The PlayStation 2 was succeeded by the PlayStation 3 in 2006 but in terms of pure quality RPGs, the console lived on far longer than that. RPG developers like Atlus, Koei, and Nippon Ichi continued to support the machine with a consistent flow of quality RPGs for two reasons. One, it was cheaper to develop for than the notoriously difficult PS3 architecture. Two, the PS2 already had an installed userbase of millions of gamers.
The PS2 also stands as one of the best JRPG machines in any generation, perhaps even bettering its predecessor the PS1 and even the Super Nintendo. The sheer volume of JRPGs that were released for the system is immense, all with their own unique stories to tell.
While there were many RPGs to play, not all lived up their expectations in terms of the storylines, while others surpassed them and are still considered masterpieces in their own right. Here is a list of ten of the best stories on PlayStation 2.
10 Ys: The Ark Of Napishtim
Ys: The Ark Napishtimis, the sixth entry in the series, flew somewhat under the radar upon its release on the PlayStation 2 in 2005. However, that didn’t detract from what was a very entertaining action RPG with a great story, following the series’ red-haired protagonist Adol.
The story begins with Adol getting washed up on the beaches of Quatera in an attempt to escape the Romun Empire on a pirate ship that inadvertently gets swept into a sea vortex. From there his grand adventure begins, meeting a lot of well-developed and relatable characters along the way. In addition, the quality of the narrative was executed perfectly through the use of some excellent voice acting delivered by all the characters – NPCs included.
9 Grandia 2
In terms of storytelling, Game Arts developed titles like the Lunar series have always opted to tell an emotional or a gripping story while keeping things light and fun. The Grandia series is no different in this regard. While it is a slightly darker tale, Grandia 2’s balance of humor and seriousness is perfectly executed.
The game’s plot follows Ryudo, a mercenary drawn into a world-saving adventure whilst battling a corrupt religious order. Whilst it’s not the most original piece of storytelling in the JRPG genre, it's no less compelling and players will be instantly drawn in by a memorable cast of characters. Grandia and Grandia 2 have been remastered and released on the Nintendo Switch as Grandia The HD Collection.
8 Tales Of The Abyss
After the outstanding Tales of Symphonia was released exclusively on the Nintendo GameCube in the West, JRPG fans wanted more adventures in the Tales of series. It was eventually followed by Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Abyss on the PS2 with the latter being the best of the two.
Even though it does take a while to get going, the plot of Abyss is full of twists and turns and its protagonist Luke is one of the best-developed characters in the genre. The supporting cast is equally as memorable and believable as they guide, support, and endure Luke on his journey from an unlikable spoiled brat to an honorable hero.
Additionally, Auldrant, the world that Abyss is set in is a masterclass in world-building with its own believable history, magic and science system.
7 Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2
Despite being released at separate times, the Digital Devil Saga is a two-part series that needs to be played together as one to fully appreciate just how good it is.
Like other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, DDS is a dark RPG completely aimed at an adult audience. This isn’t just because of the grim nature of devouring your enemies but its also complex and mature in both its execution and themes.
As is typical with the series, there are heavy and distinct religious overtones with references to Hinduism and Buddhism playing a large part in the game’s story. In addition, there are friendships, broken bonds, betrayal, and a love triangle all while avoiding the typical cliches of the genre.
6 Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the second game in the Shadow Hearts trilogy but the fourth game set in the same universe with Koudelka on the PS1 being the first entry. Even though there is a benefit to playing the first Shadow Hearts title, Covenant can still be enjoyed as a standalone experience.
It takes place in an alternate Lovecraftian First World War setting with several real-life historical figures playing a big part in the story. Grigori Rasputin and Princess Anastasia to name a few. Despite its very dark tone, the Shadow Hearts series has a surreal sense of humor to lighten what would be a very somber tone. However, that doesn’t detract from one of the most unique, complex, and enjoyable plotlines in a generation.
5 Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Despite the Persona series being the far more mainstream title, it is a spin-off of the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series. Nocturne – Lucifer’s Call in Europe – is the third entry in the series that arrived on the PlayStation 2 in 2004.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons, the lead character has been gifted with demonic powers by a mysterious presence which allowed him to survive the disaster.
Nocturne presents players with ethical and philosophical choices based on several different religious and scientific belief systems like Darwinism, Buddhism, and Isolationism. Every choice you make will impact the game’s story, having a direct effect on the game’s ending.
4 Yakuza 2
Yakuza 2 is the second chapter in the Kiryu saga that concluded with its sixth entry on the PlayStation 4. The Yakuza series is an action JRPG that combines traditional JRPG elements with Sega’s Streets of Rage’s brawling, Shenmue-like open-world exploration, and most importantly a gripping gangster drama that surpasses its western contemporaries like Grand Theft Auto.
Yakuza 2 possesses one of the best developed and emotional stories in the Kiryu saga and its main antagonist, Ryoji Goda, is the perfect rival to the game’s hero. The story still holds up perfectly well today but is perhaps better experienced with the PS4 remake Yakuza Kiwami 2.
3 The Xenosaga Trilogy
The Xenosaga Trilogy, like The Digital Devil Saga games, was released separately (in this case two years apart) but absolutely needs to be experienced as one story in order to appreciate the complexities of the narrative.
Developed by Monolith Soft, the same team behind Xenogears and the current Xenoblade series, many of the same themes are present in this RPG space opera. Just like Xenogears, themes of philosophy and religious symbolism are used to great effect and only truly come together by the end of Xenosaga III. The voice performances aren't always perfect but there’s a level of depth and ambition that rivals Battlestar Galactica.
2 Persona 4
It is often debated whether Persona 3 or Persona 4 has the best story but one couldn’t go wrong with either as both possess incredible storylines. However, when it comes to pacing, character development, and plot twists, Persona 4’s murder mystery, set in a modern-day Tokyo high school has to come out on top.
Where many RPGs in the genre can be predictable, players of this particular title will be kept on their toes from start to finish. In addition to Persona 4’s fantastic main plotline, there’s a heavy focus on building relationships through Social Links at the protagonist's high school. As a result, each and every character has their own unique and fleshed out stories to tell driving the player ever forward into the game’s world.
1 Suikoden V
With 11 different endings, 108 playable characters to collect known as the Stars of Destiny, and an absolutely huge gaming world to explore, Suikoden V is an RPG fan’s dream come true. On a technical level, it doesn’t quite match powerhouses like Final Fantasy XII in the visuals and gameplay department but the scope of its story and characters are leagues ahead.
It's a slow burn, introducing its world, politics, and feuding families but that’s exactly how well-told story should be executed if a player is expected to be invested in its world and characters. With so many unpredictable twists, turns, and characters with their own agendas Suikoden V’s plot and characters will consistently surprise even the most jaded and experienced RPG fans.