The PlayStation 2 had a tonne of role-playing games released on the console, just like its predecessor. However, also the same as what happened with the original PlayStation, these games were often overshadowed by the likes of Final Fantasy and other blockbuster RPGs. You can find my list of 7 original PlayStation RPGs that you need to play here, and for today, I wanted to give the same love and respect to those PS2 RPG hidden gems that went under the radar at the time because we were all focused on Yuna or Balthier.
So here is my list of the top 7 PS2 RPG hidden gems that you probably haven’t played, but you really should!
7. Shadow Hearts
Okay, so we are going to start this list off with one that is included because of how much I love it, but also one that won’t be for everyone. Shadow Hearts, the sequel to Koudelka, is a seriously dark and gory PS2 RPG. It starts off with the main character’s arm getting cut off by a demon. He then crushes the demon’s skull in his other hand and proceeds to reattach his arm once again. That one scene is a great example of how visceral and violent the storyline and events of Shadow Hearts is.
Because of this, a lot of people may be turned off from the game. However, it is a really good game with a unique combat system and truly memorable storyline. You’ll feel creeped out, disgusted and horrified, which is exactly what you are supposed to feel. If you can handle the gore, adult language and generally dark and depressing nature of the game, it is well worth your time!
6. Wild Arms 3
I recently did two RPG Retrospective videos on my YouTube channel covering Wild ARMS and Wild ARMS 2 for the original PlayStation. The series finally made the jump to being a PS2 RPG with Wild ARMS 3, continuing the Wild West visual and audio theme but actually involving it more in the plot as well. There is a scene on top of an old Western train that will forever be stuck in my memory. That, to me, is the sign of a good game – when it sticks in your mind.
Wild ARMS 3 wasn’t that successful commercially, just like the rest of the series, and that is a real shame. It’s a truly extraordinary PS2 RPG hidden gem that you really need to try if you haven’t already. The characters each have very distinct personalities, backstories and motivations, with a plot that is very well executed.
5. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Funnily enough, there is one Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series that I am sure most people reading this have played; Persona. However, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (or Lucifer’s Call in Europe) is a very different game. It starts off with your character going to Shibuya and witnesses the end of the World and Tokyo folding in on itself Inception-style to create a new, inside-out world. Oh, and you also get turned into a demon in the process.
From there, you have to fight your way through this new world to stop the big bad evil. Along the way, you can recruit enemy demons to join you, whilst also being able to fuse them as well. This adds a very “gotta catch ’em all” feeling to the game which adds to the depth as you try to get the strongest party possible. The Push Turn Battle System is also incredibly different from other games as your attacks can actually cause enemies to lose their turns, and they can do the same to you!
4. Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Are you a fan of anime style RPGs? If so, then Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis could by the PS2 RPG hidden gem that you’ve been looking for. The game is a mix between a fantasy RPG and a school simulator, creating one of the more original takes on the RPG genre for the PlayStation 2. The anime style is both cute and well presented, and the general visual and audio for the game is top notch.
I used to own the game but, as with much of my old collection, it got lost years ago. Now the game can be quite hard to find, but if you can get your hands on it and you enjoy anime style RPGs, then you won’t regret it! Mana Khemia is almost the definition of a PS2 RPG hidden gem.
3. Rogue Galaxy
Interestingly enough, I didn’t know about Rogue Galaxy when the PS2 was still the most modern console. This action RPG well completely under the radar for me and I don’t even remember seeing it in the shops. It was released in 2007 in English-speaking regions and recieved largely positive reviews, yet I have never heard anyone ever talk about it. If that isn’t a PS2 RPG hidden gem, then I don’t know what is!
As the name suggests, Rogue Galaxy is a science fantasy RPG that features a plot revolving around saving the entire galaxy. That is a pretty big scope for the plot, but the game backs it up for the most part. It’s a really enjoyable RPG with a nice take on the action RPG formula, still utilising random encounters to find a happy middle ground between traditional JRPGs and action RPGs.
2. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
Now we come to one of my all-time favourite RPGs on the PS2, and my favourite in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise; Digital Devil Saga. As with Shadow Hearts, the storyline is really dark, featuring gangs fighting for dominance over a strange land, who get “infected” with “the hunger”. This basically means that they can turn into demons to help them fight, but must satiate the demon’s hunger by devouring the other gang member’s that they have killed. If they don’t feed like this, they will eventually go berserk and need to be put down.
The gameplay will be very familiar to anyone who has played a turn-based RPG before, but it is really the presentation and storyline that make Digital Devil Saga stand out as a PS2 RPG hidden gem. There is also a direct sequel, Digital Devil Saga 2, which picks up immediately after the first game, so I would suggest playing that as well to get full closure.
1. Radiata Stories
Another action RPG, Radiata Stories is a truly amazing game. Battles play out similar in fashion to the Star Ocean series, in that you are taken to a different battle screen and can then move around that battle screen. It also features a post-game extra dungeon and a New Game Plus option, giving strong replayability, which is something many RPGs don’t offer. There are also 176 recruitable NPCs, meaning that Radiata Stories verges on Suikoden-levels of character numbers!
Add to this a fun and exciting storyline, great RPG gameplay as well as a beautiful soundtrack, and you’ve got a true PS2 RPG hidden gem on your hands. Finding Radiata Stories in the wild seems to be rather difficult, as I haven’t seen it in any retro gaming shops or even at the retro game market events I have been too. But if you do manage to find it, you should definitely pick it up if you’re a fan of RPGs!
And That’s All Folks
So those were7 PS2 RPGs that you probably haven’t played, but really, you need to! These PS2 RPG hidden gems each stand out in their own way, be it through style, gameplay or storyline, and I’m certain that you’ll enjoy at least one of them, if not all of them.
Are there any PS2 RPG hidden gems you think need to get more awareness? Let me know in the comments below!