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Last week on March 4th, I turned 33 years old moving one step further into the realm of ‘being too old for video games’ if you asked the wrong people. I wasn’t the only one blowing out birthday candles as the PlayStation 2 turned 20 years old that same day. What most video game naysayers fail to realize or just refuse to, is that games grow up alongside it’s audience. Now more than ever gaming is truly for everyone. In celebration of the PlayStation turning 20, here are 10 of it’s best games.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Underground
Tony Hawk’s Underground is the best THPS game of all time. Full stop. Not only is it the best soundtrack of any Tony Hawk game its also the one that brought narrative to the series. In the game you play a nameless protagonist looking to make it big out of the ‘burbs of New Jersey. Over time your one time friend Eric, becomes your most hated rival. The game illustrates the globetrotting nature of pro skaters while still feeling rooted in that rags-to-riches narrative. But most of all it fully embraces the absurdity of the series. You jump over helicopters in Hawaii, nollie over tanks in the Red Square of Moscow, and even drive stake fans to events in Vancouver. THUG was everything that Tony Hawk games aspired to be and haven’t been anywhere as good since. -Norris Howard
Final Fantasy X
Some call Final Fantasy X the last great Final Fantasy. The franchise left behind a lot of what made it magical after Final Fantasy X, the turn based combat system, interesting characters and story, deep world building. Even at it’s worst Final Fantasy X still sticks with us whether it’s the atrocious laugh from Tidus. Or characters like Wakka that while annoying and flawed were still portrayed by talent like John DiMaggio. Hate it or love it, Final Fantasy X still left an impression on fans young or old, whereas everything that has came after it has mostly been forgettable. From the Sphere Grid leveling system to weapon customization, Final Fantasy X had everything a Final Fantasy needed from the narrative and lore to the systems that lay underneath. It was even the first Final Fantasy to get a direct sequel, but we won’t talk about that here.
Jak and Daxter Series
Jak and Daxter earn a spot on this list as a series for the transformation they were able to accomplish while still staying true to the game’s core. The first game was the PS2’s version of Crash Bandicoot, goofy characters running around a world with some lore and collecting stuff. Jumping, kicking, performing platforming combos there wasn’t a whole lot nuance to the game. By the time Jak 3 came around you had all the elements that platform fans expected from the series mixed in with Grand Theft Auto. Jak had guns, he could steal hover cars and the story was as rich as it had ever been. Also, Jak was finally able to speak and he was a major bad ass.
Grand Theft Auto Series
It’s impossible to choose just one game from the Grand Theft Auto series. Grand Theft Auto 3 started the current craze that eventually led to the behemoth that is Grand Theft Auto 5 and Grand Theft Auto Online. Every installment since then from Vice City to San Andreas to GTA 4, they’re all someones entry point into the series. From the sprawling open worlds, to the crazy stunts and car chases and destruction, Grand Theft Auto had something for everyone. Some people play to rain carnage down upon unsuspecting bystanders. Some people actually do prefer to play through, experience the world and stories and all the insane characters that live therein. Grand Theft Auto as a culture touch stone in gaming started on the PlayStation 2 and has gone on to become of the most profitable pieces of entertainment to ever exist.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
MGS3 is not just the pinnacle of what a system like the PlayStation 2 could produce when it came out in 2004. It’s also the pinnacle of a truly influential and legendary video game series that ran for almost 30 years. Metal Gear Solid 3 has everything you want from a Metal Gear game: sneaking, combat, an overarching story line so complex you need a plot map just to figure it all out. What makes Metal Gear Solid 3 truly stand out among a series of games that all stand out is the relationship between Naked Snake (aka Big Boss in later games) and The Boss, his mentor.
Solid Snake, for all of his great points, isn’t much of a people person. He keeps his relations at a distance. He’s rarely vulnerable and only lets people see a certain part of himself. It makes sense because as we find out in the MGS series, Solid Snake is a clone of Big Boss and has been created to be a tool of war. Solid Snake has been experimented on since he was born. Naked Snake is just a guy, just a soldier. He’s confused, motivated by deeply personal experiences with The Boss. He experiences love and loss, he watches in horror as Colonel Volgin nukes his own countrymen. He is the most fundamentally human main character in a Metal Gear Solid game.
Much of this was facilitated by the technology in the PlayStation 2. The ability to animate emotion in the face, to use voice acting without worrying how much disc space would be taken up – all these factors allowed Metal Gear Solid 3 to be the masterpiece it is to this day. -Nate Bender
The PlayStation 2 was were it all started for the Kingdom Hearts fandom. An unlikely cross-over between then SquareSoft and Disney. It was an idea that should not under any circumstance have worked. Mickey Mouse and Cloud Strife? Goofy and Squall Lionheart? The merging of Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters was one of the most ambitious cross-overs to ever grace gaming and by golly, it actually worked. The story line was whimsical and filled with tropes about friendship and love, but when you have Disney at your back that’s acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is the convoluted, shark-jumping sequels and extended universe that would come afterwards on everything from Handhelds to the current generation. But the original Kingdom Hearts was a gem.
Sly Cooper Series
Sly Cooper is a game unlike anything else I’ve played since. It’s cartoonish style and world fit in perfect for the PlayStation 2 era. It sets itself apart from other games like Crash Bandicoot or Jak and Daxter with it’s unique cel-shaded art style. Sly Cooper was a game that had combat in it, what made it fun was all the unique abilities and tools at your disposal to avoid it. A lot of games have stealth elements, but they rarely reward you for using them or punish you for not. Sly Cooper was the game to play when you wanted to feel as smooth as James Bond or as sneaky as Carmen Sandiego. The series was so good that it had three installments on the PlayStation 2 and a fourth game for the PlayStation 3.
Final Fantasy XI: Online
Final Fantasy XI is on this list because it’s was the first of it’s kind. Before the great MMO boom that would eventually be World of Warcraft, Square Enix dared to put a massively multiplayer game on a console. To this day, I’m not sure how they did it, but it probably involved witchcraft. It also involved buying a separate near $100 attachment that added another 5 pounds to your PlayStation 2. This was an era where you could only play games like EverQuest or Ultima Online if you had a good PC. Final Fantasy XI brought the experience of a fully realized digital world to console players around the world. To this day, the behemoth that is World of Warcraft is still only on PC. Putting an MMO on a console is still something that only Square Enix and Final Fantasy XI have accomplished.
Devil May Cry 3
While the first Devil May Cry captured the hearts of gamers in 2001, Devil May Cry 3 found a way to learn from the faults of the sequel and return to form with this prequel. The game followed a baby-faced Dante and his brother Vergil, and their eternal family dysfunction, and from there an onslaught of demon-killing. The updated game mechanics that pushed focus on fast-paced combos, players felt the adrenaline from start to finish.
Star Wars Battlefront II
This Star Wars game is, in the minds of many, one of the last truly great Star Wars games. A golden age brought on by Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron on Nintendo 64. This game was a first person shooter that saw players fight for either the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance. Players could choose from a number of different unit types, and if they performed well, could also unlock hero characters.
Few moments in gaming elicit the bad-ass factor like unlocking Darth Vader and laying waste to the rebellion. Naturally, a sequel was created and it was a masterpiece. Brilliantly, Pandemic Studios decided to keep going with what was working and basically just improved on everything from Battlefront 1. The game was a smash hit and earns a spot on the list of greatest PS2 games. -Kali Sloan