PS3 Backwards Compatibility: How to Play PS2 Games on PS3

The PlayStation 3 was the successor to the astronomically-successful PlayStation 2, and the 5th overall release in Sony’s line of PlayStation consoles (counting the slim revisions). It had an impossible bar to top and, initially, it almost completely flatlined due to the hefty launch price and lack of developer support. However, the PS3 did eventually capture its footing and ended up selling very well.

The PlayStation 3 | PlayStation Lifestyle

The PS3 has a wide variety of fan-favorite games that laid down the foundation for future franchises. Especially towards the end of the console’s lifecycle, when developers unlocked the full potential of its notoriously complicated architecture, the PS3 came into its own.

The Last of Us, the first 3 Uncharted games, Demon’s Souls, Metal Gear Solid 4 (which apparently ran ‘flawlessly’ on Xbox 360 as well!) etc., are all native to the PS3. Another plus point of the PS3 was that it was backwards compatible with PS1 and PS2 titles. However, in the case of PS2, only specific models were compatible.

Which PS3 Models are Compatible with PS2 Games?

On the left is an original, launch “fat” PS3, while the one on the right is a “super slim” PS3 and the middle one is a “slim” PS3 | RetroResolve

Of all the PS3 models to have been released, only the first-generation launch models are fully backwards compatible with PS2 games. You can just plop in a PS2 disc in these models and enjoy the game withou hassle. The differences between the launch model, known as the “fat” version of the PS3, and the other models have been highlighted in the table below.

Differences between various PlayStation 3 models

ModelAppearanceVariantsUSB portsWi-Fi supportBuilt-in flash memory card readerPS2 backwards compatibilitySerial Number Format
1st Gen “Fat” ModelsSmooth, shiny, dark black exterior with “PlayStation 3” imprinted on it. The 20GB model has a black strip present at where the disc is inserted20GB and 60GB variants only4 USB 2.0 portsOnly the 60Gb variant had Wi-Fi supportPresent only in 60GB variantFully compatible, hardware-based20GB: CECHBxx

Slim ModelsSmooth, black exterior but not dark or shiny at all, with a “PS3” imprint120, 160, 250, 320GB variants2 USB 2.0 portsSupportedAbsent, to be purchased separatelyIncompatible120GB: CECH-20xxA/CECH-21xxA

160GB: CECH-25xxA/CECH-30xxA

250GB: CECH-20xxB/CECH-21xxB

320GB: CECH-25xxB/CECH-30xxB
Super Slim ModelsSmooth, shiny, dark black, textured exterior with “PS3” imprinted on it12, 250, 500GB variants2 USB 2.0 portsSupportedAbsent, to be purchased separatelyIncompatible12GB: CECH-40xxA/CECH-42xxA/CECH-43xxA

250GB: CECH-40xxB/CECH-42xxB

500GB: CECH-40xxC/CECH-42xxC/CECH-43xxC
2nd Gen “Fat” ModelsIdentical to 1st Gen60GB and 80GB variants only4 USB 2.0 portsSupportedPresentPartially-compatible via software (only in specific conditions)60GB: CECHCxx

3rd Gen “Fat” ModelsIdentical to 1st Gen40, 80, and 160GB variants2 USB 2.0 portsSupportedAbsent, to be purchased separatelyIncompatible40GB: CECHGxx/CECHHxx/CECHJxx


The CECHE and CECHC PS3 models are both second-gen, partially PS2-compatible versions. The main differences are their storage sizes – 80GB and 60GB respectively – and their initial release regions; the 60GB CECHC was first in PAL regions, followed by the 80GB CECHE in NTSC regions. They are virtually the same otherwise.

Sony themselves made a great (now-removed) guide on how to check if your PS3 model is backwards compatible, though it omits the CECHC model for some reason. A copy of the guide is still available through ↗️ if you want to check it out.

Why Can Only First-Gen PS3s Play PS2 Games?

The 1st generation PS3 launch models included the Emotion Engine and the Graphics Synthesizer, which were the CPU and GPU respectively of the PS2, built directly into the console. Therefore, due to the inclusion of this specific hardware, the launch models were fully backwards compatible with PS2 games. This is part of the reason why the PS3 had a high price tag at launch.

The PS2 hardware inside a PS3 in the form of an SoC (CPU+GPU) | Digital Foundry

To compete with Microsoft and Nintendo, and to reduce costs, Sony removed PS2 hardware from later PS3 models, essentially ending PS2 compatibility. They also removed built-in memory card readers, further limiting compatibility even more. However, all PS3 models maintained full backwards compatibility with PS1 games throughout the revisions.

The Case of Second-Gen PS3s

The situation becomes more complicated with second-gen PS3s since they can technically emulate all PS2 games, but not as well as their predecessor. The Cell processor inside the PS3 emulates the PS2’s CPU which results in a lot of issues with game compatibility. Sony even used to have a dedicated page to track issues and notify players of backwards compatibly statuses ↗️, but it’s not public anymore.

That being said, the Graphics Synthesizer is still present in these models which means no need for software emulation for the graphics. So, by excluding the PS2 CPU but keeping the GPU, Sony created PS3s that were ultimately no more than intermediaries to transition the company into slim models that fully removed all backwards compatibility for the PS2.

The MGS4 bundle was the very last PS3 ever released with PS2 backwards compatibility | Flickr

How To Play PS2 Games without A First Gen PS3?

First-generation PS3s are very rare, and the only way to get one is to check if someone is selling one on eBay or other similar sites. However, if you can’t find one and/or already have a non-first generation PS3, there is still hope.

You could get your hands on a second-gen PS3, which are much more common, but they will have subpar backwards compatibility and you will lose access to more than 10% of the PS2’s library (under 90% of PS2 games were compatible). The only other option to get the best of both worlds is:

Playing PS2 games on a jailbroken PS3

Since the PS3 is nearly obsolete now, some users have taken to jailbreaking their PS3s. Jailbreaking replaces the original firmware of the PS3 with a third-party custom firmware, which allows greater customizations and freedom than the original one. Jailbreaking also opens the door to many third-party emulation apps, including one for the PS2.

A PS3 running custom firmware | YouTube

In order to play PS2 games on your jailbroken PS3, first, you’ll need to create an ISO of the game from its physical copy through a PC. Then, download the relevant tools that allow you to use the ISO on your PS3. Next, move these files to a USB drive and plug the drive in your PS3 and install the tools you downloaded.

Depending on the tools, you downloaded the further steps can vary but you can use YouTube or other resources for that.

Is the First-Generation PS3 Worth It?

The first-generation PS3 is the only console in the PlayStation lineup that has backwards compatibility for more than 2 consoles. Sure, it’s expensive and rare, but that doesn’t mean that its value won’t increase someday, especially with the recent rise of interest in collecting retro gaming memorabilia. Also, playing a classic on its own console, without an emulator, allows you to experience the game to its fullest.

Limited edition red and blue super slim PS3s | PlayStation

It should also be noted that there is no official way to purchase PS3 or PS2 games anymore as the PlayStation Store services shut down for the PS3 back in 2018 (and way before for the PS2). Therefore, you’ll need to get a physical copy of the games you want. You can buy them off of eBay or other similar sites.

Jailbreaking is another way you can enjoy PS2 games on a PS3 but it’s not preferable as it tends to promote piracy, which can have serious legal consequences and void your warranty. Let’s be honest, jailbreaking pretty much walks hand in hand with pirated games.

That’s why a first-generation PlayStation 3 is well worth the cost in this day and age if you wish to avoid jail time and enjoy two generations of absolute classics in one package. After all, a pang for nostalgia never hurt anyone, except maybe our pockets.

PS3 Games on PS2 - FAQs

Why was the PlayStation 3 initially not as popular?

The PS3 had a slow start due to its high price tag and complex architecture that was challenging for developers. Over time, as more games were released and developers understood its potential, its popularity increased.

Which PlayStation 3 models can play PS2 games?

Only the first-generation “fat” PS3 models are fully backwards compatible with PS2 games. Later models do not include this feature due to changes Sony made to minimize manufacturing costs.

Why can only the first-generation PS3 models play PS2 games?

The first-generation “fat” PS3 models included the PS2’s CPU and GPU, enabling full compatibility with PS2 games. Later models did not include this hardware to reduce costs, leading to the removal of PS2 backwards compatibility.

Is it worth buying a first-generation PS3 today?

Despite its rarity and potential cost, a first-generation PS3 may be a valuable purchase for retro gaming enthusiasts due to its backwards compatibility for more than two consoles. However, getting games for it can be challenging since the PlayStation Store no longer supports PS3 titles.

What is the difference between the various PS3 models?

There are differences in terms of appearance, storage capacity, USB ports, Wi-Fi support, and more among the “fat,” “slim,” and “super slim” models of the PS3. The first-generation “fat” model is the only one fully compatible with PS2 games.

What is jailbreaking and is it legal?

Jailbreaking involves replacing the original firmware of the PS3 with a third-party custom firmware, allowing greater customization and freedom than the original firmware. However, it is a gray area in terms of legality and could potentially lead to legal consequences as it often promotes piracy.


Huzaifa Haroon

Born and raised around computers, Huzaifa is an avid gamer and a keyboard enthusiast. When he's not solving the mysteries of technology, you can find him scrutinizing writers, striving to inform the curious.