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Hadlee Simons / Android Authority
Android is a fantastic platform for emulation, as everything from Atari and the NES to PS1 and GameCube can be played on your modern smartphone. However, one of the biggest challenges in this space has been PS2 emulation, with the likes of Play and the shady DamonPS2 emulator taking a stab at the task. A new PS2 emulator landed on Android in late 2023, dubbed AetherSX2.
You only need to try out a few games to realize that this is easily the best PS2 emulator on the platform. So what should you know about it? We’ve got you covered with our guide to the emulator.
What are the AetherSX2 requirements?
Hadlee Simons / Android Authority
AetherSX2’s developer recommended that your phone have a Snapdragon 845-level processor or better. They specifically said that you’ll need four large CPU cores (Cortex-A75 or higher).
In terms of the GPU, the developer says Adreno graphics offers better performance than Mali or PowerVR GPUs found in MediaTek, HiSilicon, and older Samsung Exynos processors. However, the creator adds that you should stick to the Vulkan graphics renderer option if you’ve got a phone powered by a Mali GPU (e.g., Exynos, Kirin, or MediaTek processor), as it’s generally faster than OpenGL. Some games might perform better with OpenGL, though.
You can play some less demanding games on budget devices, but you’ll want a recent high-end phone for the best performance.
On the other end of the spectrum is the POCO M4 Pro. It features a recent mid-range processor in the Dimensity 810. Games like Burnout 3 and Gran Turismo 4 are too slow to be playable out of the box. But underclocking (more on this later) does help with titles like The Simpsons Hit and Run and Shadow of the Colossus. It makes them less of a slow-mo experience and more playable. And less demanding 2D titles like Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, MegaMan X Collection, and Marvel vs Capcom 2 run well.
This is far from comprehensive evidence of how your experience will go, as this is just a small selection of games with basic tweaks being used at best. Still, it should give you a rough idea of what each phone segment is capable of. But it suggests you might want to opt for an older flagship instead of a new budget phone.
Tips and tricks for a better experience
Try changing the graphics renderer from OpenGL to Vulkan, for one. The Vulkan API generally delivers a fast experience but might not deliver the best experience for all games.
Three other settings worth toggling for better performance include the GPU Palette Conversion, Preload Textures, and Disable Hardware Readbacks options.
One way to potentially get better performance that has nothing to do with the app is to switch from your phone’s default power profile to a performance mode (usually available in battery settings). This increases performance at the expense of battery life and temperature. Just keep in mind that higher temperatures can also lead to faster throttling. This could make the default power mode better for longer play sessions.
AetherSX2 also supports resolution upscaling, from 1x (the original resolution of the game) all the way to 8x. This doesn’t work well with every game. Still, it’s worth experimenting with this option if your preferred game has some headroom for a higher resolution.
The game does support save states, but updates tend to wipe them. Save to the virtual memory card in every game if you don’t want to start from scratch after every update.
The emulator is technically capable of this to an extent, but it’s definitely not made with this in mind, and the support is very rudimentary. We strongly recommend you download an emulator like Duckstation for more polished, feature-rich PS1 emulation with a wider variety of compatible games.
One option is to use the Dolphin GameCube emulator if the title in question has a GameCube port. Another option is to wait for an app update, which isn’t guaranteed to make your desired game playable. You could also upgrade to a new phone, although you’ll need to double-check that the new phone plays the desired game. It’s still risky to upgrade to a new phone specifically for an emulated title that might not work in your case.
You can use the fan-run Discord server or the EmulationOnAndroid subreddit.
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