The PlayStation consoles, especially the PSX and PS2, are well known for having some absolutely amazing RPGs on them! In fact, if you’re a J-RPG fan in particular, they’re probably the best retro gaming consoles you could get, aside from the SNES obviously. However, most people tend to just remember the Final Fantasy games, or Star Ocean, or another RPG made or published by the company now known as Square Enix.
And whilst Square Enix do make some absolutely killer RPGs, there are loads of other ones out there that are just as good! So, today, we’re going to look at 7 PS2 RPGs not made by Square Enix, that you just have to play in your lifetime!
Persona 3 FES
Now, I’m a huge fan of the old PSX Persona games, especially Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. So when Persona 3 came out on the PS2, I couldn’t have been more excited. However, it took some getting used to because of the switch away from the dark serial killer/cult magic storylines, focusing on the lives of a group of high school students trying to stop monsters in the night. It was an interesting new twist, that was for sure. And at first, I wasn’t sure I’d like it… Then I saw the opening few minutes…
As a huge anime fan, I was instantly captured! Plus, as someone who likes dark and abnormal storylines and games, everything about the game pulled me in! From there, the Social Link system, entertaining battle system and incredibly unqiue design of the game had me hooked. It wouldn’t let me go! And as if that wasn’t enough, they went and released Persona 3 FES, which made further improvements and added a whole extra storyline post-game!
If you’re read my review of Koudelka for PSX, you’ll know how much I absolutely adore that game! I always have, ever since I first played it back in 1999! So, when I randomly came across this strange looking RPG in Gamestation (boy, that shows my age) called Shadow Hearts, which looked to be just as creepy, I had to give it a go. Imagine my surprise when I found out, through the story, that it was a sequel to Koudelka!
I wish you could have seen the sheer joy on my face at that moment! I won’t spoil what gave it away, but it was pretty conclusive… Shadow Hearts itself was more a traditional RPG than Koudelka’s Survival Horror/RPG genre mix, but it was anything but stereotypical.
Whilst I’ve already covered Shadow Hearts in my Top 7 PS2 Games You Have To Play post, the fact that I’m also including it here shows how much of a lasting effect this masterpiece had on me. The storyline is beyond epic, dealing with curses, mythical beings, demons and even the summoning of God to cleanse the world. I mean, how much more do you need in a game!? Then, of course, they made two sequels… Shadow Hearts Covenant was just as epic as the first, with improvements to the very unique Judgement Ring system. Sadly, however, Shadow Hearts From The New World felt lackluster in comparison.
Therefore, if you get the chance, I cannot recommend the first two games more!
Now, I’m cheating a little here, since the Xenosaga series was a spiritual successor to Xenogears, which was made by Square Enix (then Squaresoft). However, the creator of the games had left Square Enix and created the development studio Monolith with help from Namco. It was at Monolith that he created Xenosaga, so I’m counting it!
The story of Xenosaga actually takes place over three separate games, with each one directly continuing where the previous one left off. As such, you really need to get all three! And that means you’re going to have to import them (like I did) as the UK only got the second one, which was weird…
Xenosaga is an epic space opera of an RPG, dealing with the war between humans and the Gnosis. It also incorporates the story of Mary Magdeline, so you know there’s a lot going on in this one. Oh, and you get to battle both on foot and in giant mech robots. How cool is that?
I cannot speak much about the plot without spoiling something, so intricate is the storyline, but I can say this… It is definitely worth your time. If they ever make a proper HD remaster of this game, I can guarantee I’ll be pre-ordering it!
Wild Arms 3
I’m a huge fan of Wild Arms as a series… In fact, I’d rather the PSX games as highly as Final Fantasy VIII and IX! They were so unique and different, mixing pixel based character sprites with 3D environments, rather than pre-rendered backgrounds. This meant that you could swing the camera around to see different areas of the map, which was amazing at the time. So, when Wild Arms 3 came out, I was so happy!
Whilst it made a move away from the pixel based characters, the use of cell-shaded models kept the charm of the original games relatively intact. On top of that, this time they went head-on into the wild west style world, rather than having a wild west paint job over a fantasy world. This only served to make the game even more unique from other RPGs out there.
The gameplay was fun, and the story was incredibly engaging. Oh, and the use of Tools meant that the level design and puzzles were amazingly fun to try and figure out. This is definitely one of those underrated RPGs on the PS2!
Dot Hack // Infection
Any fans of Sword Art Online out there? Well, the manga for Sword Art Online and anime for Dot Hack came out at about the same time, with a lot of similarities in their base plotlines. In essence, both take place in VR massive multiplayer online RPGs, with people either being killed in real life if they die in the game (SAO) or people going into a coma when they encounter a specific monster in game (dot Hack). So, if you are a fan of Sword Art Online, then you really need to check these games out.
Infection is the first in the quardilogy of games in the original dot Hack games series (there was actually a sequel trilogy called dot Hack GU as well). You take the role of Kite, who’s friend falls into a coma after meeting the aforementioned monster. From there on, Kite gains the ability to rewrite the code of the game, and sets out trying to discover just what is going on. Meanwhile, more people fall into comas, the game world slowly deteriorates, and a mysterious girl keeps seeking you out.
It is a really detailed game, and it actually feels like you’re playing an MMO, even though it is just a single player game. The whole production of the game (and the series in general) is really high! This is a must for any cyberpunk or Sword Art Online fan out there! Or anyone who enjoys MMOs.
Dark Chronicle (Aka Dark Cloud 2)
The first Dark Cloud game was something of a mixed bag… It was so unique and looked so amazing, but there were a number of problems with it… Thankfully, when Dark Chronicle (or Dark Cloud 2 in the US) was released, the developers had pretty much addressed those issues. And so, what we got was an utterly astounding little RPG that really stood out on its own.
Similar to Wild Arms 3, it used cell shaded graphics, which gave it a very distinct look… (And one that ages very well too). The game itself is an action-RPG, with some very heavy inspiration from the steampunk genre.
Another interesting difference when compared to other RPGs is the leveling system. You see, the characters don”t level up; the weapons do. Oh, and through the use of so-called Geostones, you also get to rebuild the game world (outside of dungeons). So there’s a slight element of God-sims like The Sims thrown into the mix too! In other words, there’s something for almost everyone in Dark Chronicle, so you really should be picking it up immediately!
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Also created by Atlus, who make the Persona series, the Shin Megami games are far larger in terms of scope. Nocture, the third game in the Tensei series, actually starts with the end of the human world… Well, in a sense… The world turns inside out around Tokyo, becoming infested with demons of all shapes and sizes. It’s a really odd opening that gets you in the mood for one of the coolest and most unique RPGs you could ever play!
Add to this the fact that you have a “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” aspect to the game where you can recruit the demons to fight for you, as well as fuse them to create new ones, and you have a massive game! You could play this for hundreds of hours trying to build up a collection of demons! Oh, and there’s even a cameo boss fight with Dante from Devil May Cry. The battle system is also a really cool take on the Turn Based system, with certain attacks (like using an enemy’s weakness) actually costing them turns. However, this can also happen to you if the enemy hits your weakness!
People who have played this game typically fall in love with it, and I’m sure you will too!
And That’s All Folks
Well, those were my picks for the top 7 PS2 RPGs not made by Square Enix. It was really hard to pick just 7 out of all of the wonderful RPGs that came out on the PS2, so I went with my personal choices.
No doubt you’ll have one or a few that you’d want to add to this list. So, why not help out those looking to play these incredible games by letting us all know which ones they are in the comments below?