Released in North America in October 2000, the Sony PlayStation 2 is a giant in the video game industry. The reigning record holder for most consoles sold with more than 158 million units shipped, the console saw more than 4,000 games released worldwide. Among those games are some of the best fighting games released, not just as part of the sixth generation of home consoles, but of all time. Games like Tekken 5 were not just highly rated but ranked among the best-selling games on the PlayStation 2 overall.
Let’s get into the PS2’s best fighting games!
What is a Fighting Game?
While it might seem obvious at first, a fighting game isn’t necessarily defined as narrowly as you might imagine. Ideally, a fighting game is a battle between two characters, one of which is controlled by the player and the other being controlled either by AI or another player. These types of games are frequently defined by one-on-one combat and rely on rapid button presses or joystick movements to fire off special moves.
Was the PlayStation 2 Known for Fighting Games?
With more than 4,000 games available, the PlayStation 2 or PS2 was known for all types of game genres and not just one in particular. There are hugely popular driving, open-world, real-time strategy, and action games that are every bit as memorable for the PS2 console as fighting games. In fact, out of the top 100 best-selling games for the PS2 of all time, only nine are recognized as fighting games.
- Choose from over 30 characters to stand with or against, and prepare for amazing two-man combat
- Tag-team fighting action as you switch out fighters & let them rest while you play
- New moves and combos -- you'll need them, because rounds end after one of your two fighters have been beaten
- Unlock 12 great new players and a ton of mini-games as you play and win
- Fully rendered 3D characters and interesting personal stories recreate the feel & style of the arcade games
A PlayStation 2 launch title, emTekken Tag Tournament/em is the follow-up to the sensational Tekken 3 and keeps everything great about its predecessor but makes it better.
Earning an 85 Metascore, this Tekken version upped the gameplay by featuring more than 2,000 different moves in total.
What really helped set emTekken Tag/em up for success was its ability to swap between two different fights in the middle of a round, something that was previously unheard of in a fighting game. There is a host of returning fighters to choose from plus two new fighters, all of which looked great utilizing the PlayStation 2 graphics engine.
Selling more than 400,000 copies within its first four days of release, the game would go on to sell more than 2.4 million units in total. The game was undoubtedly a strong early showcase for what the PlayStation 2 could do over the PS1 and improved graphically over the arcade unit of the same name. The game would go on to be named a “greatest hit” for the PlayStation 2 and was nominated for “console fighting game of the year.”
- Chronicles of the Sword mode allows your original character to play through a mode much like real-time simulation -- you can see your own character in the battles that unfold
- 3 all-new characters - Zasalamel, Tira and Setsuka wield their specialty weapons to join the classic cast, for a total of over 25 characters
- All-new stages for battle, from a castle in Germany to a shrine in Greece, or even at the top of a clock tower.
- Prepare yourself for battle in Practice mode, enjoy unique battles in the Soul Arena, or view the history of the franchise and everything you've unlocked in Museum mode
Released in 2005, emSoulCalibur III/em continued the excellence of the previous two games while upping the variety of gameplay options, all while showing itself off as a 3D weapons fighter.
Among the different ways to play the game, players could choose between the Tales of Souls mode which would help you guide one character along throughout a storyline.
Separately, you could go head-to-head against a friend in a versus mode or create a customer fighter and battle in Chronicles of the Sword Mode. Maybe you wanted to try Soul Arena Mode or go back in time through SoulCalibur franchise history with Museum mode. With 27 different characters to choose from overall, before even making your own, there’s definitely no shortage of ways to enjoy emSoulCalibur III/em.
Because of the variety of gameplay options, the game would go on and score an 86 Metascore and has been widely praised for its strong environments that serve as the background during each match. Without online multiplayer available, emSoulCalibur III/em makes a big case for your time with an excellent array of single-player content options.
Even as fighting games on the PS2 began the heavy march toward 3D graphics dominance, games like emGuilty Gear X2/em proved there’s still a case to be made for 2D fighters.
With 23 different fighters in total (20 unlocked from the start), X2 players found six new characters to play all while discovering new moves that would help elevate the game and earn it an 87 Metascore.
As part of its gameplay, emGuilty Gear X2/em focuses heavily on a four-button attack configuration all while allowing players to taunt their opponents. A few new features found their way into the game with “burst gauge,” “psyche burst,” or “faultless defense,” which gave way to an entirely new style of gameplay for the series. You could try these moves around eight different modes which only added to the longevity and would help give way to a whopping 60 possible different endings.
With its outstanding art direction and a fighting style that’s different from every other 3D fighter out there, emGuilty Gear X2/em is a game well-worth trying even to this day.
#4: emTekken 5/em
- Three new characters join the fray with unique moves and their own personal motivations for entering the Iron Fist Tournament
- The classic Tekken control is simplified without losing the tightness & flexibility that made it great - sure to please beginners & old-school fans
- Variety of complex new arenas that add to the challenge - Some will box you in and put you toe-to-toe with opponents, others will give you huge space for the big moves
- Watch as the environemnt reacts to your combat - from the grass under your feet to the objects on the walls
Returning the Tekken series back to its gameplay roots, the graphics engine of the PS2 was fully realized with emTekken 5/em in the best possible way.
Celebrating the series’ ten-year history gave way to destructible objects becoming a focal point of the game including the ability to punch or kick through walls. That was a great addition to the game that players raved about and helped boost the game’s popularity.
Instead, players were allowed to focus on the game’s outstanding graphics which helped drive the game to sell more than six million units overall. Of course, the gameplay also got more enjoyable as you earned money for winning matches and could use those earnings to upgrade your character’s look with different costumes, sunglasses, secret items, and more.
Another strong addition to the game was its side beat ‘em up mode and the inclusion of the three different arcade versions of the franchise’s first three games. Between its single-player and multiplayer modes, emTekken 5/em is one of the games that has well withstood the test of time proven by its 88 Metascore.
A launch title for the PlayStation 2, emDOA2: Hardcore/em is the sequel to the original Dead or Alive, which made its debut on the PlayStation One years prior.
While the first game offered excellent gameplay, its release was marred by poor decisions around female character movement. Thankfully, the developers left all of the marketing nastiness behind and focused on creating an excellent 3D fighter and they delivered.
Running at a very smooth 60 frames per second, everything about emDOA2: Hardcore/em was bigger than its predecessor. More characters gave way to more costumes and more costumes meant more arenas needed to fight in, and all of this combined to make for a game that earned a 91 Metascore.
Sure, there’s a storyline to be found here as you try and defeat the evil boss in tournament mode, but realistically, there’s so much fighting to do before you even consider making your way up to the big, bad final boss.
Gameplay heavily focuses on how “blows” and “throws” interact with one another while in the midst of a match and it makes not just for original gameplay, but one that requires sound strategy.
- 13 historic fighters
- 7 exciting modes of play
- Collect 200 different weapons
- Battle your way up the ranks as you follow the fascinating storylines of each character
Selling more than 1.3 million games in total, emSoulCalibur II/em is one of the most memorable fighting games of the PlayStation 2 era, and for all the right reasons.
A 3D weapons-based fighting game, there are 13 different fighters to choose from including one designed by Todd McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic series, which was a fun addition to the series.
As is the case with SoulCalibur III, gameplay spreads out across seven different modes and it makes for longevity that was rarely found in fighting titles at the time. The plot focuses on a legendary weapon that was broken into pieces and characters in the game fight to find all of those pieces and either destroy or take possession of its power.
Along with its excellent selection of modes, what helps emSoulCalibur II/em stand out is that its single-player and multiplayer fighting modes are equally strong. Gameplay was boosted by offering special moves like the “soul charge” or “guard break” which only upped the need for strategy and quick decision-making. Of course, “weapon master mode” remains an incredibly fun way to play the game solo.
Check it out on Amazon here.
Virtua Fighter has long been a name associated with excellent fighting mechanics, and emVirtua Fighter 4/em is no exception.
Released on the PS2 in 2002, the game introduced two new characters in the form of Vanessa Lewis and Lei Fei to the already excellent roster of characters. Right from the start, the best part about emVirtua Fighter 4/em is it’s a game that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to add anything to it that would distract from the core fighting gameplay. That was because the first Virtua Fighter game to debut on non-Sega hardware was a real reward for PS2 owners.
This is a back-to-the-basics game and manages to accomplish that in the best possible way. Every character’s unique fighting style is based on a real-world martial art and you have brand-new counters and defensive moves from previous generations of Virtua Fighter which only add to the level of strategy required to win match after match.
On top of its excellent gameplay mechanics that just nail the fundamentals perfectly, emVirtua Fighter 4/em also stands out, thanks to top-notch visuals that look good even today. Earning a 94 Metascore isn’t easy but emVirtua Fighter 4/em does it with a style that continues to make it the absolute best PS2 fighter.
Fighting games on the PlayStation 2 were unlikely to be the most popular genre, but with a devoted following and outstanding graphics available, it’s still a genre that saw fantastic games arrive. The likes of Virtua Fighter 4 plus the SoulCalibur series are games that remain playable to this day, even as graphics have vastly improved over the last twenty years since the console was released.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Giovani Dressler/Shutterstock.com.