The PlayStation 2 era enjoyed a wealth of excellent JRPGs, some of which left a glaring mark on the industry to this day. From renowned titles such as Final Fantasy X, and Persona 3 to criminally underrated outings like Shadow Hearts, the platform isn’t short on great JRPGs to grind hours through.
Trying to curate the best JRPGs on the system isn’t an easy task. Like the original PlayStation, Sony’s PS2 library of games is immense. Luckily, however, we’ve picked the best JRPGs we’ve had the best times with. To veterans of the genre, the PlayStation 2’s library of role-playing games is worthy of every praise it received. And to newcomers, the system is a great starting point if they want to get their soaks wet.
Let’s turn on the Judgement wheel and jump through this list featuring the best PS2 JRPGs worth grinding through.
Table of Contents
Dragon Quest VIII marks Level 5’s attempt to handle the storied Dragon Quest franchise, and to everybody’s surprise, the developers did a fantastic job. Journey as a silent protagonist along with various comrades to stop the evil Dhoulmagus who cursed the kingdom of Trodain and its citizens. Your job is to lift the curse from the king and restore the world to normal.
Dragon Quest 8 prides itself as one of the first instalments in the franchise to make use of the PS2 capabilities; beautiful cel-shaded style, 3D visuals with an expansive world to explore and a thoroughly addictive plot.
All in all, DQ8’s simple combat system, visuals and interesting story will keep you hooked on the game forever. Just bear in mind that much like any traditional JRPG, grinding makes the potatoes and meat of this game as it gets pretty challenging early on.
Rogue Galaxy was Level 5’s ambitious endeavour to take on giants like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Tales of series. While it certainly didn’t hit that goal nor did it succeed at becoming a series, it earned itself a positive reception and a thoroughly memorable experience that left a lasting taste.
The game is best described as Skies of Arcadia meets Star Wars. It has an incredibly charming sci-fi setting that sees you venturing from one planet to another on a pirate ship. Follow the adventures of Jaster Rogue who becomes embroiled in a galactic struggle. He quickly learns that it’s only he who can save the entire galaxy.
Gameplay-wise, Rogue Galaxy is as good as any other game developed by Level-5. It’s got various innovative mechanics which see you crafting various weapons and gadgets to help you go through the game. Combat is addictive with three party members on-screen all having their own skills.
Drakengard marks Yoko Taro’s foray into the role-playing genre. His beginning, compared to other Japanese developers, was pretty bizarre yet attractive. Drakengard is a disturbingly dark role-playing game. And similar to his NieR works, you better ready yourself for that mental crisis rollercoaster as soon as you’re done with the game.
The gameplay is a hybrid of Dynasty Warriors and Panzer Dragoon where you battle a slew of enemies on-screen along with aerial combat in which you get to ride a ferocious dragon and shoot foes. The Musou gameplay can get pretty bland— especially the mundane controls— but Drakengard’s selling point is its flying dragon moments and the dark story which will keep you entertained.
Dark Cloud 2, also known as Dark Chronicles in Europe and Australia, is a spiritual successor to Level’5 cult classic title Dark Cloud. Prior to its launch, a handful of magazines and media outlets peddled the original game as the Zelda killer. Alas, that claim never came to fruition.
The game’s plot sees you controlling both characters: Maximillian and Monica on a quest to thwart the dark emperor Griffon’s plans from destroying the world. The gameplay is Dark Cloud 2’s selling point: it’s innovative, addictive and diverse. Players will spend the entire game going through various dungeons, collecting items, and crafting materials. Materials can be crafted in various ways, but it’s interesting how you can use your camera to gain ideas for crafting.
The game’s stunning cel-shaded visuals along with the incredible soundtracks and the engaging environment make Dark Cloud 2 an incredibly great JRPG for veterans and newcomers alike.
Shadow Hearts and the sequel are prime examples of how to make a dark JRPG. When many titles from the genre pushed for happy stories where protagonists save the world, and laugh as the credit scene rolls out, Shadow Hearts veered from the crowd.
Nearly everything about Shadow Hearts feels fresh and juicy. From the horror-like atmosphere with many meticulously made demon designs to the inclusion of various mechanics (Judgement wheel), Shadow Hearts stood tall among its brethren in the genre as a unique JRPG unlike any other. It’s one of the few games where you can transform into various demonic forms and enjoy absorbing their wicked souls.
Digital Devil Saga Duology is the forgotten child of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. It’s rarely mentioned, even among the Megaten fandom, and that’s a shame because this duology is as great as any instalment from the series.
The game’s plot sees players controlling a group of 4 soldiers from the Embyron who are pitted against other tribes in a digital world known as the Junkyard. After being infected with a demonic virus that grants anyone the power to transform, the Embyron have no choice but to participate in this game of survival. They have to hunt and devour other tribes to descend to the promised land, Nirvana.
When many instalments from the franchise focused on collecting demons, Digital Devil Saga made you the demon. Similar to Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne, this game is pretty difficult, especially if players decide to go for the optional bosses. However, with difficulty aside, Digital Devil Saga is one of the greatest JRPGs to come out from Atlus: it’s got incredible soundtracks, engrossing gameplay, and on top of that, a wonderfully unmatched art style to this day.
Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne is a timeless classic among veterans of the genre. It’s also one of the greatest starting points for newcomers who want to get a taste of the series’ offerings. Released back in 2003, the game didn’t garner much attention upon its launch. It was until a few years later that the game began to enjoy an incredible presence in the JRPG fandom.
Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series, the game’s plot follows a high-school student in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, who has been transformed into a demi-fiend after the occurrence of the conception event. Demons roam the earth, danger is around every corner, and it’s up to you to discover the mystery behind it all.
Nocturne has always been lauded as a difficult game, especially during the beginning. The game doesn’t shy out from demonstrating how difficult it is early on, which gives the impression that you’re in for a pretty challenging outing. The game’s selling points are the soundtrack, addictive gameplay and the overall gripping story.
Persona 3: FES is an enhanced release of Persona 3 released for the PS2. This third instalment in the renowned Persona series — which is part of Atlus’ prized SMT series — established the social-life sim elements. An idea that would go on to become a substantial part of every sequel that would release afterwards.
The social-life sim element wasn’t the only fresh thing Persona 3 introduced to the table. The combat system has been completely overhauled, opting for a more dynamic experience than previous instalments. Additionally, your ears will be treated to some of the best soundtracks made by Shoji Meguro, which helps make the experience with Persona 3: FES much more memorable.
The combat never gets stale. There’s always something fresh each time you’re encountering a potent boss or sudden encounters. Talking with friends in the outside world is charming, and it feels incredible when you’ve finally made that bond with your friends. Fans of Persona games shouldn’t sleep on Persona 3. If you’re a newcomer, Persona 3: FES and Persona 4 Golden are your best starting point in the series.
The Raidou Kuzonoha duology has got to be one of the massively overlooked gems from Atlus’ catalogue of games. It may not reach the heights of its predecessors, but it does a great job as a spin-off action JRPG.
The series’ plot stars Raidou Kuzunoha XIV, a high school-aged Devil Summoner and a detective tasked with protecting the future of Japan from otherwordly threats. Unlike previous instalments in the Megaten series which used a turn-based system, this duology boasts a real-time action RPG battle system: Raidou can attack using his katana for close range or his pistol for long-range combat. Since you’re playing as a Devil Summoner, players can also summon various demons they’ve collected throughout the game.
The sequel to Raidou Kuzunoha improved over the original in nearly every way. But the best improvement among them all is the introduction of fiend encounters. These fiends aren’t screwing around. They will finish you off if you aren’t on your guard.
Xenosaga trilogy is a spiritual successor to Square Enix’s Xenogears title. And it’s one of the least discussed instalments in the Xeno franchise, especially amongst the Xenoblade fandom. That’s a shame because this is one of the best JRPGs to come from Namco during the PS2 era.
Arguably one of the best takes on the Japanese role-playing genre with incredible sci-fi plastered all around. It’s quite difficult to explain this trilogy in a few words, but one of the few flaws in the games is the long cutscenes. If you manage to cast that flaw aside, you’ll be setting yourself to an unforgettable JRPG experience.
Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is a criminally underrated tactical-role-playing game, and is part of the Arc the Lad franchise by Sony Entertainment. For those seeking out a different bread from the genre, Arc the Lad is the one.
The game excels in its attention to both the combat and the overly interesting story. Combat is insanely addictive. It’s a blast to go through, although it takes a couple of hours for your mind to adjust to the core mechanics of the game.
It’s pretty tragic that even when the game received a digital-only remaster release on the PS4, the game never managed to garner the recognition to warrant a following.
Kingdom Hearts is a crossover between Disney and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise. Characters from all sides end up meeting one another throughout the entire series to help one another amidst the hardships.
The original Kingdom Hearts felt incredible when it first launched, but like any other game, it had its own shortcomings that were tied to the combat and level design. The sequel that followed afterwards went on to improve upon the original’s flaws and deliver a superior outing on the PS2.
The story may feel convoluted and difficult to understand at times, but the appealing combat mechanics and the genuinely interesting RPG elements make Kingdom Hearts an enjoyable game for veterans and newcomers alike.
Dual Hearts is an obscure gem from the PS2’s bygone era that’s rarely mentioned these days. It’s a hybrid of platforming and action RPG starring Rumble, a young treasure hunter in search of the legendary Dream stone. Sadly, this stone cannot be obtained in the physical world. The only way for Rumble to obtain it is to jump through the Dreamworld. A preternatural world inhabited by nightmarish creatures of all forms.
The gameplay sees you controlling Rumble as you go through various colourful stages. Players will jump through platforms, battle a multitude of enemies, level-up their stats and discover new powers. Since it was released during the early days of the PS2, the controls haven’t aged very well, especially the combat system. Still, if you like cute games where you get to fight creatures inside dreams, Dual Hearts is a great obscure gem.
Dot hack Quadrilogy is one of the best games to be developed by CyberConnect2. Although its controls and visuals may be seen as antiquated, the story is Dot Hack’s best asset. It all starts with a teen boy named Kite who’s been invited by his friends to an online game titled The World. What began as an enjoyable online game quickly turned into a game of mystery and survival when Kite is assaulted by an unknown monster.
.Hack Quadrilogy feels more like an MMORPG than a JRPG due to the way the overall world of the game is presented. AI players run around, conversing with other players, and sending emails to each other. It feels all real as if you’re playing with actual human players.
The entire saga is a blast to go through, and it’s an epic introduction to any newcomer to the series. Once you’re finished with this franchise, you’ll be craving for more. And that’s when Dot Hack//GU comes to the rescue.
Star Ocean: Till the end of Time is Square Enix’s first attempt to break loose from the conventional turn-based combat system their games were known for. Acting as the sequel to Star Ocean: The Second Story, this instalment is set 400 years after the events of the latter.
Leaning towards an action-RPG battle system instead of turn-based wasn’t a bad move from Square Enix as the game garnered a strong reception amongst fans and critics. JRPG fans seeking a solid yet memorable classic should definitely check out this game.
Final Fantasy X is the first mainline instalment in the franchise to be launched on the PS2. To many, FFX demonstrated the series’ full potential; great storytelling, a memorable cast of characters, a refined combat system and most importantly one of the best soundtracks ever made by Nobuo Uematsu.
Along with the top-notch gameplay, the game provides a slew of mini-games and end-game content to lessen the need for grinding your way through the game for XP. For those who haven’t had the chance to try any Final Fantasy game before, Final Fantasy X is a great introduction to newcomers. And in case you fell in love with FFX, don’t forget to try out Final Fantasy X-2 as well.
Suikoden V was one of the latest instalments in the series before it was put to dormancy by Konami. The future of the series is unknown, and while we wait, there’s a spiritual successor titled Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes under development.
Taking place six in-universe years before the events of the original game, players take control of the prince of Felena as he sets out on a quest to assemble his army and retrieve his kingdom back.
Jade Cocoon 2 is easily one of the most criminally underrated JRPGs to be launched on the PS2. Ironically enough, the first game is also an underrated gem. It was quite surprising to see a sequel coming out shortly after the PS2 debut.
Serving as an excellent follow-up to the original classic game, Jade Cocoon 2 is nothing short but amazing. It improves over its predecessor in various aspects to deliver a solid turn-based JRPG. One of the games Jade Cocoon 2 can be compared to is the Ni No Kuni franchise. Both feature a ghibli-like style and a thoroughly engrossing gameplay system to keep you hooked in front of the screen, forever.
Steambot Chronicles is yet another obscure gem that may have flown under your radar. This is a non-linear role-playing game released on the PS2 by Irem. Set in an interesting Steampunk-inspired universe, players control Vanilla, a young man suffering from Amnesia. Awakened by a girl on the shore of Seagull Beach, after listening to her story, he agrees to help her find her friends while also working on re-discovering his identity.
The game boasts a colourful cel-shaded world with oodles of sidequests to binge through. The combat in the game sees you controlling mechs known as Trotmobiles. These mechs can be upgraded with dozens of parts which can either be purchased, crafted or obtained. Controlling these mechs takes time to get used to as the controls are vividly clunky.
All in all, if you’re seeking an interesting obscure game, Steamboat Chronicles will fill that void. It certainly isn’t perfect but isn’t terrible either.
Eternal Poison (known as Poison Pink in Japan) is slightly different from your traditional JRPGs. It’s a dark fantasy role-playing that follows the story of Olifen and his friends on a quest to rescue the kidnapped princess Lenarshe back from the demonic realm of Besek.
Developed by the now-defunct Flight-Plan, Eternal Poison’s gameplay is reminiscent of Final Fantasy: Tactics. Additionally, players are given the chance to catch and collect various demons known as Majin, which can be used in battle as well. Eternal Poison may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve suddenly got an itch for something different and mostly dark, then go ahead.
Grandia III stars Yuki, a 16 years old boy who aspires to fulfil his dream of becoming an ace pilot. Following in his idol’s footsteps, the legendary Sky Captain Schmedit — and with the help of his friend Rotts — Yuki ends up building an aircraft to help him travel across the oceans. The events of the story quickly unfold when he encounters a girl named Alfina, and that’s where the story begins.
Much like most of Square Enix’s JRPGs, the third instalment of Grandia is a blast to dive through. For a PlayStation 2 title, the visuals are slick. The gameplay is top-notch with new stuff popping out once in a while through the game to keep you hooked. Grandia three may look simple but it has the crux that makes a JRPG worth the shot. And thankfully, it’s not as grindy as other mainstream titles such as Dragon Quest 8.
Legaia 2 has shown that the series has the potential to become a full-blown franchise, but alas that never happened. Much like the situation with Jade Cocoon 2, and Dark Cloud 2, these titles couldn’t garner enough attention and sales to give birth to a third instalment.
Acting as a sequel to the original Legaia game, the plot follows a group of outcasts named ” Mystics“. Individuals who are gifted with the power to summon nature spirits known as “Origin“. Released just three years after the original, the second game is a noteworthy improvement over its already excellent predecessor. It introduced new mechanics, an even larger world to explore, and the ability to have more than three party members.
Legaia is one of the few owned JRPGs by Sony that we wish would get remastered or re-release so that those who haven’t had to chance to try it can enjoy it today.
Dot Hack//GU is a direct sequel to the Hack quadrilogy set years after the events of the original. The game follows a new protagonist called Haseo who’s on the hunt for another named “Tri-Edge ” who murdered his best friend, Shino. Along the way, Haseo will form alliances, and join an organization that shares the same goal of hunting down Tri-Edge.
The Hack//GU trilogy is a step above its predecessor in nearly every way. The visuals have been improved, opting for a cel-shaded look that makes each corner of the game colourful and bright. The gameplay has also been improved, focusing heavily on delivering a tight action-RPG experience. Anime fans will feel delighted upon trying Hack//GU for the first time as it feels more anime-ish than a JRPG.
Radiata Stories is yet another forgotten title from Square Enix’s backlog of JRPGs. Prior to its launch, the game was one of the most anticipated games of that year, receiving several awards and nominations. But as soon as the game was released, its popularity gradually shifted down amongst other titans like Kingdom Hearts 2.
Featuring a simple combat system for newcomers to the genre, a whimsical environment and an expansive world to explore, and a bevy of characters to recruit, Radiata Stories deserves a chance. It may not feel as potent as other similar JRPGs, but hey, it’s entertaining, at least.
Okage: Shadow King had the misfortune to launch in a hellishly competitive period that saw the release of a bevy of stellar games on the system. With so much hype surrounding those games, it makes sense why Okage hasn’t stood a chance. Thankfully, with the rise of retro gaming and emulation specifically, players can re-discover many under-the-radar titles.
The game puts you in the shoes of a 16-year-old boy who is possessed by a dark spirit called Evil King Stan. With no choice but to bow to his commands, Ari goes on a mission to purge any creature across the globe that claims to be the Evil King.
Okage: Shadow King is a solid JRPG with a dark story to keep you entertained for a while. The gameplay is pretty simple, but the inclusion of using your Shadow as your main weapon is a neat idea.
Wild Arms 3 is part of the Wild Arms franchise that never managed to make it to the PlayStation 3. Much like its brethren, the series is another fallen name amongst all those neat JRPGs that have been in limbo for a very long time now.
Set in a wild west-inspired setting, the game retains much of what made the previous instalments great while sprinkling a few new ideas; improved visuals and most importantly, memorable soundtracks to jam to.
Mega Man X: Command Mission is probably the last JRPG take on the Mega Man X the world would ever get, mainly because the game didn’t sell enough to warrant a continuation. Still, out of all the experiments Capcom has done throughout its legacy, Command Mission has to be the least appreciated.
Taking the franchise in a different direction, the plot follows our Maverick Hunter trio: X, Zero and Axel as they’re sent to investigate an assault on the Force Metal mining island only to discover that a war is brewing.
Command Mission boasts an abundance of neat ideas; a refined RPG battle system with Cross Order System that allows for devastating finishing attacks, awe-inspiring cel-shaded visuals, and neat customization options. It’s worth giving this lone child from the franchise at least one shot for the final judgment.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is another lone child from a successful series that is safe to say it probably veered way too far from what the crowd wanted. Consequently, a new proper sequel hasn’t been made since. (Yes, I tend to pretend the free-to-play Breath of Fire 6 doesn’t exist)
Plunge into the game in the role of a young man named Ryu who rebels against his government in order to save the life of a mute girl named Nina. The events quickly change for the worse when he’s fused with a mysterious dragon. While he’s now given the power to transform and rescue his friend, it has taken a toll on his own lifespan.
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is one of the few games from the genre you’ll see anyone talk about mainly because the game is too easy, even for beginners. Still, it’s a solid JRPG nonetheless. Created the Atelier and Mana Khemia’s series developer, Gust, Ar Tonelico takes players on the role of a brave knight known as Lyner Barsett.
As a knight and protector of the city of Platina, he’s sent to retrieve a Hymn Crystal in hopes of fending off one of humanity’s biggest threats ever faced, beings known as Viruses. On the surface, Ar Tonelico has all the ingredients you will find in any other JRPG, but it has one aspect that may pique your interest: The Dive Mechanic.
Basically, players are capable of accessing the Dive Shop and plunging deep into a Reyvateil mind. This is done through dialogues ala Visual Novel style to improve your relationship with the Reyvateils by helping them overcome their inner fears. And in order to go deeper, players must strengthen their relationship with these beings, kind of like in Persona 4.
Tales of the Abyss is part of Bandai Namco’s prized Tales franchise. One of the best JRPGs to land on the PS2, and a memorable classic despite its age. Take on the role of Luke Fon Fabre who’s on the run from a military-religious organization known as the Order of Lorelei who believes he’s the key to an ancient prophecy. Luke has no choice but to form alliances and stand against all odds.
The gameplay is an excellent improvement over its already fantastic predecessor, Tales of Symphonia in various ways: Fast gameplay, tight controls, gorgeous visuals and an engrossing story suitable for all ages.
Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria is another solid JRPG by none other than Square Enix. Set hundreds of years before the first game, the story puts you in the shoes of two characters living in the same body named Alicia and Silmeria. together they unite their strength to make an end a catastrophe that could create a war between the mortals and the gods.
Arguably one of the best JRPGs with a deep story to dive through, lots of replay value and a thoroughly memorable experience. Definitely, one of those titles that deserve a remaster on newer hardware. One can only hope.
Odin Sphere can be summarized in three words: It’s fuc**ng beautiful. It may play as a linear 2D action JRPG, but the meticulously well-done art style by Vanillaware is the game’s selling point here.
Acting as a spiritual successor to the 1997 Sega Saturn title Princess Crown, players control a Valkyrie princess who’s embroiled in a conflict between the nations of Ragnanival and Ringford over a weapon known as the Crystallization Cauldron.
All in all, if you’re a JRPG fan, and you’re seeking something slightly different, Odin Sphere is recommended. It’s a linear JRPG that nets around 30-40 hours of playtime.
Growlanser: Heritage of War is my last breath through this grindfest article of the best JRPGs you can play on the PS2. Heritage of War is arguably one of the least discussed JRPGs these days, considering it also had the same misfortune of being released in a pretty crowded period.
Visually, the game isn’t cutting-edge as the visuals feel washed out and the environments are lifeless. It may not satisfy die-hard fans of the genre, but for what it’s worth, the game is recommended to only those who are seeking an overlooked tactical-role playing that caters to a niche audience.
That’s it for this grind. Thank you for reading.
Just your average gamer who enjoys hunting hidden gems and underrated games - but is still open to any game in the industry if you ask him. His love for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is like a truck and whenever he meets a new friend, he can't help himself but recommend it to him.