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The PS2 launched on October 26, 2000, in North America. It was an instant hit for a plethora of reasons. Not only was it a next-gen leap in graphics, but it included a DVD player. At the time, DVD players were very expensive, so in a way, it was a heck of a deal to get a gaming console along with a media player.
Like all console launches, it took a bit for the best games to release, especially in the RPG genre. In-between heavy hitters like Final Fantasy 10 were these PS2 games. The span for these early years will stop at 2002 although most examples are between 2000-01. Does anyone remember them?
8 The Bouncer
The Bouncer was an early RPG from Square Enix, still Squaresoft at the time. It was released in 2000 in Japan but it didn’t hit the West until 2001. It is a brawler players could go through multiple characters with new characters such as Sion, Kou, and Volt.
Sion is the main character who sort of looks like a combination of Squall from Final Fantasy 8 and Sora from Kingdom Hearts. Like most brawlers, the campaign was incredibly short which caused a bit of controversy. No one wants to pay full price for a retail game that can be completed in a couple of hours.
Culdcept is the second game in the series. In Japan, this game was released in 2001 as Culdcept Second on the Dreamcast. A year later it was ported to the PS2, also in Japan, but it would not make it to North America until 2003. It misses the cut-off date for early games technically. The game is so bizarre that it needs to be discussed, hence why it’s Japan launch is considered here.
This series is an odd combination of genres including card games, board games, and RPGs. Players go around a board, buy property, and then place monsters down to defend these areas. Think of it like Monopoly but with monsters.
6 Dynasty Tactics
There are a lot of games that could be discussed here within the Dynasty Warriors franchise. They have always been a niche hack-and-slash series for a dedicated few. Instead of diving into Dynasty Warriors 2 which was a launch game in 2000, it would be more interesting to bring up Dynasty Tactics.
It was released in 2002 and features many staples of the main game such as characters. It is a tactical RPG instead of an action game though. It did get one sequel, also on PS2, and then that was it.
5 Jade Cocoon 2
Jade Cocoon 2 was released first in 2000 in Japan followed by a 2001 launch in North America. Both this and its PS1 predecessor, are rather obscure RPGs but there is one thing about them that makes the games special.
Katsuya Kondo is an artist who developed the models and overall artwork for this series and he also worked at Studio Ghibli. So, years before the Ni no Kuni series started, this was a thing and they share more than the artistry. Jade Cocoon is also a game about monster catching albeit in a more archaic way.
4 Okage: Shadow King
Okage: Shadow King was a co-developed RPG within Sony. It stars a young boy named Ari whose shadow becomes possessed by a bigger demon. Shadows play a huge part in the story and in combat. Shadows are kind of like Persona from the Persona series although they are far less flashy.
Aesthetically, this 2001 game resembles A Nightmare Before Christmas or some kind of other gothic cartoon. It was an interesting concept at the time, but the slow pacing of the story, movement speed, and combat make it hard to go back to now.
3 Orphen: Scion Of Sorcery
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery was a launch game in North America for the PS2. It was based on a series of Japanese light novels which have since spun off into other things like anime. This anime adaptation would come to North America as well, but it was a year after this game.
The battle system can be off-putting because it is both turn-based and action-oriented. When battles begin, the party stands relatively still and a reticle appears. Players can launch spells at targeted enemies sort of like a stationary version of Star Fox.
2 Ring Of Red
Ring of Red was a 2001 tactical RPG made by Konami. This was a year after Japan’s launch but mech fans were assuredly excited even if they had to wait. While the gameplay grid of a map looks like other tactical RPGs akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, movement during combat is different.
Players manually control their mechs in real-time, stopping only to aim their weapons at enemies. In this way, Ring of Red has more in common with Valkyria Chronicles. There are even more similarities between them because Ring of Red is also an alternate-history RPG.
1 Shadow Hearts
Shadow Hearts is another alternative history RPG, but it is a somewhat traditional turn-based affair. Players have a mechanic in battle called the Judgement Ring. If players time their button presses right, they can do extra damage to enemies with their attacks sort of like the Mario RPG games.
Released in 2001, Shadow Hearts stars Yuri who is a man entrusted with the life of a young girl. He can transform into monsters during combat kind of like Vincent’s Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy 7. This series was unfortunately never that big, so it’s worth saying now that all three games on the PS2 are worth seeking out.
MORE: PlayStation 2: The Must-Own And Skippable Exclusives