5) Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 (PS2) - Everyone knows that I am one of the biggest old school lovers on staff, but Digital Devil Saga really struck a chord with me. With a pretty tremendous battle and leveling system akin to the rest of the SMT series, a solid story, and a good variety of dungeons, I thought Digital Devil Saga 1 was one of the best games I played this generation. While not part of my top 5, I also found the sequel to be one of the best experiences in the last decade.
4) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - What do you get when you combine an action-based RPG with a sci-fi landscape? The Star Ocean series and its PS2 installment checks in at number 4 in my top 5. While the balance of the narrative feels uneven at times and you may feel jipped at the lack of sci-fi elements at points, overall the game is one of the deepest you'll find on any console. With awesome voice acting and some pretty tremendous challenges, Star Ocean: Til the End of Time is a must play.
3) Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2) - Kingdom Hearts 2 is the only game of the last generation I beat, and then immediately started over to beat it again on a harder difficulty level. For those who are ignorant or afraid to try it, because it is too "childish," you are missing a true classic. From Roxas to Sora, Twilight Town to the Beast's castle, Kingdom Hearts 2 is a great sequel to an even better predecessor.
2) Kingdom Hearts 1 (PS2) - Here is why I like KH1 more than 2: it is more of an adventure RPG than turn-based RPG, and I believe it works better. If you are a Zelda fan, KH1 is a much more enjoyable experience because it allows the gamer some freedom. Go explore the Jungle world of Tarzan on your own and see what you can find; try and figure out the mysteries of the 100 Acre Wood with minimal hints; prepare yourself for late boss battles with little or no help. In addition, I found the game better because the boss battles require more than using the hot triangle button, made famous by the God of War series. Kingdom Hearts is not only one of the best games this generation has to offer, it is one of the most enjoyable RPG experiences of all time.
1) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) - Dragon Quest VIII is amazing. It is incredible. It is everything I could have fantasized about as a kid playing Phantasy Star II. Dragon Quest VIII does everything right: it has phenomenal visuals that use every trick in the book including spot color and sepia for thematic and narrative effects; it has a fully explorable world map with hidden treasures and bonus monsters to find; it has the best voice acting of any game I've ever played; it is tough but not impossible, challenging but fair; it has a great item creation system; and it has a narrative that is formulaic, but with enough twists and turns to never bore the player. In sum, Dragon Quest VIII is the best RPG I've played this century.