Best JRPGs Of The PS2 Era

Highlights

  • The PS2 era was a golden age for JRPGs, with classic titles like Rogue Galaxy, Shin Megami Tensei 3, and Suikoden 5.
  • These games showcased impressive graphics, open-world elements, and deep storytelling, providing hours of immersive gameplay.
  • Other notable JRPGs of the era include Star Ocean 3, Xenosaga Episode 1, Tales of the Abyss, and Kingdom Hearts 2, each offering unique gameplay experiences and captivating narratives.

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If the PS1 represented the golden era for JRPG fans, the PS2 was the rare sequel that was just as good as the original. From the system’s beginnings in 2000, until the PS3 finally took its place in 2006, the PS2 cranked out classic title after title.

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Publishers like Square Enix and Konami not only managed to produce sequels to beloved PS1 franchises like Final Fantasy or Suikoden, but also gave rise to iconic newer franchises as well. Again, this is an era you could get lost in if you weren’t careful, so this list exists to point out the best JRPGs of the PS2 era, to give both experienced and novice JRPG fans the perfect checklist.

Updated on October 17, 2023 by Jouanna Bondakji: Though the PS2 era has long since passed, there are many JRPGs that have shaped what we enjoy and expect from JRPGs in the current generation. The PS2 was a goldmine for amazing JRPGs, and these are just some of them.

17 Rogue Galaxy

Kisala and Jaster standing triumphantly in front of a ship's sails with Jaster holding his sword over his shoulder

Rogue Galaxy’s setting was something new for Level-5, whose previous endeavors were based on fantasy. In the game, you follow Jaster Rogue as he’s suddenly taken from his quiet life on an isolated planet and thrust into space piracy. But it turns out he may not just be an ordinary guy after all.

Rogue Galaxy was Level-5’s biggest game at the time, and it showed. Its graphics were impressive, and it had some open-world elements. There were also a bunch of side quests in addition to the range of exploration, so you could put in tens of hours into the game and still find new things to do.

16 Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne

The mysterious man and woman from Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster looking at the viewer

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne is one of those game titles you’ll hear being thrown around when discussing hard JRPGs. Its infamous Matador fight is often used as an example of the game’s difficulty spikes. Beyond that, though, it leaves quite an impression because of how its story is structured.

It starts with an apocalypse in Tokyo, leading to the protagonist becoming a Demi-fiend and potentially becoming part of one of several people’s plans to reform Tokyo in their own vision. Gameplay-wise, the Magatamas you equip and press turn system can make or break your battles, meaning you’ll always be on your toes. Also, it features Dante from Devil May Cry for some reason, so that automatically makes it a good game.

15 Suikoden 5

Suikoden 5 The Prince and his companions the 108 Stars lined up next to each other looking into the distance

Despite Suikoden losing its series creator after the third installment, some still regard 5 as the best Suikoden title ever. It manages to make up for the mistakes of the fourth game while improving on other important aspects like graphics and character development.

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You take on the role of the Prince of Falena, a matriarchal queendom which is gradually beginning to be torn apart thanks to the machinations of royals acting behind the scenes. Eventually, the Prince finds himself cast out of the kingdom and forced to assemble his army to take his land back for the sake of his sister, the next Queen.

14 Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time

Feyt and his companions standing around in Star Ocean 3

Once a generation, tri-ace manages to bring out a Star Ocean title. This time around, the game focused on Fayt Leingod, the son of a famous scientist. Fayt was enjoying a peaceful vacation until an alien race known as the Vendeeni caused him to hastily abandon the vacation planet, sending him on an adventure across the stars.

Though not quite as perfect as its predecessor, Star Ocean 3 is still a fantastic game, working at a much larger scale than the previous games. You can travel between multiple planets on your way to figuring out just what’s declared war on the Pangalactic Federation. Though the ending has raised the ire of numerous fans in the past, it’s not enough to put a blemish on this classic.

13 Xenosaga Episode 1

The cast of Xenosaga Episode 1 lined up and posing

A spiritual successor to his legendary Xenogears game, director Tetsuya Takahashi decided to leave behind the confines of a single planet for something significantly more science fiction-influenced. Shion Uzuki is an employee of Vector Industries battling against the alien Gnosis, who – alongside the android KOS-MOS – is pulled into a completely different mystery throughout three other titles.

If there’s one flaw that holds this game back, it sometimes feels more like a film than a game, boasting cutscenes so long they needed save points in between. Nonetheless, the first Xenosaga is still a great first part of a wonderful, if slightly convoluted, trilogy.

12 Suikoden 3

Suikoden 3 cast holding their weapons and looking at the viewer

Suikoden director Yoshitaka Murayama pushed the experimental nature of his series even further with the game’s third installment and first appearance on the PS2. As ever, the nature of Suikoden titles doesn’t put the fate of the world on the line. Instead, it becomes about a separate area of the world you’d seen already, the Grasslands, and the people who sought to control them, as well as the story of the Runes, the sources of magic in the Suikoden world.

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What made this game special is that it has three different lead characters, and the story switches points of view between them, making it a perfect game for those willing to pay attention to the narrative it was weaving.

11 Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness

Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness Laharl looking to a house in the distance as he holds a sword

Disgaea is another one of those Japanese franchises that hasn’t received too much love in the West until fairly recently, but this very first entry is every bit as good as those modern offerings, if not better. Its creative approach to game design would go on to become one of the series’ defining traits, as too would its fantastic character designs and wicked sense of humor.

Not many people picked this one up when it was first released, but thanks to a string of enhanced ports and remasters, it’s never been more accessible and is finally starting to receive some of the love and recognition that it deserves.

10 Shadow Hearts: Covenant

Shadow Hearts Covenant cast looking at the viewer

One of the odder games to come out during the PS2 era, Shadow Hearts: Covenant was set in the early 1900s in an alternate universe version of World War 1. During that time, German lieutenant Karin Koenig meets up with Yuri, the protagonist from the original Shadow Hearts, and a group of other warriors who wind up facing off against a secret society that turns out to be behind the Great War.

Nearly everything about Covenant made it stand out as unique among other JRPGs at the time. It drew on both a period (the 1900s) and setting (Eurasia) that no other game was even thinking about, and also leaned into the occult and supernatural, making for an experience unlike any other.

9 Tales Of The Abyss

Tales of the Abyss - Natalia having her hood taken off by two maids

Tales of the Abyss was released in a sweet spot before Vesperia and after Symphonia, wedging it between two of the better-known and highly praised Tales games. It’s considered excellent by JRPG and Tales standards, especially after the underwhelming reception of Tales of Legendia. Abyss is not for everyone, with a considerably darker story than most games up to this point.

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It’s easily one of the best PS2 Tales games, as well as the final Tales game to be released on the PS2. What a way to end off that incredible run.

8 Kingdom Hearts 2

Roxas sits on the clock tower at sunset with his friends in tow in Kingdom Hearts 2's Twilight Town

For as great as the original Kingdom Hearts game was, it had its fair share of teething problems when it came to narrative structure and combat. It’s here that the team at Square Enix seems to have devoted the bulk of their attention, and it shows in the final game.

Kingdom Hearts 2 is bigger and better than its predecessor in almost every way, and helped to cement the series’ place as one of the developer’s most popular franchises. The overarching narrative may be impossible to follow for most, but the Kingdom Hearts games remain incredibly enjoyable today thanks to their intuitive gameplay and lovable characters. Much of that can be traced back to right here.

7 Dark ChronicleDark Chronicle Monica fighting an Ice Element

Also known as Dark Cloud 2 in the States, Dark Chronicle is the spiritual successor to Level-5’s cult classic title Dark Cloud, which was released for the PS2 in 2000. It followed just two years later and won numerous awards for its excellence despite not selling anywhere near as well as its predecessor.

In the game, you take control of the two protagonists as they embark upon a quest to stop the evil Emperor Griffon from destroying the planet. The combat system is incredibly innovative for the era, as too, are the game’s customization and weapon enhancement features. This innovation is supported by some great writing and stunning visuals, which together make for a truly wonderful game.

6 Final Fantasy 10

Final Fantasy 10 Tidus looking into the distance and smiling

Seen by many as the high-point of the series, Final Fantasy 10 was the first mainline Final Fantasy game to be released on the PS2 and features some of the best storytelling in the series. The game has a fantastic cast of well-developed characters, and the refinements made to the combat system helped to make the game feel next-gen.

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As well as its engrossing story, Final Fantasy 10 also features a plethora of minigames and endgame content which help to pad out playtime without ever feeling too grindy or pointless. What’s more, its soundtrack is arguably the franchise’s very best with great tracks like ‘To Zanarkand’ and ‘Hymn of the Fayth’ providing the perfect accompaniment to its top-notch gameplay.

5 Dragon Quest 8: Journey Of The Cursed King

The cast of Dragon Quest 8 preparing to fight offscreen enemies

Level-5 was tasked with developing Square’s prized franchises for its sole PS2 outing. When the kingdom of Trodain is placed under a spell by an ancient sceptre, it is up to the lead character – a simple guard by all accounts – and a handful of people he collects along the way to defeat the jester Dhoulmagus and bring the kingdom back to normal.

This title brings the world of Dragon Quest into the realm of 3D, using cel-shaded environments and characters to create a beautiful world for you to explore. Seen as one of the strongest entries in the Dragon Quest franchise, the game was a massive success for everyone involved, becoming the best-selling PS2 game in Japan.

4 Persona 4

Persona 4 cast lined up next to each other and looking into the distance

Atlus catapulted itself into the spotlight with the fourth installment of its Persona series. Playing as an unnamed character that winds up in the Japanese countryside, you must investigate the strange town you find yourself in. All while, you must tend to the mysterious Persona powers you have.

Persona 4’s simulation elements add a layer of role-playing, limiting actions to certain times of day to keep up the feeling of actually being a high-schooler. Despite releasing well into the following generation, this title captured the attention of JRPG gamers everywhere thanks to both the simulation aspects and the world and cast. This resulted in incredible sales and made Persona one of the strongest remaining JRPG franchises left in the new HD world that came after.

3 Persona 3 FES

Persona 3 protagonist, Junpei, and Yukari sitting in a classroom and looking up at the viewer

Persona 3 was made as a last shot by Atlus when they were on the verge of shutting down, and it became an unexpected hit. They then released the FES version, which had small but appreciated extra content in addition to an entire epilogue to play after the main game.

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Persona 3 FES stands as many fans’ favorite Persona game for a good reason. Though it shares concepts and assets with Persona 4, its story and themes were much darker overall. Not to mention, the main cast feels much more mature and realistic than that of Persona 4 or Persona 5’s. It lacked some typical gameplay elements like the ability to guard or control your party members, but that also added a lot to the strategizing aspect of the game.

2 Final Fantasy 12

Final Fantasy 12 Vaan standing in the city

Director Hiroyuki Ito and writer Yasumi Matsuno teamed up to bring us back to the world of Ivalice for Final Fantasy 12, the last time the franchise would be on PlayStation 2. The series sees Vaan, a young boy with dreams of being a grand sky pirate adventurer, team up with Ashe, a young princess seeking to protect her kingdom amid a grand war between two far larger armies.

This game was massive, easily something you could sink over a hundred hours in if you chose thanks to the length of the story and size of the world. Plus, the game was engage, as its License system gives you absolute control over how you want each member to be developed, while the Gambit system gives you total authority over how your AI companions play. This game was so forward-thinking that long-time Final Fantasy fans still long to see what could happen if these two creators teamed up again.

1 Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

A close-up of Alicia from Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria was and is one of the best Valkyrie Profile games. A joint endeavour by Tri-Ace and Square Enix, the fact this game was released on the PS2 is astonishing. This isn’t just because of its game systems and characters, but also because the visuals for a game of this era were shockingly good. The real-time 3D battlefields are outrageously fun, and the part-break system is phenomenal.

Acting as a prequel to the first Valkyrie Profile, this game is a story about two main characters: Princess Alicia and the Valkyrie Silmeria, who dwells inside her. Exploration is all done in 2D-side scrolling, while battles happen in fully realized 3D arenas. The platforming, battles, locations, and story are stellar, situating Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time.

Next: The Best PS4 RPGs Of All Time

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