6 of the best PlayStation 2 dungeon crawlers

With the recent release of Kowloon High School Chronicle on PlayStation 4, I thought it would be interesting to round up some of the best dungeon crawlers on PlayStation 2 — after all, Kowloon High School Chronicle both features dungeon crawler elements and was originally a PlayStation 2 game, so naturally it would make a good first entry on the list.

However, I soon ran into a bit of an issue: the PlayStation 2, on the whole, does not actually appear to play host to that many games that we would typically describe these days as a “dungeon crawler” — that is to say, games in which you control a party of players, move around a grid-based maze by step and do a lot of fighting.

As such, I must apologise profusely, but since I am the dedicated sort and refuse to abandon a good idea even if it turns out to be a terrible one, as has happened in this instance, we are broadening our definition of “dungeon crawler” somewhat and instead taking it a little more literally. That is to say, our list of six of the best PlayStation 2 dungeon crawlers is not only going to contain dungeon crawlers in the traditional sense as described above, but also games that are dungeon- and/or combat-centric rather than narrative-centric.

Does that make sense? Doesn’t matter, ’cause that’s what we’re doing. Let’s get started.

Kowloon High School Chronicle

Dungeon crawler Kowloon High School Chronicle

The reason this list exists — and actually a rather non-traditional example of a dungeon crawler. Kowloon High School Chronicle blends elements of visual novel, dungeon crawler, tactics RPG and puzzle adventure to create something altogether unique; there really is nothing quite like it out there.

Between treasure-hunting excursions into the ruins beneath your school, you’ll interact with the other characters in the game using an intriguing emotion-based decision system. Once you delve into the darkness, you’ll find that combat places a much greater emphasis on positioning and tactics than many other dungeon crawlers out there. And when you’ve beaten down the enemies, each dungeon has plenty of puzzles to solve.

On top of that, there’s a whole additional bonus pixel art adventure game hidden within Kowloon High School Chronicle to get your teeth into, too. Absolutely a game of many parts — and a highly enjoyable one at that. Plus, despite originating as a PS2 game, it’s now available for modern platforms! Grab a limited edition for Switch here, or PlayStation 4 here — or pick up the digital Switch or PS4 versions.

Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land

Dungeon crawler Wizardry Tale of the Forsaken Land for PlayStation 2

This game has the dubious honour of actually being the only traditional dungeon crawler for PlayStation 2 listed on dungeoncrawlers.org, a comprehensive database of dungeon crawlers (according to their own strict definition) available for all manner of platforms from over the years. But it’s a solid choice for a variety of reasons.

It’s part of the long-running Wizardry series which, in its early days on home computers, pretty much invented the dungeon crawler genre as we know it today. Wizardry has a long and convoluted history that meant it started as a series of western games and ended up being Japanese — as this installment is — but it’s consistently provided traditional, enjoyable, mechanically deep and challenging dungeon crawler gameplay for those willing to invest some time into the experience.

First released worldwide in 2001, the game was published by Atlus in the US and Japan, and Ubi Soft (I know, right) in Europe. It’s not super-hard to find today, but expect to pay around the £30 mark for it.


Dungeon crawler Baroque for PlayStation 2

This is an interesting one. Developed by Sting (of Hyperdevotion Noire, Dungeon Travelers 2 and the Dept. Heaven series fame) and published by Atlus, Baroque for PS2 is a remake of a game that originally came out for Saturn and original PlayStation in Japan in 1998. Interestingly, the original version of the game fits the common definition of “dungeon crawler” a little more closely than the remake does in that it unfolds from a first-person perspective — but it still counts.

Baroque is, at its core, a roguelike, but with the interesting twist that deaths in the dungeon actually advance the narrative somewhat. The original PlayStation version was heavily inspired by the Mystery Dungeon series, but the remake for PlayStation 2 features more freedom of movement and action game elements, providing a notably different feel. It’s still a roguelike dungeon crawler at heart, though — you’re exploring randomly generated dungeons and you lose everything when you die.

Baroque for PS2 will probably set you back around £50 or so today, so if you have access to a Wii or Wii U you may want to watch out for the slightly cheaper Wii port, which includes everything from the PS2 version plus a few additional features — including the ability to once again play from first-person and proper widescreen support.

The Nightmare of Druaga: Fushigi no Dungeon

Dungeon crawler The Nightmare of Druaga for PlayStation 2

As the name suggests, this is an entry in both Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series, and Namco’s The Tower of Druaga series. Once again taking on the role of Gilgamesh (Gil for short), it’s your job to save your fiancée Ki (again), this time from the evil sorceress Skulld. As with other Mystery Dungeon games, the dungeon crawler gameplay is strictly turn-based, with enemies only moving and taking actions when you do. The unique gimmick for The Nightmare of Druaga is that Gil’s armour emits light that declines over time; to keep it bright, you have to make item offerings.

Like most Mystery Dungeon games — and roguelikes, more broadly — The Nightmare of Druaga is quite unforgiving in terms of difficulty. Death results in the loss of all your items and half your gold — though there are some mechanics that allow you to preserve some of your items. There’s also an auto-save feature that prevents you from save-scumming — attempt to reset the game to get around this and you can expect a stern talking-to from Ishtar the next time you try and resume the action.

The Nightmare of Druaga was localised into English (despite the Japanese that remained in the title) — but the English version was only available in North America, so if you’re in Europe you’ll need an NTSC or modded PlayStation 2 to play on original hardware, or a suitable emulator.

King’s Field IV

While more commonly regarded as the spiritual precursor to the Souls series these days, FromSoftware’s King’s Field IV for PlayStation 2 has definite dungeon crawler tendencies. It has a distinctive twist, though — while it unfolds from the traditional first-person perspective, you have full freedom of movement, and combat unfolds in real time.

This is no mindless first-person hack-and-slash, mind — much as in the Souls series, combat is deliberately slow and ponderous, meaning you really need to commit to every strike and be ready to deal with what your enemies might be about to throw at you. There’s also an interesting progression system, where alongside earning conventional character experience points, you also gain experience in using weapons and magic, with your abilities at both improving as you increase your proficiency.

Back at the time of its original release, King’s Field IV was regarded as an interesting curiosity that paled in comparison to more “in your face” RPGs such as Final Fantasy X and Grandia II. Today, however, it’s much easier to appreciate as the precursor to FromSoftware’s modern games. Expect to pay through the nose for it, mind.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance

No, I’m not talking about that monstrosity of a “Drizzt saying fuck with a GoPro on his head” game that came out a little while back and which was promptly (and quite rightly) forgotten, I’m talking about the good one. In fact, I’m talking about developer Snowblind Studios’ general output, which was consistently high quality, and which also included the two Champions games based on Sony’s Everquest, along with the DC Comics-licensed Justice League Heroes.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is essentially the Diablo formula of real-time isometric hack-and-slash loot-centric action RPG formula, only with predefined dungeons replacing the randomly generated dungeons, and third edition Dungeons & Dragons forming the backbone of the game’s core mechanical systems. Three character classes are available to choose from, and the game features simultaneous two-player couch co-op, which is absolutely the best way to enjoy this game.

Back on its original 2001 release, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was celebrated for being both a solid game and a technically impressive use of the PlayStation 2’s capabilities. These days, it might be a little less impressive from the technical aspect, but it’s still a damn fine game. And it actually got a digital rerelease for PC, Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox a while back.

So there’s our picks for top PlayStation 2 dungeon crawlers. Can you think of many more? It seems like the genre really started to come into its own on later generation consoles — particularly the dear ol’ Vita! If you’ve got any favourites you want to share, feel free to share them down in the comments, via the usual social channels or on the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!

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Pete Davison
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