By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
In honor of the PlayStation 2’s 15th birthday, I’ve put together a list of the 15 best true PS2 exclusives. True exclusive means it was never ported to another platform, wasn’t ported from another platform, has yet to be made available on a digital storefront, and has yet to have an HD remake. You literally have to have either a PS2 or a PS2-enabled PS3 to play all of these games (well, at home anyway. Some have arcade versions. Come on, we all know arcades don’t count when we’re talking about exclusives).
[UPDATE: The above statements were true at the time that this article was posted, but some of the games on the list have since been remade and/or ported to another system.]
15 – R-Type Final
I love a good 2.5D shoot-em-up. In fact, those are typically the only types of shoot-em-ups I do like. And this send-off to the long-running R-Type series (not counting the turn-based spin-off R-Type Command for PSP) is one of my favorites, second only to PS1 cult favorite Einhander. It was also one of the last games ever released for Eidos’ unfortunately short-lived “Fresh Games” boutique label.
14 – Vampire Night
I’ve said this numerous times on this website, but I’ll say it again: I absolutely love light gun/rail shooter games and hate how the genre has been relegated to niche status. One of the lesser-known–but also one of the best–light gun games of the era was Sega and Namco’s Vampire Night, a Gothic-flavored take on The House of the Dead (awesomely awful voice acting and all).
13 – Soul Calibur III
Following the system-exclusive stunt casting that Soul Calibur II pulled (though having Link in a SC game was damn cool), the third installment in the “sharp” fighting series came exclusively to the PS2, bringing with it a custom character creator and the most robust story mode in the series up to that point. It was the last widely-loved SC game, and also the last time Ivy would have even remotely realistic breasts.
12 – Sega Superstars
The EyeToy didn’t set the gaming world on fire any more than subsequent motion control peripherals have, and the library for it was largely forgettable. One of the only exceptions to that was the surprisingly fun Sega Superstars, a minigame collection featuring various Sega franchises. Beyond the usual suspects (Sonic), the collection featured some of the company’s more niche properties like Space Channel 5, NiGHTS, and Samba De Amigo. It definitely had me keep my EyeToy hooked up for way longer than I would have otherwise.
11 – Shadow Hearts: Covenant
The Shadow Hearts trilogy was one of the PS2’s best-kept secrets, a fantastic RPG series from the makers of the underrated PS1 game Koudelka. Covenant was the best of the series that strangely (and brilliantly) mixed real-life historical figures like Grigori Rasputin and Al Capone with the game’s cast of fictional spell-casters. Assassin’s Creed would later do the same thing, but far less creatively.
10 – Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny
Okay, so this game automatically gets to represent the demon-slashing Onimusha series on this list because it was the only one in the core trilogy to be PS2-exclusive. Still, many gamers–myself included–genuinely consider it the best of the series. It’s baffling why Capcom has completely abandoned this franchise after investing in it so heavily for so many years–maybe we can give Devil May Cry a rest and reboot Onimusha next?
9 – Kinetica
Come for the sexy thong-clad backsides, and stay for the even sexier futuristic racing action. Kinetica is easily my favorite futuristic racing game that isn’t called WipEout or F-Zero, and it’s better than all but the absolute best entries in those storied franchises. I still don’t know why arcade-style racing games have fallen out of favor, but at least we’ll always have games like this to go back to that still look and play so well.
8 – Dark Cloud 2 / Dark Chronicle
A sequel to Dark Cloud in its North American name change only, Dark Chronicle was a far better game than Dark Cloud and the comparison only did it a disservice. Between this, Dragon Quest VIII, and Rogue Galaxy, I don’t know how Level-5 was able to work such visual voodoo with the PS2, but boy did they make some pretty games. And really great-playing ones, too–Dark Chronicle is one of the best action-RPGs of the era not starring Link or taking place in Disney movies.
7 – We Love Katamari
It’s hard to remember a time before the Katamari series was beat to death, but We Love Katamari was the peak of the franchise’s pre-overexposed era. The concept still felt fresh, the music was still flawless, the 2-player mode was a welcome addition, and the King of All Cosmos was still at his deliciously sassiest. The writing in the (good) Katamari games is truly some of the funniest video game writing of all time.
6 – Amplitude
Before “rhythm game” meant glorified band karaoke with plastic instruments, it was one of the most creative and unique genres in gaming, and Frequency and Amplitude were two of the best titles in the category. Amplitude gets the nod because of slightly tighter gameplay and a more diverse mix of music, but really, either game is worth tracking down and playing. Here’s hoping Harmonix doesn’t screw up the upcoming sequel/reboot.
5 – Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution
So Virtua Fighter is dead, but Tekken and Dead or Alive get to live on? Where did we go wrong here? Okay, so the VF games aren’t quite as pick-up-and-play–or jiggly–as those other two franchises, but once you put in the time to learn a VF game, there is no better 3D fighting experience. And VF4: Evo was the best installment in the series. Come on Sega, put Sarah and Pai in tiny bikinis if that’s what it takes to attract people, just bring VF back!
4 – Final Fantasy XII
This was one of the most divisive (offline) entries in the storied Final Fantasy series when it was first released, and the franchise still hasn’t fully recovered. Sure, an (offline) FF with a real-time battle system was a tough adjustment, but those that gave it a chance saw what a fantastic game FF12 is, especially fans of Vagrant Story. In fact, maybe if they would’ve shaped this into Vagrant Story 2 instead of FF12 people would’ve been more open-minded.
3 – Timesplitters
Like with Onimusha, Timesplitters 1 gets the nod because it is the only game in the series that is exclusive to the platform. And while–unlike Onimusha 2–it isn’t the best of the TS games by most people’s estimation, it is still a terrific game and deserves its very high spot on this list. It’s still every bit as fun and playable now, 15 years later, as it was when it was first released, and not a single ounce of the game’s charm has diminished in the ensuing decade and a half.
2 – Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil
I love the Klonoa series. The two console Klonoa games are two of the best platform games ever made, and while part 2 is slightly inferior to the original, it is still a near-perfect game with gorgeous visuals and glove-like gameplay. A new Klonoa game will always be at the very top of my list of most-wanted sequels, and I hate everyone who didn’t buy the Wii remake of the first game that Namco put out as a test to see who was interested in seeing new Klonoa games. Okay, so hate is a strong word, but seriously…I hate you all.
1 – Rogue Galaxy
This is one of the best action-RPGs of the era not starring Link or…wait a minute, didn’t I say that already? In all seriousness, this was another of Level-5’s generous gifts to PS2 owners, and its second-best one next to Dragon Quest VIII (which is disqualified because of its mobile port and 3DS remake in Japan). Rogue Galaxy was one of the last great PS2 games, and it remains one of its best, exclusive or otherwise. And did I mention those graphics??