20 Best Japan-Only PlayStation 2 Games We’re Still Waiting For

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The PlayStation 2 had games produced from the year 2000 well into 2013. During this long lifespan, it amassed a prodigious library of games totaling over 4000 totals.

And get this: almost half of these games never made it outside of Japan.

With these numbers, it’s no surprise that some of the best titles available for Sony’s PS2 were never released for Western audiences. As such, the best-selling console of all time holds some secrets even for the most knowledgeable gamers.

If you’re curious about what lies beyond the realm of English-language PS2 games, then you’ve come to the right place.


20. Vib-Ripple (2004)

Vib-Ripple gameplay on PS2

Some games shine due to their sheer technical creativity.

Such is the case of NanaOn-Sha’s Vib-Ribbon, released in 1999 on the original PlayStation.

And the same goes for its sequel on the PS2.

Vib-Ripple lets the player upload pictures to the game through the PS2’s USB port, that it then uses to create levels, just like the original Vib-Ribbon used audio files.

Then, you’ll control a cute vectorized rabbit and jump around these pictures as if they were trampolines, looking for the spot where colored “Peta” characters are hiding.

Collect them all, and the level is cleared. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.


19. Galaxy Force II: Special Extended Edition (2007)

Galaxy Force II: Special Extended Edition PS2 screenshot

Released as the 30th entry in the Sega Ages 2500 series of ports to the PS2, Galaxy Force II: Special Extended Edition includes several versions of this unique arcade shooter.

The game shines for its Super Scaler technology, which uses scaling sprites to mimic depth and 3D movement.

On top of that, this title includes some extra options to improve visuals – including a setting for smoother edges and widescreen support.

It’s not the most challenging on-rails shooter around. But it’s definitely a visual treat, to say the least.


18. Fantasy Zone Complete Collection (2008)

Fantasy Zone Complete Collection gameplay

If you’re a fan of weird games and colorful shooters, Fantasy Zone is a must-play.

The Complete Collection includes Fantasy Zone, Fantasy Zone II, Super Fantasy Zone, and many others. Especially relevant is Fantasy Zone II DX – a new game exclusive to this release.

This PS2 compilation was released by SEGA as part of their Sega Ages 2500 series.

It was the 33rd volume in the series, and the last one on the console. As such, it includes a little jukebox that’ll play songs from any Sega Ages 2500 games it finds in your Memory Card.


17. Code Age Commanders: Tsugu Mono Tsugareru Mono (2005)

Code Age Commanders: Tsugu Mono Tsugareru Mono for PS2

One of the biggest gaming crimes by Square Enix has to be not releasing Code Age Commanders outside of Japan.

The game takes place in an intraglobular world – that is, a hollow sphere – that undergoes a “renewal” every ten thousand years, ending all life so it may start anew.

In the middle of this chaos, you’ll have to fight mysterious creatures known as the “coded” to ensure your survival.

The main characters can absorb some of these mysterious creatures and mutate new abilities. The more you absorb, the more options you’ll have when it comes to leveling up your character.

Both the art style and the unique setting make it very appealing for any fans of sci-fi.

If you can find a translation anywhere, this is absolutely worth a playthrough.


16. Fist of the North Star: Shinpan no Sōsōsei Kengō Retsuden (2007)

Fist of the North Star: Shinpan no Sōsōsei Kengō Retsuden screenshot

For any fans of Fist of the North Star, this title by Arc System Works will change your life.

It does a great job of translating the charm of one of the most unique anime and manga series, into the gaming realm.

Specifically, this game covers the first half of the original series, with excellent character design and the same voices from the anime.

Playable characters include Kenshiro, Shin, Raoh, and other essential picks.

If you’ve ever played Guilty Gear X – also on the PS2 – you’ll find the combat system familiar.


15. Namco x Capcom (2006)

Namco x Capcom gameplay on PS2

Namco x Capcom is a fantastic tactical RPG that brings together characters from renowned series like Tekken, Street Fighter, Mega Man, Xenosaga, and even Klonoa.

The plot revolves around the emergence of distortions in the space-time continuum that bring characters from other dimensions into the protagonist’s world.

He’ll team up with some of them to find the root cause for this chaos and send everyone back home.

The graphics are really appealing, and it features music from many of these iconic properties.

The grid-based tactical gameplay is really solid, but at its core the game is all about the fan service.


14. Hungry Ghosts (2003)

Hungry Ghosts gameplay

Hungry ghosts are a concept from ancestral Chinese religion and Buddhist tradition that describes spirits who wander the realm of the living fueled by raw emotion.

During your life as a warrior, you sent many to their doom.

Now, you’ve got to face the hungry ghosts of your past on your way to the Gates of Judgement.

Will you be sent to hell or be reborn anew?

Other than the superb visuals, Hungry Ghosts shines for its unique controls. Almost everything you do requires you to mimic what you want your character to do, just on the controller’s analog sticks.

So this might be a “take it or leave it” kinda title. But if you’re into weird stuff, it’s at least worth looking into this game to see what you think.


13. Bust-A-Move: Dance Summit 2001 (2000)

Bust-A-Move: Dance Summit 2001 PS2 screenshot

The third and final entry in the Bust-A-Groove series never made it out of Japan.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a copy and enjoy this fantastic rhythm game either way!

Much like its predecessors, the gameplay revolves around pressing the right buttons to the beat of the music – but this third installment adds a new element in the form of a dance team.

Where previous games focused on one-on-one dance-offs, this one features teams of four dancers.

While you’re still trying to be the best dancer of the four, keeping your team in sync and motivated is essential to rack up the points. There are eight unique teams to unlock, including the Far East Commanders, Disco Estrus, and more.


12. Initial D: Special Stage (2003)

Initial D: Special Stage for PS2

Here’s one game that would have been a massive hit if it ever got released abroad.

Initial D: Special Stage brings together the magic of the classic show, with a fantastic arcade racer game design.

Following the source material, drifting is key to victory in this game.

As long as you understand that, you don’t even need an English translation to play competently.

It has remarkably bright and crisp graphics, making the sight of the classic cars from the first few arcs of the series a true pleasure. And the Eurobeat soundtrack is the icing on the cake.

Play it with a wheel controller to feel even more like Takumi in his Toyota Sprinter Trueno.


11. Mushihime-sama (2005)

Mushihime-sama gameplay screenshot

If you love challenging shoot-em-ups as much as I do, you’ll love Cave’s Mushihime-sama – famous for its chaotic bullet patterns and relentless difficulty.

Translating roughly to “Bug Princess,” the game features an overarching insect theme, with enemies that resemble common garden critters like beetles and moths. In fact, your own “ship” is an insect as well.

The PS2 release of this arcade hit brought some excellent new additions to the formula, including Arrange Mode, which gives you a ton of firepower from the beginning of the game – but takes away your continues.


10. Super Robot Wars: Original Generations (2007)

Super Robot Wars: Original Generations gameplay

If there’s a single Super Robot Wars title you’ve got to try, it’s Original Generations on the PS2.

This game is actually a remake of the original SRT: Original Generation and its sequel, both on the GBA.

While these two games were actually released abroad, this fantastic PS2 update never got out.

And it’s really worth playing!

It introduces the Twin Battle System, allowing two adjacent units to combine into a squad and attack simultaneously. It also lets them unleash a special ability called Twin Command, which is twice as powerful as regular Spirit Commands.

If you like giant robots and tactical RPGs, don’t pass up a chance to play this game.


9. Garōden Breakblow: Fist or Twist (2007)

Garōden Breakblow: Fist or Twist for PS2

People who are into MMA and other real fighting competitions often complain about the unrealistic nature of famous fighters like Tekken and Street Fighter.

If you want something more realistic, Garōden Breakblow might be the thing for you.

It’s based on a manga by Keisuke Itagaki, who you might know from his work on Baki the Grappler.

Both feature really ugly and muscular people breaking each other’s bones in a gruesome fashion.

This actually makes it into the game as a mechanic, and helps keep the fights flashy and exciting without juggle combos or magical abilities.


8. Front Mission 5: Scars of the War (2005)

Front Mission 5: Scars of the War screenshot

The Front Mission series has been around since the SNES/Super Famicom days.

And we’ve gotten some great entries (like Front Mission 3 and 4) in the West – but the fifth entry remains lost to English speakers.

This entry wrapped up the story so far in a fantastic way, while also introducing new characters and exploring how decades of war would change them as time went by.

It’s a story of broken trust and tragedy, punctuated by incredible mecha battles.

It was also the first entry in the series to feature friendly fire, which made this tactical RPG considerably more challenging.

If you’d like a bit more info check out this detailed review of the game, including some screenshots and backstory stuff.


7. ACE: Another Century’s Episode (2005)

ACE: Another Century’s Episode gameplay on PS2

If you’ve ever wondered what FromSoftware was up to before their rise to fame with the Souls series, check out ACE: Another Century’s Episode.

While not strictly a Gundam game, this third-person shooter takes place in a universe not unlike the one from the original show.

It features mechs from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Armored Core, Super Robot Wars, Aura Battler Dunbine, and more.

Hell, the game even features Char Aznable as an enemy commander!

With appealing graphics and fantastic action, the game was a hit in Japan – so much so that it actually revitalized many of the series involved in the crossover.


6. Endonesia (2001)

Endonesia PS2 screenshot

Anyone who remembers (or played) the unique model-citizen-simulator Chulip, well, you’ll probably love Vanpool’s Endonesia.

This adventure game casts you as a 5th-grade boy who gets transported to the mystical island of Endonesia.

To return home, you’ll have to commune with 50 sealed gods around the island.

The game features a day/night system, and days of the week, which you’ll have to keep an eye on.

After all, the island is stuck in a 10-day loop that you’ll have to contend with during your quest.

To achieve this, you’ll rely on your Emo powers. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go to Hot Topic – it refers to emotion-based abilities.

The whole premise sounds kinda crazy, but if you can find a translation, you might end up hooked.


5. Shadow Tower Abyss (2003)

Shadow Tower Abyss for PS2

Here’s another fantastic title by FromSoftware from their pre-Demon’s Souls days.

Shadow Tower Abyss is a first-person survival horror game with great visuals and superb level design.

After being imprisoned in a dank tower by a mysterious old man, your only chance of ever escaping is making it to the top.

Of course, plenty of ghastly characters will try to stop you on the way – but there’s a wealth of weapons and armor to collect that’ll help you overcome the challenge.

The English localization for this game was actually only a couple of steps from completion when they decided to cancel it – which is a decision I have serious trouble understanding.


4. Kamiwaza (2006)

Kamiwaza gameplay on PS2

If you like stealth games but feel the military/special agent narrative is a little too overdone, Kamiwaza might just be the thing to scratch your sneaking itch.

In it, you’ll play as a Japanese thief who steals from the rich to help those who need it most.

Specifically, he’s doing his best to help his sick sister recover from her illness.

This is the main character’s central motivation, and her health by the end of the game will determine which of the three endings you get.

Whether you choose to sneak around perfectly or use your bundle of snatched goods as a weapon is up to you.


3. Ibara (2006)

Ibara PS2 splitscreen gameplay screenshot

Another solid vertical shoot-em-up by Cave comes in the form of Ibara, released initially on arcades and ported to the PS2 with some new tricks up its sleeve.

This game is known for its gruesome difficulty, which changes dynamically depending on how well you’re doing.

Play too well, and it’ll start getting ridiculous.

Not many games can do that!

But this adds a strategic element to the game, as you manage your own performance to keep a low profile, yet still playing “good enough” to keep the game moving.

Alternatively you could play in this game’s “Arrange Mode”, which makes this hidden Rank system a bit less aggressive.


2. Kuma Uta (2003)

Kuma Uta gameplay

Before Miku Hatsune became an Internet sensation and introduced the world to Vocaloid voice synthesizing technology, the PS2 had Kuma Uta.

This game follows an aspiring Enka singer who just happens to be a polar bear.

In it, you’ll help the bear come up with lyrics for his songs.

If you do well, his songs will be hits – and you’ll protect his adorable bear smile.

Other than the appealing graphics, Muumuu’s unusual game shines for its voice synthesizing tech. They could have just pre-recorded songs, but this is much more interesting.


1. DoDonPachi DaiOuJou (2003)

DoDonPachi DaiOuJou gameplay on PS2

I’d argue that the most well-known and celebrated bullet hell shoot-em-up on the Japanese PS2’s library is DoDonPachi DaiOuJou.

Not only does it feature terrific graphics and fantastic art direction, but also some of the best music I’ve heard in a shoot-em-up.

The ship designs are sleek and reminiscent of the original Dodonpachi.

Like other shoot-em-ups by Cave, the game is notorious for its difficulty.

Specifically, its Death Label boss rush mode is absolutely brutal. If you think you’re a shoot-em-up god, this game might just humble you a bit.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.