting game I’ve spent the most time with on the console, it’s the one I find I love the most when I reflect on my experiences on the PS2.

#2 God Hand
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Clover Studios
Genre: Beat-em-up
Release Date: 10/10/2006

God Hand is somewhat of a polarizing experience, boiled down to three groups. Group A, of which I and about half of the gaming world are a part, feel that the game is massively difficult, but pays off its difficulty very well in the form of a hilarious parody of Fist of the North Star styled anime topped with an outstanding combat system that is a joy to work with. Group B, of which about half of the gaming world is a part of, feels that God Hand has a solid combat system and some shining moments, but it is TOO hard in most respects and the challenge of the game isn’t reasonable to most gamers. Group C, which consists exclusively of the IGN review staff, thinks that the game is an abomination against God and man and hates everyone who made it, and the fact that this observation is more or less acknowledged as true by their own staff is such a sad condemnation of the company as a whole that I’m going to forgo any obvious jokes that could be made here as the ENTIRE internet has made all the best ones already anyway.

So why do I love God Hand so much as to put it as number two on my list? Partly because of the insane challenge the game presents. Now, if I’m being honest, I play most games on their easiest difficulty whenever the option is presented to do so, because fuck you, I beat Ninja Gaiden and I beat The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin on Nightmare, I have nothing to prove. Unless there’s some specific reward for doing so, I have no interest in playing on higher difficulties because this is my leisure activity, which is why when a game actively makes it obvious that the game is screwing you into playing on a difficulty designed to frustrate you with no tangible benefit associated (Dead or Alive 4) I get miffed. However, when you START OFF on a hard difficulty and BALANCE the game in a way that proper skill can allow you to wreck the game, THAT is when “hard” games are fine, and THAT is why I love God Hand. The first couple of stages make it apparent that the game is in it to hurt you and it’s not ashamed of this thing, but once you master how Gene plays and exploit the enemies as a result, THAT’S when you start to see how the game shines, as THAT is when its mechanics gel and its personality shines through. Yes, the fat Elvis-impersonating demon is hilarious, yes, Gene as Kenshiro is great, and yes, the group of midget Power Rangers (and Gene’s response to them being, “Ugh, Douchebags”) are hilarious, but at the end of the day, God Hand shines because IF you are a good player, you will absolutely enjoy how many tools this game offers you for wrecking enemies, and you will become QUITE talented at exploiting them.

#1 Persona 4
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 12/08/2008

I’m not attached to the psychological and theological concepts attached to the prior Megaten games, to be honest. I mean, I love the morality concepts the games challenge and present, to be certain, but lots of people build their plots around psychological, sociological, philosophical and moral concepts every day and frankly, being an armchair thinker who has read two chapters of a Psych textbook and the Wikipedia page for Atlus Shrugged does not make you good at putting these concepts to work in your story. Altruism is a great concept, absolutely, and if someone in the world has something to say about it that’s interesting and expands the discourse, bully to them, but Bioshock 2 was not the game to do this thing, and all of the college stoner level thinking in the world was not going to magically make that plot worthwhile. Says I, I don’t care what your plot is based around, if the writing is good, that’s what’s most important to me.

Let it be known, then, that the writing in Persona 4 is quite good. I wouldn’t say that it’s the best written Megaten game in the franchise, or even the best written one on the PS2, but it’s written well enough that it doesn’t lack anything by not addressing the psychological concepts of the first two games, and considering how well those games were written, I think that says something.

Now, as Alex has addressed, I’ve kind of fallen out with JRPG’s in the past few years. It’s pretty easy for me to explain why, too: most of them are written like shit. I’ve been reading heavily since I was six years old, and I’ve read trash and classic literature and everything in between. If your game is forty hours long or more, the writing damn well needs to carry that forty hours, especially if you expect me to actually suffer through it every twenty minutes or so, and in a lot of cases, JRPG’s don’t fit the bill. I have little tolerance for logical inconsistencies or plot points that are so obvious Stevie Wonder could see them coming in games that make a big deal about their plots. In a six hour game like Gears of War 2 I’m more forgiving of basic plots because not only is that not the point of the game, but further, the developers manage to make the plots work relative to the expectations of the players and the time the player is likely to put into the experience. Xenosaga? Not so much.

Persona 4 is one of those games that manages to carry its weight, plot-wise, all the way through its hundred or so hours of gameplay. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the game for other reasons too. The combat system is good fun and I still like the dungeon crawling elements of the game, the method by which new gear is introduced to the shop is still pretty enjoyable, I love the Social Link system and hope that Atlus does more to really bring it to life in future games, and in general I’ve had a lot of fun with the game outside of its plot. But I enjoy the plot enough that, combined with the other elements, I was able to give Persona 4 the top spot on my list, if only because the game is easily in the top ten games I’ve spent the most time with, ever (I’d guess it’s number four on the list, behind Final Fantasy XII, Ragnarok Online and Earth and Beyond), if only because I enjoyed the game so much I beat it twice and might well go for a third run one of these days. Is it my favorite RPG or JRPG of all time? Not at all. But that doesn’t take away a little bit from what the game does or how I feel about it, and I’m happy to say that it’s pretty much my favorite game to come out of the PS2 library, all in all.



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8 responses to “Adieu, Playstation 2 – Mark B.”

  1. Samuraiter Avatar

    I can agree to this list, most notably for R-Type Final and the Wizardry nobody remembers. Had to get my copy of THAT from E-Bay, since the stores never seemed to have it after 2001.

  2. Mark B. Avatar
    Mark B.

    Alex and J. Rose like Wizardry quite a bit too, actually… I’m honestly surprised Alex didn’t have it on his list, all things considered, but I’m assuming it’d be on a top 20 or something along those lines.

    1. Alex Lucard Avatar

      It definitely would have been in my top 20. I like that game, but eventually it didn’t make my list mainly because there are other Wizardry titles I like better. When I get an itch to play a Wizardry game, it’s inevitably one of the PC titles these days. Forsaken land was one of the three reasons I picked up a PS2 in the first place, along with Disgaea and Shadow Hearts.

  3. Ashe Collins Avatar
    Ashe Collins

    I almost put Gungrave on my list. It was sitting there for awhile. I love the over the topness of it. I just didn’t play it much after the others. :( I need to pull that one out now.

  4. Thomas R Avatar
    Thomas R

    I remember me and Lucard managed to get you interested in FFXII a year ago or so and I’m just curious about your thoughts on it.

    And Persona 4 was a cool choice, I forgot other games existed when I got my hands on it, played it through twice and maxed out all Social Links as well as unlocking every single demon just because I didn’t want the game to end. And the soundtrack’s in my iPod still. It was just one of those games where everything worked and while not perfect didn’t have any glaring faults either.

  5. Mark B. Avatar
    Mark B.

    Honestly? I still haven’t played it. I’ve been busy with other stuff at this point between work, school and the site that I haven’t been able to say “You know what? Let’s take a week and plow through this” like I’d want to. I’m mostly sticking with games that are low impact for leisure play, unfortunately.

    I’m hoping for a Persona 5 that really improves on the solid mechanics of the fourth game, maybe one with a plot that will interest Alex more than the last two had, but we’ll have to see.

  6. Thomas R Avatar
    Thomas R

    Ah right, well typo them, should have been FF XI on the list of most played games up there.

    I guess the characters are what’s most endearing about the game anyway so a better plot sure would be welcome. Looking forward to Catherina if anything, you dudes will write something about no doubt?

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