By the time Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001, the PlayStation 2 was deep into its run of domination of the sixth generation of consoles. As Sega transitioned from hardware to software, they showed exactly why they are one of the best companies in the entire industry. Their impressive collection of PS2 games speaks for itself, featuring some of the toughest and most challenging games of the entire generation.
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Despite its short life cycle, the Sega Dreamcast had a massive influence on the gaming industry, with games like Shenmue and Rez leading the charge.
And much like Sega has always done, they did it while showing their versatility. They didn’t just make a bunch of Sonic games, rather they showed how much they could innovate and re-invent themselves by cultivating a roster of PS2 titles from different genres. Whether it was action games, RPGs, or platformers, Sega flexed like no other during this generation with some truly difficult and challenging games.
6 Sonic Heroes
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 3.20/5
- January 5, 2004
- Platformer , Racing , Fighting , Action-Adventure
Sonic first began making his way to rival platforms during this generation. Between Sonic Advance for the Gameboy Advance and a slew of titles on the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, Sega was keen on keeping the train going by developing Sonic Heroes. Introducing several new systems that would become staples later, like the Boost mechanic, Sonic Heroes featured four playable teams of three characters.
Each team represents a different difficulty level, a unique way of doling out challenges for the player. The courses and stages are fast-paced, furious thrill rides that culminate in some spectacular boss battles. For all of its 3D efforts, Sonic Heroes is perhaps the one that gets overlooked the most, but it is still one of the best and most challenging entries in the franchise.
5 Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 3.27/5
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution
- August 13, 2003
As they had begun to transition some of their biggest arcade hits into the home console space, Sega put the fourth iteration of their fighting game series on the PS2 in 2002, but an updated version launched a year later in 2003 called Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. As far as Sega fighting games go, VF4 is easily one of the toughest and simultaneously rewarding.
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A hallmark of any good fighting game is a sense of skill and progression that comes from practice and learning its intricacies, something that Virtua Fighter 4 does exceptionally well. During a generation that saw the likes of Tekken Tag Tournament and Def Jam: Fight For NY, Virtua Fighter 4 was the ultimate showcase of their ability to create a deeply challenging and hard-to-master fighting game better than perhaps anyone on the market before or since.
4 Shining Force EXA
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 3.28/5
- Release Date: 2007-03-20
- Developer: Neverland, Sega
- Platforms: PlayStation 2, Mobile
Although it never quite reached the heights of its contemporaries at the time, Shining Force is still one of Sega’s most intriguing RPG properties. It still hasn’t quite reached its potential, but Shining Force EXA was one of the best games in the series and is still one of the most difficult action RPGs one can find on the PS2.
Shining Force EXA often puts the player into outnumbered situations, where they control either swordsman Toma or magic wielder Cyrille. Two other party members can also be used alongside them, as the party also makes use of a roving headquarters called the Geo-Fotress that can be targeted by enemies. Shining Force EXA doesn’t just challenge the player the way a traditional action RPG does, but it also tasks them with maintaining multiple fronts of battle.
3 Blood Will Tell
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 3.35/5
Blood Will Tell
- September 9, 2004
- Paon Corporation, Red Entertainment
- Action-Adventure , Fighting , RPG
Based on a Japanese manga series called Dororo, Blood Will Tell was one of the PS2’s most forgotten action games and yet it feels like a strange sort of precursor to what the Soulslike genre would become. Taking control of a man named Hyakkimaru, a warrior who had his body parts stolen by demonic fiends, this unique hack-and-slash game was focused heavily on boss battles.
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Featuring over 40 bosses, known in the game as “fiends”, these intense battles make up the bulk of Blood Will Tell. Some of them rank up there with the most difficult bosses on the platform, ranging from huge demonic creatures to smaller, more nimble monsters. It’s a wholly unique and intensely challenging experience that is sadly forgotten today.
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 3.91/5
- Release Date: 2003-02-12
- Developer: Sega Wow
- Platforms: PlayStation 2
Acting as a sequel to the 2002 game Shinobi, itself a reboot of the famous Sega series, Nightshade was released just one year later and sought to continue the intense and harsh game design philosophy of the first game. Enemies are quick and fearless, often surrounding and cutting off paths of escape until the player is forced to deal with them.
The bosses are also a highlight, ranging from agile ninja and sword-wielding humans to gigantic creatures. Additionally, Nightshade features great use of platforming and the main character Hibana’s dash move. In conjunction with wall climbing and the perfect feel of movement, Nightshade is still one of the PS2’s greatest tests.
GameFAQs Difficulty Ranking: 4.26/5
- Release Date: 2003-11-12
- Developer: Overworks
- Platform: PlayStation 2
By the time this brutally difficult action game came out in 2002, the Shinobi franchise had been dormant for nearly seven years. But while this new version of Shinobi appeared different, it retained the series’ trademark reliance on tough and sometimes outrageously difficult design. Shinobi introduced a new lead, Hotsuma, replacing Joe Musashi as he embarks on a quest to avenge his fallen clan against Hiruko.
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Initially planned for release on the Sega Dreamcast before that console was discontinued, Shinobi focused on battles where Hotsuma made use of a unique targeting system that allowed a soul-powered sword to increase in power with each enemy defeated.
Shinobi almost acted like a puzzle game in some ways, where defeating enemies in order to up the damage output of the sword was crucial, while also forcing the player to think tactically about their next move or face utter defeat. Shinobi pulled absolutely no punches and is one of Sega’s hardest games to this day.
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