Cult Classics: PlayStation 2

Part 1: Games you really should try!

It's been a while since we've done one of these and, since each new console generation usually results in older hardware being passed on and great software going cheap, it seems like a good excuse to have another dig around in the archives for some of the PS2 games that never really got a fair deal. The games that were maybe too innovative to stand out in an industry increasingly devoted to predictable franchise-building. The games that were deemed too weird, or were sunk by poor marketing. This, then, is not a list of the greatest PS2 games ever made, even though several here certainly deserve that praise. Many more are solid 7/10 efforts that fell by the wayside. All are recommended for adventurous souls with a taste for the eclectic.

Amplitude

  • Developer: Harmonix
  • Publisher: Sony
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Let's start with one of the classic cult titles to grace the PS2, a game that was clearly five years ahead of its time. Developed by the people who brought us Guitar Hero, Amplitude is - you guessed it - a music game, not entirely dissimilar to that fret-mashing smash hit. In what has since become a familiar sight, notes glide down the screen towards your "beat blaster" and you capture them by hitting the corresponding button. There are separate tracks for bass, drums, vocals and so on. Capture enough notes in a sequence and it's locked into place, looping on its own for a short time. While this happens you flip over to another song track and try to add that to the mix, eventually building up a complete rendition of the song. The 26 tunes on offer seem stingy by modern standards, especially since several are composed for the game by the developer, while the presence of David Bowie, Blink 182, Slipknot and Run DMC lend the game a musically schizophrenic air. But ultimately, it's this slight awkwardness that makes Amplitude so interesting - this game sank like a stone, but its direct descendant became a monster smash, and the evolution between the two is most curious. Amplitude's prequel, the equally overlooked freQuency, is also well worth finding.

What we said: "We'd be fools not to give this a big mark and a thumbs-up."

Ebay price guide: Around GBP 20

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana

  • Developer: Gust
  • Publisher: Koei
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If you recoil at dialogue like "Could you pick up a tingleberry from Veola's magic shop?" then you should probably continue to avoid Atelier Iris, one of several RPG series that would be flying off western shelves if the title contained the words "fantasy" and "final". If, however, you like a little whimsy with your inventory-hogging and NPC chatting, it's time you delved into one of the most charming games of its kind since Chrono Trigger. At its heart is Klein, a young alchemist whose ability to extract mana from objects in the gameworld and combine it into new items is central to the slightly obsessive gameplay. Viewed in isometric 3D, with a delightful platform game feel to the way you scamper around the quaint towns and leafy forests, Atelier Iris is a throwback to a gentler role-playing age. That it spawned two sequels which failed to capitalise on this sweet foundation just makes Eternal Mana all the more special.

What we said: "You'll be instantly hauled into its delightful world, desperate to help out in anyway you can."

Ebay price guide: GBP 15-20

Dark Cloud

  • Developer: Level 5
  • Publisher: Sony
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One of several promising RPG series that were stifled by Final Fantasy's all-encompassing +20 Cloak of Ubiquity, Dark Cloud deserves to be remembered for its curiously alluring mixture of Zelda and Sim City. On the surface, everything is much as you'd expect. An evil magical army has enslaved a peaceful world, and the only hope is a plucky young chap with enormous hair, his expanding group of allies and their quests through randomly generated dungeons. Where Dark Cloud deviates from cliché is in its gameplay mechanics. For one thing, you level up your weapons, not your characters. For another, you're always searching for Atla, pieces of the gameworld that have been smashed apart by the baddies. This leads you to Georama mode, where you put the pieces back together, talking with NPCs to figure out what needs to go where. There's already plenty to recommend Dark Cloud as a pure dungeon crawler, but this oddball town planning element makes it essential for anyone with a taste for the eccentric. The sequel, Dark Chronicle, offers an even more flexible town designer and is also well worth seeking out.

What we said: Not reviewed

Ebay price guide: GBP 10-15

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

  • Developer: Nippon Ichi
  • Publisher: Koei
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Another game that suffered because people didn't know how to ask for it. At least, not without sounding like Borat talking about "this guy here". Of course, it's also a Japanese turn-based strategy RPG, and the audience for those in Europe is slender but devoted. Disgaea is the sort of game that even RPGphobics should be able to enjoy though, blessed as it is with a devilish sense of humour and a storyline that casts you as a lazy demon hell-bent on claiming dominion over the Netherworld. Those who balk at turn-based games should be pleased to learn that in Disgaea all your characters move at the same time, eliminating the annoyance of having your strategy muffed up by enemy interruption. Even the levelling system manages to be fun, allowing you to smush enemies together to create stronger foes for higher rewards, and the game happily lets you build up your forces to silly levels of power. In a genre with an often deserved reputation for melodramatic seriousness, Disgaea is a breath of fresh air that could well be to your taste. Put aside your prejudice and give it a try.

What we said: "Deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with ICO in the rankings of the best games you've never played."

Ebay price guide: GBP 10-15

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