10 Hardest PS2 Games of All Time

God Hand
God Hand

Oh, the days when PS2 games came with instruction manuals to help players prepare for the worst kind of challenge — and even then it wouldn’t be always be enough. Games these days tend to hold your hand from the beginning, and some don’t even let go. The PS2 era ushered in some cult classics and offered truly remarkable technology for its time, including a built-in DVD player, online play, and better graphics than anything seen before.

Much like PS1 games, many titles on the PS2 are on the shorter end compared to what we have now. Instead, they make up the bulk of playtime with their sheer difficulty, which can turn a 4-hour game into a 20-hour savage grind.

But why were many PS2 games so hard? Well, for starters, many games on the console still retain inspiration from the arcade machines that hoovered up pocket money in the decade prior, a system that turns difficulty into profits. While you aren’t slotting coins into your PS2, games were all about the challenge back in the 90s, so seeing it become a part of the PS2 is no surprise.

Another possible reason is that developing titles for the PS2 was rather complicated due to its steep learning curve and new technologies. Awkward camera angles, collision issues, and arguably unbalanced combat were frequent cases in lots of these games, but most still held enough charm and fun to capture the hearts of many players.

If you’re up for the retro challenge, then these are the 10 hardest PS2 games you should try.


10. Alien Hominid

Alien Hominid
Alien Hominid


Developer(s): The Behemoth
Publisher(s): Zushi Games, O~3 Entertainment

What isn’t there to love about a quirky alien running and gunning through hordes of KGB agents? But that fun will swiftly be met with frustration, as Alien Hominid can be extremely challenging, even on the normal difficulty. From the moment you spawn, you’re met with a swarm of enemies that will spray bullets until you are dead. It’s fine if you have the health to tank it, but you die in one hit, which can lead to constant restarts in some of the more bullet-hell-style levels.

You do have a shield that can take one hit, but some of Alien Hominid’s levels deploy enemy after enemy, which will quickly stack up against you and delete you out of existence. In these moments, it can be difficult to see enemy projectiles, making the chance of restarting all the greater. Alien Hominid includes some rather nasty boss fights that, for the most part, are satisfying to engage with. They are positioned at the end of each level to help break up the pace, but these fights really push players to their limits.

There are even some minigames that play differently from the main campaign, though for some of them, you’ll have to figure out the controls. One platformer minigame requires the player to clear enemies in the level by jumping on their heads. The problem is that the game doesn’t tell you about the double jump mechanic, which is key to survival in areas where the enemies are concentrated.

There’s also a boss rush mode, which sounds awesome, but the frames often chug along, making it even harder to stay alive in this fast-paced game. Fortunately, you can play the whole game in co-op, which can turn some of the more difficult and frustrating parts into a more enjoyable challenge.


9. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

Maximo Ghosts to Glory
Maximo Ghosts to Glory

Developer(s): Capcom
Publisher(s): Capcom

Following the success of the original Ghosts and Goblins, a 2D platformer renowned for its difficulty, comes a 3D hack-and-slash platformer. You’d think the implementation of mechanics like a double jump would make this game easier, but surprisingly, Maximo: Ghosts to Glory maintains its difficulty.

Platforming is still as hard as ever, as the ground you walk on could fall or one of the many different enemy types could knock you off. Monsters like the shield enemies are frequent and a little annoying, as they leave you staggered and vulnerable if you strike them while their guard is up. This isn’t too much of a challenge on its own, but when you are hacking your way through a small group and hit one of them, you can quickly become overwhelmed. Some enemies have chunky health pools to chip away at, and with limited lives, it can feel a bit cheap when the game throws curveball after curveball at you.

Even saving in Maximo: Ghosts to Glory is not without complications, as every time you save at the start of each world, it costs 100 gold coins. If you save too much, you’ll be broke for the rest of the game, so finding the balance is crucial. It can be incredibly punishing since you’ll likely be dying a lot as you progress, so having to lose so much progress on a restart can leave you feeling hollow. If that wasn’t enough, there are even crows to watch out for, which will swoop down and snatch your money, making saving up and maintaining the currency a bit of a chore. Not to mention the chests, which usually provide you with better gear, can spring to life and try to kill you like the mimics from Dark Souls.

Everything’s out to get you, and there are plenty of ways to die, making Maximo: Ghosts to Glory one of the hardest PS2 games out there.


8. God of War II

God of War 2

Developer(s): Santa Monica Studio
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment

This action-adventure hack-and-slash series has always been known for its brutally fun combat, gory finishers, complex puzzles, and engaging boss fights. God of War II also happens to be an incredibly challenging game, especially when playing on the harder difficulties. From gimmicky and punishing boss fights to frequent intense platforming sections, God of War II is not afraid of putting you in intense situations that require a sharp and observant mind to overcome.

Although enemy variety has improved from the first game, they frequently stun-lock you to death, which on the harder difficulties can be infuriating. This is especially noticeable when the combat is at its most fluid, as you hack away at hordes of enemies until some of them start spamming attacks. Most enemies will swarm you and back you into corners if you’re not careful. There is a block button to help counteract this, but the response time may feel sluggish, so you’ll have to anticipate the attack beforehand.

God of War II doesn’t hold back from throwing wave after wave at you, which can feel repetitive at times. This is irritating if you’re stuck on a level and have to slice through the same waves to get to the part you were on before. Easy and normal difficulties are much more manageable, but anything above that is an ungodly brutal experience.

God of War II also has no shortage of complex puzzles to be solved, and the game will often throw you into rooms with little to no explanation of what to do. While they do help break the pace of combat, they often cause the same intensity and frustration, as you’re usually juggling multiple mechanics at once to solve it. For instance, there’s a puzzle where you ascend multiple floors, each containing its own mechanic that needs to be mastered to progress.


7. Jak II

Jak and Daxter II
Jak II

Developer(s): Naughty Dog
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment

Jak II is an action-adventure game that is difficult from start to finish. For those who enjoy the Jak and Daxter games, you may find this one more unforgiving, though it’s still a worthy classic to add to your game library if you’ve got the patience. Seriously, Jak II is as punishing as it is fun.

Take the hoverbike levels, for instance. It’s a cool concept to fly around in a futuristic vehicle, but the execution is quite clunky, making you feel like you’re learning to drive for the first time behind the truck in Final Destination 2 without an instructor.

With only a handful of mission types in Jak II, it can quickly feel repetitive, especially as you’ll likely die a lot, having to replay the same level over and over again. This is most evident in the time trials, where you have to race to the finish line without crashing (which is inevitable), all while beating the harsh time limit.

There’s also plenty of platforming sections filled with enemies shooting at you, which can feel rather punishing and distracting. If you don’t fall to your death during a firefight, you will be met with enough firepower for a fast restart. The enemies come at you in big, bulky hordes, making them incredibly difficult to fight against.

Then there are the mech levels, which show the game’s age, as clunky controls and awkward camera angles make combat tougher than steel. Hordes of enemies will cut through your defences quickly, which can become tedious to deal with.

What’s even more challenging is the severe lack of checkpoints in Jak II. You’ll likely overcome one demanding section, die at the next difficult encounter, and have to redo it all.

Luckily, the title’s gruelling difficulty can be quelled by optional cheat codes to get through some of the more challenging encounters. As Jak II is one of the PS2’s hardest games out there, don’t feel ashamed to use it if your controller is on the verge of snapping.


6. Armored Core 2

Armored Core 2
Armored Core 2

Developer(s): FromSoftware Inc.
Publisher(s): Ubisoft, Agetec, Crave Entertainment, FromSoftware Inc.

FromSoft making the list for hardest games is a bit cliché these days, but we can’t deny this difficult PS2 classic deserves a place on this list.

Armored Core 2 doesn’t hold your hand and leaves the mech customisation completely up to you. While this gives you plenty of freedom, some loadouts are designed for certain missions over others, and it can quickly turn into a trial-and-error grind on some of the more challenging levels.

To make matters more punishing, there is the financial mechanic, where failure results in a fat cash withdrawal. Fail enough times, and you’ll end up with a debt so large that you’ll be grinding out smaller assignments to earn back a fraction of what you lost. In situations like these, restarting could be easier than completing endless repetitive missions where you’re still at risk of dying.

The bosses in Armored Core 2 are no joke either. Their attacks are punishing, their movements are fast, and some even have the cheek to send an in-game email detailing how disappointed they are with your fighting capabilities. The fights can be lengthy and will require great concentration to avoid their lock-on attacks. They can change the way you play by offering a level of difficulty that makes you tinker with your loadout until you scrape out a victory or succumb to debt.

Enemies are relentless and plentiful, often spraying the map with bullets and missile barrages that really test the player’s metal. While there is a difficulty setting to adjust, it seems there’s very little difference between normal and hard, so you’re still in for a punishing experience no matter what you select.


5. Stuntman

Stuntman PS2
Stuntman PS2

Developer(s): Reflections Interactive
Publisher(s): Infogrames

You’d think that a wacky, stunt-performing driving game that essentially makes you a movie star would be more fun than hard, but this game has a greater emphasis on difficulty. Part of what makes Stuntman so challenging is the way objectives are handled. In a typical level, you’ll be asked to crash into something or perform a badass stunt that’ll keep the film director happy.

The problem is that new objectives come in lightning fast while you’re driving at full speed, giving you milliseconds to work out what to do, how to do it, and where to go. Each beat in the sequence is like this, meaning you need to have electric reactions and a perfect playthrough of each level to come drifting over the finish line. This can be overwhelming and a little frustrating, as objective after objective is issued on the fly. Not to mention, the objects you need to crash into are typically really close by, making them easy to miss and forcing you to restart.

You can’t take it slow either, as every level has a harsh time limit, meaning you have to put your foot down and anticipate what’s coming next, which is easier said than done. There are cars, explosions, and plenty of obstacles in your way, but each level has a specific crash or stunt in mind with no leniency.

There are also no checkpoints, so you’ll be restarting each level a lot before you get the rhythm down. As difficult as it can be to endure the trial-and-error style of gameplay, it’s so satisfying to cross the finish line and see your epic stunts in a movie trailer.


4. God Hand

Gene God Hand

Developer(s): Clover Studio
Publisher(s): Capcom

God Hand is at its core a beat-em-up, but while others in the genre emphasise fast-paced combat to unleash on hordes of enemies, this game has a unique approach. It is a slower-paced style of brawler where you specialise in beating down a handful of enemies and learning their attack patterns. The game’s third-person camera is similar to a lot of modern action RPGs, which, as a result, allows enemies to get sneaky hits off-screen due to this perspective.

God Hand also features adaptive difficulty, which makes cosying up to your favourite moves almost impossible. For example, if you rely too much on the dodge mechanic, the game will react and send stronger opponents to counter you. It encourages diverse play while also spiking up the difficulty to insane heights.

Each enemy is relentless and has their own fighting style, meaning players will need to learn many lengthy combos to triumph. Likewise, you’ll need to adjust your fighting style on the fly, as there can be multiple different enemy types attacking you at once, so you’ll need to have the right strategy for the right opponent. This gets overwhelming quickly, as enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and even remembering one of their attack strategies is challenging enough. Especially since the many attacks they can dish out in a combo can be varied and lengthy, making it difficult to adapt to on the fly.

Maintaining awareness of where enemies are and the style of fighting they utilise is key to victory, but in the heat of battle, it can be hard to keep track. Especially when the camera is locked to a third-person perspective and the rest could be closing in off-screen.

However, as gruelling as God Hand can be, it’s a cult classic for a very good reason (and definitely deserves more than a 3/10).


3. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne


Developer(s): Atlus
Publisher(s): Atlus, Ghostlight

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is a JRPG set in a world where demons have turned the world upside down, and you, a high schooler, are caught in the middle of it. Classic JRPG stuff, but this may be one of the toughest PS2 games out there.

The game throws many mechanics at you early on, and if JRPGs aren’t your thing, it will quickly overwhelm you. From mastering the buff/debuff system to understanding each enemy’s weakness and having the means to exploit it, this is just the tip of the demon-infested iceberg of mechanics you’ll need to familiarise yourself with. Even veteran JRPG players will struggle to stick the landing on the many hurdles thrown in from start to finish.

What makes Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne so brutal is that it doesn’t matter how strong or experienced you are; sometimes luck isn’t on your side. RNG plays a big role in this game and can lead to unexpected and unavoidable death. Enemies can surprise attack and critical strike you repeatedly, meaning all you can do is watch yourself get pummelled into a game over screen. Your attacks can even miss thanks to RNG, which can rapidly turn a strong start into a quick defeat. With save points spread out far and wide, it can feel tedious to replay if luck isn’t on your side.

Part of the difficulty stems from exploration, as at times, figuring out where to go next can feel like a puzzle in and of itself. It especially doesn’t help if you’re backtracking around and enemy encounters appear thanks to the RNG system, forcing you into a combat encounter that could send you back a save. While you can skip these encounters if you wish, they appear frequently enough to add frustration if you’re running loops around the map looking to explore without sudden interruptions. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is a true test of player skill and patience, but it is certainly a fun ride for JRPG fans, even if fate can be a little cruel.


2. Contra: Shattered Soldier

Contra: Shattered Soldier
Contra: Shattered Soldier

Developer(s): Team Kijirushi
Publisher(s): Konami

This intense side-scrolling shooter is all about clearing each level of enemies by any means necessary. Spray and pray make up most of the gameplay, as you’ll be dodging and weaving between all sorts of grotesque creatures to try and stay alive.

The difficulty in Contra: Shattered Soldier, much like most entries in this series, is incredibly punishing and will no doubt make newer players feel like lambs to the slaughter. Since the save system is severely limited, you’ll be doing a lot of trial and error to best each mission. Which is why memorising level layouts and enemy attacks (especially on the missions you’re struggling with) is a must to anticipate what’s coming next. That’s easier said than done, as no one wants to revise unless you love this game to bits.

What makes this game frustrating to the bone is that throughout each lengthy mission, there are no health kits to keep you running or ammo pickups to keep you gunning. That means that every bullet counts, and there’s no telling how much longer is left of a level or what enemies are coming at you from off the screen. One hit from any attack and you’re dead, and in some cases, you can die from falling off tight platforms while being shot at from all directions.

Contra: Shattered Soldier is an unforgiving game and, in many ways, can feel like a boss rush, as a large portion of the game is fighting giant aliens or mechas with enormous health pools. Like in many games, the best way to defeat the boss is to learn the attack patterns and mechanics unique to each fight. The problem is that if you die, you’ll have to replay the mission from the start, shooting your way through waves of challenging enemies before reattempting that boss.

If you are finding the game too brutal, there are a few cheats, including the 30 lives cheat code that many gamers have used in the past. Even with this, Contra: Shattered Soldier is still a challenge, making it one of the hardest PS2 games of all time.


1. Shinobi

Shinobi PS2
Shinobi PS2

Developer(s): Overworks, Sega AM1
Publisher(s): Sega

This 3D action-adventure game is not for the faint of heart, to say the least. It may just be the hardest game Sega has ever released.

Shinobi incorporates lengthy levels filled with platforming challenges, absurd enemy numbers that will quickly overwhelm you, and almost no checkpoints throughout, making for an incredibly punishing and frustrating experience. Death in Shinobi comes quickly, and substantial time loss is all but inevitable as you progress into uncharted territory where even your own sword is trying to kill you.

That’s right, the sword will slowly deplete your health when you aren’t slaying enemies with it, which adds a time-pressure mechanic to a game that’s already got you sweating under the harshness of Shinobi’s difficulty. The health drain mechanic does encourage aggressive play, but enemies will consistently block your attacks, making it harder to land those satisfying kills designed to keep you alive.

Fortunately, there is a lock-on system that allows you to focus on specific enemies to thin the herd. This mechanic is key to survival but can also lead to some frustrating accidental deaths by locking on to an unintended target. This then changes the trajectory of your movement, which can send you hurling down a pit that you never intended to go near. While it’s a problem that persists in many games to this day, it’s especially noticeable in Shinobi. It can break the flow of combat, leaving you feeling cheated by the already brutal experience.

The platforming makes up a large chunk of Shinobi’s gameplay as you hop between walls like the badass ninja you are, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s one level where you are required to jump down onto multiple platforms below. This sounds easy if only the camera would let you look down, but it doesn’t, making for some daring falls into what you hope is the platform. Miss it, and you’ll be forced to restart the entire level, which can feel aggravating. Fortunately, this isn’t a recurring level, but the platforming is often met with obstacles designed to push you off or enemies trying to knock you off.

Not to mention the boss battles that not only offer some of the game’s most challenging combat encounters but also incorporate the painfully difficult platforming mechanics to really test your limits as a player. Even the most veteran of gamers will admit this game is a true test of skill and patience that borders on unfairness at times. This makes Shinobi the hardest PS2 game of all time and stands up there with some of the most difficult games ever made.

READ NEXT: Ranking Every Atari Console from Worst to Best

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site.