(This article originally appeared on September 27, 2009. Today, we revisit things in honor of the PS2's 15th anniversary.)
With over 100 million units sold worldwide and a lifespan stretching far beyond any other console to date, the PlayStation 2 is the most successful video game platform of all time. As they say, a system is only as good as its games, and the PlayStation 2 provides a library fit for its 100 million players. As we compiled this list, we found hundreds of games that we would love to play again. Paring down to just 25 proved to be difficult, as the PlayStation 2 wasn’t graced by just great individual games, but entire series worthy of playing. Here is Game Informer’s selection for the Top 25 must-play PlayStation 2 games or series.
25 Disgaea series
How deep can a turn-based strategy game get? Disgaea shows us that they can get absurdly deep. You can customize your troops, enhance your weapons, and be treated to some big laughs with its kooky cast of characters.
If you’ve played the Fatal Frame games, there is no shame in sleeping with a flashlight or second-guessing what goes bump in the night. This series’ unnerving atmosphere and expertise in scare tactics warrant a high pitched scream and perhaps even a stain in your pants.
23 Shadow of the Colossus
Dangle from the chin hairs of a beast 100 times your size as it tries to swat you like a fly. Nothing compares.
22 Dark Cloud series
21 Need for Speed: Underground
With four outstanding racing types, insanely deep vehicle customization, and a look that could kill, Need for Speed: Underground lights the fires and kicks the tires like few racing games can. It made tuning a mainstay in gaming, and has led to many gamers “pimping” out their Camrys.
20 SSX 3
With one gigantic mountain beneath your boots, you don’t need to hop around the world in SSX 3. Players can nibble on it bite by bite, or bomb the entire thing, trying to keep one combo going from summit to lodge.
19 Hot Shots Golf series
Hot Shots doesn’t change much, but it doesn’t have to when it’s the master of the three-click swing and offers so many fun customization items and wacky characters. Hot Shots excels at being easy to learn, but the game also throws up plenty of challenges and requires nerves of steel.
Painting with a wolf may sound like a potential throat being ripped out, but Capcom proved that this unlikely combination could deliver one of the most memorable and unique adventures of this generation. Okami looks like a painting that came to life, and offers amazing gameplay with its inventive brush-stroke techniques.
17 Onimusha series
If we told you there is a series about famous Japanese legends retold and embellished with supernatural elements using popular modern day actors, you’d probably expect it to be marketing crap. However, Onimusha’s blend of constant action, Resident Evil-style puzzles, and stunning CG sequences made it a game you’d be wrong to judge harshly.
16 Prince of Persia series
Running along walls and leaping over spinning blades can be a blast, especially when you can rewind time if you happen to lose a leg in the process. The Prince of Persia trilogy is an adventurer’s dream come true, blending flashy swordplay with a good dose of puzzle solving.
15 Burnout Revenge
It managed to outdrive the excellent Burnout 3 and was the last appearance of Crash Mode, God rest its soul.
14 Jak & Daxter series
Though there is a huge seam in the middle of the series separating the playful, kid-friendly atmospheres of the first game from the darker, more story-centric narratives of the second two, all three Jak and Daxter titles have a perfect blend of action and platforming. You never do the same thing twice in a Jak game, and that means you’re never bored.
Who would have thought a game with so much hand-holding and stick swinging would become a masterpiece?
12 Madden NFL series
The long-running Madden series made several significant evolutionary steps on the PlayStation 2. While it should be remembered for its introduction to online play and remarkably deep gameplay, most people will remember it for Michael Vick – the most skilled video game athlete since Bo Jackson.
11 Kingdom Hearts series
Seeing Goofy prance around with your favorite Final Fantasy characters might be hard to digest, but once you get a taste of Kingdom Hearts’ spellbinding storytelling and razor-sharp combat, you won’t hold back from placing your Sephiroth statue next to your Winnie the Pooh teddy bear.
10 Devil May Cry 1 & 3
Swords and guns are nothing new to gaming, but Devil May Cry combines them in a fast and fluid combat system that essentially created the “stylish action” genre. Using crazy combos and lightning quick reflexes, this series pushes your skills to the limit while dishing out hardcore thrills – providing you overlook the second game..
9 Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
The PS2 was gifted with a new Tony Hawk title every year, but only one is deserving of skating immortality. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 introduced the revert maneuver, which allows a combo to be continued after a vert trick. This move opens the way to lengthy million-point runs that we dedicated hundreds of hours to perfecting.
8 Ratchet & Clank series
Who says the platforming genre has grown stale? Who says cartoon graphics can’t look fantastic? Who says you shouldn’t turn your enemies into farm animals? Not Insomniac. The company consistently combined action, platforming, and RPG elements to create one of the funniest, most polished video game series on the market.
7 Gran Turismo series
Hundreds of photo-realistic cars all tuned to mimic their real-life counterparts set the bar for the racing simulation genre. Thanks to Gran Turismo, we expect our racing games to not only offer a wealth of real-life cars, but also test our racing abilities and push our engine to the limit.
6 Guitar Hero series
It may not have been the first music game, but Guitar Hero is certainly the one that popularized the genre. By mixing the best of rock music with a control scheme that scales remarkably well for beginners and long-time music aficionados, the game couldn’t help but blossom into a worldwide phenomenon.
5 Final Fantasy X & XII
Forget about the side-stories and massively multiplayer forays; these two Final Fantasy titles are the best role-playing experiences you’ll find on the PS2. Whether it’s through the touching stories, fantastic visuals, or innovative gameplay mechanics, these games exemplify why Final Fantasy is the industry’s most trusted name in console RPGs.
4 God of War series
In an afternoon, you could say that you toppled a giant, dethroned a god, and wowed the ladies. Both God of War games turn you into an unstoppable wrecking machine, and you can feel Kratos’ fury with every brutal slash of his blades. In addition to a well-oiled combat system, this series uses mind-bending puzzles and cinematic flair to create a classic Greek tale of vengeance.
3 Resident Evil 4
This next statement will likely make you tear up a little, but if you’ve played Resident Evil 4, you know it’s true. This series is better without zombies. The one game not featuring brain-eaters is the series’ most impressive act. In all fairness, however, this is a complete departure for the series. RE 4’s revolutionary over-the-shoulder targeting system, heart-pounding pacing, and inventive enemy designs make it nearly impossible to put down.
2 Metal Gear Solid series
Hideo Kojima is the gaming industry’s consummate auteur. As a writer, director, and designer, he has crafted a series frequently cited as a work of video game art. Both PS2 Metal Gear titles, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater, feature epic storytelling, cinematography, and gameplay. They paved the way for action games in multiple genres, and showed us that games can be just as much fun to watch as they are to play.
1 Grand Theft Auto series
Grand Theft Auto has proven it can sell millions of copies on any system it touches, but its true rise to power began on PlayStation 2. The first installment to grace this console was Grand Theft Auto III. Its revolutionary open world gameplay changed the landscape of gaming, and its exclusivity to PlayStation 2 (at least for a time) helped cement this console as the generation leader. In the United States, Grand Theft Auto III has sold 5.7 million copies on PlayStation 2. Its sequel, Vice City, which allowed players to tower over society like a kingpin, significantly expanded the series’ fan base with 6.8 million copies sold. The third entry, San Andreas, blew the doors off of what we could expect from the sandbox experience with not one, but three cities, and was handsomely rewarded for its innovative gameplay with a staggering 7.6 million copies sold in the States. There was no bigger event in the PS2 era than the release of a new GTA. It was truly the Grand Theft Auto generation.