VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: PlayStation 2

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With the holiday game rush in full swing, it’s time to start coming up with gift ideas for the gaming loved ones on your shopping list and piecing together wish lists of your own. To aid in your gift-giving and list-compiling efforts this holiday season, we’ll be bringing you an in-depth series of gift guides covering all of the major gaming systems on the market with our top game picks from throughout the year that we feel are worth your consideration, from surefire hits any gamer will be thrilled to find in their stocking or under the tree Christmas morning to casual games for wholesome family fun to niche titles perfect for that hardcore gamer looking for more than the usual mainstream favorites.

To open our gift guide series, we begin today with the good ol’ PlayStation 2. Even with the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 now collectively taking center stage in the console market, Sony’s last-gen workhorse is still thriving in its seventh year with 120 million-plus systems sold worldwide and monthly sales that continue to hold steady. The future software outlook for the PS2 is clearly showing signs of slowing down as 2008 looms and the “big three” consoles continue to assert their dominance, but as far as 2007 is concerned the all-time best-selling gaming system has delivered another remarkable year of top quality game releases. Here are our favorites (don’t kill us if we missed something, with so many games to look back on a few are bound to slip through the cracks):

PS2_BundleShot_SS_POP_3.jpgSingStar PS2 Pack – Actually, before getting to the games, it’s important to make sure you or your intended giftee have a PS2. If you’re looking to purchase the console for the first time, Sony’s SingStar PS2 pack is a great place to start. For the low, low price of $149.99, the bundle comes fully loaded and ready to rock with a limited-edition Ceramic White PS2 system, a copy of SingStar Pop and two USB microphones right out of the box. Quite a deal, no? But don’t worry, if karaoke isn’t your thing you can always ask for the standard PS2 package for an even cheaper $129.99. Can’t go wrong either way.

SoulNomad.jpgSoul Nomad & the World Eater (T) – Proving quality 2D gaming isn’t dead just yet on home consoles, Nippon Ichi strikes again with this excellent, often hilarious SRPG that both new players as well as fans of the company’s other titles will love. Some interface and gameplay elements are borrowed from earlier NIS releases such as tons of units to create or battling shopkeepers to gain better items, but there’s more than enough uniqueness to keep you playing ’til the wee hours. In a nice touch, battle maps are presented as flat art that can be zoomed or rotated, a better alternative to overly detailed 3D landscapes. The odd Room Décor and attributes system is definitely unique and the devilishly funny demon lord you’re tasked with “managing”, Gig comes off like a cross between Devil May Cry’s Dante and Laharl from the Disgaea series.

P3OuterPkg.jpgShin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (M) – After too long an absence in the US market, the third game in the RPG series finally arrives with plenty of changes that make it a far different experience than the previous two entries. While you’re still playing a high school age kid in modern-day Japan, there’s more of a focus on building relationships with NPC’s this time out. During the daytime you’ll need to interact socially in order to increase certain important skills, while at night, you can choose to tackle the 100-level random dungeon your school transforms into. Activating your Personas is done by shooting yourself in the head with a special gun, but this really isn’t as shocking or controversial as it sounds. The game, like all of those in the Shin Megami Tensei series, will be appreciated more by gamers who embrace the product as a whole, not single out one or two parts.

OdinSphere.jpgOdin Sphere (T) – One of the year’s best, this 2D masterpiece from Vanillaware is one of those games that will grab even non RPG fans with its stunning graphics, sweeping score and top-notch voice acting (in English or Japanese). Play as five fantasy characters as each experiences the same story from his or her viewpoint. The one-button combat might sound limited, but the game also relies on players strategically managing item usage before, during and after combat. The storyline balances its grand dramatic points with touching romanticism and a bit of humor in the right places – when you’re done with each of the episodes, you’ll want to go back and play it all over again. That is, if you’ve got a second controller handy. The game can be incredibly tough at times.

ArTonelico.jpgAr Tonelico: Melody of Elemenia (M) – Released earlier in the year, this 2D RPG from Gust (Atelier Iris 3: Etermal Mana) had a solid storyline, great music and a lengthy multi-part quest, all standard issue for games in the genre. The big twist was the ability to explore the dreamscapes of the Reyvateils (a female race of magic users) in your party in order to bond with them and unlock new, powerful spells. Of course, some overtly sexy imagery, bizarre plot twists and a surprisingly M-rated sequence or three were the real draw for those who enjoyed this one. Look for the Limited Edition for the great hardcover art book packed inside.

Chulip.jpgChulip (E) – Natsume’s commitment to family-friendly games gets turned on its ear with this offbeat adventure/RPG hybrid. Your main goal: to be with the town’s cutest gal under a tree. Your method: Help as many of the townspeople out with their own problems, which somehow involves kissing them somewhere along the line. Trying to explain this one is harder than actually playing it, but when you do play it, you’ll most likely wind up with a strange smile on your face as the game’s wacky (yet fitting) visuals and general tone absorb you and anyone else in the general vicinity. A sweet game, not just for lovers only!

RogueGalaxy.jpgRogue Galaxy (T) – Level 5’s swan song on the PlayStation 2 reaches for the stars and shows a developer at the top of its craft (at least in terms of last-gen games). Richly detailed cel-shaded visuals, a great battle system, multiple costume changes for the party characters and much more highlight a game that’s no slouch in the story department either. Playing RG almost feels like you’re involved in an epic anime from beginning to end as the game balances both dramatic and comedic elements flawlessly.

AtelierIris3.jpgAtelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm (T) – Not just another sequel, AI3 shakes up the formula once again with new characters, a straight to the point story and a great combat system. Now divided between plot-advancing Missions and profit-making Quests, the game is also very newbie friendly if you’re looking for something the whole family can play. The addition of a guild system (but only three main characters) lends the feeling of a compact MMORPG, but things move along at a more rapid pace. Longtime RPG developer Gust just gets better and better with each installment, but you can thank Nippon Ichi’s US arm for continuing to bring out many of the best and most wanted JRPGs despite the constant emphasis on 3D in other games in the genre.

Buzz.jpgBUZZ! The Mega Quiz (E 10+) – Attention, PS2 and PS3 owners: don’t feel jealous at all that Scene-It is winking and waving at you from store shelves as an exclusive on the Xbox 360! You’ve got your own quiz game here that’s just as good (and even better in a few areas). The game comes packed with four big BUZZ! Buzzer controllers and on the game disc, you’ll get a whopping 5,000 questions spread throughout a bunch on mini-games on everything from film, music, animal life and tons of other subjects. Wacky avatars, customizable buzzer sounds, super responsive controls and a huge chunk of challenge for both novice and expert quiz fans alike are all here. If you’re under a certain age or just don’t pay attention to older pop culture, you’d better be pretty darn smart as some of the trickier questions here demand knowledge of fairly obscure facts. Nevertheless, this also doubles as the perfect party game for non-gamers who love stuff like Scene-It, Trivial Pursuit or You Don’t Know Jack.

BurnoutDominator.jpgBurnout Dominator (E 10+) – If you’re a fan of destruction for destruction’s sake, road rage style, this game has your name stamped on it in huge, huge letters. Yeah, it’s 1000% overkill if you’re into the Gran Turismo or TOCA Race Driver 3 style of simulation racing, but any game where you can plow through traffic, knocking cars around like pinballs is called a super stress reliever. That is, until your AI or live opponent slams your ride into a bridge support. Then you’re turning into a revenge-minded speed freak with a chip on his shoulder. Rinse and repeat, with a crazy-ass grin on your face that gets wider with each crash.

TombRaiderAnniversary.jpgTomb Raider Anniversary (T) – Don’t call this a remake as much as a reinterpretation of the seminal action/adventure classic. Crystal Dynamics builds upon the awesomeness of Tomb Raider: Legend while addressing that game’s length issues with this excellent entry. While the basic storyline and some gameplay aspects will be familiar to longtime fans, the redesigned puzzles and enemies will give you and your controller a run for your money. It’s too bad Eidos isn’t making movies, as both this game and Legend are a hell of a lot better than what Hollywood did with Lara Croft. My question is, will we see Tomb Raider II remade this way in the near future?

GrimGrimoire.jpgGrimGrimoire (E 10+) – Vanillaware and NIS strike again with this superbly original strategy/action game that features absolutely outstanding 2D graphics and uniquely addictive gameplay. The game uses a number of familiar RTS elements tailored perfectly to the PS2 controller and while it might look like a side-scrolling action game similar to the majestic Odin Sphere, what’s here is deeper and more rewarding excellence for strategy fanatics of all stripes. There’s also a story full of surprises, lovely character art to ogle and dozens of hours of gameplay that has you roaming huge castles as you send your created minions do battle against your foes.

NarutoUltimateNinja2.jpgNaruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 (T) – Besting last year’s installment by a knockout or three, UN2 features more content that’s both subtly and markedly improved, making for an overall well-rounded sequel. The single player mode has been beefed up with a more RPG-like structure, the mini-games are hilarious and the fighting demands more than just the same button mashing you’d think an anime-based game would have. Differing battle conditions and a ton of unlockable characters keep you on your toes and the two-player mode is a nice way to share the insane action with a like minded Naruto fiend. If you own a PSP, Be sure to grab the even more surprising Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes for an even more impressive technical achievement.

SpiderManFriendOrFoe.jpgSpider-Man: Friend or Foe (E 10+) – Stripping down the huge character selection from Marvel Ultimate Alliance to include Spidey-centric heroes and villains, tweaking the gameplay to be accessible to the younger set and wrapping it all up in super-stylized 3D cartoon graphics, Friend or Foe is perfect for the kids. Parents and adult gamers who are comic fans looking for a guilty pleasure will get their grins on big time as well. Non-stop action keeps the rapid fire (and often humorous) plot rolling along and by the time you’re done, you’ll probably want to play it all over again, provided you haven’t tap-tap-tapped the buttons on your Dual Shock 2 into a fine powder. Yeah, it’s crazy like that with the button mashing, but it’s a good crazy.

GuitarHero80s.jpgGuitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80’s (T) – A total no-brainer purchase for the legions of plastic axe shredders created by the franchise, this PS2-only expansion disc features thirty classic 80’s tracks covering Rock, pop, punk and “new wave” styles. The $50 price point might seem a bit steep to budget-minded gamers, but as with all the GH games, the replayability is where it’s at. Trust me, if you love the 80’s music scene and the days of super hair metal and checkered sneakers, you’ll be going through the content here until your console is blowing out smoke and sparks and your hands are cramped up in a permanent death-grip on your SG controller.

GuitarHeroIII.jpgGuitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (T) – As much of a no-brainer as Rocks the 80’s is, Guitar Hero III is even more so. Although the PS2 version is a downgrade from the PS3, Wii and 360 versions due to the lack of an online component, the addition of 70+ new songs (most of which being the original master recordings) from legendary rockers like Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, and Pearl Jam to name but a few, guitar-shredding boss battles, and a new co-op career mode make this a must-buy for all Guitar Hero fanatics, whether you get the game separately or pick up the $90 bundle featuring the PS2-exclusive Gibson Kramer wireless guitar.

Th3Plan.jpgTh3 Plan (T) – A super-low budget surprise from Crave, this is a well-done PC-style action/adventure game with some cool elements borrowed from Mission Impossible movies and other stealth games. Switch between three operatives on the fly as you break in and out of locations, steal items (there’s a great pickpocketing mini-game) and cause general mayhem. As there’s very little gunplay until the last section, this isn’t a high action, stuff blowing up every second masterpiece by a mile. Nevertheless, smarter gamers who play and enjoy sleepers will find a lot to like here. If you happen to have two other friends and some extra controllers handy, guess what? The game can be played by up to three players, which changes the dynamics up quite a bit. For a mere $14.99, this is quite literally, a steal!.

GOW II - Box Art (M).jpgGod of War II (M) – No game on the PS2 this year comes close to matching God of War II. This epic follow-up to Sony Santa Monica’s original God of War masterpiece is everything a sequel should be: it’s bigger, badder, bloodier and somehow even more beautiful. Kratos returns to solidify his spot as one of gaming’s top stars, swinging his chain blades to slice and dice mythological beasts with even more graceful brutality – the combat system is so fluid, it’s like taking part in a ballet of blood splatters and severed limbs. If you only get one title for the (mature) PS2 gamer on your shopping list this holiday season, make it God of War II. Hell, any PS3 owner should be thrilled to unwrap this Christmas morning too, as long as their system is backwards compatible enabled that is…

SFilterDM_PS2_pkgfront.jpgSyphon Filter: Dark Mirror (T) – It may be a stripped down port of last year’s PSP classic, but Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is still no less impressive. Yes, it’s true that the online play from the PSP has been removed and some of the content has been toned down a wee bit to give the game a more accessible “Teen” rating, but filling in those gaps are tighter controls and smoother graphics. It would’ve been nice to see Sony be generous with more of a budget pricing as opposed to the $40 price tag they ultimately settled on, but in the end Dark Mirror is an excellent third-person stealth/shooter that’s well worth snagging if you missed it on the PSP and is sure to wash away the stain of disappointment The Omega Strain left behind.

TheRedStar.jpgThe Red Star (T) – All ready to ship for PS2 and Xbox way back in 2004, The Red Star fell off the map at the last minute after the collapse of Acclaim and appeared as if it would never come out even though development on the game was finished. Three years later, the graphic novel inspired shooter/beat ‘em-up finally arrived exclusively on PS2 earlier this year from XS Games. For arcade shooter fans, The Red Star is an absolute classic and overall one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire year on any platform. Playing side-by-side with a buddy-in-arms is as addictive and compelling a multiplayer experience as any game out right now, stirring up the same sense of co-op camaraderie as old-school classics like Contra. The Red Star should be at the top of any hardcore gamer’s holiday wish list, no doubt about.

ShiningForceEXA.jpgShining Force EXA (E 10+) – Fans of dungeon-crawling hack-n-slashes, especially Shining Force Neo, should be clamoring to add Shining Force EXA to their collection. Despite poor voice acting and a shaky framerate, this lengthy action-RPG adventure packs hours of challenging, button-pounding combat, tons of character customization and base building options, an interesting two-party swapping format that has you adventuring with one team and staying at home base on defense duties with the other in case enemies attack, and beautifully rendered cel-shaded graphics. For its intended audience, Shining Force EXA definitely gets a strong recommendation from us.

DawnOfMana.jpgDawn of Mana (T) – Strangely, Dawn of Mana is a title most diehard Mana fans will probably loathe, while those who don’t follow the series too closely will enjoy quite a bit. In an effort to appeal to a wider audience, Square Enix made Dawn of Mana into an action-platformer, surprisingly enough, somewhat resembling the Kingdom Hearts games in play style, only with greater emphasis on platform jumping and a severe lack of any significant RPG elements. Wonky camera and targeting systems do muddy things up a bit, but fortunately an engaging storyline, fun combat system and vibrant art style keep Dawn of Mana afloat as a lighthearted, accessible and largely-entertaining fantasy adventure.

Hot Shots Tennis box art.jpgHot Shots Tennis (E) – Taking a short break from the beloved Hot Shots Golf series, the team at Clap Hanz has worked its magic injecting the sport of tennis with the quirky, accessible fun and subtle depth expected from the Hot Shots brand. The gameplay in Hot Shots Tennis is surprisingly true to the real sport, forgoing zany power-ups and special moves in favor of fairly realistic ball and court physics and simple timing-based shot mechanics that are easy to pick up but tough to master. The lack of mini-games and all-around shallow selection of play modes is a bit of a letdown, but the gameplay is so solid that you’ll be enjoying the arcadey tennis goodness to even care. Of course, the $29.99 budget pricing sure is nice too…

Other than Hot Shots Tennis, you’ve probably noticed that we didn’t mention any sports games. There’s an easy explanation for that too. Sadly, with publishers and developers sinking most of their assets into the PS3 and 360 sports titles, the PS2 versions have suffered mightily this year. Across the board, top sports franchises like NBA 2K, Madden, WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and many others failed to add anything new to their ’08 offerings – in fact, some of them actually lost content from the year before! While some of these titles are still plenty good, none stood out enough to be singled out as part of our PS2 guide.

– Guide co-written by Matt Litten and Greg Wilcox

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!