The PlayStation 2 is a legendary console, released in 2000 and running for 13 years as one of the best-selling consoles of all time with over 155 million units sold. It was discontinued in 2013, which can make it difficult to play games of yesteryear without official support.
Thanks to emulation, games have a chance to never be forgotten. The PlayStation 2 is notoriously difficult to emulate thanks to its odd family of chipsets based on its core CPU (called the ‘Emotion Engine’), and proper emulation remains an uphill battle for many fans. Even the official developers have noted the difficulty that must be overcome to develop on the legendary system, and they had official support from Sony.
Related: The best PS2 games in 2021
For this ranking list, we are going to look at the three platforms currently available for PS2 emulation and contain the ranking within each platform from worst to best. PS2 emulation is currently available on console, mobile, and PC. Of the three platforms, PC-based PS2 emulation is by far the best option, although mobile devices can work with varying degrees of success. Console-based PS2 emulation, while available, is a convoluted process that typically involves homebrewing and hacking the consoles to download the software.
Console based emulation
PS2 emulation is a tough hobby, and there’s something to be said for giving it a try on consoles. Unfortunately, for these emulators to work, fans will need to either use developer builds from the consoles or use some dodgy workarounds to download the software. Also, the consoles don’t have an open source option, which means that fans will be at the mercy of the developers.
2) PS2Emu (PlayStation 3)
PS2Emu, also known as PS2_Emu, could be used on PlayStation 3 with a large number of supported games. Requiring BIOS files, and almost entirely vaporware at this point, PS2Emu has switched to Windows compatible development. Also, many PlayStation 2 titles became available on PS3 thanks to the arrival of the PlayStation Store.
Finally, the original launch models of the PS3 offered backwards compatibility thanks to the PS2 chips in them. It was later discontinued by Sony, and it should also be noted that while most of the PlayStation 2 catalog worked on the original PS3, there were some titles that wouldn’t.
1) AetherSX2 (Xbox One, Xbox One X/S)
AetherSX2 is the better of the two, but that doesn’t say much about our console-based emulation. The weaker CPU has a hard time running these games, and fans will need to purchase an Xbox Developer License to bring the console into developer mode and download the necessary software.
AetherSX2 is currently in a pre-alpha preview, though users who have the necessary tools, funds, and time could still load some games onto the console. AetherSX2 stands out for being a fork of PCSX2 and bringing the famous PC-based emulator to multiple platforms.
It’s no surprise that mobile devices are becoming much more powerful than they were in the early 2000s, and right now they can offer enough metaphorical juice to run some PlayStation 2 titles. Android is the easy favorite here thanks to its open development environment, but currently there is also a singular option for Apple.
3) Damons PS2 (Android)
This emulator is a closed source commercial PS2 emulator that runs on Android devices. Many fans recommend avoiding this emulator due to privacy concerns, the addition of extra DRM, and accusations of code theft and trademark theft by the community. China-based company DamonPlay Ltd, which has developed DamonsPS2, chose to try to maximize revenue in development, which tends to be greeted with concern in the emulation hobby.
2) Play! (Android-iOS)
Play! is an open source PS2 emulator that works on a multitude of devices, but stands out as one of the few options available for Apple devices, as long as the Apple device has been jailbroken to escape the walled garden. That caveat aside, however, Play! works surprisingly well on mobile devices if users can get past the rough settings.
1) AetherSX2 (Android)
The second time AetherSX2 is mentioned, but as a much stronger candidate. It’s still a closed source port of the legendary PCSX2 emulator, adding rendering options and a few other options under the hood. It’s completely free and available on the Google Play store. The only drawback is that it cannot be used on jailbroken iOS devices.
PC based emulation
With obstacles in the way of true PS2 emulation, PC-based emulation gives most users the most wiggle room to get the software to work properly. While AetherSX2 and Play! are both more than viable options for mobile devices, it is difficult to beat the possibilities and flexibility that PCs offer.
5) hpsx64 (Windows)
A work-in-progress emulator, hpsx does not offer some of the more standardized quality of life options, such as graphics enhancement. Driver inputs need some work, audio can suddenly cut out, and outright hangs are not uncommon. That said, this emulator stands out as being impressively functional while still in an experimental stage.
4) Dobie Station (Windows, Linux)
A PS2 emulator with big plans to be available on Android devices, DobieStation is a very young emulator in its current state. Some titles can already be launched, such as Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy X, but there is still a little while before DobieStation is ready for the big leagues of emulation. DobieStation shares some developers with the legendary PCSX2, making it worth tracking down by developer pedigree alone.
3) Play! (Windows, Linux, macOS)
The same game! from our list of mobile devices, Play! works even better on PC. Its place as number three on this list shouldn’t discourage users from giving it a try, but it is further proof of the competitive quality of PS2 emulators on personal computers. If you are using Play! on a mobile device, it may be worth using the same platform on your personal computer thanks to standardized file hierarchies and options.
2) AetherSX2 (Linux, macOS)
A fork of PCSX2, Aether is worth noting. It works well with minimal setup, has multiple quality of life options, and is available on all the platforms we’ve discussed so far. The bad news is that it’s closed source, which means users are trapped at the whims (and integrity) of hobbyist developers.
1) PCSX2 (Windows, Linux, macOS)
PCSX2 is the crown jewel of the PlayStation 2 emulation fan community. Although only available on personal computers, this open source package is the longest running PS2 emulator project (since 2001) and therefore It generally offers advantages that other emulators do not have. Anyone can contribute to the project via GitHub, it supports original PS2 backwards compatibility for original PlayStation games, offers native support for DualShock 3, and can automatically fix game issues while you play (such as AI freezing).
If you are simply looking for the best PlayStation 2 emulator currently available, the answer unequivocally lies in PCSX2. Currently with a 97% compatible games list from the PlayStation 2 era, and still going strong with patches and new features, this emulator is simply the best for all others.