Everyone has their own favourite era of gaming, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer volume of amazing games that came out during the PlayStation 2 era. And you can trace a direct line from many of the types of games we enjoy today back to the age of the PlayStation 2 specifically.
This is because the PS2 era is where developers and players alike became thoroughly accustomed to what we think of as modern gaming conventions: dual analogue controls, cinematic presentation, effective use of 3D graphics and the sheer amount of game data it was possible to cram in to the media of the time. The PS2 didn’t pioneer any of these things, but it was a platform that established them as the norm — and as such, there are a lot of PS2 games that still hold up very well today.
That might explain why we’ve seen so many modern remasters, rereleases and remakes of PlayStation 2 games in the last few years — including the very welcome return of some cult classics which, in some cases, are being localised for the first time ever.
So let’s take a look at three of the best PS2 cult classics that have been blessed with a second chance at success — and ponder three more that deserve the same treatment.
Kowloon High-School Chronicle
The delightfully peculiar dungeon-crawling adventure game life sim hybrid Kowloon High-School Chronicle is the very definition of a “sleeper hit”.
On its original Japanese release in 2004, it failed to make an immediate impact on audiences. But something interesting happened: the few people who did pick it up were so excited by what the game had to offer that they felt the need to tell their friends about it. And, to quote a movie (and shampoo commercial) even older than Kowloon High-School Chronicle, you know how these things go — one guy tells another guy something, then he tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell their friends, and so on, and so on…
The upshot of it all is that Kowloon High-School Chronicle eventually became a bona fide cult classic for PlayStation 2, albeit long after its original release. The unfortunate thing about this is that it precluded the creators from being able to make a sequel back in the day — but that might all change with the new rerelease of the game for Nintendo Switch, which is already out in North America, and which comes out this Friday in Europe.
Don’t miss out on this one this time around — and don’t forget you can grab a lovely limited edition from our friends at Funstock, too. Click here to find out more and get your own. Hotdog.
Odin Sphere was the debut title from Vanillaware, a company who became known over the years for its astonishingly beautiful and well-animated 2D artwork on a platform that had become more known for its 3D graphics. Vanillaware’s founder George Kamitami had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with in this field with his work for Atlus on Sega Saturn title Princess Crown, and was keen for his own company’s work to act as successors to this game.
Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling role-playing game with beat ’em up-style gameplay, with its narrative taking inspiration from Norse mythology, the works of William Shakespeare, fairy tales and early video games. It originally released in 2007 for PS2, making it a very late title for the platform — the Xbox 360 kicked off the HD era in 2005, remember — but despite this, it managed to enjoy enough commercial success to kickstart Vanillaware’s career as a developer.
In 2013, Vanillaware began developing a complete remake of Odin Sphere for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, as the new version was known, was initially intended to be a simple port, but ended up being a full remake; Vanillaware knew that there were elements of the original that had come in for some criticism, so this seemed like a prime opportunity to fix them. Among other things, the gameplay was rebalanced and tweaked to more closely resemble the fast-paced action of later Vanillaware titles Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown, both of which had proven to be popular with players.
Soul Nomad & The World Eaters
Nippon Ichi Software makes some great games, and not all of them get nearly as much attention as they deserve. Thankfully, it seems that the company is willing to acknowledge that a number of its PS2 games that don’t have “Disgaea” in the name are worth resurrecting for a new audience — and Soul Nomad & The World Eaters is one of the most interesting in this regard.
Originally released in 2007 for PS2, Soul Nomad & The World Eaters is a strategy RPG that is noteworthy for its customisation and flexibility. If that all sounds a bit Disgaea, you’d be right to a certain extent, but Soul Nomad & The World Eaters takes things a step further with the opportunity to either follow its story “normally”, or mess everything up completely at the very outset of the game and follow its unique “demon path” instead.
The game revolves around creating and training squads that can be fully customised, and unlike the grind-heavy nature of some other Nippon Ichi strategy RPGs, new units can be purchased up to the level of the main character rather than always having to start from scratch. You also have the option to steal from NPCs rather than buying items, and you can attack towns to fight against their inhabitants, or recruit them into your army. Some of these concepts would later be revisited in other oft-overlooked Nippon Ichi titles such as The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
Soul Nomad & The World Eaters is getting a rerelease as a standalone product on Steam this August, and it will also be available alongside Phantom Brave for Nintendo Switch as part of the Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 1 collection in early September.
So that covers several PS2 cult classics that are either already out for modern platforms or well on the way to returning to us — but what about those games that we’ve heard nothing about for years? Well! Here’s three picks from the PS2 library that we’d love to see get a second chance on modern platforms. Please do add your own ideas in the comments below, or via the usual social channels!
Gust is best-known for its long-running Atelier series — and with good reason — but during the PS2 era, the Ar Tonelico games were regarded as some of the most beautiful, well-crafted RPGs on the platform. Assuming you played them, that is; much like many of the best Japanese games on the platform, they came out extremely late in the PS2’s lifespan, with the first title arriving in the west in 2007, and the second in 2009.
The Ar Tonelico games are particularly known for their incredibly strong characterisation. The partnership between the protagonist characters and their Song Magic-wielding Reyvateil partners is essential to not only the narrative, but character progression also; in order to maximise your partners’ abilities, you’ll need to “dive” into their subconscious and explore the innermost secrets of their hearts. And there are some fascinating, highly intimate stories to be told therein.
Besides this, the Ar Tonelico titles are probably most widely beloved for their spectacular soundtracks. Making heavy use of a fully functional fictional language called Hymmnos, there’s a strong emphasis on vocal and choral tracks, with some truly amazing pieces of music accompanying the most dramatic moments in the story.
The three Ar Tonelico games (the third of which came out on PS3 rather than PS2) were succeeded by the Surge Concerto series, which includes the unlocalised life sim Ciel Nosurge and RPG Ar Nosurge, and interest in the series remains strong worldwide. With a “DX” Switch, PS4 and PC version of Ciel Nosurge already announced for Japanese release, it’d be lovely to see this wonderful series get a full resurrection on modern platforms — along with those previously unlocalised installments finally getting a translation. We can but hope.
If you’ve still got a PS2 knocking around, this bad boy is one of the best games you can spend 50p on down at your local CEX — and it’d be great to see a modern remaster.
Taking on the role of a 1940s “ripping yarn”-style treasure hunter, it’s your job to fly your clunky old plane through a series of increasingly unreasonable challenges in order to track down the mysteries of an island archipelago and the legendary tower of Maximus that lies somewhere therein.
There’s no combat in the game, but there doesn’t need to be, because the very environment in this game absolutely hates you and wants you to die a horrible death. In some levels, you’ll be flying down perilous canyons that feature rockslides at the most inconvenient moments; in others, you’ll be attempting to force your underpowered little biplane over the top of a mountain in the middle of a raging blizzard; in others still, your engines will fail at the most inconvenient moment, forcing you to temporarily repurpose your plane into a makeshift boat as you’re swept down some whitewater rapids.
Sky Odyssey is a constant thrill ride with some amazing setpieces — helped enormously by a wonderfully cinematic musical score from Kow “Shadow of the Colossus” Otani — and I can only imagine how spectacularly enjoyable a modern remaster of this would be. God only knows where the rights for Sky Odyssey lie now, though; its developer Cross vanished off the face of the planet almost immediately after releasing it, and it was published by some unholy combination of Activision and Sony across English-speaking territories. So I’m not holding out too much hope for this one.
Rule of Rose
As one of the most expensive PS2 games out there today, it’d be great to see 2006’s Rule of Rose get a proper rerelease on modern platforms — particularly after the moral panic in Europe over its alleged subject matter (claims which the Video Standards Council supposedly described as “nonsense”, interestingly) led to its complete cancellation in the UK. The high price copies command today is down to having to track down the limited numbers of mainland European versions — and there weren’t many copies out there in the first place.
Rule of Rose is a psychological horror game in which its 19 year old protagonist Jennifer finds herself trapped in a world ruled by young girls. The game features strong inspirations from both the Silent Hill series and Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and aims to explore the “mysterious and misunderstood” nature of young girls through its narrative. As you can probably imagine, certain assumptions about exactly what mysteries of young girls were explored in the game prompted the aforementioned moral panic.
Given that psychological horror games exploring themes other than blood, gore and zombies are a much more common sight today than they were back in 2006, a rerelease of Rule of Rose would likely go down well. Particularly as it’s a game in which you have a companion dog throughout most of the action, and you know how much people love that these days.
Given that the game was published by Atlus in North America and 505 Games in Europe — both of whom are still around — bringing the game back isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Given its history, though, one can perhaps understand the hesitance to resurrect it. Stranger things have happened, though!
What PS2 games would you love to see get a second chance? Let us know in the comments below, or via the usual social channels!
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