What are the best PlayStation 2 games to own forever?

July 9, 2012

The Best to Own Forever series isn’t about what’s great right now. It’s about what will be great in 10 years, even though there will be better-looking games and later sequels, and what will keep you pulling that dusty old console out of the closet every once in a while. In this installment, we look at the long-lived PS2.

Similar in a lot of ways to the Parappa the Rapper series, Gitaroo Man is an insane Japanese rhythm game that features effective use of button timing and analog movement. Each song is as expectedly catchy and zany as the last and the actual controls are spot on, which provides some of the most satisfying moments I’ve seen in any rhythm game. And if you’re really up for a challenge, try playing on the harder modes, I guarantee you’ll have quite a task ahead of you. This is the kind of rhythm game we rarely see released anymore, and one I think is completely worth having in any PS2 library. – Andrew Passafiume

Final Fantasy XII is a departure from the standard Final Fantasy formula, as Square Enix went with a real-time combat system rather than the standard turn-based battles. It’s a testament to the series that not only did Final Fantasy XII succeed, but it was arguably the best JRPG of its generation. Although the cast of characters is a bit weaker than we’ve come to expect from the series, the story is excellent and the revamped battle system is a lot of fun.  – Shawn Vermette and Andrew Passafiume

Considered by many as one of the best platformers to never leave the PlayStation 2, Klonoa 2 is a fine sequel that faithfully follows the PS1 original’s signature brand of puzzle platforming. Taking a more methodical and easygoing approach to the genre, the Klonoa series is renowned for its emphasis on problem-solving over reflexes. The PS2 game is likely the best in the series, capitalizing on the improved hardware to use the 2.5D perspective of the game to the fullest, allowing for multi-plane puzzles and some fancy perspective-based trickery to deliver a fun platformer that knows exactly what it wants to be, and delivers on that vision with gusto. Sadly, it was overshadowed by its contemporaries, and struggles to be recognized as anything beyond a cult hit and a critical success. If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to track it down. – Chris Dominowski

I stand by my fellow staffers that this was the better of the PS2 Grand Theft Auto games. While III set the bar for a new standard and San Andreas pushed the limits, Vice City had the perfect balance of both games: a talking protagonist we could connect with, a world that wasn’t too overwhelming to the player and an ’80s feel so authentic that you could see the cheese flow right out of the screen. Even today, I find myself returning to this game over the fourth entry ,since the game tosses you right into the action and keeps that energy going through the whole game. This is an essential game to have in your collection. – Eric Albuen

The Suikoden series, with its 108 playable characters and entertaining mixes of different genres, is popular for many reasons. Suikoden V is considered one of the best in the series, and I think it’s easily the best one available on the PS2. Taking everything that made the series great in the first place and adding enough new content makes this the perfect game for newcomers to the series and veterans alike. There is something very enjoyable about discovering new characters and recruiting them, especially when most of them are interesting enough to stand on their own. Combine that with the nearly-perfected turn-based battle system, and you have the pinnacle of the Suikoden franchise. – Andrew Passafiume

What do you get when you combine the arcadey dogfights of Ace Combat with the colorful, interesting world of Mega Man Legends, adding in a healthy dose of steampunk and anime flair? You get Skygunner, Atlus’ highly underrated aerial battle game. In it, you control one of the three titular Skygunners, mercenary combat pilots looking the world over for the mythical Eternal Engine. The game features an RPG-esque statistic and equipment management game mechanic that helps to add depth and flexibility to the battles. The dogfights themselves are always chaotic and fun, with their only downfall being some pretty bad slowdown in parts. The lighthearted and adventurous story really carries the game, and is charming enough to grab you from the get-go. - Chris Dominowski

Ghosts ‘n Goblins was one of my favorite games as a kid. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory was an attempt to merge the classic gameplay from GnG with an updated art style and introduce it to 3D. The result was an incredible game that is probably one of the most difficult games I can remember playing on the PS2. It carried forward the spirit of the classic Capcom titles while successfully making the leap to the modern generation. Due to its difficulty, it wasn’t exactly well received, although it did eventually reach Greatest Hits status. Maximo isn’t a title that will appeal to everyone, but if the idea of an updated hack-and-slash title inspired by the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins piques your interest, then you’ll want to pick this one up. – Chris Rasco

The Megaten series never really caught on here in the States until Nocturne was released in 2004. Sure, the original two Persona games released on the PS1 were moderately popular, but this is the first main-series Shin Megami Tensei game that was released outside of Japan. It’s one of the most compelling and difficult RPGs to be released on the PS2, featuring everything that made the series famous in the first place. Think of it like a demonic version of Pokemon, except replace Pokeballs with your own negotiating skills, and you have an RPG formula that is vastly different from the rest of the PS2’s vast library of games. And yes, it is tough, but it’s the kind of difficulty that keeps you coming back for more. This will be some of the most satisfying 80-plus hours of time you’ll ever sink into a game. – Andrew Passafiume

Yeah, yeah. Sports games. But NBA Street V3 is more of an arcade title, taking the NBA Jam formula and adding a lot more flash and skill to the mix. Oh! And customization and progression. V3 is the pinnacle of the series, as the next-gen follow-up Homecourt focused too much on making the graphical leap and left a bit of the depth and style behind. It’s also very co-op friendly with its 3-on-3 matches, so get out on the court and take on all comers. – Graham Russell

Dragon Quest is a legendary name when it comes to Japanese RPGs, and the PlayStation 2 is equally well known for having an abundance of games in the genre. Where Final Fantasy went for constant innovation, changing up core mechanics with each game, Dragon Quest always tended to stick with what it was known for and generally delivered on that promise. VIII is the only entry in the series to be released on the PS2, however it is often cited as the best of them all. I consider it a real revival of what made the series great: classic RPG gameplay, interesting characters and story, but without the long winded tedium that was a hallmark of some of the Super Famicom games and was especially notable in Dragon Warrior VII. VIII shares many features of previous games, but one of the things I felt really won me over is that it doesn’t force them on you. The game will run you about 80 to 120 hours, depending on how much extra stuff you do. Unlike other entries in the series, this game does not outstay its welcome and ends right where it should. – Jeff DeSolla

The Katamari series earns its spot in the discussion for “most Japanese game” each time it’s brought up, and that’s because it’s off-the-wall crazy. You roll up random objects because the King of All Cosmos is a generally irresponsible individual, and because he’s your dad. Whatever, it’s totally fun. This first game has a charm the following games don’t, because there’s something about that first impression that sticks with you a little better, and many of the best ideas were hit on at the very beginning. (Later games changed it up for “variety.”) It’s a game that doesn’t stick around longer than it needs to, which can’t be said about later entries, and the basic gameplay hasn’t really been enhanced since. – Graham Russell

Considered by many to be too childish due to the Disney licenses, Kingdom Hearts II is on my list of top five games of all time. With Square Enix back at the helm with an almost endless supply of classic Disney settings and a few lessons learned after the first title, KH2 is as timeless a game as any for me. The original title drew me in and was my first real foray into the land of RPGs, but the sequel is what solidified my love for RPGs and progressive character growth. Kingdom Hearts 2 is a perfect blend of incredible gameplay, flawless storytelling and vivid visuals. It’s also the darker side of the Disney characters you love, and it is responsible for spawning a franchise of games that stretches across a large majority of the recent gaming platforms with no end in sight. The open world settings of each locale are a bit linear in their questing, but are available for you to explore and battle enemies long after the quests are complete. Like many of Square Enix’s RPGs, you’ll commit quite a bit of time into completing the full game, but it will be worth every minute of the investment. – Chris Rasco