October 26th, 2000 was a red letter day, in gaming, in North America. The PlayStation 2 had arrived. Sony, a company of whom many had been skeptical upon the announcement that they were entering the Console Wars, was now fighting the extreme demand for the successor to the machine that had arguably won that battle. In the previous gen, Sony was an outlier. This time around, Sony was the boss.
Despite the botched launch of the console (due to lack of units), many people to this day (myself included) consider the PS2 to be the greatest console ever made. What made the PS2 so special? In honor of the fifteenth anniversary, I decided to reminisce about my time with Sony’s golden child.
Let’s get a bit personal here. Back up a few months to July 18, 2000. The day my father died. It was a completely sudden thing, with him having a massive stroke and dying within 24 hours. This was, obviously, pretty devastating to both me and my mother. Fast forward a few months, and the grief and depression had taken a pretty huge toll on our relationship. I was pretty much only coming home when I needed to, and when I did I holed up in my room with my N64 and PS1 and didn’t really communicate.
October came and went, and I tried to not think about the PS2 because supplies were so limited I knew I wouldn’t get one any time soon anyway. I was already depressed, no need to add stress over something so trivial. Christmas came and went, I got a few new games for my older systems (which of course thrilled me, because I’ve always played whatever, whenever.) No PS2, but I hadn’t even asked for one because I knew there was no point.
Then January happened. I had recently finished up Final Fantasy IX, one of my first RPGs, and was itching for more. I’d been discussing the game with a couple of friends that day at school. That night I came home to find that my mom had left to go to a neighboring town to shop. (My town was small and didn’t have much aside from Wal-Mart.) I was playing something in my room; I think it was Thousand Arms, when she came home with a huge Sears bag. That’s when I learned my mom had reserved a PS2 for me and I had been on a waiting list for months. She had gotten the call earlier that day and taken off work to make the 45 minute drive so that my PS2 didn’t go to the next person on the list. She also picked up Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec while she was there. Now, I didn’t play racing games, but that game was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, a PS2 and something to play on it, right here in my hands.
First thing I did was hook that bad boy up and pop in Final Fantasy IX. I know now that the game looked the same, but to me it was somehow more beautiful than I remembered. I played a few minutes and then moved on to the real meat. I don’t play racing games. I just don’t. Unless I can shoot the other racers, they just don’t appeal to me much. But GT3 was different. The game was just so…gorgeous. I’m not one to drool over graphics as a rule, but the jump from PS1 to PS2 was so dramatic it was hard not to be impressed. I ended up getting 100% on that game.
Thus began what is most likely my favorite era of gaming. After wrapping up GT3, I really couldn’t afford another PS2 game so I went back to my PS1 backlog. I finished up Final Fantasy VIII during this time. Just as I was wrapping that up, July rolled around. This was my reason for wanting a PS2 to begin with, so the excitement was hard to contain. Final Fantasy X was released, and I had been saving for it since I got the PS2. I went to K-mart (K-mart!) right after school and picked up my reserved copy (It was unnecessary to do so, as the cashier just picked one up of the shelf and handed to me, but I wasn’t taking chances.), the next month or so was a blur.
I DEVOURED this game. I know there are a lot of criticisms of Final Fantasy X, some legit, but I loved every second of that game. I completed every minigame. I unlocked every ultimate weapon. I broke every character’s damage limit. I did everything possible in that game. This was a slippery slope for me.
Soon afterward, I was swimming in RPG bliss. I remember playing Xenosaga for literally 24 hours straight, because I had stumbled upon an optional boss before I was supposed to and was determined to meet the challenge. (And I did.) After I moved out of my house, I grabbed a multitap and had hours of fun with Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Champions of Norrath, and Hunter: The Reckoning. I was introduced to the Grand Theft Auto series, and spent many hours blowing things up in both Liberty and Vice Cities. It seemed like every game I picked up for the system was gold. I had the time of my life.
Would it be dramatic to say the PS2 saved my life? Yeah, probably. I was never that down after my dad’s death. What it did do, however, was bring me out of a deep depression and introduce me to worlds I had never dreamed of, not to mention the friends I made during gaming parties. I don’t have my PS2 anymore. I passed it on to a friend who couldn’t afford to buy anything newer than an N64. That PS2 is still going strong out there, last I heard. That’s been many years and I know it brought happiness to him as well. I don’t have much time for console gaming these days. When I think back on when I did, however, it’s always the PS2 I remember. Happy anniversary PlayStation 2.