Sony's PlayStation series of gaming consoles have a lot going for them. You get a consistent controller layout, meaning you don't need to re-learn which buttons are where with every generation.
You also get access to many high-quality games that can only be played on PlayStation devices.
Moving from the original PlayStation to the PlayStation 2, one of the big benefits was being able to play old games on the new system.
This set a precedent where, to this day, gaming console buyers often expect backwards compatibility with older games in newer systems.
PS2 to PS4? No Backwards Compatibility
Part of the reason the PlayStation 2 had backwards compatibility is that it had most of the original PlayStation inside of it. The main processor from the PS1 was used in the PS2 as an input/output processor. The PS2 also had the PS1 sound chip built-in.
Not that it was easy to make backwards compatibility work in the PlayStation 2, according to an article on the subject by Tetsuya Iida and translated by Tom James. Sony wanted backwards compatibility as a unique selling point of the PlayStation 2 since most gaming consoles at the time couldn't play games from older systems.
And yes, the original release of the PlayStation 3 also featured backwards compatibility for PS1 and PS2 games. But later PS3 models lost that backwards compatibility—they could only play PS1 games via software emulation and no longer supported PS2 games.
As for the PlayStation 4? By the time it rolled out, backwards compatibility with games from older systems in the series was a thing of the past.
So if you want to play PlayStation 2 games on a PlayStation 4, it won't be as easy as it was for PlayStation 2 owners to play PlayStation 1 games. But, it's possible! You have options—as long as you're willing to spend a little money reacquiring those older games.
Here's how you can play PS2 games on PS4:
PS2 Games on PlayStation Store
The easiest way to play PS2 games on PS4 is to buy digital versions of those games on the PlayStation Store. This gets you downloadable versions of the game that you can play whenever you want.
The one downside to this method? Not many PS2 games are available on the PlayStation Store. In total, as of this writing, there are 50 PS2 games you can buy for the PlayStation 4.
And the selection is odd, to say the least. You'll find a few true classics like Ape Escape 2 and Wild Arms 3, but you'll also find games that you've never heard of (or forgot about long ago). For example...
The Mark of Kri was good for its time but doesn't hold up well anymore.
It's tough to argue that Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas aren't great games, but did we need the individual games as well as Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy, which collects all three?
Even if you remember Eternal Ring, do you actually still want to play it now? What about PaRappa the Rapper 2? Why make that game available when the latency makes it nearly impossible to play?
When PS2 games first appeared on the PlayStation Store, there was hope that Sony would continue expanding the catalog. Sadly, even now as Sony wraps up with the PS4 and moves on to the PS5, nothing more came of it.
PS2 Games on PlayStation Now
If you never owned a PlayStation 2 but are curious about games for the system—perhaps to explore older games in modern series that you love—you may not want to shell out for a game you might only play once.
This is where Sony's PlayStation Now comes in handy.
As part of the PlayStation Now program, you get access to several PS2 games (along with many PS3 games and PS4 games). Unfortunately, the selection is pretty limited and doesn't include anywhere near the number of PS2 games actually available on the PS4.
As of this writing, there are a total of 21 PS2 games available to PlayStation Now subscribers. Will there be more in the future? We certainly hope so, but you probably shouldn't hold your breath for it.
PS Remakes and Remasters
In addition to straight-up ports, you'll also find several remakes and remasters of PS2 games for the PS4.
If you love RPGs, you're especially well-served with remakes of Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, several Kingdom Hearts games, Odin Sphere, and others.
If you're looking for the real thing, these likely won't satisfy your craving. That said, several of the remakes I mentioned above include quality-of-life improvements as well as minor changes like souped-up graphics.
The Case for Classic Games
In my case, being able to play PS2 games on my PS4 meant I got a rare chance to play through a few of my all-time favorites. But you're still effectively dealing with all the headaches of a modern game system, with download times being only one of many issues.
If you'd rather have blockier graphics and smaller worlds that go hand-in-hand with the simpler pick-up-and-play nature of older games, you're not alone. I agree completely that older games were better.