I make no secret of the fact that J-RPGs are my favourite type of video game. In fact, if you read my History in Gaming post, you’ll get to see exactly when and why I started to adore the J-RPG genre. But any, that’s not really the point of this post, is it? You’re not really here to read about my love for the genre…
You’re here to read about 7 amazing PS2 J-RPGs, so let’s get started with this list, shall we? Here are 7 of my favourite PS2 J-RPGs;
7. Persona 4
Starting off strong, we’re jumping straight into the now world-famous Persona series (and no, that isn’t anything to do with that K-Pop album that seems to be the reason #Persona keeps trending recently). The Persona series, for those of you who don’t know, revolves around people who can travel to alternate dimensions filled with demons, and also summon their own entities which are literal manifestations of their inner demons.
The games are, at least from the third, rather light-hearted in their style and presentation. However, they deal with some seriously dark storyline details.
Whilst the third game was very popular, pushing this previously obscure series into the limelight, it was a huge dungeon crawler where you scale the same tower for ages. The fourth game mixes it up a lot more with different dungeons that as all unique. On top of that, the school day sections of the game just felt more fun.
It’s just a shame that Yukari Takeba is only in the third game…
6. Final Fantasy XII
Next up, we have a game that is rather divisive… Final Fantasy XII gets called both “a terrible Final Fantasy” and a “great entry in the franchise”. The fact that it is on this list should tell you where I stand in that debate…
Set in Ivalice, the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story (two of the best J-RPGs on the original PlayStation), Final Fantasy XII ditches the random encounters and traditional turn-based battle system. Instead, it uses a more MMORPG style of gameplay with a huge connected world and enemies that you fight in real time using a menu for skills.
Final Fantasy XII does feature one of the most annoying protagonists in the series, Vaan, but don’t let that put you off. The story is full of political intrigue with a lot of twists and turns. It’s certainly not the best story in the Final Fantasy series, but it is still really enjoyable (to me, at least).
5. Kingdom Hearts 2
Arguably still one of the best games in this now prolific series, Kingdom Hearts 2 was a tour de force of Final Fantasy and Disney. The combat in the game was a huge improvement compared to the first game and the inclusion of other Final Fantasy characters was great. On top of that, they actually played a part in the plot for more than just an explanation and plot dumps!
There were moments of actual edge-of-your-seat action in the game and the plot got far deeper and darker than in the first game as well. Kingdom Hearts 2 was a definite step in the right direction, pulling you into the world of the series completely.
After all, there is a reason why Kingdom Hearts 3 was so sought after, with people getting extremely hyped for the release, even after almost 2 entire console generations passed.
4. Wild Arms 3
Now here is a series that really needs to make a comeback… And honestly, when a PS2 game gets reworked to fit current resolutions and released on the PlayStation 4, you know there’s a reason for it. So yeah, whilst Wild Arms 3 for the PS2 is now really hard to find (at least, in the UK), you can get it on the PS4 digitally.
Like with the rest of the series, Wild Arms 3 is a Wild West style J-RPG. It opens on a train with a bunch of different characters all there to either rob it or defend it. From there, you learn about their backstories leading up to that point before continuing on from there. The gameplay is pretty standard J-RPG style, but the music, world and story are all wonderful. Admittedly, I love the series in general, even if the games after this one went down hill. But that doesn’t mean Wild Arms 3 isn’t absolutely stellar!
If you love J-RPGs but want to play one with a completely different setting to the general tropes, then I would highly recommend giving Wild Arms 3 a try!
3. Digital Devil Saga
Moving on, we get one of the darkest J-RPGs on the PlayStation 2, even if it isn’t immediately clear just how dark it is. As part of the Shin Megami Tensei series (which the Persona games are a spin-off from), it already deals with demon-related creatures and events. However, Digital Devil Saga takes it one step further…
At the very beginning of the game, an event happens which affects every human in the game’s world, giving them the ability to transform into demons as well as making their hunger near-insatiable. From that point on, normal food won’t sustain them anymore; instead, they need to feed on demons in order to survive and keep their hunger under control.
Now, the hunger aspect is already pretty heavy for a J-RPG, but there’s another aspect of it that may not click immediately. You see, in the game world, the only other “demons” are the other people. That means that, in order for your characters to survive, you need to kill the other gang members and then devour them.
The storyline is heavily involved with this aspect of the game’s world, as well as how this act affects the psyche of each character in the party. It’s a truly unforgettable experience on the PS2.
2. Final Fantasy X
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Square Enix’s juggernaut franchise gets more than one mention on this list. There is a reason why they were (and still are) so famous for the J-RPGs, after all. Final Fantasy X was the first step into voice acting for the series and, barring that laughing scene, the actors did a pretty damn good job.
On top of that, the move to a Conditional Turn Battle system actually made combat very enjoyable. It added a tactical element to the combat that were hadn’t really seen in the Final Fantasy series. In fact, it was slightly reminiscent of games like Shin Megami Tensei Nocture (called Lucifer’s Call in Europe).
The storyline is good, although again, not the best in the series. On top of that, the secret bosses that you get in the European version or the HD Remasters are so challenging but also feel so rewarding when you beat them. But let’s be honest, I don’t really need to give much of an explanation here; it is Final Fantasy after all.
1. Shadow Hearts: Covenant
And so, we come to the last on this list and one of my favourite games of all time; Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Sequel to the sequel of my all-time favourite game, Covenant follows on from the bad ending of the original Shadow Hearts. It features one of the best turn-based J-RPG battle systems I have seen in a long time and also deals with a bunch of deep and meaningful story elements.
Yet, between all of this, they manage to get a healthy dose of comedy into the game as well. This means that you never get exhausted from the heavy-hitting aspects of the storyline.
On top of this, the fact that they manage to weave the storyline into the real world, featuring actual historical people, whilst making it work is amazing. After all, this is a fantasy horror RPG, yet it works being set in the real world. That is outstanding! If you want a truly epic RPG that feels very different from what you’re used to, then you really don’t need to look any further!
On a side note, we’ve almost finished playing through the first Shadow Hearts on stream. From there, we will be playing Shadow Hearts: Covenant from start to finish, so you can always come and join us for that over on my Twitch channel!
And That’s All Folks
Those were 7 of my favourite J-RPGs on the PlayStation 2. However, there are so many other great RPGs on the system, just like there was on the original PlayStation. Those two consoles were an RPG fan’s dream due to the sheer volume of games in the genre released for them!
Which is your favourite PS2 J-RPG? Let me know in the comments below!