Role-playing games have been evolving since their inception and with the early games on the NES, SNES, and the Sega Genesis, the future looked bright. That future came with the best PS2 RPGs, that gave new life to an established genre.
The following games can be considered the best RPGs on the PS2, though there are contenders that could make the list if it were much longer.
Final Fantasy Series
Developer: Square Product Development Division 1/Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
The Final Fantasy series has some of the best RPGs of all time. While there is rarely a game that gets as praised as Final Fantasy VII, the PS2 games are also worth playing. There are three main titles, Final Fantasy X, X-II, and XII. Final Fantasy XI is an MMO.
You could play them in order, or just pick one, though X-II can be played without playing X first, it gets better with more context. They are RPGs and all three have slightly different combat systems. Given that they are some of the best PS2 RPGs, all of them should be played.
Dragon Quest V and VIII
Developer: Level-5/Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
The Dragon Quest or Dragon Warrior series used to be the competitor of the Final Fantasy series. That changed after the merger of Square and Enix. Dragon Quest V (remaster) and VIII were released under the Square Enix name.
These are RPGs with standard, turn-based gameplay. Dragon Quest VIII was the first game in the series to have fully 3D-rendered characters. Both games are worth playing, though V was released in Japan, only, and requires one of the fan translations.
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Games that focus solely on a fantasy setting tend to get repetitive in the RPG genre unless the story and storytelling are beyond great. Monster Lab gives you a simple objective, build the toughest monster human possible.
You are a scientist in a world oppressed by an evil ruler. You enlist the help of three mad scientists to build a mechanical, alchemical, and biological. This is a great action RPG that definitely tries new things that weren’t common in RPGs of the time.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Publisher: Aruze/Midway Games
Turn-based RPGs can surprise us from time to time, with an innovative story that we can connect with. Shadow Hearts: Covenant, is the second game in the series, and it continues the story of the first game.
We are placed in a fictional World War I, in 1915. We have two potential protagonists, the one from the previous game, Yuri Hyuga, and Karin Koenig, a new one. The game has two parts, allows exploration, and has many side quests.
Developer: Game Arts/Rocket Studio
Publisher: Game Arts/Enix/Ubisoft
Grandia II was initially released for the Sega Dreamcast. It was a universally praised title, first released in Japan, and afterward the rest of the world. It was later ported to the PS2. We have standard turn-based RPG battles, as well as exploration.
As far as the setting is concerned, there used to be a giant battle between good and evil, Granas and Valmar. Granas won and the Church of Granas led the world to apparent prosperity. However, things are not as they seem, and Ryudo finds that out early in his journey.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
The Megami Tensei series of games has plenty to offer and the Shin titles are the main ones. Nocturne was released in 2003 but had a Switch release much later, and an HD remaster for the PC. it was praised at the time, and even today, it stands out.
The story takes place in Tokyo which drastically changes at the start of the game. You play as a silent protagonist with a name of your choosing, and the ability to have demons by your side in battle. Nocturne is placed in its own Megami Tensei timeline.
Publisher: Square Enix
Radiata Stories stands out as a game with its own world that keeps on moving without the player interacting or playing. Persistent game worlds are more immersive. We are placed in the world of Radiata, of which the capital is Radiata City.
Our protagonist is Jack Russel, a teenager who loves to kick everything. Seriously, that is a game mechanic, you can kick objects and NPCs, thus getting into a fight. There are two main branches, so a replay is a must.
Xenosaga Episode I
Developer: Monolith Soft
Xenosaga Episode I is an RPG with turn-based combat that is placed in a universe where humanity left Earth after finding an artifact named Zohar. This artifact connects humanity to a god-like energy named U-DO.
The plot revolves around Zohar Emulators, replicas of the original Zohar, as well as people who want to find the original artifact. Shion Uzuki and her android, KOS-MOS, are the two protagonists, assisted by various side characters throughout the story.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Rogue Galaxy offers a different experience from a traditional RPG, even though random encounters are present. The transition from overworld to battle is instant and battles play out as real-time hack-and-slash events.
During combat, you can control only one of the three characters. The rest are controlled by an AI which you have to tell what to do prior to the battles. We play as Jester Rogue, a disillusioned teenager who wants to leave planet Rosa and explore space.
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: EA Games
The Lord of the Rings games can often do well, but there have been flops, as well. This story follows the Peter Jackson trilogy, though loosely. We have some battles that never happened, as well as the party assisting in battles that were 1v1 in the movies.
We follow a Gondorian captain Berethor, Idriel, an elf, Elegost, a Dunedain, and Hadhod, a dwarf. They more or less follow the Fellowship throughout their journey, helping in various places. It is one of the better LotR PS2 Games. <—– (link to main article)
Dark Cloud 2
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Dark Cloud 2 is also known as Dark Chronicle. It is an RPG, a sequel to Dark Cloud, which was in its own right a very interesting game with both third and first-person exploration. Various characters will be able to join you if you fulfill their quest.
We control two people, Maximilian and Monica, two teenagers from different timelines. Both have an Atamillia each, which are orbs that hold great power. The orbs choose their wielders, typically those who are worthy and pure of heart and intention.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 3
Breath of Fire is a series of games and Dragon Quarter is the first to have 3D characters and the world. We are underground and we follow the main character Ryu who wants to go to the surface so that his friends Nina and Lin can survive.
Ryu is also able to turn into a dragon and channel dragon abilities. Combat is both real-time and turn-based, something that Capcom calls Positive Encounter and Tactics System. There are gameplay elements that make this RPG stand out, as one of the best PS2 RPGs.
Publisher: Altus/Square Enix/Sega
The Persona series is also part of the Megami Tensei universe and this is the fifth game in the series, at least chronologically. The game is set in the fictional town of Inaba and we follow a silent protagonist, Yu Narumaki (though you can name the character).
The gameplay is split between the real world where you can attend school and have jobs, and the fictional TV World where you fight monsters in a typical RPG fashion. Notably, Megami Tensei games stretch back to the NES and SNES days.
Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army
Another spin-off based on the Megami Tensei franchise, this game is the third game in the Devil Summoner franchise. Unlike most of the Megami Tensei games, combat is real-time, and Raidou Kuzunoha, the main character, can attack with a sword or gun.
He is also a Devil Summoner and can summon a devil to assist him. The story revolves around the titular character, who is a teenage detective and is tasked with protecting Tokyo from otherworldly threats. The story unfolds and unexpected events can surprise the player.
Champions of Norrath
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment/Ubisoft
Champions of Norrath is the first of the two spin-off titles based in the EverQuest universe. We follow a typical set of heroes who have to save the world from not one but three antagonists. The game plays as a hack-and-slash, though it has major RPG elements.
Enemies drop loot, you get experience, and you have save points throughout the game. Save points save your progress, act as checkpoints, and can be used for online play. You can also import your characters into the second game, Return to Arms.
These are some of the best PS2 RPGs that you can play right now. There are other titles that are worth playing, whether with a PS2 emulator or if they are available through Sony’s Premium PlayStation Plus plan.
Start with these RPGs if you want to familiarize yourself with the genre and its evolution on the PS2.