Games That Defined The History of the PlayStation (PS1)
The Sony PlayStation essentially came out of nowhere in the mid 1990’s to take on both Nintendo and Sega in the heated console wars. With some impressive technology and a heavy marketing budget behind them, Sony rallied a number of the best game developers in the industry to create a powerhouse library of games – many of which laid a solid foundation for generations to come.
This overview of the PS1 takes a look at the games that made the largest impact on the industry at the time and gave the Playstation its unique personality while overcoming its opponents (as opposed to a standard list of “the best” PS1 games)
Due to the size of this article and the variety of games discussed, it quickly became a group project. While Ack and I led this project, there were also many contributions from Daniel Primed, The Apprentice, Radarscope1, Niode, Fastbilly1, and BulletMagnet. Thanks to all for their contributions and I hope everyone enjoys the results!
Before Sony made the bold move of taking on Sega and Nintendo in the ultra-competitive gaming industry, Sony had partnered with Nintendo to develop a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo. After Nintendo breached the contract and ultimately decided to ditch the CD format, Sony decided to create the PlayStation on their own and make Nintendo regret their decision.
In addition to a new competitor in Sony, Nintendo suffered from the loss of Squaresoft as premier third party publisher. Square, angry about Nintendo’s decision to go with the cartridge format instead of CD, dropped all connections with the company and instead began producing titles exclusively for the PlayStation, including their beloved Final Fantasy series.
As the first Final Fantasy game to be presented in three dimensions, Final Fantasy VII was a milestone in the RPG genre. For many impressionable youths in this new gaming generation, it was an introduction to the genre and was an early showcase of what could be done with computer generated cut-scenes and story-telling. Even though it may not have been the greatest Final Fantasy in terms of game mechanics, it is definitely high on the food chain in terms of iconic characters and experiences from the 32-bit era.
The PlayStation would also see highly-anticipated releases of Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX – each of which was met with rave reviews and tremendous sales. Final Fantasy VII finished up with 9.8 million copies worldwide and the sequels followed up with 6 million and 5.08 million respectively.
Final Fantasy VIII and IX really showed Square’s growth in using high-quality music and graphics for storytelling. The length of the games was also quite impressive. Final Fantasy VII spanned multiple discs at it’s release in 1997 in Japan, just over two years after the release of the console, using disc space to put 3D rendered characters on pre-rendered backgrounds, as well as featuring 3D combat and pre-rendered cut scenes. Final Fantasy VIII and IX took it a step further by filling up four CDs each. Indeed, the quality of CG would make Square even more famous then it had been after its success with Nintendo’s previous consoles.
When the book was closed on these blockbusters, the huge revenue stream helped fund the company’s attempts at breaking into other game genres. While Square would not see nearly as much success in these areas, the games did endear more fans to the company, leading some to speculate that Squaresoft alone could pick which console would win the generation wars.
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Metal Gear Solid
Hideo Kojima’s career-spanning series, Metal Gear, broke into super-stardom on PlayStation with Metal Gear Solid. Selling over 7 million copies during its lifespan, the game would become on of the highest selling games in the 32-bit generation. Of course, it also was the beginning of a franchise that would help sell millions PS2s and PS3s for years to come.
Metal Gear Solid’s success comes as little surprise as it brought movie-like cut scenes, an incredible cast of characters, bizarre secrets, incredible audio, and more stealth action than one could shake a stick at. The game mechanics came as such a pleasant surprise to mainstream gamers that Metal Gear Solid is often credited as having created the popularizing the Stealth genre that is now filled with many blockbuster titles.
Of course, what more could be expected from a title whose designers were out to “literally make the best PlayStation game ever”. And despite some criticisms about the short length of the title, the constant cut scenes, and how easy it was to avoid enemies, some gamers could argue they did it, or at least came close.
Looking back at the 32-bit era, it’s easy to see that many of the early 3D games don’t age especially well when compared to their newer counterparts. However, Metal Gear Solid seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rule. Kojima and Company did an outstanding job making use of the PlayStation’s capabilities and made sure to push the limits of the things that matter most in the long-term: gameplay and story. Even though the game was remade on the Gamecube, it is still strongly recommended that one play the original version of this classic on the PlayStation.
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Crash Bandicoot Series
Originally created by famed developers, Naughty Dog, the Crash Bandicoot series would see five releases on the PlayStation before going multi-platform in 2001. While the Crash series has seen 14 titles, with over 20 million games sold worldwide, the PlayStation era yielded the largest impact.
Crash had a couple of things going for it during the 32-bit era. First of all, as Sony was trying to make its mark in the gaming industry, it unofficially embraced Crash as it’s mascot – much like Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic characters. Just as Sega of America’s advertising campaigns went down the tubes, Sony was airing numerous commercials featuring a guy in a giant Crash Bandicoot suit that seemed like something that the cutting-edge Sega would have run in the Genesis days (including ones where Crash challenged Mario to a fight).
In addition to the advertising campaigns, Crash Bandicoot was one of the first 3D platforming games that were worth playing. Sure, it wasn’t quite as smooth or expansive as the revolutionary Super Mario 64 (which came out just before Crash Bandicoot), but it was a leap above most of the rest of the competition – especially on the PlayStation.
The series would see annual releases up until 2000, with the second and third games, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, being released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Both continued being platformers, though introduced major changes for the better. Indeed, Crash 3 is considered by many to be the best of the entire series, as well as one of the greatest platformers of all time.
From there, the series branched out, with the 1999 release of Crash Team Racing, a kart-racer like Mario Kart 64. It was Naughty Dog’s last release before Eurocom took over the Crash franchise with Crash Bash, a party game that sold relatively well despite less than stellar reviews.
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Gran Turismo Series
For racing junkies and PlayStation fans alike, Gran Turismo is recognized as one of the greatest high-speed series of all time. Seeing only two releases on the PS1, both titles serve as some of the best-selling racing games in history. The original Gran Turismo holds the honor of being the highest selling PlayStation game in the world, with over 10.85 million copies sold worldwide and the sequel isn’t far behind at 9.37 million sold.
Of all things, perhaps Gran Turismo’s greatest strengths are its realism and its size. It wasn’t quite as easy to dive into as your standard arcade racers, but it rewarded those who invested the time necessary to master it. From the beginning of the series, the developers at Polyphony Digital were committed to make sure the models and handling of the vehicles were as true to life as possible with the technology at hand. Everything from physical to accurate audio was taken into consideration. In addition to having relatively accurate representations of each of the featured cars, players were able to tune the performance to their liking.
The first game featured over 170 selectable vehicles and 11 racetracks, as well as a soundtrack featuring the works of Chemical Brothers, Garbage, Feeder, and more. Gran Turismo 2 continued this success, with nearly 650 playable vehicles and 27 tracks, as well as being released with a full soundtrack. The game was so large that it required two disks, something unheard of in a racing game.
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While the Tekken series may have been one of the greatest selling 3D fighters on the PlayStation console, it is specifically Tekken 3 that deserves special attention. Considered the pinnacle of the series, Tekken 3 brought over fifteen new characters, a revised combat system where moves were easier to combo, the z-axis and side-stepping were made key to avoiding attacks, and jumps were severely toned down.
When brought over from the arcade, mini-game modes like Tekken Force and Tekken Ball were added on top of the older modes from Tekken 2. Backgrounds became more limited and character models had frames of animation removed as well as lower polygon counts and fewer textures. The game also was forced to a lower resolution. The new gameplay was left largely intact, however, and including all unlockables, the roster held an impressive 23 characters.
At its release, changes to the combat engine were happily accepted and the game was considered almost perfect by reviewers. Three out of four reviewers at Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game a 10 out of 10, with the last giving a 9. Years later, the game is still considered one of the best, appearing on Top 10 lists. As of this writing, Game Rankings rates Tekken 3 as the 10th highest rated game of all time, much to the ire of Virtua Fighter fans everywhere.
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Tomb Raider Series
The Tomb Raider games may seem like standard fare now, but back in 1996, the series was revolutionary in more ways than one. First of all, Tomb Raider was one of the first 3D action adventure games on the market and had excellent use of 3D environments in an era when most developers were still trying to wrap their brains around truly 3D game design.
In addition to the relatively expansive and innovative game design, Tomb Raider was also a trailblazer in terms of character design. Even though Nintendo’s Metroid series was the first to have a strong female character as a lead, most gamers would never have known it at the time. However, it was hard to ignore the fact that Lara Croft was not your typical game protagonist. While the extra curvy character design raised some eyebrows and attracted some extra attention from young male gamers, Lara was more than a pretty face.
The Tomb Raider series focuses on Lara’s archaeological exploits in various tombs around the world and how they often turn sour, due to animal attacks, traps, puzzles, or nefarious forces attempting to steal said artifacts. Once gamers played the games, it was obvious that Lara Croft was more of a female Indiana Jones-meets-James Bond than a stereotypical pin-up girl.
Developed by the relatively small team at Core Design (which was newly acquired by Eidos), Tomb Raider was a quite ambitious project, but the early hype and the large sales impact the game had at the 1996 launch took the team by surprise. Though originally being released on the Sega Saturn, the first Tomb Raider would see great success on the PlayStation console, leading to further success on Sony’s console and easily becoming a top-seller.
After blowing the gaming industry away, Eidos pushed Core to have Tomb Raider II ready to ship by the holiday season of 1997. Even under such a tight deadline (development was finished in nine months), Tomb Raider II was a solid product that adequately improved over the original with superior graphics, twice the scope, more flexible controls, and the ability to use vehicles. This time it wasn’t much of a surprise that Tomb Raider II was heavily anticipated and had amazing sales numbers.
In the end, Core Design pumped out five solid, blockbuster games in as many years and gave not only the PlayStation, but also the entire gaming industry one of the most iconic characters of a generation. The series didn’t have a huge evolution within itself, but it definitely inspired many other developers to create many of the more advanced 3D adventures that we enjoy to this day.
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Resident Evil Series
Capcom had a lot to offer when it came to two-dimensional games, but with the rise of the PlayStation and the demand for the 3D games, Capcom needed to reinvent itself a bit to stay ahead of the competition. Its first successful 3D title, Resident Evil (known as “Biohazard” in Japan) was a new direction for the company and helped popularize the “survival horror” genre.
The Resident Evil games typically followed the exploits of two characters as they end up ensnared in a diabolical plot by the Umbrella Corporation, a leading pharmaceuticals company. Umbrella produces biological weapons which turn people into zombies, and said zombies then attack other people, making them zombies and propagating Umbrella’s weapon.
The main objectives of the games were to conserve ammunition and health items while dealing with limited inventory space, bizarre puzzles and fetch quests, and attempting to avoid such enemies as zombies, dogs, giant spiders, and other creatures that will make you jump out of your seat.
The PlayStation-era Resident Evil games weren’t as fully three-dimensional as some other titles out there, but instead featured 3D characters moving against pre-rendered backgrounds. They were also known for their tank-like character controls. Modern gamers might be a bit put off by the control scheme, but it’s fun to look back on them and see how much the series has evolved.
Something Resident Evil has never shied away from is violence. The large amounts of violence, bloodshed, and gore began a trend that continues into modern gaming, where Sony was given the image of catering towards a more adult crowd while Nintendo added to its image of being the “kiddy” game company.
The Resident Evil series would eventually see three installments on the PlayStation in addition to a Director’s Cut of the original game. While all three games would later see re-releases or remakes on other platforms, the PS1 was the place to play them when they were cutting-edge. The Resident Evil series has remained tremendously successful, seeing multiple spin-off titles, sequels, prequels, numerous game-based merchandising, ports and remakes, as well as comic lines, book series, and films.
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Ridge Racer Series
The mid-1990s saw an arms race on the arcade scene, with more and more powerful graphics engines being developed in response to waning player interest and increasingly popular home consoles. The result was a huge gap between arcade games and console ports in many cases. So when new PlayStation owners popped in this disc and saw Ridge Racer running smooth and playing even smoother on their TV at home, it was enough to change the mind of even the most skeptical gamer about whether Sony was worthy of entering the home market. Even though Ridge Racer was in the arcades for about two years before it was ported to the PS1, it didn’t make it any less impressive when it was released.
While many Ridge Racer reviews lead one to believe that the PS1 port is “arcade perfect”– the textures are much lower resolution than the arcade version, and there’s good deal of tearing at the seams if you go back and play it today. Two other aspects of the game held up perfectly, however – the gameplay and the audio. The visceral drifting action at the heart of the game was unchanged, and the sound (annoying announcer and all) was the type of thing that simply couldn’t be done on the cartridge-based systems of the time.
Ridge Racer on the PlayStation was actually a fairly light on content, though it did go beyond what the coin-op machine offered. There was essentially a single track that also had an extension section filled with hairpin turns on the harder difficulties. Coming in first on all four races (beginner, medium, expert and time trial) unlocked the reverse courses. A little trick (running through the wall behind the starting block at more than 60 mph) also unlocked mirror courses, for a total of 16 ways to race the track. Beating a Galaxian mini-game during the load sequence unlocked eight more cars in addition to the original four, and beating the impossibly fast #13 black car on the time trial unlocked it as well.
Ridge Racer was also notable because it was the first Namco game on the PlayStation. Namco went on to become a huge force the system. It rarely published games on other consoles, and essentially became a defacto second party developer for Sony, much like Squaresoft did for Nintendo in the 16-bit era. It supported the PlayStation with dozens of games, include three more Ridge Racer titles.
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Final Fantasy Tactics
Mentioned separate from the Final Fantasy series specifically to make a point, Final Fantasy Tactics was the first truly successful strategy RPG released in America. It was not the first, with titles like Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen being released on Super Nintendo, but it sold significantly more units and brought tactical RPGs to the masses. Of course the similarities between the Ogre games and Final Fantasy Tactics wasn’t a coincidence. Tactics actually shared much of the same team that made Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre.
What’s also interesting about Final Fantasy Tactics is how different it was from the other Final Fantasy games in the 32-bit era. Instead of pushing 3D graphics and focusing on visual story-telling, Tactics took an old-school approach with sprites and a rotating, isometric playing field.
The classic combat gameplay found in Tactics is just as outstanding and is really the star of the show. The game features a complex “job” system, first introduced in Final Fantasy V. Much like a game of chess, Tactics forces players to think carefully about each move, to plan ahead, and to bring the best possible strategies to duke it out against many challenging opponents. Many games, since its time, have attempted to copy and improve on its formula, but none have managed to do so with the same dramatic flair and unusual style as Final Fantasy Tactics.
Indeed, probably the greatest problem Final Fantasy Tactics had would also be the thing that would make it popular: it’s featuring the Final Fantasy name. While this likely led many fans of the Final Fantasy series to pick it up, it also led to its inevitable overshadowing by Final Fantasy VII, released only a few months before it. However, Tactics was still quite successful, selling about 2.3 million copies on the PlayStation. It also saw a handful of spin-offs/sequels on portable platforms, but none has received quite as much praise as the PlayStation original.
When all was said and done, Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the most involved, serious, and well-rounded strategy RPGs out there. Despite being more than 6 years old, it remains as playable and fascinating as ever. Final Fantasy Tactics is notable for its well-crafted storyline, which might actually be one of the best in the Final Fantasy series.
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Spyro the Dragon Series
While Crash Bandicoot would be the closest any character would come to being the PlayStation’s mascot, Spyro the Dragon was a close second. The Spyro the Dragon games are cartoonish 3D platformers that were quite popular with the younger crowd, but also had enough substance to keep established gamers entertained as well. And like Crash Bandicoot, the Spyro games were some of the few non-Nintendo platforming games that did well in 3D.
The Spyro games each featured free-roaming 3D environments, fantasy and futuristic locales, and even crossed over to the Crash Bandicoot series from time to time. (In fact, several of the later PlayStation Crash games would feature demo discs for Spyro titles, and vice versa.)
Of course, the games each centered around Spyro, a cocky little purple dragon that is a bit on the curious side. When enemies come and invade the various fantasy worlds that Spyro inhabits, he inevitably must go out and solve the problem, usually with the help of a group of friends. Though Spyro would branch out in later years to different consoles and handhelds, three titles were released on PlayStation. These three were the only three designed by Insomniac Games, and are often considered the best of the series.
On a side note, all of the original PlayStation’s releases feature music by Stewart Copeland, better known as the drummer from the band The Police. It is often compared to Mutato Muzika’s music from the Crash Bandicoot games.
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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Symphony of the Night would mark a turning point in the history of all Castlevania games. It would follow the son of Dracula, Alucard, instead of a Belmont clan member. Instead of a level-by-level design that previous titles had stuck to, Symphony of the Night featured a more open-ended play style for traversing Dracula’s castle, as well as a leveling and equipment system similar to RPGs. While these ideas had been tried in passing in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, they would really be explored on this PlayStation hit, and would become mainstays to the series afterwards.
The controls were also opened up a bit, allowing for abilities like double-jumping, as well as magic spells and a series of transformations the player could gain, allowing Alucard access to new areas of Dracula’s castle.
Perhaps one of the most important features of the game is its 2D style. On a console known for 3D games, Symphony of the Night shined as a model of what 2D could be like in the 32-bit era, with excellent backgrounds and sprite designs that hold up well years later.
The musical score also featured a large variety of musical styles, ranging from jazz to metal to techno, and received much praise from fans. Because of its success, almost all following Castlevanias would feature a similar format and Symphony of the Night is still the standard by which all future Castlevania games are measured.
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Twisted Metal Series
While most European and Japanese fans may not remember the Twisted Metal series due to its lack of release anywhere but the United States, American gamers will never forget how awesome a game about vehicular combat could be.
The Twisted Metal series was synonymous with the PlayStation almost from day one, seeing it’s first game put out in just under two months after the North American PlayStation’s release. The series would become known for its large cast of kooky characters, its outrageous storyline and ending sequences, its explosive combat, and its exclusivity. (Twisted Metal games have only ever appeared on Sony consoles and PCs).
And what’s not to love about a series where the player can select a hearse or a biker to bring untold destruction upon a dune buggy or a police car? Sure, the drivers sometimes change vehicles between games, and the cast fluctuates with each new title, but the old favorites almost always find some way of returning. And though the series would see five releases on the PlayStation alone, the gameplay was always one giant destruction derby battle royale to the last man standing.
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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Series
Before the Tony Hawk series plummeted into mediocrity, its first four installments broke new ground in a crowded market by offering unique gameplay, intuitive controls, and customization. The series first two titles were best known for their PlayStation releases, and rightly so; the PlayStation ports were superior to the Nintendo 64 versions and outsold the Dreamcast ports.
What makes Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater so revolutionary? When the game was released in 1999, it was almost alone in its genre since many previously released skateboarding games were commercial failures. The game made a terrific first impression however and game store demo kiosks were often surrounded by gamers waiting to play it. It offered a unique control scheme that offered steaming, smooth combos allowing gamers to skate realistically for the first time, and the skating environments were ingeniously designed to allow for maximum replay value.
The second game upped the ante with an expanded arsenal of tricks at the player’s disposal, improved graphics, and a skater and level creator, which was a real novelty at the time. The third and fourth installments also expanded the gameplay and allowed for greater replay value, although these games were also given superior releases on next-generation consoles. Slowing sales might have influenced the game designers, judging by the later levels of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, which are unpolished and glitch plagued. Despite these issues, all four of the PlayStation releases are technical achievements for the console and are worth playing today.
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PaRappa the Rapper
One of the first groundbreaking rhythm games, PaRappa the Rapper was also one of the most bizarre and interesting. Players follow PaRappa, a rapping dog who wants to win the affection of a girl named Sunny Funny by doing such tasks as learning to drive and baking a cake – oh and, of course, he has to show off his rapping skills in the process.
That’s where gameplay actually comes in. To rap, the player must press certain buttons in the right rhythm to get higher ratings. Screw up, and lyrics come out as unintelligible gibberish. Do well enough, and PaRappa gets to go nuts and freestyle. While not overly complex, the title attracted fans with its story, its style, and its art. The entire game features 2D flat characters on 3D backgrounds, similar to Paper Mario.
While not nearly as popular as other titles on the list, PaRappa the Rapper did receive a sequel on the PlayStation 2, as well as a spin-off game, UmJammer Lammy. It also spawned an animated series in Japan, PaRappa Rappa. The title would also serve as a view of things to come, as rhythm games would soon after be a major draw in arcades around the world.
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Dance Dance Revolution Series
Created by the same team at Konami that designed Beatmania a year before, Dance Dance Revolution (often-abbreviated DDR) would begin taking the arcade world by storm in the late 1990s. The title is a rhythm game that requires the player to press arrow buttons with their feet in time with the arcade cabinet’s screen, a concept that seems simple enough until the actual speed of the game and the various potential foot maneuvers are taken into account. The console release would see floor pads that were similar in design in function, keeping the arcade feel of the game in the home.
While most nations wouldn’t see much in the way of console releases until late in the PlayStation’s life, Japanese gamers would see thirteen different DDR games released for their home consoles, with different tracks or remixes and slightly tweaked rules upon each release.
DDR eventually became one of the few games in the US that would keep the few remaining arcades open. Die-hard rhythm fans would practice on their PlayStations at home before showing off their skills in the public venue.
Eventually Disney would get in touch with Konami, leading to titles like Dance Dance Revolution Disney Mix. It would also spread to the next two generations of consoles, DVD games, television games, the PC, and cell phones.
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The Super Nintendo’s Chrono Trigger was a fantastic journey that served as one of the best role-playing experiences of all time. However, considering that Chrono Cross didn’t have the full “Dream Team” of developers behind it (only Hironobu Sakaguchi returned), this sequel had a lot to live up to.
A lot of things have changed from Chrono Trigger, especially the characters we grew to love. In Chrono Cross, our hero is Serge, a teenage boy who shows up in an alternate world in which he had already passed away mysteriously over ten years ago. Of course, he teams up with a number of other characters along the way (the game features forty-five playable characters) in order to find the Frozen Flame, which will allow them the bend space and time and ultimately help them find out what is really going on.
Much like Chrono Trigger, the whole “parallel dimensions” thing plays a very large role in the story and gameplay, so there are a lot of parallel concepts between the two games. However, since the storylines are not directly connected, you can play Chrono Cross before Chrono Trigger without feeling lost or being dragged down with the feeling that you’re missing out on a back-story.
While some fans were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as much of a direct sequel as they would have liked, the general consensus was quite positive and is typically regarded as one of the premier games in an already impressive selection of Playstation RPGs.
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What happens when you take many of Squaresoft’s best and brightest from the 1990s, give them a piece of an epic six-part series, and tell them to add in anime cutscenes directed by Koichi Mahimo (known for his work on Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion)? You get Xenogears, a title many refer to as one of Square’s greatest works.
Xenogears, part five of the six-part Xenogears Perfect Works book series, combined an epic storyline, lengthy amounts of anime cutscenes, a combat system that featured both mech combat and fighting game mechanics in an RPG, and even an ending theme with vocals by Joanne Hog.
Not bad for a title that almost didn’t see a stateside release due to “sensitive religious issues” (and European gamers still haven’t seen an official release). While the game’s amount of questions may leave some people scratching their heads, the combat system was something very unique for its time. Random encounters were fought either in giant mechs, called Gears in the game, where actions are controlled by fuel, or on the ground in between the player’s party and various NPCs. In this mode, characters use various combinations of buttons to attack with, varying in power and point value. Use a combination enough and a special move may be unlocked, allowing you to use that ability when you attack. These moves are generally impressive to watch, and some of the later ones are actually quite breathtaking, though by that point players are usually fighting in Gears. The second disc is also usually frowned upon by gamers as being too short and linear, possibly due to the developers being rushed.
Even with its weaknesses, Xenogears often finds itself listed as one of the best RPGs on the PlayStation, which is no small feat considering the large number of them. If nothing else, it’s definitely worth a look by any RPG fan.
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Dragon Warrior VII
The Final Fantasy series may get much of the RPG love around the world, but it’s actually the Dragon Warrior series (known in Japan as Dragon Quest) that is the big seller in is native country. Dragon Warrior VII, however was the first game in the series to be released outside of Japan since Dragon Warrior IV (which was on the NES nearly a decade earlier)
Dragon Warrior VII is probably best remembered for its more than 100 hours of gameplay – which can be both a blessing and a curse. Most people will agree that most of that time is quite enjoyable, but others will claim that it requires quite a bit of patience to make it through the journey.
Dragon Warrior VII ultimately became the eighth best-selling video game ever in Japan at 4.12 million in Japan alone – which puts it right up there with the worldwide sales of games like Spyro and Tekken 3 and ranked it as the eighth best-selling game ever in Japan. Of course, in the US the sales were limited more to the diehard RPG crowd, but it is definitely one of the more prolific RPGs in the PS1 impressive role-playing library.
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Considered by many to be one of, if not the, scariest game of all time, and definitely the scariest title at its release in 1999, Silent Hill showed the world just how adult the PlayStation could really be. While Nintendo was busy trying to stave off an image of being “kiddy,” Silent Hill would continue to build on a foundation set in place by the likes of Resident Evil. A gloomy setting combined with bizarre puzzles and creatures designed to make the skin crawl would serve to cement its place as the beginning of a long and well-respected survival horror series.
But the title is also remembered for its quality. While it wouldn’t go on to become a million seller like other titles on this list, it did sell enough to gain a “Greatest Hits” release. Many reviewers at the time also gave it high marks for avoiding Resident Evil-style scares of making the player jump, instead going for atmosphere and mood. The creative team behind the title has claimed inspiration came from such varied places as the works of David Lynch, The Wizard of Oz, the plays of Kobo Abe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and even the music of groups such as Sonic Youth or the Moonriders.
The series is also of note as it eventually become popular enough to garner a movie that audiences actually seemed to enjoy, a rarity amongst video game-based movies. Also, in an interesting bit of censorship, the Grey Child enemy was edited in the United States release. Originally looking similar to nude children, designers thought the idea of beating them down with a metal pipe would be too much, and changed them to look more demonic. In the PAL version, the Grey Child was removed completely.
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Syphon Filter Series
Syphon Filter, both the original game and the series as a whole has always had the uncomfortable pleasure of being compared and contrasted with the PlayStation’s grand opus: Metal Gear Solid. While both games strike their own merits, the comparisons are understandable. Both games are key PlayStation franchises, wrapped in fictional spy-movie inspired attires, released only a few months apart.
It’s unfortunate then that we must crown one a “winner” and the other a “loser” when both franchises are such interesting titles, likening themselves to different styles of spy based fiction. With this mindset, Syphon Filter feels more like a Van Damne than a Schwarzenegger but at the same time, packs it where it counts.
Most Syphon Filter fans would think that I am talking about gadgets and weapons, but the game actually thrives on variety and balancing the momentum of play. Each mission is divided up into a series of stereotypical spy tasks such as rescuing hostages and taking out Russians. The trick is that you are never doing something long enough for it to become tiresome.
The basic shooting works well, due to the aforementioned weapons which are both vast and highly satisfying to use (especially the air taser) but even when you’ve done enough of that, you’ll be moving onto something different. Each quantifiable element of Syphon Filter is well polished which goes a long way to keep you playing. This is the key to what makes playing Syphon Filter feel so apt title; quality, variety and balance.
Later games in the series, slowly lost sight of this balance but introduced some additions, which made the games retain the original’s qualities.
While not an overall momentous series in contrast to say Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil, there is no doubt that Syphon Filter is significant franchise, which helped solidify the PlayStation as a strong gaming platform.
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If the technical racing of Gran Turismo isn’t your thing, perhaps you would enjoy the high-speed futuristic racing that the Wipeout series has to offer. Considering it was released in 1995, its impressive how much fast and smooth this racer ran on the PlayStation hardware. The game was also released on the Saturn, but because the developers struggled with the dual-processor setup of Sega’s machine, didn’t have quite the graphical flair of the PS1 version.
In addition to the adrenaline-pumping speed, Wipeout was also known for its audio quality and soundtrack. The techno tracks from The Chemical Brothers, Orbital, CoLD SToRAGE, and other artists propelled Wipeout to the top of many gamers favorite soundtrack lists.
Wipeout XL (known as Wipeout 2097 outside of the US) was released a year later. As expected, the sequel added a few things here and there such as new tracks, crafts, and weapons. It also made it a bit easier for beginners to pick up and play while still giving experienced players a challenge. The game was criticized for not having slip-screen multiplayer, but it did offer PS1 owners to link two PlayStations together for networked play.
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Driver, developed by Reflections Interactive (creators of the successful Destruction Derby series) has you adopt the role of Tanner, an NYPD undercover detective tasked with infiltrating an underworld syndicate of crime gangs as a wheelman. Your wheelman role has you fulfilling several roles, such as getaway driver, delivery man and car thief or in one particular amusing mission, intimidating a particular taxi customer into disclosing lucrative information through reckless driving.
The game was designed to be faithful to 60s and 70s car chase films such as Bullitt or the TV show Starksy and Hutch. Characters are dressed in 70s getup and the music has chicken scratch guitar and grooving basslines synonymous with that period.
The game’s ‘Director’s Mode’ was highly praised by critics and gamers at the time of release for it’s unique ability to fully edit and sequence camera angles during replays of your missions (or just general driving around in ‘City’ mode.) Hours could be spent tweaking your replays into seamless 70s action sequences. This added longevity to the game despite its lack of multiplayer mode.
The games story is split into four main cities, each city tasking you with missions for the three different gangs in the game. The cities are Miami (the city you receive your first real mission after you finish the punishing training mission), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. Missions can occur at anytime of day and some missions are set at night with some impressive (for the PlayStation) lighting on the cars and roads.
The game was met with mostly positive feedback and acclaim upon its launch. Most criticism about the game was regarding its lack of multiplayer and somewhat punishing driving mechanic. Many people found that they could not get further than the training mission in the parking garage at the beginning of the game. This particular mission had you demonstrate your driving skills to a gang of thugs without damaging your car. Certain objectives were a little obscured such as the slalom through the pillars of the garage requiring you to do a 180 and go back through them and the infamous J-turn maneuver (reverse 180) all within a strict time limit.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Even though 3D games were all the rage on the PlayStation, there were still a number of beloved 2D fighters on the platform as well. Franchises from both Capcom and SNK made their mark on the PlayStation, but Street Fighter Alpha 3 is probably the most treasured out of the bunch.
Gamers love the combination of the Street Fighter world and large character rosters, so Street Fighter Alpha 3 received a great deal of praise by merging the Alpha 2 cast with some beloved characters from Street Fighter 2 and in addition to some completely new contenders. The games also had a wonderful blend of fresh sprites, great combos, and a fighting system that was easy to play, but difficult to master. It also allowed great flexibility in choosing your fighting style, resulting in some great dorm-room matchups back in the day.
In most cases, the PlayStation was at a huge disadvantage to the Sega Saturn when it game to 2D fighters. The Saturn was a 2D powerhouse with lots of RAM. The PlayStation, on the other hand usually had stripped-down ports of the arcade favorites. However, Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the PS1 was actually a superb arcade port that also offered a number of extra game modes.
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Einhander (and the rest of the Shmup library)
In addition to 2D fighting games, the PlayStation was also a haven for fans of 2D shooters. There are a ton of good arcade ports in addition to some PlayStation exclusives. As was the case with the far more ill-fated Sega Saturn, many of the shooters on the PlayStation never saw release outside of Japan, and remain veiled in obscurity to this day.
One such game, however, that nearly any player of the era has at least heard of, is this uncharacteristic Squaresoft production. Having been catapulted out of the niche market in the West by the runaway success of Final Fantasy VII, the company was riding high, and eager to spread its wings farther outside of the RPG and Strategy genres than usual; in addition, it was less afraid to take the risk of localization, giving foreign gamers a shot at some of its more unusual titles. Thus Einhander, unlike so many of its kin, was both widely-available (except in Europe, unfortunately) and well-received enough to become, arguably, the shooter that defined the PS1.
Of course, the unusual-by-default nature of an old-fashioned shooter released in that era, as well as the suddenly-desirable Square label on the cover, weren’t the only things to garner the title so much attention, though they certainly were factors. Its graphics certainly didn’t hurt its cause either – while we are talking 32-bit polygons here, the designs and details (your craft is especially nifty-looking) were top-notch back in the day, and actually still hold up rather well over ten years later. The cliché but solid techno-laden soundtrack and plot (in a bit of a twist, you’re actually the “invader”, sent by a moon colony to attack Earth) round out the presentation. Once you pick up the controller, in many ways the title plays like a “typical” side-scroller, but with a unique power-up system – with the exception of your default pea-shooter, the only weapons you’re going to get are the ones you can salvage directly from defeated enemies. This being the case, you’re required to aim carefully during battles, so as to blast rivals’ weapons off of them before bringing them down – if done properly, you can gingerly swoop in to collect their arms, and thereafter use them yourself.
Despite its sometimes being labeled as an example of a “modern” shooter, the game actually comes across as far more of an “old-school” tribute after spending some time with it, since it doesn’t hesitate to make you memorize its layout to succeed (let alone score well), not to mention send your sorry carcass back to a checkpoint with all your collected weapons gone after being shot down. As such, while the trimmings are most likely to appeal to curious newcomers to the genre, it will likely be the long-time shmuppers who will be most at home after becoming acquainted with its inner workings. All told, Einhander stands as an appealing, if slightly intimidating, blend of old and new, and the PS1’s most famous foray into the shooter realm. The game was recently put up for download on the PS3 via the Japanese PlayStation Network, so if you’re unwilling to fight over an original copy on eBay this might be your chance to see what all the fuss is about.
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There’s so many great games and franchises on the Playstation, it pains me to leave some of them off the full list. Here’s some others that were a big part of the the Playstation library. I’m sure you all have additional favorites — feel free to mention them in the comments below.
- Ape Escape
- Grand Theft Auto Series
- Medal of Honor Series
- Dino Crisis Series
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Bushido Blade
- Legacy of Kain
- Jet Moto
- Lunar Series
- Breath of Fire Series
- Soul Blade
- Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
- SaGa Frontier
- Star Ocean: The Second Story
- Colony Wars Series
- Tales of Destiny Series
- Cool Boarders