Of PS2 RPGs and Sequels

If this has been covered in this way in the past, feel free to just link me there. I fail at forum searching, it appears…

As the PS2 library is more or less ‘complete’ at this point, there is a crap-ton of RPG goodness out there that I’ve never tapped into. I’ve seen threads that identify the good games, but there is one thing that I haven’t seen a suitable answer for: when should I play the ‘whole’ series, vs. just cherry-picking the best titles?

For example, I know Persona 3 and Persona 4 are must-play. But I’ve also found that this series seems to also include Devil Summoner, Digital Devil, Digial Devil 2, and a whole slew of others (at least they seem to be related)! Do I need to play them all? Would I want to play to them all?

Similar questions for other series with ‘sequels’: Dark Cloud, Disgaea, FFX/X-2, Xenosaga, Kingdom Hearts, Shadow Hearts - and on and on… (ignoring anything that crosses platforms during the series like Valkyrie Profile - I’m mostly concerned with PS2 titles).

It isn’t always clear when games are true sequels, meriting a playthrough of the whole series to understand the full story vs. just an update to mechanics and gameplay whereby nothing is lost in skipping the outdated game in favor of the new. Help!

FFX-2 was barbie dress-up paraded as a Final Fantasy game. X was quite good, and so was XII. Digital Devil Saga games are good, and so are the Shadow Hearts games. And yes they’re all considered part of the same universe.

Also check out DQ8, and you’ve already mentioned the Persona games.

edit: Oh, and the slew of Nippon Ichi SRPGs: Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom. You’ll really want to check out the Disgaeas soon since #3 is coming for PS3.

Even the true sequels generally don’t necessitate playing the earlier games. Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a sequel to the original, but I never played the original and from what I read I didn’t miss that much of the backstory. Which isn’t to say you always want to play the newest version. Covenant got much better reviews than its sequel (which I also didn’t play). Disgaea 2 has better gameplay mechanics but a far inferior story to the original (which I would recommend playing first if you have a lot of free time. Otherwise I’d pick one or the other depending how much you appreciate story in SRPGs).

Shadow Hearts 2 is very good. I found 1 unplayable and ignored it after a failed attempt, but 2 was fine as a standalone.

Kingdom Hearts 2 was much more accessible to me as well than its predecessor, and it also did a good job of being playable on its own (you just have to accept that the usual introductory period of not having any idea what is going on spans like half the game). My wife only played 2 and liked it quite a bit.

Xenosaga 3 was exponentially better than 1 or 2, which are the ass end of JRPG ignorant pretentiousness (with very questionable mechanics to boot). The mechanics are very sound and the plot rightfully relegated to a place where it does not interfere with the game. It’s on the high end of mediocre.

The only other Digital Devil whatever the hell I’ve played is Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and I found that difficult to get through even before P3/4 made it plain I was interested in a very different format for the series. But others swear by its quality, and the plot is very compelling from what I saw of it. Devil Summoner and the others never had enough to offer me from secondhand reports to get me to bother.

DQ8 stands on its own. I got bored halfway, but I think I am just allergic to the visual style since there was nothing wrong with the mechanics or the plot, or the mostly excellent voice acting.

Disgaea 3 is already out. I’ve had it for a while now, and that’s one series where it is definitely worth checking them out in order. Not for the plot, but for the way the mechanics build and evolve. 1 is my favorite in terms of plot and voice acting.

Ones I really like: Shadow Hearts 2, Disgaea, DQ8.

Gah. I guess I should probably buy a PS3 now…

Don’t do that! Price cut be coming.

Skip Dark Cloud but definitely play Dark Cloud 2. It’s another one of those uncommonly generous JRPGs that kill OCD types in droves.

Unless you’re an obsessive completionist, just cherry-pick the best titles. Most franchise console RPGs function as stand-alone stories, rather than acts in an ongoing saga. [Xenosaga and Kingdom Hearts are the only notable exceptions I can think of.] They frequently have different characters in each game; sometimes they’re even set in different worlds. [I’ve lost count of how many different settings are in the Final Fantasy franchise; prior to FF X, none of the FFs got a direct sequel, IIRC.] And even when a game is a direct sequel, you don’t necessarily need to know anything about the previous game(s) to enjoy it (e.g., Shadow Hearts 2).

I’m an obsessive completionist without the time necessary to actually do so, so this is all good info!

Thus far, I see:
Shadows Hearts 2 (can skip 1)
Both Disgaeas (but 1 has better story)
Dark Cloud 2 (can skip 1)
Kingdom Hearts 2 (but play 1 for the ‘full’ story)

Though in the end it sounds like I can pretty much jump around as I please, just knowing that I’ll be slightly lost at times, but not irrevocably so…

Except I’d recommend playing the Disgaea 1-3 and Persona 3-4 in order (if you plan on playing all of them), because the latter games in the series have gameplay mechanics you’re going to miss in the earlier ones. But if you haven’t played the later games and don’t know what the mechanics are, you don’t really miss them.

In that case, play shorter games. :-)

I’d recommend Fable & Jade Empire, but they’re Xbox, not PS2.

Fair enough, but no xbox ;)

I’ve learned to moderate the OCD due to the time constraints, but hence why I was curious what was critical to play in order vs. just grabbing out of the blue. :)

All of the Shin Megami Tensei games are in the range of good to excellent, and I count the series as a whole as one of the best things to happen to the PS2. The one thing they all have in common is that you have to actually enjoy the battle systems of RPGs. If you look at battles as merely the obstacles you have to get through to get more plot, you won’t enjoy them.

SMT: Nocturne is probably the hardest to like. It’s very much an update of the old-school Wizardry style of RPG. There is a plot, and it’s quite good, but presented in a very understated way. More than any of the other games, if you can’t appreciate random battles for their own sake, you will not enjoy it. The battles are very difficult, but very good, and the depth of strategy in developing your squad of demons is very compelling. The design aesthetic is incredible, as well; haunting, mysterious, and creepy. I loved the game, but the objections others have make perfect sense to me.

Digital Devil Saga is probably the closest to the Final Fantasy style of RPG most people are accustomed to, which is why I found it a bit underwhelming, but again I can easily see why people felt differently. Linear, lots of cutscenes, less freedom to develop your party and strategies, but still a great design and a wildly different experience from your typical swords and sorcery game.

I haven’t yet played Devil Summoner. Word is it’s the weakest of the series, which is a shame.

Finally, there are the Persona games. P3 I consider to be one of the greatest console RPGs of all time. I haven’t yet finished P4, but so far it seems to be just as good. Which means it loses a bit in originality, but whatever. Truly sympathetic and interesting characters, asymmetric gameplay modes that tie into each other in interesting ways, plots with themes that are backed up by the game systems, solid voice acting, etc. Great, great games.

This. I love love love that game. I’m pretty sure I logged more hours on that game than any other in the last 10 years. Keep in mind I’m a strategy gamer who likes RPG’s if they offer some strategic challenge, which Nocturne does in spades. If you do decide to get Nocturne, see if you can find the most incredible guide ever written by Doublejump. It’s one of those rare experiences where the guide actually completely enhanced the game playing experience instead of spoiling it or just regurgitating the manual.

I think everyone has already mentioned all the good RPGS on the PS2 ; I’ll elaborate on a few .

Re: Shadow Hearts, I played the first one and the series really didn’t start to become good until the second one. That’s when they added the ability to affect how much damage you can do each turn with the judgement rings. I didn’t play SH3 but I heard it is more of the same.

Re: SMT I’m a huge fan of it and I’ve played each one to be released in the US. P3 and P4 as mentioned are must buys, they’re easily the most accessible of the SMT series. Personally DDS 1 and 2 were just ok, they tried to combine Final Fantasy with Nocturne and it worked out somewhat ok. Nocturne however as Lorini mentioned is perfect for the RPG gamer who wants strategy in their RPGS. It’s easily the hardest and most complex of the SMT games released here. I would at least play P3 and P4 first to get the gist of the combat system before going to Nocturne, as the game hits you fast with its difficulty.

Re: NIS SRPGS, each one has a different take on the game mechanics in my opinion. Still D1 I think is the best of the series, but if you like it then you should like the other games in the series. I haven’t played D3 yet (No PS3) but it’s probably another great one. I would however avoid Soul Nomad, it’s the only NIS RPG that didn’t wow me like the other ones.

I hate to mess this up, but I prefer Kingdom Hearts 1 to 2. The first one gave you new stories for each world, while the second pretty much followed the stories from the respective movie or whatever. I hated that because I already knew what would happen next.

OTOH, I really enjoyed seeing what little I remembered of the Disney movies being modified into the Heartless/Nameless storyline in 2, and I thought the delivery on some of them (particularly Steamboat Mickey, Tron, the aesthetic change in the Pirates level, the Lion King, the final levels) was really an interesting refresher on classics and new ones alike. I can’t emphasize enough what a difference the polishing of mechanics and the improvement in the pacing made for me. Just fixing the camera and making the Gummi Ship levels less like pulling teeth would have been enough, but they did so much more. So yeah, by all means, try the first, but don’t give up on the second if that one doesn’t work out.

Also, play 2 on Hard. The difficulty will seem a bit steep at first but the platformy aspects are much more entertaining when you need to pay more attention to them (literally flying circles around a hidden boss was a high point).

If you’re a min-maxer then Dark Cloud 2 is the game that literally has it all (and yes, I mean literally). Great random dungeons, tons of items, pet breeding, crafting, mecha-crafting, all in a AAA presentation. And of course, a compltely unique city-building component that somehow manages to really tie in to the dungeon crawl. What a great game.

And you can skip the fucking cutscenes.

I don’t think there’s anything like it out there. It’s still my favorite PS2 game, and I am anything but a huge JRPG fan.

(Disclaimer: though it’s great, it still is a JRPG. which means you will play as a young boy in a litle lord fautelroy suit.)

Part of what makes the Persona titles great is the art and music aesthetic. Not only for the setting (turns out modern-day Japan is as strange and foreign a place to most of us as Middle Earth) but for the art direction. I literally got chills from the ending boss battle soundtrack in Persona 4 and its use of musical themes to set the stage.