Top Ten Playstation 2 RPGs
10) Final Fantasy X-2
There's a part of me that doesn't feel this game should be in the top ten, but if I can't find something good to put in here, it has to be the best of the worst. This game followed up the incredible Final Fantasy X with a strange mission/quest based system. The story felt random as Yuna and her pals wandered around Spira discovering what changed after the events of Final Fantasy X. The battle system is fun, but can only carry this game into an ok rating.
9) Rogue Galaxy
Level-5 has a great history of making RPGs. They were responsible for the Dark Cloud series on PS2 and Jeanne D'arc on the PSP. We'll see another one their titles below. Rogue Galaxy's battle system was really fun and didn't become repetitive or boring like many other action RPGs. By mixing in little tricks to defeat monsters, the game didn't seem like a mindless hack and slash. One of the great subtleties in the game was that movement between different areas of the game was seamless without load times. The story and characters were ok, but overall unspectacular.
8) Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII brought back a huge world to explore, much more so than its PS2 predecessor Final Fantasy X. It also introduced an incredible new battle system that allowed you to "program" common character actions, leaving higher level decision making to the player. It was a fun, new way to battle in RPGs. In addition, by removing the random encounters of previous Final Fantasy games the rich 3D world became more fun to explore (instead of constantly being hounded by random encounters). Compared to other Final Fantasy games, the story and characters left a little more to be desired. The characters were amongst the weaker ones in the Final Fantasy universe, and you felt very little attachment to them by the end of the game.
7) Disgaea II: Cursed Memories
Disgaea 2 is the only strategy RPG to make my list. Of all the strategy RPGs on the PS2 (including this game's predecessor Disgaea: Hour of Darkness), Disgaea 2 had the best characters, funniest story, and most balanced game play without too much needed grinding. In addition, compared to this games predecessor, a variety of additional innovations made the levels fun and interesting instead of a grind fest.
6) Suikoden V
I really felt this game was far more solid than the reviews out there gave it. As with most Suikoden games, there is a political backdrop in the story, so there are twists in turns that made you want to want know what would happen next. There were multiple endings to get you into playing the game again. There were a wide range of fun characters to meet and interact with and it was fun to mix and match teams of characters to determine what group was the best to fight with (and execute special moves together). One of the cool little features of this game were all the character animations in battle that made you end up liking some characters more than others. Suikoden had a great run on PS2, we'll see Suikoden again down below.
4 and 5) Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Persona 4
These games are so close to each other, have such similar traits, and by coincidence are ranked right next to each other, it's only fitting they get covered together.
When I first heard about Persona 3, it was described as a dating simulator crossed with an RPG. Based on those reviews, I initially stayed away. It's only after all the stellar reviews came in and it began receiving RPG of the year awards did I take a look, and I was blown away. What some of those initial reviews didn't talk about was that it's only a "dating simulator" in that you speak to other characters a lot to build relationships with them. Those relationships then power your character and their abilities. For me, that was the highlight of both Persona 3 and Persona 4. The characters you interacted with were so real. They had real problems and real issues, that made them feel like real people instead of paper thin gaming personalities. On top of that, the characters in your party all had their own personalities and issues. It made them fun, deep, entertaining, and you got very attached to them. On top of all that, both game's stories were engaging, exciting, and you couldn't wait to find out what happened. The battle system was an excellent mix of exploration, discovery, quests, character building, and strategy.
Why aren't these games ranked higher? While the story and social links really break the mold and make the game stand out, and the battle system was unique challenging, ultimately it was a very linear path towards the end. Other than dungeon crawling, there were no deviating paths and discovery within the game. That linearity knocks it down just a bit compared to the games below.
3) Dragon Quest VIII
Dragon Quest VIII didn't necessarily do anything revolutionary to the RPG genre or even in the line of Dragon Quest RPGs, but it did everything extremely well. The story plot was reasonably generic and the battle system was fairly classic. However, the characters, towns, and missions were so entertaining that you just wanted to continue to find out what would happen next. The overworld was large, expansive, and fun to explore. The side quests were rewarding and weren't so out of the way it was a grind. In addition, the side love story in the game for the hero is one of the few in RPGs that I felt was done really well. It wasn't overt and was hidden through small hints within the game. By the end of the game, I was legitimately rooting for the hero to get the girl. I had no problems putting in extra hours to get the extra special secret ending.
2) Final Fantasy X
Like the previous Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy X didn't blow you out of the water with anything revolutionary. It did everything really well and there were tiny things that really made it stand out. The story touches on racism and religion that made it feel real and deep. I really enjoyed the tiny subtleties of Tidus being an outsider to the world and Yuna's summoner quest being a quest other summoners take. It removed some of the suspension of disbelief that exist in so many games. In other games, it's sometimes hard to believe that "fate" really drives everything in the story. The battle system was classic Final Fantasy, but it also allowed you to swap in and out any characters at any time. After playing Final Fantasy X, I just can't understand why this isn't supported in so many other RPGs.
1) Suikoden III
I think that Suikoden III is one of the most unheralded RPGs of the PS2 generation. The story was told through the eyes of three perspectives until it was brought together to a single storyline late in the game. These three perspectives were told together very well, as holes in the story would be created in one viewpoint and filled in via another viewpoint. Other times, one viewpoint would show how you missed something in a previous viewpoint. Also, the story was far more mature than most other RPGS, as it touched on consequences of war and prejudice. The three perspectives in the story even showed how some of the prejudices were due to nothing more than minor misunderstandings. It was a far more mature and deep story than most realize. That's not to say the story carries this entire game. A classically fun battle system, fun and entertaining characters, and a deep engaging story made this the best PS2 RPG.