Persona 3 FES
The PlayStation 3 had already arrived on scene by the time Persona 3 came to the PlayStation 2, but that didn't stop the game from being a critically acclaimed title adored by die-hard Atlus fans. To their surprise, Atlus decided to re-release the game less than a year later with 30 additional hours of gameplay. Persona 3 FES not only included a ton of new content, but it also gave the story a more complete ending, and allowed players to explore more of Aegis' story. Persona 3 was again re-released on the PSP with even more improvements, but Persona 3 FES stands as a testament that great games can still find an audience even if the console is on its way to being phased out.
Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec
Gran Turismo exploded onto the scene on the original PlayStation, but Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec took the franchise to new heights when it came to the PlayStation 2. The original games looked great, but with the added power the PS2 possessed, GT3 looked absolutely insane. The graphics still hold up tremendously well today, which is a testament to Polyphony Digital's ability as a developer to get the most from the console's hardware. For the first time in the series, new F1 model cars were added, and players could even cheat to access Lamborghini and Porsche vehicles. Teamed with the familiar deep tuning options, GT3 remains one of the best sim racing titles of all time.
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas brought the series to new heights, giving players an entire state to wreak havoc across. While previous entries in the series were a lot of fun to play, San Andreas' customization options, RPG-like elements, and massive playground showed just what Rockstar was capable of when allowed to really let loose. What really made San Andreas shine, outside of the great radio stations, weapons, vehicles, and setting, was the story of CJ, the franchise's first truly full-realized character. CJ wasn't a caricature, and neither was the world he lived in. San Andreas set the tone for future entries, and can still be considered one of the finest GTA games ever developed.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Criterion had been honing the Burnout series for a few years under Acclaim's guidance, but once EA snapped up the franchise, the developer took things to a new level. Burnout 3: Takedown is a high mark for the series. Not only did it offer some of the best crash and smash racing to date, but having EA in their corner allowed Criterion to beef up the game with healthy and robust online offerings. No longer limited to the basement couch, you could crash cars in Berlin before breakfast, outrace the opposition in Dallas by dinner, and still have time to play a few rounds with your siblings before being sent off to bed. To top it all off, every wreck was a spectacular vision of carnage that made losing a bit easier to swallow.
Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution
Fighting fans love the Virtua Fighter franchise, and its arrival on the PlayStation 2 in the form of Virtua Fighter 4 was met with much celebration. Over a year later, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution was released, adding some appreciated improvements to the formula. Most obviously, VF4 Evo added two new characters, Goh and Brad, which caused Sega to adjust some of the original fighters to better compliment the new entrants. A better ranking system, new arena types, as well as new gameplay modes, not only helped keep VF4 Evo fresh, but also helped make it one of the best fighters to grace the system.
God of War
Sony Santa Monica
God of War burst onto the scene blending Greek mythology with amazing action that echoed fan-favorite franchises like Devil May Cry, but with a bigger, louder voice. The first game's director David Jaffe delivered a protagonist in Kratos that allowed players to live out rage-fueled fantasies in real-time against some of the pantheon's biggest names. Graphically impressive, narratively strong, and featuring some of the tightest controls the genre had ever seen, God of War established a new first-party franchise that was a sure-fire system-seller. Players couldn't wait to get more of Kratos' adventures, and fortunately for everyone, they wouldn't have to wait long.
Ico is one of the most unique games to grace the PlayStation 2. The adventure still generates as much wonder today as it did when it was released more than a decade ago. There aren't complicated controls, and there isn't actually much of a narrative to speak of, but the journey of young Ico and Yorda is one players become invested in because of the game's simplicity. At its core, Ico causes you to care because you're the only hope Yorda has to escape. That immediate and lasting relationship makes overcoming the game's challenges that much more satisfying, and really helps you become immersed in the world.
Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal
How do you improve the Ratchet and Clank series game after game? Well if you're Insomniac, you add more weapons, more worlds, and a brand new villain in Dr. Nefarious. The adventure game styling of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal really showed a clear evolution over earlier entries, and nothing made that more apparent than the addition of online play for the first time. Up Your Arsenal didn't revolutionize the online shooter, but getting to break out the incredibly creative weaponry Insomniac had created for Ratchet against friends really brought a new, and much appreciated, element to the already stellar franchise.
Beyond Good and Evil
Critically acclaimed and commercially ignored, Ubisoft's Beyond Good and Evil is one of the best games no one has ever played. Following the exploits of photojournalist Jade as she tries to uncover a great global conspiracy, this Zelda-esque title had all the hallmarks of a great video game. Unfortunately for everyone involved, there just wasn't much interest at retail for such an untested property. That said, the lack of sales didn't diminish Beyond Good and Evil's quality gameplay one bit. The good thing about BG&E, is Ubisoft gave it a second chance a few years later with a downloadable HD remake. There's even a sequel in development, though there's no telling if or when it will ever see the light of day.
Okami is often regarded as one of the most beautiful video games to appear on the PS2, and after just a few minutes of playing the game, it's hard to disagree with that sentiment. With an original style based on ink and wash painting, Okami told the story of the goddess Amaterasu and her quest to save the land from darkness. There were plenty of myths and legends appropriated by the developers, but the real kicker was the unique gameplay in which players had to paint their attacks and abilities on the screen before they could be used. It's not often style and substance combine to such great effect, but Clover Studios did a masterful job, and in the process created one of the most memorable games of the past decade.