It’s been 23 years since Sony launched the PlayStation 2, and a whole lot has changed in that time. While console warriors clash on social media over the merits of Starfield and Spider-Man 2, the PS5 and Series X|S generation has gotten off to a relatively sluggish start. Although Sony has managed to sell a whopping 40 million PS5s since 2020, it still lags far behind the decades-old PS2, which sold 155 million units since its launch in 2000 and is still the best-selling console of all time. More importantly, the PS2 was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the landscape of modern gaming, transforming longstanding franchises and helping to shift the industry toward making games more beautiful and immersive than ever before.
Gaming looked very different before the PS2 came along. The industry was dominated by 32- and 64-bit games of the ‘90s, like the PS1 and Nintendo 64. Think harsh lines, sharp polygons, and simple color palettes. Everything was lo-fi, and while that style has come back into fashion, the photorealism of modern hardware was a distant dream.
The PS2 truly shook up gaming, though. It popularized a number of advancements that earlier consoles had attempted without mainstream success, including backward compatibility, a DVD player, and internet connectivity. It boasted a fantastic assortment of games that are beloved to this day, launching with ambitious new franchises such as Devil May Cry while also transforming famed series like Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear Solid into something that more closely resembles their “modern” form.
It was also home to games you wouldn’t see anywhere else, such as the atmospheric action-adventure titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. And thanks to Sony’s pedigree in the gaming space, along with its partnership with Japanese developers like Square Enix, the PS2 was a dream machine for RPG fans who cut their teeth on the PS1 and Super Nintendo, thanks to genre classics like Kingdom Hearts II, Persona 4, and Xenosaga. It’s mind-boggling when you think about the influence the PlayStation 2 has had.
The PS2’s more powerful hardware gave developers the room to flex its graphical capabilities. The visual leap from the PS1 to the PS2 was much more pronounced than, say, the jump from PS4 to PS5. Many PS2 games, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, Ratchet & Clank, and Twisted Metal: Black, ran at 60 frames per second, providing a much smoother gaming experience than previous console generations. Maybe it wasn’t quite as easy on the eyes as the Xbox or the GameCube, but the broad popularity of the PS2 was instrumental in altering the longstanding perception that games were toys for kids. They were art, and the PS2 helped usher in that idea to a larger audience than ever.
But it’s the impressive library of outstanding games that made the PS2 the best-selling console of all time. It was the console that introduced me to demon twin brother Vergil and his too-damn-cool Yamato katana in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition. I played so many samurai games on this thing, from Genji: Dawn of the Samurai to Musashi: Samurai Legend to Onimusha: Warlords to Samurai Warriors. As a skate punk, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater—and its various spin-offs—were my absolute obsessions. And although Black characters existed in games before this, it wasn’t until GTA: San Andreas where I saw life as I lived it represented in a video game. Then you’ve got an array of other spectacular games, including Burnout 3, Guitar Hero, Jak II, Okami, and Silent Hill 2. Many of them were multiplatform, but most of them felt at home on the PS2.
Not gonna lie, I get a little misty-eyed thinking about the PS2. I was a literal child when it came out, so my memory of it is hazy, but specific moments in time come to mind when I reminisce about the legendary console. Like, I remember my sister booting up Final Fantasy X, telling her to wait so I could cosplay as—and imitate the actions of—the swords-hunk Auron throughout her playthrough. This was a bonding moment for us, even with our massive 18-year age gap. I was too young to understand the nuances of the game’s complex storytelling, but watching the emotional toll the action RPG took on my sister as she finally beat the final boss, Yu Yevon, after months of trying and dying helped solidify my love of gaming.
Putting it all into perspective like this, it makes sense that the PS2 is so fondly remembered. It was part of a broader trend toward more impressive and realistic visuals, and it also came with an unusually stacked set of games that genuinely defined a generation of gamers. Maybe, in time, another console will finally outsell the PS2. And who knows, it’s possible that as gamers age and memories fade, so too will our collective nostalgia for the PS2. For now, though, the king of consoles remains the king.
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