The fan favorite PlayStation 2 is the best-selling home console ever. While it didn’t pack the hardware specifications of its closest competitors, it contained a library of amazing games that blew away the catalogs of both the Xbox and GameCube. A large portion of the most influential modern games of all time appear on the PlayStation 2, a console that contains so many classic games that it’s difficult to limit a best-of list to only 25 titles … but we’re going to try anyway. The following are, in our opinion, the 25 best games to grace the PS2. The impact they made on the industry is weighed equally with how well they hold up today.
Bully may be one of the most misunderstood games ever made. The game was a subject of controversy among concerned parents and educators due to the track record of the game’s developer. Rockstar Games, of course, was responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series, so critics used that precedent to unfairly misjudge Bully as “Grand Theft Auto, but with kids.” Anyone who actually took time to play the game knows that it’s not a game about assaulting children or a “Columbine simulator” as one infamously-misinformed (and now disbarred) attorney would have us believe.
In reality, Bully is an entertaining and often humorous look at the teen social hierarchies that transplants GTA’s winning sandbox design to protagonist Jimmy Hopkin’s experience at Bullworth Academy. A potential sequel has been rumored for years but there has still been no official confirmation one way or the other. However, even if we never see a sequel, the original will continue to stand as one of Rockstar’s best game on the PS2 outside of the GTA series.
24. Katamari Damacy
The PS2 was home to all sorts of quirky, distinctly Japanese games and Katamari Damacy was easily one of the best. A budget title that originally sold for only $20 in the US, Katamari Damacy managed to find an audience in the west thanks to its low price and irresistibly oddball premise. Boiled down to its basics, Katamari is just a game about making a bigger snowball but the key difference is that that ball is made up of literally everything.
Starting out small, you use both analog sticks to roll a sticky ball around with the goal of making it as big as possible. At first, you’re just collecting things like paper clips but eventually you’ll roll up people, animals, buildings and eventually entire planets. Katamari Damacy is simplistic sure, but incredibly addictive and made all the more joyous thanks to its adorable art style and fun music. A true PS2 gem all around.
23. SSX Tricky
While a case could certainly be made for SSX 3 being the best snowboarding game on the PS2, we have to give the slight edge to SSX Tricky, which to this day is still one of the greatest snowboard racing games ever made. The original SSX was a PS2 launch game and one of the few titles that actually made the console worth picking up upon release. Released only a year later, Tricky could have easily been a cash-in effort but EA took the time to improve upon the original in every way, most notably in the trick system, which introduced “uber tricks” that were not only jaw-dropping to look at, but had tangible benefits when it came to the actual racing.
We could go on about the level design, addictive World Circuit mode, or the fact that the game’s soundtrack revolves around Run DMC’s “Tricky” and somehow it never gets old, but we’ll just leave off with reiterating again that SSX Tricky is the real deal and a true PS2 classic.
22. Kingdom Hearts II
Even though it’s now been around for the better part of two decades, Kingdom Hearts is a video game series that still feels like it shouldn’t have worked and/or existed. Mashing together JRPG stalwart Final Fantasy with Disney properties sounds like fan fiction, not a hugely successful franchise that has spawned a bunch of sequels and spin-offs, as well as earned a worldwide fanbase millions strong. The original Kingdom Hearts was essentially a proof of concept, as while it told an engaging story and introduced an interesting third-person action RPG combat system, it was really rough around the edges.
Fortunately, Kingdom Hearts II fixed many of the first game’s issues (including the dreaded Gummi Ship sequences) and introduced a ton of new worlds for protagonist Sora and his companions Donald Duck and Goofy to explore, including TRON and The Lion King. The game certainly isn’t perfect, as the story kind of goes off the rails into totally obscure territory (a trend that has only become more of an issue as the series has progressed) but even still, Kingdom Hearts II is easily one of the best RPG experiences on the PlayStation 2 and a hard game not to admire.
21. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Though it’s been around just as long as Final Fantasy and was even just as big in its native Japan, Dragon Quest never enjoyed anywhere near the popularity as Final Fantasy did in the west. It wasn’t until Square and Enix merged and brought Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King stateside that western gamers really began to take notice of Dragon Quest. What they found was an RPG that could go toe-to-toe with the best Final Fantasy had to offer.
Following a group of heroes as they track down the evil jester Dhoulmagus, Dragon Quest VIII didn’t really revolutionize any traditional JRPG elements, but it did deliver on pretty much everything fans love about the genre. Featuring a full 3D environment that players could explore at their own pace, an excellent combat system, and some of the finest cel-shaded graphics ever seen up to that point, Dragon Quest VIII was a lengthy beast of a game that has proven to be one of the PS2’s most enduring and beloved RPGs.
20. Guitar Hero II
Released at a time just before the plastic instruments craze went into full swing with the release of games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero II built upon the foundation of its surprise hit predecessor to become one of the greatest music rhythm games ever made. Much of this had to do with the improvements developer Harmonix made to the gameplay and array of modes available, as advanced techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs felt much easier to accomplish on the included five-button guitar peripheral. Which is good because the game featured much more difficult songs overall, making the included Practice mode a true godsend for those who wanted to hone their skills.
However, none of this would have mattered if the songs were awful but thankfully, Guitar Hero II knocked it out of the park with one of the best tracklists we’ve seen in any game before or since. Though the majority of the songs are covers, most sound nearly identical to the original track, which makes jamming out to classic like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “Free Bird” that much better … especially when playing competitively or cooperatively with another player. Later Guitar Hero and Rock Band games would offer much more than Guitar Hero II could have ever hoped to, but it’s still the one we most fondly remember.
19. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
How do you make up for one of the most disappointing sequels in gaming history? By scrapping everything that didn’t work and going back to the design philosophy that made the original so groundbreaking, which is exactly what Capcom did with Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. More than a return to form after the mediocre Devil May Cry 2, Dante’s Awakening remains the pinnacle of the DMC series thanks to its challenging, but rewarding gameplay, cheesy yet surprisingly engrossing storyline, and heaps of style. This is one of those games that only becomes more enjoyable as you unlock more of lead character Dante’s wide array of demon-slaying weaponry (including a guitar that shoots electric bats, which is just as wonderfully ridiculous as it sounds) and become more proficient with the game’s deep combat system.
Things would only get better when Capcom released the much-superior Special Edition the following year, which did a better job of balancing the difficulty and included an all-new playable character in Dante’s katana-wielding brother Vergil. The best part is that with this game being ported to pretty much every console released since the PS2, it’s widely available just in case you’ve somehow never gotten around to playing it.
18. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001)
We wrote an entire piece about why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is the best game in the series, so you know that when we say it’s also one of the greatest PS2 games ever made, we mean it. The first Pro Skater game to release on PS2, THPS3 took advantage of the new hardware by expanding the scope of the series beyond what was possible in the previous console generation. The most noticeable improvement was in level design, as Neversoft created much more visually-diverse and interactive areas to skate in and introduced pedestrians to make everything feel more authentic.
But more importantly, Pro Skater 3 pretty much perfected the Tony Hawk formula and is arguably still the purest distillation of the two-minute run experience the franchise built its name on. Later installments would introduce bigger levels, more tricks, and even an actual story in the case of Tony Hawk’s Underground, but much of it diluted the core gameplay and at least in our minds, no sequel was ever able to top Pro Skater 3.
Oh and can we talk about that soundtrack?!
17. Silent Hill 2
Along with Resident Evil, the Silent Hill franchise helped define the modern horror game genre back on the original PlayStation. The second title in the series was one of the earliest major released for the PlayStation 2, receiving rave reviews at the time, and its legacy has only increased with time. Set in the fictional American town of Silent Hill, the game puts an emphasis on psychological horror, where running away from enemies is often a much more viable choice than engaging in combat. The game’s strengths also lie in its narrative design, as much of the storyline is derived from objects found in the environment, and from the town itself. Silent Hill 2 is still widely regarded as the best entry in the long-running series and regularly charts high on lists of the best video games of all time.
16. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
When one thinks of the very best platforming series, it feels like Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper gets left out of the conversation or at the very least, doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. That’s a shame because across the board, the Sly Cooper games are a true joy to play, but it’s still Sucker Punch’s second franchise entry that stands above the rest. In many ways, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is the perfect kind of sequel, as it expands upon the central design of the original game while improving upon it at the same time.
Split into separate, free-roaming HUB worlds, Band of Thieves tasks players with navigating the stealthy Sly and his buddies Bentley and Murray through a variety of different heists. Each of the game’s three playable protagonists comes with their own move-sets and gameplay style (Sly is the stealth master, Murray is the brawler, while Bentley relies on hacking and sleep darts to get the job done). From its Saturday morning cartoon-style presentation to its beautiful cel-shaded graphics, Band of Thieves is a game dripping with personality and deserves recognition as one of the PS2’s very best titles.
15. SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs (2003)
The premier online shooter for the PlayStation 2 during this generation, SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs deserves recognition for its lasting legacy alone. However, not only did SOCOM II have the enormously influential and addictive online mode most gamers remember fondly, it also contains a tense, strategic single-player campaign. This is fortunate because the online servers have been shut down for a long time. Many shooting games of the generation are now hardly playable without online servers, yet SOCOM II’s missions remain a blast to play. Shooting games age arguably quicker than any other genre, making SOCOM II such a remarkable feat for its lasting influence and longevity. SOCOM II will never get old.
The PS2 generation was, at least in part, defined by two games from Fumito Ueda and his team at Sony Computer Entertainment Japan: Shadow of the Colossus (which appears later on this list) and ICO, the first title developed by the appropriately-named Team ICO. Drawing on inspiration from his childhood and the late 70s manga series Galaxy Express 999, Ueda that was essentially an interactive story following a young horned boy and a princess as they try to escape from a mysterious, labyrinthine castle. ICO didn’t sell well upon release but has since become a cult classic and heavily influenced the direction of cinematic gaming in the 21st century. While certain aspects of its design – most notably its engine and camera – have not aged gracefully, ICO is still a must-play for anyone who values artistic expression in gaming.
13. Burnout 3: Takedown
Arguably still the pinnacle of the Burnout series (though we understand if you prefer the open-world fun of Paradise), Burnout 3: Takedown is an example of a developer knocking it out of the park. Though the first two Burnout titles were fun arcade racers in their own right, Criterion Games hit the accelerator and never looked back for their third lap, as Takedown is one of the fastest, most aggressive racing games we’ve ever played. It truly feels like Criterion designed Takedown to appeal to anyone who has ever even remotely enjoyed the idea of driving cars fast, as its plethora of different modes truly offer something for everyone.
The standard races play out like Mad Max in the city, as you have to attack and defend other racers while also trying to avoid oncoming traffic at 200mph. For many, however, it’s crash mode that they couldn’t stop playing, as you try and deliberately cause as big a pile-up as possible at a variety of different intersections, creating an all-new sort of puzzle game. While this wasn’t the end for the Burnout series, it still feels like we’re waiting for a true sequel to Burnout 3: Takedown but even if we never get it, at least we’ll always have this PS2 masterpiece.
12. Okami (2006)
Much like God of War II, Okami was one of the PlayStation 2’s final big games … and what a sendoff it was. Resembling a watercolor painting come to life, Okami is easily one of the console’s most beautiful games but it’s also so much more than a pretty picture. Heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, Okami is an epic adventure following a wolf goddess as she tries to bring life back to a medieval Japanese countryside brimming with colorful characters and side quests to get lost in.
Most importantly, the gameplay lives up to Okami’s beautiful presentation with an engaging mix of action-adventure, platforming and puzzle elements. Sadly, Okami did not perform well upon initial release but thanks to numerous ports over the years, the game is now widely available on multiple platforms (in HD, no less) for those who missed out on it the first time around.
11. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)
The story may be a little cheesy, but Metal Gear Solid 2 handled plot themes and storyline development in a fashion that had yet to be developed in video games. More reminiscent of a high-budget film than a video game, Metal Gear Solid 2 was revolutionary and advanced video games tremendously by showing that the storyline could have as large of an impact as the gameplay itself. Fortunately, Metal Gear Solid 2 doesn’t disappoint from a gameplay perspective either, enhancing the groundbreaking stealth mechanics of the original game. The game feels more realistic than the PlayStation 1 title and takes advantage of the superior hardware by adding new moves and a first-person shooting mode that players could easily switch to. The AI in the game is also significantly improved from the original game, making the gameplay more interesting as well as realistic. Metal Gear Solid 2 gracefully cements itself as one of the best games ever made and one of the best titles released on the PlayStation 2.
10. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Despite quickly beginning to escape its survival-horror roots, Resident Evil 4 is the best Resident Evil title in the series. As a preview for how strong the PlayStation 2 lineup is, Resident Evil 4 is barely able to crack the list of best PS2 games despite its overall excellence and quality. This gives aj pretty good idea of how many amazing games had to be omitted in order to narrow down the search for the greatest PS2 game. Resident Evil 4 was originally a GameCube exclusive, but was ported to PS2 less than a year later and arrived with extra content including a brand new added campaign. The game has been remastered several times on various platforms and devices, but if any gamer somehow missed this masterpiece that situation needs to be corrected immediately and can occur on any platform.
9. Gran Turismo 4 (2004)
Throughout the first two generations of Sony consoles, the Gran Turismo series was redefining what a racing game could offer and how appealing the genre could be. The initial Gran Turismo to arrive on the PlayStation 2 was Gran Turismo 3. Offering what was at the time photo-realistic graphics and incredible handling, the game is fondly remembered as many gamers’ favorite racing simulation ever. While Gran Turismo 3 may be the more legendary game due to arriving first and during the early stages of the PS2 lifecycle, its sequel, Gran Turismo 4, is the superior offering. With better physics, a larger roster of available vehicles and an endless amount of modifications, Gran Turismo 4 remains far more playable than any of its three predecessors and serves as a reminder to when Gran Turismo was the undisputed racing king.
8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The first of many 3D Prince of Persia games Ubisoft would release during the PS2 and PS3 era, Sands of Time is still considered by many to be the best, with every subsequent entry in the series failing to capture the same feeling and overall strength of design.
Players take control of the unnamed Prince as he navigates a giant palace full of hazardous traps and rather ridiculous architecture, so it’s fortunate that the Prince is ridiculously gifted when it comes to acrobatics. Wall-running, swinging, and wall-jumping form the crux of the game’s platforming sections, but with the added wrinkle of being able to rewind time if you screw up a jump or make the wrong move in combat. Admittedly, the time-rewinding mechanic makes the game a bit too easy overall but even if Sands of Time didn’t have this mechanic, it would still be considered a marvel of platforming level design, with some of the most memorable puzzles we’ve ever come across in gaming.
7. Jak 3 (2004)
Developer Naughty Dog successfully created their first fully 3D adventure in the form of Jak & Daxter for the PlayStation 2. The odd thing was that unlike their previous 2.5-dimensional property Crash Bandicoot, which featured three games that were all quite similar, the Jak & Daxter series changed radically in-between each offering. Crash Bandicoot evolved in technical and graphical fashion as the developers became more comfortable with the console’s hardware, but Jak & Daxter games changed genres completely.
Jak II changed the cute 3D-platformer into an open-world adventure inspired by Grand Theft Auto while Jak 3, which represents the best in the series, features the sandbox hub of its predecessor but adds more guns and more gameplay modes, including dune buggy driving. The Jak & Daxter series features an overarching storyline that spans all three games in the main line and contains a far more compelling plot than the majority of platformers. Gamers who experience all three titles will gain more from the story than those that jump straight into Jak 3, but it’s not required. Missing the first two titles in the series would be a shame though, as the series is best experienced as one.
6. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (2003)
Unlike the Jak & Daxter series, which is a trilogy that features very different gameplay in each title, the Ratchet & Clank series on the PlayStation 2 all play fairly similarly and somewhat blend together. There were four Ratchet & Clank titles to grace the console, and while the final one titled Ratchet: Deadlocked acts as more of a spin-off and lags behind the others, the original three titles are pure gold. The first Ratchet & Clank, which was recently reimagined for the PS4, laid the foundation for a beautiful series. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is the sequel and is one of the best titles on the PS2. The third title in the series, subtitled Up Your Arsenal, is excellent as well. All three titles deserve to be played, and although they are all similar, Going Commando is the best by a very small margin. Proving to be well ahead of its time, Going Commando introduces mainstays for the franchise such as the infamous leveling system for weapons, Ratchet’s health upgrades and the ability to strafe during combat. Unique in style and execution, Ratchet & Clank proves mascot games can be just as good on a Sony machine as they are on Nintendo.
5. God of War II
Long before the series became so exhausting in its excessive gore and overbearing, homicidal protagonist that it needed a full reboot to get back on track, God of War was one of the most visually-impressive, cinematic franchises in gaming. David Jaffe’s 2005 original gave PlayStation 2 owners a new mascot to hang their hats on – the ghostly-white Spartan warrior Kratos, seeking revenge against the Greek God of War himself, Ares. While that first game was incredible and very easily could have made this list, we prefer the 2007 sequel, which made improvements in pretty much every area.
God of War II heavily expanded on the series’ lore and was somehow even more epic in scope, as Kratos embarks on a lengthy quest to kill Zeus. Even though it ends on a cliffhanger, God of War II remains a must-play experience for action-adventure fans to this day and was a perfect swan song for the PS2 as it quietly took a backseat to the then newly-released PlayStation 3.
4. Final Fantasy X (2001)
Final Fantasy X is one of the final classic JRPGs to grace consoles. The later Final Fantasy XII is a great title in its own right and one of the more underrated games in the genre, but it doesn’t have the classic Final Fantasy feel that the 10th iteration of the franchise has. Indeed, Final Fantasy X feels like the end of a generation, as the JRPG genre would continue to fade after its release. Final Fantasy X is outrageously good, featuring one of the deepest and longest storylines in video game history. The game is the first in the series to feature voice acting and also the first to spawn a direct sequel, called Final Fantasy X-2. While X-2 is hit-or-miss and may take too long to become engrossing, Final Fantasy X is one of the best RPGs ever created and one of the best games featured in an impressive PlayStation 2 library.
3. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
A visual masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus was developer Team Ico’s second project, following the fabulous Ico. Both games were remastered in HD for the PlayStation 3 in the form of a collection, while Shadow received an even better PS4 remaster in early 2018 but Shadow of the Colossus remains an impressive technical feat on the PlayStation 2. While the remaster stabilizes the framerate and adds a fresh coat of paint, it doesn’t detract from the experience of the original version. If given the choice, we’d give the nod to the remaster, but the PS2 version is still well worth your time. Shadow of the Colossus succeeds in creating one of the most immersive worlds in video game history, as well as an emotional story that truly delivers in the final act. This is simply one of the greatest games to ever hit any PlayStation console and is a true all-timer in every sense of the term.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
The origin story of the series, Metal Gear Solid 3 is a spectacular adventure that moves video games into a cinematic space that had never been attained before. Taking place during the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3 is a beautifully-crafted prequel that takes place 30 years prior to the events of the original Metal Gear Solid. There have been numerous entries in the franchise that compete for the title of greatest Metal Gear Solid game. Each game in the series offers fantastic, revolutionary gameplay and a breathtaking cinematic feel, but Metal Gear Solid 3 is the finest example in the franchise. It’s the best-written game in the series, contains the best ending and has the best music. Metal Gear Solid 3 edges out the others and represents the greatest Metal Gear Solid game, and consequently is one of the best games on the PS2.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
Grand Theft Auto 3 was one of, if not the most influential game of all time, showing what an open-world game could offer. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City improved on the formula of its predecessor and became the most beloved game of its time. While the first two titles on the console may contain a significant amount of nostalgia, it’s incredible how superior Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was at the time of its release in 2004 and today, where that gap has widened even further due to San Andreas aging remarkably well. San Andreas remains arguably the best title in the franchise, a spectacular feat considering the superior hardware its sequels are running on. San Andreas features the deepest, most detailed environment in the series and doesn’t feature any “empty space” which the later titles are notorious for. Instead of artificially inflating the map with open space that is boring to drive through, San Andreas actually has a massive world with an endless list of things to do. San Andreas embraces its plot and presentation by offering an enormous cast of talented celebrity voice actors. It’s the best game on the PlayStation 2 and in contention for the best game ever made.