When talking about difficult games these days, the conversation often defaults to titles like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne, Nioh or even Spelunky. It’s easy to forget just how frustrating older titles could be, especially in the PlayStation 2 era. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the hardest PS2 titles and what made them such a slog.

Shinobi

shinobi

Nioh’s “masocore” description actually describes Sega’s Shinobi way better. While it starts out relatively fine, things quickly spiral into the deepest depths of hell. Are you constantly killing enemies? If not, you’ll die from the cursed sword which is slowly draining your health. Died from the insane platforming challenges? Have fun restarting the entire level because there are no checkpoints in between. The bosses are similarly torturous. You can unlock Joe Musashi from the original Shinobi, who doesn’t suffer from constantly health loss and has unlimited shurikens that deal more damage, but only after making significant progress.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

A 3D hack and slash platformer from the company that created Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins? What’s the worst that could happen? Maximo: Ghosts to Glory may not be as tough as its side-scrolling brethren but it’s still punishing. Hard-hitting enemies, having to pay Death Coins to continue (whose cost increases each time), having reduced health on losing armor and few checkpoints are just some of the horrors you can expect.

Manhunt

Manhunt

Instead of cheap mechanics, Manhunt’s design presents the biggest challenge for the player to overcome. You’re encouraged to take down enemies stealthily (though firearms become available later in the game) because two or more foes are enough to dispatch you head-on. Stealth attacks also require some level of timing and learning how to thwart the AI can take some time. With no “Easy” difficulty, Manhunt pushes you to get better or die trying.

Contra: Shattered Soldier

Contra Shattered Soldier

Contra: Shattered Soldier is a direct follow-up to Hard Corps, especially in terms of the difficulty. Eschewing power-ups for a new weapon system that encourages switching, you’ll need to memorize enemy patterns and level layouts for the best approach. Keep in mind that this is with limited checkpoints and continues, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time retrying stages and bosses.

Twisted Metal Black

It’s easy to forget just how unforgiving Twisted Metal Black could be, that too on Hard mode. Right off the bat, the AI is incredibly aggressive and you’re expected to know where all the item pick-ups are along with properly utilizing the character in question. It can take some practice to find your groove but Twisted Metal Black will keep you on your toes the whole time.

Gitaroo Man

Gitaroo Man

Even as far as rhythm games go, Gitaroo Man is demanding. Along with pressing buttons in time with the rhythm, you also have to move the analog stick along the trace line. It’s simple enough until the game starts throwing all sorts of complex sequences at you with fights have multiple phases. Then there’s Masters’ Play which makes the trace line even more convoluted and deals more damage to the player on mistakes.

Jak 2

Jak 2

The Jak and Daxter series has always been tougher than your average platformer, which makes sense given Naughty Dog’s work on Crash Bandicoot. Jak 2 is perhaps the most infamous of the bunch, though the worst of it is confined to certain sections (like the slums, sewers missions or Krimzon Guard Base). Checkpoints are also few and far between, adding to the frustration. Though not the hardest platformer ever made, you still need to prepare yourself for some difficulty spikes.

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne

Shin Megami Tensei III HD Remaster

If you’ve bested some of the toughest challenges in the franchise’s spin-offs, then Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne may not seem that bad in retrospect (on Normal difficult, at least). But diving in without any knowledge of its mechanics can see enemies exploiting your weaknesses and ganging up on you. Certain encounters will also just straight up kill you because of instant death status, and the bosses are fairly rough. Then there’s Hard Mode where enemy damage is doubled, escaping battles is pretty much impossible, ambush rates are higher and so on and so forth.

Stuntman

Stuntman’s gameplay at the time was fairly innovative, as players partook in various car chases and stunt scenes that were filmed for different flicks. However, it was also incredibly unforgiving. You needed to follow every single instruction to a tee. Make any mistakes – and you will make mistakes – means retrying the entire level.

AirBlade

AirBlade

As a hover-boarding title developed by Criterion Games, AirBlade can be very appealing in its visuals. Unfortunately, the iffy controls and camera are just the beginning of its problems. You must complete all of the objectives perfectly within the time limit. Failing to do so results in having to redo the whole level. For those who appreciated the freedom of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, AirBlade felt like a rigorous, unforgiving drill.

Gradius 5

Gradius 5

Treasure’s last mainline title in the Gradius series also happens to be one of its most challenging. Gradius 5 features many of the same tropes like multitudes of enemies, bullet hell scenarios (especially with bosses) and power-ups. One hit and you lose a life; lose all lives and you have to use a continue. The game demands practice and perfection, challenging you to emerge unscathed through its many rough encounters, even if you swore you dodged that one bullet.

Chaos Legion

Chaos Legion’s concept, mixing third person hack and slash combat with a cool aesthetic and minions, is pretty neat. That’s about all the praise you can really throw at it before the game begins to grate. Most levels will overwhelm you with their enemies if you haven’t spent sufficient time grinding Legions. If you die, the Return system can you back to a previous Intermission screen but with only half of the EXP earned in the level. Don’t even attempt the game on Hard Mode – it’s just not worth it.

Armored Core: Last Raven

Armored Core - Last Raven

Before Dark Souls, FromSoftware fancied throwing players into the deep end of difficulty with its Armored Core series. Last Raven is one of the tougher titles, having no tutorials, AI that’s seemingly cheating and certain routes that are way more difficult than others. Coupled with all of the gameplay changes – from tuned parts becoming “used”, thus reducing their sell value to removing blade tracking – on top of the franchise’s complex frame building and Armored Core: Last Raven is meant for the hardest of the hardcore only.

Nano Breaker

Nano Breaker

What could Konami have in store with Nano Breaker? Pain. Lots of pain. Combat can be excruciating if you’re not relying on the lasso technique to insta-kill foes. The controls and camera are just plain bad. Platforming is a mess. Lack of attack canceling, coupled with long animations, makes encounters even more frustrating. And that’s before accounting for all the bugs.

Unlimited SaGa

Beneath Unlimited SaGa’s gorgeous aesthetic is one of the most reviled games in the series (or misunderstood, if you’re one of the rare few who enjoyed it). Mechanics like the Reel, a roulette for executing exploration and combat actions, were difficult to understand, turning combat and magic into a convoluted mess. The board game layout was weird and added to the confusion even more. Depending on which character you chose, the game could also be much more difficult. On the plus side, at least the feedback was used to create the superior SaGa: Scarlet Grace so there’s that.