The Best Weird PlayStation 2 Games I Got From My Rental Store That Totally Wasn’t A Front For Some Criminal Activity
Through it all, I remember the early 2000s. I was but a wee lad of 6–10 at the time. I was a pretty anti-social kid; not by choice of course, I just had a crippling shyness problem that lasted until my 20s. All that alone time let me focus on the important things in life; while you were on the playground, I was studying the game.
My mom ran into an issue with my video game addiction; I just beat games too fast to make em’ worth buying. Luckily for both of us, this was before the dawn of the instant download, so I got to do one of my favorite bonding experiences with my mom; going to the local video store.
My local store had an entirely too large collection of PS1 and PS2 games. Seriously, it was redonk. I dunno if the owner was an avid fan of really niche JRPGs or what, but this store had things that it shouldn’t have. I’m talking Japanese only releases, and titles that just never moved off the shelves. Thanks to this ethereal capitalist, I became a gigantic fan of weird games, and by extension, video games in general. I get to thank this mysterious businessman and my mom for a lifelong hobby that’s given me some of the best memories of my life.
These are some of my favorite weird games and memories from that (potential) little den of criminal activity.
There is no universe in which I should’ve been allowed to play Drakkengard when I was eight. My mom only mildly glanced at what I brought to her in the local rental joint before going back to looking for her next romcom. I don’t blame her; she was incredibly exhausted from working two jobs , and genuinely didn’t understand video games. She’d see an M on the case, go “oh yeah! M for Mreally good!” and call it a day.
Drakkengard is the predecessor to the now more successful Nier series. The first game is about a boy and a dragon, a pedophile, an elf, and a child who go on their jolly adventure together with supernatural beings they made pacts with. These deals caused them to lose a part of themselves in for power, so characters like Cain lost their voice in exchange for a sweet dragon companion who absolutely despised them. I distinctly remember loving the combat and flying around on my dragon companion, and for some reason have a weird memory thats become a core part of me.
Spoilers for ending A of Drakkengard: it ends with your dragon companion, Angelus, dying. I’d never confronted an emotionally charged death in a video game before, and, as any 8 year old confronted with the concept of mortality would do, I began to cry. I sprinted out of my room into the combination kitchen/dining/living room in the small 3 bedroom closet we lived in and tackle hugged my mom while weeping.
“Whats wrong honey?”
“M-m-m-m-my dragon friend d-d-died!”
“Oh… thats… sad.”
She has a way with words.
This is a game about surviving an earthquake in Japan. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know what an earthquake was when I was younger. If the ground shakes in the Midwest, you just assume it’s someone driving their tricked out Ford F150 through someone’s house.
Anyways, Disaster Report was… strangely fun. In an apocalyptic, cheesy kind of way of course. What was supposed to be a menacing adventure puzzler about dodging falling debris and dangerous human survivors became a silly jaunt through the concrete park because of its goofy voice acting. It didn’t help at all that it had the worst cover art of all time. I couldn’t help but continuously laugh while playing it with my cousin. We constantly cracked jokes at the goofy hijinks of the protagonist and the hilarity of some of the deaths.
I miss playing video games with people in real life. Couch game roasts were the best.
Shadow of Rome
Everyone had a strange childhood fixation, and mine was ancient Rome. I was constantly devouring the knowledge of any Roman history book I could find in whatever library I ran into. My obsession was so well known that my elementary school art teacher bought me a Julius Caesar biography at the book fair, and of course I already read it, so I simply said “oh I already read that one. Thanks though. :)”
I still cringe to this day because of that one. I’m so sorry Ms. Art Teacher, you were great to me, even though my skills were… incredibly rough around the edges.
Shadow of Rome balled hard. There were two distinct segments of the game: The bloody gorefest led by Agrippa, and the stealth action gameplay™ segments led by Octavinius or some other vaguely Greco-Roman name. Agrippa’s sections were the ones that really stuck with me due in part to the ultra violence. He was a brutal gladiator who eviscerated his enemies, and even beat others to death with severed hands. It was metal as hell.
The Octavinius sections felt much more loose. I’d previously played Metal Gear Solid, so I knew a thing or two about stealth, but these sections absolutely defeated me. Figuring out the line of sight mechanic could not happen with my tiny child brain, and any chance of ever (potentially) meeting Caesar in game disappeared with my skill. I still curse Octavinius to this day for his awful stealthing that was totally his fault, and had nothing to do with me.
Dark Cloud 1&2
The Dark Cloud series was one of my major addictions. Part “build this city to solve puzzles” and part dungeon crawler, I became consumed by the gameplay loop. Dark Cloud 2 was more of my jam due to Maximillian, the mechanic protagonist. Not to say that Dark Cloud 1 was bad, but Toan just didn’t hit me the same way. The games were filled with intriguing enemy designs, countless cool dungeons, and some absolutely bopping tracks that still get stuck in my head whenever I think about the series.
We need another Dark Cloud, and at this point I am begging. PLEASE.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
What if Breath of Fire was now a futuristic sci fi RPG? What if, instead of being able to take your time, you were rushed by a time mechanic that instantly killed you if it ticked over? What if you made a JRPG similar to a roguelike, and forced people to speedrun it? Dragon Quarter asked and responded to all questions presented, and no one wanted the answers it came up with.
I still loved it. Something about combining the JRPG genre with an in game speedrunning mechanic made the fun receptors in my brain vibrate. The game is widely considered by many to be the worst of the Breath of Fire games, but it holds a special place in my heart due to childhood wonder. This is one of the few games I couldn’t beat in the 5 days I had to beat my rental games, and I forever respect a video game adversary that I couldn’t manage to beat.
The only thing I struggled with was the combat. I still can’t figure it out to this day. It’s so overly convoluted to such a degree that I don’t think I can ever learn how to really be the Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter master.
Honorable Mention: Suikoden II
Suikoden II is the only non-PS2 game I distinctly remember grabbing off the shelves. At this point in time, the original, dingy store I called my home away from home had closed, so my mom and I started going to the local Family Video chain. Their selection was much more limited, so I found myself starting to lose out on my connection to my JRPG fascination. I went back and forth between PS1 and PS2 games regularly due to the lack of titles at this store, and I landed upon Suikoden II almost by accident. I thought nothing of the game, as it seemed like just another generic “eh whatever” anime game.
Dear god, I‘m glad I was utterly wrong.
I instantly fell in love with the game. This was the first JRPG I could play (and actually understand) that had a mature story that didn’t treat you like a kid. It was a tale of two brothers forced to confront each other on opposite sides of a war. It pulled no punches; friends died, troops were sent to their deaths, and no side felt like it was the morally “correct” one. This game was the first time I remembered being conflicted at a video game story. I kept wondering if what I was doing was the right thing, and if my brother knew what he was really a part of, and I loved every second of my philosophical dilemma.
Exploring rows upon rows of games is a joy that many won’t ever get the chance to experience now. The game with the coolest boxart was always rented out, until that fated day you got lucky enough to pick up a Kingdom Hearts or a Metal Gear Solid. Getting to read an actual, physical game manual was a regular occurrence, and one I participated in many times on my daily 2 hour long bathroom breaks. Its a deeply nostalgic time for me, because it was something my mom and I got to spend time together doing, and I loved every moment of it.
Still wouldn’t give up getting any game I want instantly though, the modern day is tight.