Top 10 PS2 Japanese RPGs
Since it's release 14 years ago, Sony's Playstation 2 has boasted one of the largest and most definitive gaming libraries amongst home video game consoles. Japanese RPGs are perhaps the most distinct genre on the console, and no console has yet topped the PS2's massive library of high quality JRPGs. But choosing a game to play may be difficult considering the library is so large. I have played the majority of the games within the genre on PS2 and I'm here to narrow it down to the top 10 for your gaming and reading pleasure.
Dark Cloud 2
Dark Cloud 2 is in my opinion the holy grail of PS2 JRPGs. Everything this game has done, it has done right. I can't think of a single complaint that would be associated with this game. The game is a mix of dungeon crawling and city building. There's no game on the planet that matches Dark Cloud 2 in uniqueness and depth. There's hundreds of hours of gameplay in this game. You'll do everything from craft weapons, take pictures to create inventions, race, play golf, dungeon crawl, fight great bosses, customize mechs, recruit villagers, fish, there's just so much content in this game I can't even begin to tell you. The game has one of the best soundtracks in gaming as well. It's just a huge playground of fun and adventure. An absolute must play if you're going to play anything on PS2.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
The first Shin Megami game to be released on PS2 and the first mainline Shin Megami game to be released in the USA. This game has a very mature setting and excruciatingly difficult gameplay. This is not an entry level JRPG by any means. Only attempt to beat this game if you think you have the JRPG juice within you. Unlike most JRPGs, this game is not very grind heavy. In fact if you play intelligently there shouldn't be any grind at all. The game characters are all demons that must be recruited into your party via negotiation. The demons can later be fused together into new and more powerful demons. It's a little bit like an adult pokemon. Your characters don't scale heavily from levels and instead the gameplay is mostly centered around hitting enemies with the elements they are weak to so you can gain another turn. You will get stuck many times playing this game, but whenever you get stuck the game sends a very clear message to you- get fusing or get out. Underneath the difficulty you have an easily recognizable quality JRPG that stands out in the genre due to it's innovative gameplay and mature storyline.
Dragon Quest VIII
This game is a masterpiece, and that's just putting it lightly. This game's gameplay is very similar to oldschool 4th generation JRPGs. It's very standard turn based fare. But underneath the basic gameplay there's a huge open world to explore with plenty of secrets and an intriguing storyline full of laughs and surprises. If you haven't played this yet, put this on your mandatory bucket list. It's so well polished that I find it hard to believe anyone can dislike this game. Features art from Akira Toriyama, known for his work with the Dragonball/Z series. That should be enough reason for you to go buy this.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Persona 4 took everything Persona 3 did correctly and made it even better. Unlike P3, this game features full party control so you will never die again to stupid decisions that your party AI makes. The social link system of Persona 3 system is present in this game, if social links are your thing. Fans of the genre will find tens and tens of hours of extremely fun and addictive gameplay that's entirely a step up from Persona 3. The game features a new weather system as well that affects how your approach social links and managing your time. Beware though, this game is much closer to other Shin Megami games in terms of difficulty than it is to Persona 3. It's not Nocturne hard, but it'll filter out anyone that doesn't put effort into learning and using the demon fusion system.
Tales of Symphonia
Tales of Symphonia was the first game in the "Tales of" series to be released on 6th generation consoles. This game is ridiculously huge and ridiculously fun. The combat takes place in partially random battles and the characters move around on a 2D plane. The action is all real time though. The artstyle, gameplay, and amount of content far exceeds the other 2 "Tales" games that were released on PS2 in North America. Highly recommended to JRPG junkies.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Another underrated gem. This game features an innovative, timing based, turn based combat system and a mature storyline. There's 3 games in this series and this is considered the second. It's my favorite out of the 3 so that's why it secured the number 6 spot. If you haven't heard of this series, I would regard it as a must play within the JRPG genre. I highly recommend playing these games in order, but it's not necessary to get into them.
This is one of my favorite games ever. It's so underappreciated that it hurts me on the inside. This game, just like Star Ocean: TTEoT, was developed by Tri-Ace. It's combat resembles a primitive version of Star Ocean's combat. It's slower paced and a bit clumsier. However, everything else about the game is amazing. The game takes a very comedic approach to story telling which will probably turn some people off. But let me tell you this, I'm a very cynical person and there's very few things that make me laugh, this game does however. The characters in this game are all very entertaining and bizzare in their own ways and the writing never fails to put a smile on my face. I highly recommend this game to any JRPG fan. It's easy to pick up and hard to put down.
Final Fantasy XII
I was struggling to choose between Final Fantasy X and XII for this spot. I eventually decided with XII because of the lasting impact this game left me with. This game is packed to the brim with content. There's monster assassination quests(hunts), all sorts of sidequests, a huge world to explore, and an okay story to keep you entertained for 80+ hours. The gameplay isn't turn based like in Final Fantasy X, it's more like a real time version of the combat in the Final Fantasy games before X. Final Fantasy XII gets the number 8 spot simply due to it's extreme amount of content and addictive gameplay.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
This is a controversial pick. This game is very hit or miss to many people, but for me it was definitely a hit. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is actually the fifth game in the series. The first 4 games featured very traditional turn based JRPG combat. This game tried something very new, and as a result got lots of unwarranted hate. I personally believe this is one of the best games ever made. It's a very, very hard game. So hard that one of the main aspects to the gameplay is starting the entire game all over again. It's brutally punishing gameplay rewards you with many hours of dungeon crawling fun. The game's artstyle is very unique and the combat requires a lot of careful planning and thought. Do avoid this game if you're easily frustrated though. If you're a patient person you'll find a very underrated gem that deserves more appreciation.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
This game comes in my #10 spot due to it's extremely fun and addicting gameplay. Star Ocean 3 didn't really bring anything new into the genre, but it holds some of the most entertaining action RPG gameplay to date. The battles prompt randomly like most games within the genre, but the gameplay is action packed and faced paced with a focus on timed inputs in a real time setting. The story in this game is relatively mediocre, but any JRPG junkie will be able to appreciate the gameplay and deep crafting/skill systems. It also contains some of the best end game dungeons you can find in an RPG.
Overall, my list may seem a bit controversial to some(WHERE'S KINGDOM HEARTS, WHERE'S 'X' GAME). But this is how I feel and I chose these games and rankings very carefully. I hope you enjoyed my top 10 list and found at least one great game to play.