Friday, 10 April 2015

The Top 5 Playstation 2 RPGs

RPG's are awesome. What other genre could you play that instantly sucks you into a world, all the while keeping you there for 50+ hours? That's an RPG, man. While many gamers are focused on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, I thought I'd go back, back beyond the current generation of systems... and back even further than that. It only seems like yesterday that the Playstation 2 was out, but it's been just about a decade since it was in its prime. Hard to believe, but what's even harder to believe is the fact that back then you probably missed out on a few great titles, as I know I did. Don't worry though as I'm here to help you out. Here at the top 5 PS2 RPG's.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

I'll always remember Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, as when I got it as a Christmas present back in 2004, I was a little annoyed to find out it was the third game in the series. You see, at that point I didn't play the first two games, Star Ocean and Star Ocean: The Second Story, so I kind of felt like most of the game might pass me by. However, fear not as the Star Ocean series, despite always taking place in the same universe, are separate stories. Till the End of Time places you in the shoes of a generic anime boychild called Fayt (see what they did there, eh?), who finds himself taken from his technologically advanced world and placed on the planet of Vanguard, a primitive place embroiled in conflict. Together with a group of companions, Fayt will not only try and get home, but ultimately discover something about the world- and his very existence- that makes for one of the best gaming plot twists ever. Like seriously, it's jaw-dropping.

Till the End of Time is an excellent RPG. Though some of the characters might be a bit grating at times, the plot eventually comes together to make something very memorable indeed. Added onto this is the combat, which instead of going down the usual RPG route of being turn-based, lets the player fight in real-time. With a massive layer of customization on top of that and a world that is beautifully designed to explore, Till the End of Time is a must-play.

Persona 4

Here's another series I got into when it was already an established franchise, but thankfully not one that needs you to play its previous releases to know what's going on. When I first played Persona 4 it was like a weird blend of Shenmue, Pokemon, Final Fantasy and, strangely enough, The Ring film series. An odd combination for sure, but it works utterly perfectly. Taking place in the small Japanese town of Inaba, you take on the role of a group of students who try and solve a growing number of grisly murders that have befallen the town. The real kicker here is that these murders originate from a parallel universe... inside the the towns TVs. You're a student by day and alternative TV universe warrior by night, and the game is both insanely creepy and balls to the wall light-hearted. It's brilliant.

In Persona 4 combat follows the usual RPG turn-based template, but the addition of “Personas” really make it interesting. Personas are effectively projections of humans who enter the parallel universe, and these Personas help you fight the “Shadows” that inhabit the TV world. They're grand in both design and ability, and over the course of the game you can find new Personas, as well as create news ones from scratch from fusing two together. It's an excellent aspect of the game, and building your Personas up is like training some kind of twisted Pokemon. The game is great at creating a realistic atmosphere too, as being a student you need to study and attend school, so sometimes though you'll be itching to enter the creepy TV world, you just won't have the time. This sounds annoying and limiting, but it really puts you in the shoes of Persona 4's main character.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant

A few years ago I interviewed Jeremy Blaustein, a guy mostly know as the localizer of both Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill 2, two games that in terms of script and translation, were high points for their respective series. Anyway, one game he kept mentioning was Shadow Hearts: Covenant, as he also worked on it. Though it was long since out at that point I decided to give it a go, and I must say, it quickly became one of my all-time favourites. The plot blends together both various fantasy and real-worlds elements and characters. From including historical individuals such as Rasputin and Anastasia, to letting the player do battle with creatures and demons, Covenant is a bizarre concoction that works incredibly well.

Covenant is simply just a solid RPG. It doesn't do anything incredibly new in terms of combat or exploration, but when it comes to its story, its flawed and tragic characters and its superb use of real-world elements, it's unparalleled. Also, for a Playstation 2 game released in 2003 it visually stills holds up pretty well, and also features one of the best gaming soundtracks to date.

Kingdom Hearts 2

I can't wait for Kingdom Hearts 3. Since the release of the original Kingdom Hearts back in 2002, the series has been crying out for some kind of a resolution. Granted the plot of the series at this point is a little bit shit, but it still needs an ending. Kingdom Hearts 2 bettered the original in every way, and added upon the fantastic foundation the Final Fantasy/Disney crossover cemented. Its plot won't stick with you as it drones on for hours and hours, but in terms of a select few characters, its Disney themed locations and its delicious combat system, Kingdom Hearts 2 is a classic.

The initial joy of Kingdom Hearts 2 is exploring the various Disney inspired locations you'll venture to. To visiting the world of TRON and taking on the deadly MCP, adventuring with Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean film series, to doing battle with Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Kingdom Hearts 2 lets you explore the worlds you most likely fell in love with when you where younger. On top of that you also get to interact with various Final Fantasy characters such as Cloud, Cid, Squall, Tifa and Sephiroth, which, if you're like me, will never cease giving you a giddy nerd thrill. The games superb locales and excellent caricaturisation is topped off by its free-form combat. It's rather easy and mostly relies of button bashing, but there's nothing quite like cutting through hordes of “Heartless”, the series' main go-to choice of cannon fodder. Despite its terrible storyline and lack of difficulty, Kingdom Hearts 2 will be very much unforgettable for any Disney and/or Final Fantasy fans out there.

Final Fantasy XII

I didn't really enjoy Final Fantasy X. I'd be burnt at the stake if I said that amongst hardcore Final Fantasy fans, as the series' tenth incarnation is seen as one of the best. It just didn't really do much for me. However, though I pretty much stopped loving the franchise at that point, Final Fantasy XII quickly changed my ways. Looking completely different than Final Fantasy X while also approaching gameplay in an entirely different way, the game stands out to me as one of the best in the series. In a change up from the snore-fest that was X's central love story, XII gets back to the series roots- warring kingdoms, badass knights in armour, revenge and a diverse array of races and talking creatures to interact with.

The combat is nothing like previous titles in the series, and this put off many hardcore fans upon release. That's a shame though, as XII is an all round wonderful game. Though getting around towns, interacting with characters and taking on quests is very much in line with what you'd expect from a typical Final Fantasy game, the combat mechanics are not. Much like Till the End of Time, XII is a lot more free-form in terms of combat, and at times feels very like an offline MMO. I know that sounds like a terrible idea, but the combat really pays off the more you get into it. Topped off with a semi-open world/large play areas and a truly superb upgrading system, this just might be the best Final Fantasy you never played.

Denis Murphy

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