I’m not out to collect every single PlayStation 2 game ever made, because they sure did make a whole lot of them, but I have a list of several titles that I missed during the console’s heydays and am genuinely interested in acquiring and, when the time is right, playing. Yes, playing, because I love games of varying ages, especially JRPGs from this specific era in the industry, for reasons I’m not totally clear on just yet. They don’t make them like they used to, and when they try, they don’t always succeed. Anyways, for a good while there, I was able to find some PlayStation 2 cases at my local GameStops, but they eventually needed more shelf-space for other things, like amiibos and virtual reality gear, and stopped stocking them.
Recently, at a comic convention last April, I was able to grab a working copy of Dark Cloud, which I once had and was actually the very first game I got for my system as a young boy with some steady income before being dumb and trading it in for something else. The game, not the system. I’m still rocking my original PlayStation 2 because I take good care of my stuff. Right, the last time I added a bunch of old-ish games in one solid lump was back in February 2016, with me stocking up on an astounding ten games for my collection; you’ll not be surprised to learn I’ve not tried a single one of them yet. Sigh. One day, when the world is full of free time and no consequences or guilt-laden clouds.
Over the weekend, while Melanie was taking a buttercream flowers class, I had an hour or so to kill in Somerville, NJ, and so I stopped in Retro Classics to peruse their wares. I’ve been in the store before, picking up PS2 copies of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Hobbit for my constantly growing assemblage of all things related to The Lord of the Rings, but the last time I went I forgot to bring a list and found myself second-guessing whether or not I had this or that copy of said title and was reluctant to make any purchases. It’s always good to be prepared, and this time I totally was.
Here’s what I got:
That might not seem all that exciting of a haul to you, but Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse is something I’ve never seen out in the wild, and my love for strange JRPGs from this era was too strong to resist grabbing a copy for around $15.00. Perhaps I now have more of a reason than ever to finally play through the first game, eating up those lengthy anime-driven cutscenes and e-mails and card-based minigames, knowing there is actually more to follow. The store also has a retail copy of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, but it was a little too pricey for me at the moment. You can see that I also nabbed Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo, which pairs nicely with my case-less copy of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and X-Men Legends so that I can go back to the beginning of when these comic book hero videogames became more RPG than mindless punching and optic blasting. I’m pretty pleased with the trio.
Anyways, that’s all for now. Alas, most of my list of desired PS2 games are really obscure beasts, like Summoner 2, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Legaia 2: Duel Saga, and I just don’t think I’ll ever run into them at a store and I’m too timid to try and find them online for a “good” price and deal with trusting a stranger somewhere in the world to deliver on their promises. I’ll keep looking, but I won’t hold my breath. Because I’ll run out of air rather quickly. Until then, looks like I have some other things I can play. Y’know, when I find the time.
It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.
These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.
So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.
“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht
Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.
Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.
It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.
“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy
Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.
There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.
Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.
“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII
2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IXfrom beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.
In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.
I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.
“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2
I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.
What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.
I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.
“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.
To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.
There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.
Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.
Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.
I truly have a soft spot for stories about robots and what it means to be alive, to be living. Blame Ghost in the Shell for changing me at a young age. Granted, games like Machinarium and Secret Agent Clank didn’t explore this concept too deeply, but they starred cutesy automatons and got an easy pass. The only real standout example of myself questioning where the future of artificial intelligence can go is with KOS-MOS, which stands for Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System, from Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. And no, I do not believe Claptrap is progress forward. However, Starbot from developer Cloudhime tackles issues of friendship and loyalty in an adorably sweet way, pushing cozy over sermonizing.
Here’s how this little indie adventure goes: two scientists have created a work-in-progress robot in order to fetch parts on additional satellites. While powered down and in a mysterious dream-like realm, this robot befriends a star. Together, they will travel to other satellites, all while avoiding dangerous sloths. In the same vein that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explored companionship and loss in an absurd, surreal world, Starbot does this twofold, both with its robotic and human characters, namely Lilli and Mat.
Gameplay is exploration-based, using the arrow keys to move Starbot around and some other button to interact with people and things. It might be space and it might be Z, but I can’t remember now. Since this is built in the RPGMaker program, you have that typical stat screen menu that does not need to exist, though it does show you a list of any items you’ve collected. The dream-like realm is more of a maze, often asking you to go through the right door, collect a number of keys, and avoid crossing paths with sloths. Otherwise, it’s all about talking to NPCs, listening to what they have to say, and moving on. Don’t forget to dig through everyone’s trash bins like it’s a Pokemon game.
Now, not everything is clear in Starbot, and maybe that’s done on purpose. For one thing, the use of “egg” never gelled with me, and I still don’t understand what it meant in context to these people, this world. I mean, most houses contain a painting of an egg or multiple eggs, so clearly they are important to people, but I’m not sure how. Or why. Also, even though I read every e-mail between Lilli and Mat, I’m not sure I comprehended everything about their relationship, especially the metal arm bits. As is often the case with smaller indie titles created by a single soul, a solid round of copyediting would help strengthen the already strong, wistful writing. And yes, I’m available for hire, thanks for asking. Just be prepared for me to add about ten more puns to everyone’s dialogue.
Overall, Starbot took me about 45 minutes to get through, and that was me not rushing, really taking everything in, examining all items, listening to the retro soundtrack, and speaking to every NPC multiple times. You might be able to burn through it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, good friendships take time to grow.