It’s an undeniable fact that for the time being, the PS2 is the system to own. Most PS2 owners found themselves being overwhelmed in a flood of great games over the last holiday season. Several huge titles launched near the end of the year, including Devil May Cry, Grand Theft Auto 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Square’s masterpiece Final Fantasy X. However, since then there really hasn’t been a “must have” title released for the system, but we are in the middle of the yearly game drought. This happens almost every year right around March. The months leading up to E3 are always slow in terms of game releases, but as you look further down the road, I’m sure you’ll see something you like.

To begin with, this looks like it’ll be a great year for PS2/RPG enthusiasts. Namco is set to release Xenosaga Episode 1 later this year. As an unofficial prequel to Xenogears, this game has already generated a considerable amount of hype among the hardcore. The game will feature a tremendous amount of cinema sequences with gameplay scenarios scattered throughout. Naturally, this means that the game must have a huge focus on story development to keep gamers interested, and if its predecessor is any indication, it will most likely succeed. A big plus for the game is the fact that there are no random battles; enemies will be plainly visible on screen before they attack, just as in the Chrono series. With a tentative release date set for this Fall, we should see this game sometime around the holiday season, but possibly a little earlier.

Also, Square has two huge RPG’s set for impending release. The first is Square’s joint venture with Disney, a game called Kingdom Hearts, perhaps you’ve heard of it? The game is unique in that it blends popular Disney characters with a few Square originals, an interesting combination no doubt. Plus, a few Squaresoft favorites will make cameo appearances along the way. Players will be delighted to run into such familiar faces as Tidus from FF X and fan-favorite Aeris from FF VII.

The other title on the way is Square’s first online RPG, Final Fantasy XI. This will be the first online game in the series, and there won’t even be a single player option. Some may question this move, but after seeing the screenshots, it’s hard not to get excited. Players will be able to choose their character from a variety of races and also utilize a new job system to decide what skills their character will possess. The only drawback is that gamers stuck with an ancient dial-up connection will likely experience many troubles, and final costs for the game haven’t been set yet. True, the game may not actually launch until 2003, but right now, its very borderline, and it doesn’t hurt to be optimistic.

Another game that’s generating quite a buzz is the new Tomb Raider. That’s right, Lara’s back in a new game titled Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. This game promises to tear the series from its well-worn roots and places gaming’s greatest celebrity in a new predicament. This time around, Lara will be framed for a crime she didn’t commit, and now she must avoid not only her enemies, but the authorities as well. The new game looks to have a lot in common with the Metal Gear series, and if that’s not a recipe for greatness, then I don’t know what is. The new Tomb Raider will be a much darker game than the previous installments as the game deals with a more mature subject matter. Eidos plans to spread this new adventure out over several games in the coming years. Angel of Darkness should arrive sometime this Fall, so expect Lara-mania to spread once again.

Gamers can expect to see great things from Capcom on the PS2 this year as well. The follow up to the hit Onimusha: Warlords is on its way, and is looking to deliver even more action than the original. Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny will place you in the armor of a new hero, Jubei, ten years after the events of the first game. Nobunaga is once again up to no good, and (surprise!) its your job to stop him. Luckily you’ll have some help from a few supporting characters. Kotaro is a small ninja boy who will help you out, and then there’s Magoichi who brings firearms to the table rather than swords. The babe role will be filled by hottie newcomer ,O-yu, whom you’ve probably already seen on the cover of several gaming mags. The game’s visuals are improved over the original’s, and the character controls, while still using the same set up, will be made more responsive. Be sure to mark your calendars, August 27th the samurai invasion begins.

Another killer project from Capcom is the follow up to last year’s incredible Devil May Cry. Yes, Dante returns as gaming’s leading bad boy, and he definitely hasn’t lost his touch. The game was being worked on even last summer while the original DMC was still in production. An entirely different team is working on this one, but frequent communication with the creators of the original will make sure the game lives up to expectations. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this game. Devil May Cry is one of my all time favs, and the sequel is looking just as good. Dante will be armed with new weapons this time around, and also more stylish moves with which he can destroy his foes. Watch for an official unveiling at the E3 show later this month.

PS2 owners had a large number of titles to choose from last year, and the system is looking at a repeat performance for the end of 2002. Gamers, start hording your cash now, or face the wrath of an empty wallet by year’s end.

By Ryan Schaefer – 05/15/02

Screenshots for Console Watch 2002: Playstation 2