© Giovani Dressler/Shutterstock.com

Since the inception of RPGs, they’d come a long way by the time the PlayStation 2 (PS2) hit the shelves.

While 3D RPGs had been around since Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992, they didn’t exactly take off until the release of the PlayStation 1 (PS1) and Final Fantasy VII, which became immensely popular in the West, turning a huge audience into fans of the JRPG (Japanese RPG) turn-based style.

This trend continued with the PS2, with RPGs continuing to be standouts on the platform. While often in competition with Nintendo, Sony’s contribution to the sixth generation of video game consoles proved to be a winner.

While the PS2 is known for its massive game library, the success of the best-selling console of all time is also due to its backward compatibility with the PS1 as well as its ability to play DVDs. Standalone DVD players were very expensive at the time, and using the PS2 allowed people to watch DVDs as well as play video games at a lower cost.

With all that said, the PS2 had a great collection of RPGs that are still remembered by retro gamers. Come with us on a journey through the very best PS2 RPGs that money can buy!

#7: Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urghan

The third expansion of Final Fantasy XI was released in 2006, while the original game came out in 2004.

The expansion brought 3 new jobs to the game: Puppetmaster, Blue Mage, and Corsair. The overarching storyline of the game centers around the world of Vana’diel, where five races (Elvaan, Hume, Galka, Mithra, and Tarutaru) were created by the Goddess Altana.

This took place after the children of the Gods were destroyed for trying to construct a pathway to the heavens. Originally, players deal with the aftermath of the Crystal War, which occurred 20 years before the events of the game. Treasures of Aht Urghan opens up the player’s exploration of the Empire of Aht Urghan, a powerful nation where a war is said to be incoming.

Gameplay-wise, battles occur in real-time, a departure from the turn-based system of the main series, and would set a precedent for future entries. As a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), players can communicate through the use of a keyboard (external when playing on a console).

Parties consist of 6 members, who can be customized through the Job system; much like in Final Fantasy III, these Jobs bring their own set of spells, traits, and abilities, with abilities of a second job being available as a ‘Support Job’ function. Gamers can progress the story by completing missions and partake in optional quests for further rewards. Hobbies and crafting are also features, where players can receive items unobtainable by other means.

While the game was somewhat criticized for its cumbersome setup, particularly on the PS2 where hard drive and network adapters were required to play, it was praised for being a welcoming MMORPG and received awards from GameSpy and IGN. The jobs and missions added to the third expansion breathed new life into the aging RPG, and while official support for the PS2 server ended in 2016 (only the PC platform is playable), this is one of the best groundbreaking PS2 RPGs that won’t be soon forgotten, evident in its 87 Metascore.

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (Renewed)
$43.99
  • You have been the victim of a brutal robbery, and are drowning your sorrows in a tavern, when you are approached with a job offer. This job offer will lead you into the adventure of a lifetime!
  • You'll get into hack-and-slash combat as you fight frost giants, dragons and undead
  • Use magic and strategy to stay alive in the most perilous situations
  • Thrilling quests and subquests await you in an exquisitely rendered 3D universe!
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/03/2023 08:01 am GMT

This entry into the established Baldur’s Gate series, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, was released for the PS2 in 2001 and set in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons.

The game follows 3 adventurers, an elf, a human, and a dwarf, as they arrive at Baldur’s Gate, ultimately culminating in them being tasked to fight off Eldrith the Betrayer; Eldrith was once a general of Baldur’s Gate who was defeated, only to be revived through her sheer rage alone.

As a hybrid of the hack-and-slash and action RPG genres, Dark Alliance progresses linearly, different from the typically more open world present in Baldur’s Gate games. Players can choose from one of the main protagonists, a fighter, archer, or sorceress, each with their own set of stats and abilities. Armor, weapons, and items are available through purchase or dropping from enemies, and cooperative gameplay is also an option.

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was well-received by critics, particularly the PS2 version, which won “Role-Playing Game of the Year” in 2001 from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

The graphics engine was considered one of the best on consoles at the time but was a lot smoother on the PS2 version as opposed to the GameCube. Due to this and its intensely fun action, Dark Alliance is a user-friendly rendition of the Baldur’s Gate series and easily wins a place on the list of best PS2 RPGs with its 87 Metascore.

You can get it on Amazon here.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES - PlayStation 2
$37.46
  • Includes an enhanced version of the original game plus the new FES
  • 30 additional hours of gameplay with 17 new music tracks
  • 120 hours of gameplay
  • Includes a weapon synthesis system and hard play mode
  • Includes the ability to change your characters clothes
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/02/2023 08:41 pm GMT

In emShin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES/em, the gamer plays as a high-school student who joins the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), a group of students in a Japanese city called Iwatodai who investigate something called the Dark Hour.

The Dark Hour is when the high school transforms into a maze-like tower known as Tartarus, filled with monsters called Shadows. Members of the SEES are capable of summoning Personas, special beings capable of fighting the Shadows.

The gameplay of emPersona 3/em is a combination of RPGs and typical simulation games; during the day, the high school is explored where relationships can be built and tasks are undertaken which causes time to pass. The option to enter Tartarus is present during the night, where the player can battle and gain items and experience points.

Personas can be summoned during battle, each with elemental affinities and their own set of strengths and weaknesses. New personas can be combined with old ones and obtained after certain battles and strengthened through the formation of “social links” with other characters. Party members can either be ordered or controlled by AI and sent off to explore areas of Tartarus on their own.

The extended FES version came out in 2008, 8 months after the original game, bringing updates to gameplay as well as an epilogue, which was positively received. While unusual for an RPG, the simulation elements were considered a refreshing addition to the series as well as the AI functions, leading to fast and intense combat situations.

If you’re after an RPG that’s a little different yet is spectacularly executed, Persona 3 FES is one of the best PS2 RPGs to offer that. Its 89 Metascore definitely holds up!

Check it out on Amazon here.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
$34.95
  • Strategy and role-playing combined.
  • Each level you go up, you'll get new experience points to spend.
  • Select the right weapons and magic combos for maximum combat effect.
  • Tension system enhances the action - forgo attacking for a few rounds, then build up your power to unleash a multi-hit combo that destroys opponents.
  • Special Bonus Disc with playable demo of Final Fantasy XII included!
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/03/2023 12:11 pm GMT

As the eighth installment to the wildly successful Dragon Quest Series, emJourney of the Cursed King/em hit U.S. stores in 2005.

Being the first in the series to utilize a fully 3D environment, players can alternate between first-person and third-person modes, with the camera able to rotate 360 degrees around the character. Turn-based battles and an experience system continue to make an appearance as well as character-specific attributes and customizable skills.

A notable inclusion is the tension system, where players can wilfully skip a turn in battle to strengthen their next attack. The ability to capture monsters from Dragon Quest V returns, although it does not play as much of a pivotal part in the overall gameplay.

The game follows the unnamed, silent protagonist and his party members as they take on the objective of defeating Dhoulmagus, who has laid a curse upon the kingdom of Trodain. The story has a few twists and turns, but for the most part, follows a pretty typical RPG arch that is neither groundbreaking nor too repetitive.

Overall, emDragon Quest VIII/em was critically acclaimed, becoming the fastest-selling PS2 title in Japan in the week of its release, and now the best-selling game. The rather simple but entertaining storyline, focusing on the development of the main characters, was seen as a positive, while the level of detail in the graphics and world map was a standout for the series.

The English translation was also praised for keeping the humor of the original. As far as Dragon Quest games and the best PS2 RPGs go, emDragon Quest VIII/em is one of the most memorable and an ideal play for Dragon Quest fans and even those new to the series, clear in its 89 Metascore.

Find it on Amazon here.

second generation video game consoles
The PlayStation 2 is chock-full of fantastic RPGs!

©agencies/Shutterstock.com

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 - PlayStation 2
$40.30
  • Chronologically the sixth installment in the Persona series, Persona 4 is a suspenseful countryside murder mystery with multiple twists and turns in the plot that will have you guessing all the way to...
  • Every copy of Persona 4 is a special two-disc set including the game and a soundtrack CD, featuring music from acclaimed composer Shoji Meguro.
  • Gameplay and style are similar to Persona 3, but there are plenty of new twists and additions.
  • Unprecedented team control with emphasis on developing bonds in the fight to solve mysterious murders.
  • Using Mayonaka TV, you can phase into the television set and enter a shadowy world.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/02/2023 08:42 pm GMT

Coming only a year after its predecessor, emShin Megami Tensei: Persona 4/em is actually the fifth installment chronologically but indirectly related to previous games.

While still following the adventures of a high school student, in this case, Yu Narukami, this game takes place in the countryside, in the fictional town of Inaba, rather than a school. With friends, they set out to investigate mysterious murders that have been occurring; the game was actually largely inspired by the work of mystery novelists. In keeping with the alternate reality elements common to the series, emPersona 4/em involves traveling into the TV world, where Shadows are the natives.

The gameplay of the Personas is much the same, with each character having their own unique Persona (except for Yu who possesses multiple Personas), with new Personas being obtained through combination. The simulation elements are present during the exploration of Inaba, whereas the battles take place inside the TV world’s various dungeons. Social links also make a reappearance. E

lemental affinities continue to play a large part in combat, and AI tactics are still utilized to control the other party members. However, they can also be controlled manually, which is a change from the previous game.

All in all, there wasn’t too much innovation since Persona 3, but the improved pacing of battles along with the ability to control all of the party members was received very well, as well as the musical score and the character development. Combined with its rather unique storytelling themes, emShin Megami Tensei: Persona 4/em is often considered one of the best RPGs of all time, let alone one of the best PS2 RPGs, which is shown in its 90 Metascore. If the traditional story elements of RPGs are starting to get a bit dry, give emPersona 4/em a go and you won’t be disappointed.

Check it out on Amazon here.

Final Fantasy X
$17.95
  • Learn to summon aeons-old spirits of power to add to your fighting abilities as you battle the evils of Sin
  • Tidus is a star athlete who survives a massive disaster, and with the help of a girl named Yuna, he journeys to temples & monasteries to find truth.
  • Tidus is a star athlete who survives a massive disaster, and with the help of a girl named Yuna, he journeys to temples & monasteries to find truth.
  • Learn to summon aeons-old spirits of power to add to your fighting abilities as you battle the evils of Sin
  • Spectacular graphics and incredible voiceover work will immerse you in a new world where evil forces threaten the existence of all you know!
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/03/2023 01:21 pm GMT

As the first in the Final Fantasy series to make use of fully 3D environments as well as voice acting, the 2001 release of emFinal Fantasy X/em made a big impression.

The story kicks off in the world of Spira, where the protagonist Tidus winds up after his homeland of Zanarkand is destroyed by a monster known as Sin. Along with companions he meets along the way, Tidus is intent on defeating this monster and solving the mystery of his missing father.

Random encounters and turn-based battles continue to be utilized, however, a world map is hardly used with most of the locations being integrated continuously. The turn-based system also completely pauses the combat, rather than occurring in real-time.

The game features an incarnation of Final Fantasy VII‘s Limit Breaks, present here in the form of Overdrives. The method of summoning is also revolutionized, as instead of appearing once to perform an attack, summoned Aeons to replace the party members until either victory is attained, their defeat occurs or they’re dismissed by the player.

The configurable skill system received a dramatic overhaul as well, with the introduction of the Sphere Grid; here, players can assign “Sphere levels” they obtain during gameplay in a pre-determined grid, receiving various stat and ability bonuses and allowing for full customization well outside of each character’s intended role.

Due to its bold revisions of gameplay, vastly enhanced graphics, and inclusion of voice acting, emFinal Fantasy X/em made a huge impact on both critics and gamers alike, which its 92 Metascore shows. Once you add in the complex narrative and soundtrack, emFinal Fantasy X/em is an outstanding addition to the series and without a doubt vying for the top spot among the best PS2 RPGs.

Find it on Amazon here.

Final Fantasy XII
$18.99
  • Trace the mysteries behind the Empire's invasion.
  • Unmask the players in a drama of justice and betrayal.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/03/2023 01:21 pm GMT

While Final Fantasy XI brought MMORPGs into the franchise, emFinal Fantasy XII/em in 2006 returned to a more traditional RPG form.

The game is set in the land of Ivalice, which some may remember from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (although sharing a name, the world is dissimilar). Centered around the small kingdom of Dalmasca, the narrative mainly follows Vaan, an orphan, and Ashe, the princess of Dalmasca. They share the goal of preventing a war between the empires of Archadia and Rozarria while preventing Dalmasca from being subjugated by Archadia.

The view of gameplay can be controlled via a 360-degree view, which is new for the series. Along with this, the player is controlled from a third-person perspective and encounters enemies visible on the map as opposed to random encounters. The battle system is called the Active Dimension Battle (ADB) system, where combat pauses while commands are issued.

A new feature of the game is the ‘gambit’ system, allowing the player to issue automated tactics to party members in response to certain battle events, such as healing a party member when their health falls below a certain level. Although the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X doesn’t make an exact appearance, the License Board system used is somewhat similar; stat increases, as well as the ability to use magic and equipment is granted by using LP (License Points) on the board.

Receiving universal acclaim, mostly for its graphics, story, and battle system, emFinal Fantasy XII/em was the sixth game in history to be granted a perfect score by Famitsu, and Newtype USA even called it “the best RPG to be released for any Sony platform,” while GameSpot, IGN, and GameSpy named it as the best PS2 game. This is pretty clear in emFinal Fantasy XII/em‘s 92 Metascore.

In addition, the license system was noted as a highlight, albeit potentially complicated for newcomers to the series, as well as the gambit system which was considered very innovative. While it may not be the easiest introduction to the series for new players, emFinal Fantasy XII/em successfully pulled off several innovations and is not only called the best PS2 RPG, but the best PS2 game overall by many critics.

Check out the best RPG for PS2, emFinal Fantasy XII/em, on Amazon here.

The 7 Absolute Best PlayStation 2 RPGs of All Time FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When did the PS2 come out?

The PS2 came out in October 2000.

What was the first RPG released for the PS2?

The first PS2 RPG released was Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, released in October 2000.

What was the last RPG released for the PS2?

The last PS2 RPG was Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy, which came out in August 2009.

Which PS2 RPG was the best?

The PS2 had so many amazing RPGs to choose from, but Persona 3 and 4 feature very high on many people’s lists, along with several entries from the Final Fantasy series. Arguably, X and XII are among the best, along with the 8th entry to the Dragon Quest series.

Which PS2 RPG sold the most units?

The best-selling PS2 RPG was Final Fantasy XII, selling 6 million units.

About the Author

More from History-Computer

  • Metacritic Available here: https://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/genre/date/role-playing/ps2?view=detailed