What an epic year in video games 2002 was. In hindsight, no one could have possibly predicted that this year would see the launch of so many now-classic titles, but the PlayStation 2 was beginning to hit its stride and the vast majority of these titles first appeared on that console.
In case you didn’t know, the Sony PlayStation 2 is the best-selling home console of all time and probably has the largest library of games for any system ever released. There is something for everyone on the PS2 and it is a golden age Sony has tried to replicate ever since.
These choices were tough, and by no means represent everything awesome released in 2002, just what we think are some the best highlights that really captured the spirit of the year.
10. PaRappa the Rapper 2
Sequel to PaRappa the Rapper, this music rhythm game returned to PlayStation 2 with another eclectic mix of characters and funky tunes with minor tweaks to the gameplay introduced in PaRappa the Rapper. While not as immediately likable as the first entry, the second game introduced many rhythm game conventions we know and love today. Gamers beg Sony to resurrect this property, and it’s not hard to see why. With bright visuals and spot-on graphics, as well as a story ripped straight from the quirkiest of Cartoon Network, PaRappa the Rapper 2 is emblematic of the PlayStation 2’s wide-open approach to exploring new game formats.
9. Grandia II
Grandia was the Dreamcast’s answer to PlayStation’s Final Fantasy, and what a response it was. Featuring some of the best JRPG gameplay of its era, Grandia II, again, took everything players loved about the first installment and improved upon it just enough to push it towards perfection. Bright graphics, an epic score, and a lovable cast of characters round out a solid story that, while typical JRPG fare, recalls some of the best classics on the SNES. Grandia II is a must-play for JRPG fans but those who love a solid story and equally competent gameplay will find a home with this game.
8. Virtua Fighter 4
Sega’s Virtua Fighter series originally wanted to bring realistic fighting gameplay to the arcades. In many ways it was both a philosophical and graphical response to the other big dogs of the time – Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II.
Sporting heavily polygonal graphics on top of super solid gameplay, Virtua Fighter is beloved by fighting game fans for its endless depth and realism compared with other 3D fighters like Tekken. Virtua Fighter 4 continued the upward trajectory of the series but now with cutting edge graphics. While much of the novelty of Virtua Fighter 4 has worn thin as time has passed, the solid core gameplay remains. Probably not suitable for people who like button-masher affairs, Virtua Fighter 4 is not only one of the best games of 2002 but probably one of the best entries in the series overall.
7. Deus Ex: The Conspiracy
One theme you have probably noticed with this list is that there are a lot of iconic franchises on it. While many of them did not get their beginning in 2002, many of them made their legends in this year. Deus Ex: The Conspiracy is another awesome installment in the cyberpunk thriller games that place players in the shoes of a cybernetically enhanced soldier who uses these abilities to save the world. These games are loved for their story, presentation, and depth, and Deus Ex: The Conspiracy is sure to keep those elements in check while also bringing some new gameplay to the fore.
6. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
This game is on here because it is good, old-fashioned, frustrating-as-hell fun. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast places you in the role of a rogue Jedi, light saber and all, as he makes his way through a story set in a galaxy far, far away. If you ever wanted to have light saber duels, Yoda-style flipping around and all, then this game might satisfy that itch.
Set in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is one of the few games to do most everything right. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a lot that this game could improve. But most Star Wars video games are either mediocre cash grabs or shameless pieces of drek. That Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast avoids this fate entirely while offering an iconic Star Wars experience to boot. This is prequel-era Star Wars we are talking about after all.
5. Breath of Fire II
Capcom’s Breath of Fire series is a polarizing franchise for many video gamers. Some really love it, others really loathe it. One thing no one can deny is that the gameplay is solid, the execution typically spot-on, and the soundtrack always a classic. These elements combine for Breath of Fire II in a nostalgia fest that recalls the best JRPGs of the Super Famicom era. Never one to cause a big splash upon release, Breath of Fire II did moderately well and maintains a fan base to this day. It is tough to recommend it outside of its time but it is a solid game. Fans of JRPGs should pick it up for certain but there’s a dueling timelessness and of its time quality about the game that may mean its best left in 2002.
4. Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine for the Nintendo Gamecube was what many hoped was the sequel to the classic Nintendo 64 game Super Mario 64. It wasn’t, but it was an amazing game nonetheless. Sure, some people argue that Super Mario Sunshine is the sequel to Super Mario 64, but a quick play of both games reveals that there’s actually a lot of different stuff going on between the two games and really the only elements tying them together are Mario and 3D environments. That’s not a sequel in the estimation of many and that’s why last year’s Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch was hailed as the successor to Super Mario 64 everyone was waiting for in the video game world.
Nonetheless, Super Mario Sunshine was a huge release for 2002 and signaled, perhaps disappointingly for some, that the GameCube was not going to be the Nintendo 64. An amazing game in every way, there was just a little something off about Super Mario Sunshine that held it back from capturing the hearts and imaginations of people then like Mario does today. Not exactly a stumbling block by any means, but rather an odd detour for Nintendo given the GameCube’s relative obscurity, a status the Big N has never handled well and struggles with when it is there (think Wii U, for example).
3. Final Fantasy XI
The MMO version of the longstanding RPG series from Square, Final Fantasy XI was one of the hardest games to get into but also one of the toughest games to quit once players got established. In 2002, MMORPGs were not ubiquitous nor were they a huge cultural phenomenon. Because of that, Final Fantasy XI has some quirks about its design that make it close to unplayable for people who grew up on more modern MMOs.
These quirks however also recall elements of the original FF games, and Japanese gaming in general, that makes it such an amazing installment and a touchstone for the industry. Pandemonium Warden, anyone? While most MMORPGs feature huge quality of life improvements over FFXI, few feature its depth of story, content, world, and gameplay. A classic JRPG in an MMO’s outfit, FFXI coming out in 2002 presaged the online revolution that would overtake games soon after.
2. Grand Theft Auto Vice City
Grand Theft Auto enjoyed a golden age on the PlayStation 2 and X Box unlike any two systems since. Three entries, all amazing, with the iconic stories, gameplay, and original soundtracks thrown in for good measure – everything Rockstar touched in this era was pure gold. Grand Theft Auto Vice City basically puts you in 1980s Miami, with all of its glitz and synth, and then lets you loose on the game’s beautifully crafted world. Everything about this game comes together for an epic experience. All three entries from the PS2 era should be played but we have a particular fondness for Vice City. In terms of soundtrack, there’s little doubt that Vice City is perhaps one of the best in the entire series.
1. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
This game almost needs no introduction although in 2002 most people did not know what the Elder Scrolls series was. Mainly a PC line at this point in history, Morrowind dropped on the PC after years of promises and delays (originally scheduled for 1999 we believe) and it blew everyone away. This game is deep, fun, and a classic – without a doubt, if there is any one game on this list you will want to experience, it is Morrowind. That’s probably the reason Bethesda-heads keep asking the company to remake this game.
There’s so much content here it’s mind boggling and there’s so much love and care put into the world that it is breathtaking. Unlike Skyrim or Oblivion, Morrowind features truly fantastical vistas and the world seems both frustratingly infinite and too small all at the same time. This is because Morrowind is a masterclass in how to throw in everything but the kitchen sink – and do it well. Every Elder Scrolls game since has mimicked what Morrowind established but few have captured the hearts of gamers like Morrowind did. Call it first-mover advantage, call it depth of gameplay – we simply call it a classic.