The Hidden Gems of the PlayStation 2 Era

As the successor to the original PlayStation, and the awkward stepping block to the technically superior PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 2 is often largely dismissed by the modern era of gamers. Lacking the classic nostalgia of the original console, and the refined graphical capabilities and endurance of the PlayStation 3, the games of this era have largely been forgotten, with a few quality exceptions. While mainstream games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas have stood the test of time, along with classics such as Kingdom Hearts and Devil May Cry, all of which have received remasters or classic ports over to the PlayStation 3 and 4, there are many hidden gems of the PlayStation 2 era that have largely been forgotten.

With the development of the PS2 Classics line, many of these games are being unearthed and rediscovered, such as the brilliant Ape Escape 2, which was recently given a facelift and added to the classics line. Other recent inductees include Dark Cloud, Max Payne and Bully/Canis Canem Edit. While the collection is slowly growing, there are still many classic and hidden gems that deserve to be given a new lease of life, including the following titles.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex (2001)

The Wrath of Cortex was critically panned from the moment it was released, as it followed three Crash Bandicoot games that were considered classics of the modern era, and that are currently being remastered for a new generation of gamers. A dominant complaint was the ridiculous loading times that hampered the excitement and freshness of the gameplay. These loading times, however, were to be expected from the first generation of PlayStation 2 titles, as they had yet to utilise the full capability of the new console. Patience is required to discover the title’s many diverse, lush worlds, and the fun gameplay that calls back to the original titles.

The new gameplay features, such as the Monkey Ball-like ‘Atlasphere’ levels, the Alien inspired Mech Suit, and the Crash Buggy were all great new additions to the franchise, despite many critics dismissing Wrath of Cortex as largely unoriginal and un-innovative. Being included in the ‘PS2 Classics’ library may require a technical facelift, but beneath these difficulties, the Wrath of Cortex is a worthy entry in the Crash Bandicoot series, and deserves a second chance.

Space Channel 5 (2002)

While you may recognise Ulala from her many guest entries in other console franchises, her original game, Space Channel 5, is largely forgotten, despite its endless charm. A classic rhythm and action game, it featured the bubbly Ulala and, most surprisingly, Michael Jackson, as its conductors, guiding you through various levels as you beat aliens, saved hostages and grooved your way through space. The visuals are gorgeous with the unique style and well-crafted story making it an addictive and enduring game.

While it’s sequel, Space Channel 5: Part 2 is available for the PlayStation 3 as an HD remaster, the original is not. Arguably, the sequel boasted superior graphics and a greater range of catchy tunes, but the original, in my opinion, is still the best, most iconic part of the franchise, and deserves a place in the PS2 Classics line as much as its sequel.

Digimon World: Data Squad (2006)

 Largely dismissed as a Pokemon pretender, the Digimon games are often overlooked in favour of their timeless, but formulaic cousins. Now, I will admit a slight bias towards the Digimon franchise, as Digimon World 3 was one of the first games I owned, but I feel that Data Squad was wrongfully dismissed as boring and ugly. Digimon World: Data Squad was a fun adventure game that utilised cel shading to make the most of the PS2’s graphics, with a bright, colourful world to explore. Despite its name, it is not an official entry into the Digimon World series, and as such features simpler gameplay and a new, immersive story filled with interesting lore and classic Digimon villains. While it is somewhat hampered by the repetitiveness of random battle encounters, the turn-based battles are neat and satisfying.

Upon release, it was panned by critics for its repetitive battles and tedious gameplay, which led to the game being buried, but the story is fun, and the gameplay, while simple, is exciting. Perhaps I speak only as a Digimon fan when I say this, but Data Squad was an enjoyable game that was unduly forgotten.

Spyro: A Hero’s Tail (2004)

 The Spyro franchise had a very difficult relationship with the PlayStation 2, producing several lacklustre titles once Insomniac Games ceased development of the title. Enter the Dragonfly was possibly the series’ lowest point, featuring nearly unplayable, glitch-filled worlds, as well as issues with sound playback and a delay in movement controls. For this reason, many gamers abandoned the franchise before A Hero’s Tail was released, and they missed out on what was a beautiful, solid platformer.

Careful not to repeat the mistakes of the technically incompetent Enter the Dragonfly, the gameplay and world of A Hero’s Tail is wildly different. Introducing new and returning playable characters, such as Blink the mole, Sparx, Hunter and Sgt. Bird, the game had a variety of great levels to explore, all tied neatly with a simple, but effective story. Among all the rubble of the Spyro franchise, this stands as a worthy entry into the iconic series.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (2006)

Now, if I’m being honest here, I played and loved Dirge of Cerberus, but haven’t yet played Final Fantasy VII. If there is one black mark on my gaming record, it’s most likely this, but hear me out. Dirge of Cerberus is a great game, and stands as the only third-person shooter in the Final Fantasy franchise. Vincent Valentine is one of the most interesting side characters in VII, and the game illuminates his fascinating backstory through what is a well-crafted and well-paced story. The action is fast and fun, and Vincent makes for great protagonist.

Because the gameplay style was such a divergence from classic Final Fantasy games, and drew closer parallels to the Devil May Cry franchise, many fans of the franchise disregarded it. As a unique and confidently different entry in the Final Fantasy franchise, I think this title is well worth another look.

The Urbz: Sims in the City (2004)

While the Sims console titles have had a rough history, the Urbz was a bright spot, mixing the classic Sims-style ‘want’ system with fun, new gameplay elements, such as the introduction of ‘reputation’ as a means of developing new social interactions for your Sims. Taking placing in an urban neighbourhood, you were able to take control of your Sim and guide them towards popularity and fame through various mini-games and interactions with other Sims.

With a soundtrack by The Black Eyed Peas, and featuring will.i.am himself as a Sim, this game is an iconic cultural marker for the early 2000s, and is a fresh take on the life simulation genre. New levels of customization, and the heavy influence of pop culture, led to a fun, multi-layered Sims game with a unique style that made it instantly recognisable and fresh.

Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles (2005)

A predecessor to the highly successful Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, this title was a beautifully rendered 3D fighting and adventure game with a wide, open world, a huge array of missions and fresh, stylistic combat options. The main feature of this game, and its later sequels, is the dynamic, fast-flowing combat, which was later adapted into the Ninja Storm series, and largely led to the success of the franchise. The story is based on the anime, but not tied directly into it, meaning that the game is highly accessible and provides a new story for fans and non-fans of the franchise.

Taking on a variety of missions as various characters, it was one of the first Naruto titles to really capture the fun of the anime, and makes for a game that is fast-paced and refreshing. While the newer games are technically and visually superior, a revisiting of the original is well worthwhile.

.hack//G.U. Series (2006-2007)

The oddly named .hack//G.U. franchise spans several mediums, including a game trilogy, a film, and a multi-volume manga series, but as the first entry in the series, .hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth kick-started the story with great bombast. The .hack// series, which follows several different protagonists as they fight their way through an online world named, quite descriptively, The World. The G.U. series follows Haseo, who hunts for ‘player-killer’ Tri-Edge in order to defeat his friend Shino. As may be obvious, the story of the G.U. series is deep and contains an immersive, stunning world with deep lore and well-developed characters. Featuring neat, third person combat, a whimsical soundtrack and an array of well-designed dungeons, this franchise is one that should not be overlooked.

Because of their relative obscurity and limited releases, these games are very difficult to find, particularly in Australia, and that’s a great shame because they are some of the most unique, interesting JRPGs on the PlayStation 2.

With the ‘PS2 Classics’ line still very much in development, there’s still a chance that these games could make an appearance down the line, and experience a new lease of life. Which classics are you hoping will make the cut?