Adieu, Playstation 2 – Sean Madson

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. Final Fantasy X
2. Final Fantasy XII
3. Kingdom Hearts II
4. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
5. God of War
6. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
7. Devil May Cry
8. Kingdom Hearts
9. Yakuza
10. Zone of the Enders

I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed in my own list. Not because I didn’t like the games that I put on it, but because I feel like some of them are just placeholders for games I’ve yet to play. In a way, you could look at that as flattery toward the Playstation 2 console itself, as there were so many awesome titles released for it over the years that it was insane trying to keep up. Hence my dilemma. As I scanned my PS2 collection to hand pick which titles to put on this list, I’ve come to the realization that nearly half of them are unplayed, or in some cases, unopened. It’s not that I have a habit of buying games that I don’t intend to play; I just simply lack the the time, as most of it is spent keeping up with some of the games on the newer systems and handhelds.

Currently on my list of games I’m ashamed I haven’t played: Sakura Wars V, Tales of the Abyss, Suikoden (III, IV, or V), Shadow of the Colossus, and every Megaten game released on the system. Yeah, I have my work cut out for me.

Of the games I have played for the system, there were also quite a few that I liked, but omitted for one reason or another. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, because of its slim characterization of the Einherjar and poor pacing. Xenosaga (pick one), for being more of a movie than a game. Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time, for its poor pacing and some sluggish combat mechanics. Odin Sphere misses the mark for its overly repetitive nature and its poor inventory system. Contra: Shattered Soldier I had highly considered, but I just liked some of my other choices better. The list goes on and on.

Anyway, if I actually took a year off playing new games and cranked through my backlog, I’m betting my list would look quite different than it does now. Rather than cry about what my list isn’t, I should tell you about what my list is, since each of the games featured are ones that I think are fantastic and deserve to be recognized in some way. So, without further delay…

#10 Zone of the Enders
Publisher: Konami
Developer: KCEJ
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/26/2001

I had a tough time deciding whether I liked this one or its sequel, Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner, better. They are both excellent games, but I think this one reminded me of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series a bit more. That, and since it was released so early in the PS2’s lifecycle, it stood out a lot more compared to other launch games at that time.

Like other titles by Hideo Kojima, the game has a strong emphasis on story and cutscenes. I think the thing I found most intriguing about the tale is how the main character Leo is basically just a child that gets wrapped up in the horrors of war and doesn’t want to be there, but has to press on for the sake of the people he cares about and the fate of the universe. He also forms a special bond with the computer AI installed in his mech, Jehuty, who helps guide him on his journey through the game. In fact, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the relationship between these two characters, so it’s a good thing their many exchanges are so interesting.

As for the gameplay, I was impressed by not only the variety of attacks that Jehuty had at its disposal, but at how quick all the animation was without suffering from any kind of slowdown. Not only was it the perfect title to showcase what the console was capable of at the time, but it was also a lot of fun. You could slash at enemies up close, fire at them at a distance, or do all kinds of grapple moves, and in some cases, you had to do all this while avoiding civilian casualties or destroying buildings.

While it’s been quite a while since I played through it last, both the plot and the fast paced space combat stand out in my mind as having been a memorable experience on the PS2. The best part is, you can still find it for dirt cheap both online or in used game retail stores like GameStop. You can pick it up for less than $5 in most cases, so if you like your out space mech combat addictive, you should check this one out.

#9 Yakuza
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: 09/05/2006

Now this was a game I had been waiting for. Not waiting for in the sense that I was anticipating this title specifically, but waiting for in terms of content. It’s the closest thing to River City Ransom in 3D I’ve ever played and it has an enjoyable story to boot. It’s also the game that I wish Shenmue would have been, because even though Yakuza lacks the level of interactivity that you can find in Sega’s Dreamcast series, the story and gameplay are far better paced.

You play as Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Tojo Clan, who spends a decade in prison after his clan leader is murdered and he takes the fall for it. Shortly after his release from prison, it is revealed that ten billion yen is stolen from the clan and is somehow tied to a little girl named Haruka. What follows is a series of twists and turns explaining the whereabouts of the missing money as well as a search for the little girl’s mother.

Much of your time in the world of Yakuza will be spent navigating the city, making your way from point A to point B in order to trigger important story events, or trying to find sidequests to do. You’ll be approached by random thugs and gang members that will want to pick a fight with you, which will then load up a mini arena for you in which to do battle in. Fights play out much like those in a 3D fighter, though you can interact with your environment or make use of weapons strewn about in order to help dispose of your enemies. Taking part in these battles strengthens Kazuma and allows him to gain a larger health bar or learn new attacks. It’s a seemingly simple and effective formula, and yet, never before have I seen it implemented as effectively as I have this game.

This game came out around the time that many of the new consoles were about to release, including the Playstation 3, so I don’t think this game got the attention that it deserved. Luckily, Sega hasn’t given up on this franchise in the U.S. (with the upcoming Yakuza 4 just on the horizon), so at least it’s not a franchise doomed to stay in its homeland. That said, if you like your beat-em-up games with a little bit of RPG elements thrown in, or perhaps you were slightly disappointed with Shenmue, this game is worth a look.

#8 Kingdom Hearts
Publisher: SquareSoft
Developer: SquareSoft
Genre: Action/RPG
Release Date: 09/16/2002

Yes, this one is a little further down my list than most people would expect, not because I think its sequel is a revolutionary leap forward or anything (although I did like it better), but because many of the recent releases in the franchise have forced me to retread the events of this title many different times, causing a bit of a distaste. That, and I had watched others play through many of the events of the original Kingdom Hearts before I’d even worked up the courage to try it myself, so that dulls the initial excitement a bit as well.

Despite recent events and my initial hesitation to even give it a try, it’s a wonderful game that seamlessly blends the Disney and Final Fantasy universes into one cohesive experience. It was like playing through my past in a lot of ways, having pointed at every little detail thinking “Oh, I remember watching that as a kid” or “Hey, I just played that game recently!” Even the main character, Sora, seems like an individual that would fit right in with either a Disney or Square property. The scope of the larger story has extended way beyond Sora by this point, but I will always remember the original adventure to be a lighthearted romp through various worlds set to an excellent soundtrack.

The gameplay was just as impressive to me. I like action RPG titles anyway, but everything about the combat just felt right. Even though all of your melee attacks were linked to just one button, it never got repetitive and continuous building of your character continued to open up new combos and abilities. On top of the attacks and magic and such that you could equip yourself with, your comrades could be given potions and other helpful items to help you out in a pinch too. It almost seemed like the second coming of Secret of Mana, sans the multiplayer.

Everyone fears that the franchise is going to get milked dry long before we ever see a Kingdom Hearts III, seeing as it is one of Square Enix’s few franchises left with a shred of dignity, and believe me, I worry about that too. Hopefully, Tetsuya Nomura and his team get to it soon before sequel-itis grabs hold and everyone forgets how wonderful this game is and what a promising future should be in store for it.

#7 Devil May Cry
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Genre: Action
Release Date: 10/16/2001

Before there was Bayonetta or God of War, there was Devil May Cry. This game defined what stylish action was. Some may argue that Devil May Cry 3 was the superior game, and in terms of sheer game mechanics, I would agree. However, this title was the start of a franchise where killing monsters while eating pizza and rocking out to a jukebox are common place, and if that’s not a cool thing, then I don’t know what is.

It also helps that Dante is such a likable character. Sure, he has a lot of quips and cheesy one liners, but it’s this very thing that makes the game so charming in the first place… which is why I don’t understand the need for an overhaul of the character in the upcoming DMC, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Regardless of what you think of the story or its characters, the gameplay was what carried this title. Dante has both a sword and two pistols with unlimited ammo, and the possibilities of using these things in tandem with one another is seemingly endless. Shoot at the enemies until they get close and then hack them away, or use your blade to launch them into the air before unleashing a barrage of bullets; both are very feasible strategies for dispatching your foes, and when you throw in the fact that Dante can be enhanced with new abilities and items, there’s a lot here to keep combat fresh for the duration of the game. There’s also an onslaught of some very imaginative enemies and bosses that are also quite challenging, which should keep your gunslinging/swordswinging abilities in check.

#6 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Publisher: Konami
Developer: KCEJ
Genre: Action
Release Date: 11/17/2004

Metal Gear Solid 2 was what introduced me to the franchise, but Metal Gear Solid 3 was by far the better entry. Not only did you get the play as Snake during the entire mission (although I didn’t think Raiden was as intolerable as everyone says he is), but the plot as a whole made much more sense. What’s truly impressive is that prequels are quite tough to pull off successfully (see: Star Wars), but Snake Eater not only gave some insight on the villain of the original Metal Gear, but even made you empathize with him. There were a lot of touching moments in the game involving him and his mentor (who was implied to be the motherly figure in his life), which were further accented by the astounding soundtrack that played during key scenes.

What makes this title an interesting choice for me is that I don’t even like stealth games that much. Stealth missions in general are some of my least favorite in any video game, as I enjoy crashing into things head on and seeing what happens. Even though the MGS franchise still places heavy emphasis on the stealth mechanic, Snake Eater features enough wide open areas that this doesn’t seem like much of a chore, and it has some of the most interesting boss battles I’ve ever seen. The most amusing one by far, without spoiling too much, is the one that simply dies on his own if you save right before and leave your game untouched for several years. For the record, this was not the method I chose to dispatch him, but I thought it was a hilarious solution nonetheless.

The Metal Gear Solid franchise is one that is growing fast in its number of entries, and considering Hideo Kojima has been wanting to move onto other things for awhile now, this makes for a scary future. However, as long as future titles wind up as high quality as this one, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

#5 God of War
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Santa Monica
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/22/2005

I opted for this entry over its sequel, because it was much more impressive to me at the time. In fact, I didn’t play God of War II until after I bought a PS3 (which is what I played it on), so graphically I was a bit spoiled. That said, both games are stellar titles and definitely showcase what a blend of action and well implemented quick time events can produce.

God of War starts at the end, so to speak, by showing Kratos taking a nose dive off the edge of a cliff. The story then rewinds and shows the events leading up to those final moments. Ares, the current God of War, tricks Kratos into killing his own family, and what’s the best way to deal with that kind of trauma? By seeking out the bastard and killing him by any means necessary, of course. At least, that’s the course of action that Kratos decides to take, and you get to join him on his quest for vengeance.

The sights and sounds both showcased what the PS2 was capable of at the time, and as a result, you had a title with one of the most phenomenal presentations in gaming. It also helped bring many figures from Greek mythology to life as you rained carnage over such mythical creatures as the minotaur or Medusa. Kratos was also armed with a very unique weapon (although you could acquire more as the game progressed) that offered both range and an assortment of combat possibilities. This created an exciting adventure that, much like Devil May Cry that preceded it, allowed for a fresh experience the whole way through.

#4 Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Release Date: 08/27/2003

Talk about a refreshing take on strategy RPG’s. Rather than the traditional method of laying out all your units strategically and trading blows with the enemy until you’re done, you are essentially given a hub on each map in which to dispense your units. If you wanted to, you could use every person on your roster. All you had to do was remove a unit that was weak or no longer useful and you could bring in a substitute, and considering the variety of units you could have and the sheer number of ways to customize them, there were endless possibilities for tackling each stage. And if you’re not creative, there’s always good old fashioned grinding to muscle your way through.

The story was also just as, if not more, entertaining than the gameplay itself. You play as Laharl, during his rise to power as an Overlord following his father’s death. You’re also accompanied by a number of both humorous and interesting characters such as the fallen angle, Flonne, and Laharl’s own vassal, Etna. Oh, and let’s not forget the Prinnies, dood! The core adventure is divided into a number of chapters and filled to the brim with humor and self-parody. Oh, and once you complete the main game, it’s not over yet. Anyone who has ever complained about the lack of gameplay hours in today’s titles needs to check this one out. Considering the level cap is 9,999 and the fact that you could journey inside any weapon or item in your inventory in order to explore a randomly generated dungeon hundreds of levels deep, I’d say the chances of seeing everything there is to see in your lifetime is pretty slim.

Disgaea was succeeded by a number of sequels and spinoff titles, and although they are all enjoyable adventures, the original will always be my favorite, if only to listen to Laharl’s maniacal laugh over and over.

#3 Kingdom Hearts II
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 03/28/2006

Even though the original Kingdom Hearts introduced me to the series, I enjoyed this entry far more. For starters, it was much darker than the original, and the characters had grown up a bit since the first game. It was a still a title that kids can enjoy, but the characters were little easier to connect with for the older crowd. The introduction to the Organization XIII brought a new cast of characters to the table that were interesting enough that they got their own game, and they continue to make cameos in other titles, such as Birth by Sleep.

The gameplay was much improved too, not only by adding new attacks and combos to the mix, but by giving Sora new forms with which to lay waste to the Heartless. Each of these forms had its own sets of moves as well, and some of them even allowed you to dual wield keyblades. If you weren’t careful there was even a random chance that you would be turned into a Heartless yourself. Throw in some more Disney properties that hadn’t been utilized in a KH game before (such as Tron or Mulan) and you had a recipe for a game that stood out on the PS2 even when compared to the original. I hope that when the third entry inevitably rolls around that it will be able to top this one.

#2 Final Fantasy XII
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 10/31/2006

Despite its critical acclaim, I know a lot of FF fans who hated this game (I’ve talked to a few of them). I personally looked at it as a reboot to a franchise that had its key players abandon it. Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uemetsu are two names that I think are synonymous with Final Fantasy, and neither were present for this title (though Nobuo did contribute the theme song). I will admit, I was nervous of its outcome too in the years leading up to its release. The game kept changing hands, kept getting delayed, and the Playstation 3 was fast approaching. I was worried that the franchise had died on the PS2. When it finally came time for release on the Halloween of 2006, though, my patience was rewarded.

Yes, the game was different from all the installments that preceded it. You saw the enemies before you fought them and there was no screen transition, you traded blows with them where you stood. In fact, it played out almost like an MMO where you would auto-attack the enemy until you manually override the current command or let one of the gambits that you set up take over. It was a fresh approach to the franchise and one that had me hooked until the end.

The story was also in sharp contrast to the rest of the series, having more in common with Final Fantasy Tactics than it does, say, Final Fantasy X (although much like Tactics, this game is also set in Ivalice). It was very political in nature, which turned a lot of series vets away. It’s unfortunate, because I felt a number of the characters were very likable and very well acted by the voice cast. It also had some of the best looking visuals that I had seen on the console at the time, so there’s that too.

Probably the biggest fault of the game, and this is something I’ve heard all too often from people who hadn’t finished it, is that it is simply far too long. I personally didn’t think so, as I sunk about 100+ hours into it without batting an eye and I still had things left to do in regards to sidequests and such. The only reason I stopped playing is because the Wii had launched, and along with it, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which vied for my attention instead. So to anyone that started Final Fantasy XII, but gave up halfway through, here’s my message to you: please finish the game. I’ve met a lot of people in person who have played it, but never finished it, and it sucks to be “that guy”. You know, the one that can’t relate to anyone else because he knows something they don’t. I promise you it will have a satisfying conclusion. Honest!

#1 Final Fantasy X
Publisher: Square EA
Developer: SquareSoft
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 12/17/2001

Surprised? No, I didn’t think you would be. During my college days, before there was WoW, I was playing this game… and Kingdom Hearts, but mostly this game. Seriously, when I finally got a chance to play Final Fantasy X, I didn’t stop until it was over. The graphics were beautiful at the time and many of the songs on the game’s soundtrack I continue to listen to today. The voicework was a little sketchy in places, but for a pioneer in voice acting for a Final Fantasy game, it was pretty decent. It was a memorable experience that I still recall very vividly.

This time around they abandoned the ATB system that had been commonplace for the franchise up to this point. Instead, they went back to the strictly turn based style, which was nostalgic for me. Even though you could only have three party members in battle at a time, you could swap all seven of them in and out at will (and you had to in order to evenly distribute the experience). There was also a grid based level up system that set each character down a path in terms of growth. Since they all shared the same board, you could even have your characters learn skills that would normally be found on the path for another character, so in all honesty, anybody could learn anything if they wanted. Throw in controllable summons, customizable weapons, and unique overdrives for each character, and you had a recipe for gameplay that had me glued to the game the entire stretch of the way.

Then there was the story. Spira was a big place that, as the player, you knew nothing about. So when Tidus first enters this strange new world, you get to experience it with him, along with all the twists and turns that the plot takes you through. Some of the characters that were met along the way I liked better than others (Auron in particular I liked so much, I named my dog after him), but they all grew on me in some way during the journey, and when the whole thing came to an end, I was sad. Not only because of the fact that the story wanted you to be sad at that point (though its sequel essentially undoes the impact of some of the emotional scenes at the end), but because my adventure was over. Final Fantasy X, like many other things in life, had to end at some point, and with it, much of what stayed consistent with the series had to end as well. To some people, this was the end of the franchise as they knew it. As for me, I liked some of what has come out since then (XII and XIII in particular), but if this truly were the end, then it is a fantastic swan song to conclude on.



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