As we near the fifth year anniversary of the North American launch of PlayStation and the upcoming launch of the system's successor, PlayStation 2, we have been spending a lot of time thinking about the system, its impact on the industry, and the games that have been released on it.
When you consider certain information tidbits, such as PlayStation's installed base of more than 27 million units in North America (27.11 million as of March 31, 2000), the system's overall 7.9 to 1 software-to-hardware ratio -- which is higher than any console system in the history of videogames, and total software shipments exceeding 234 million units, it's funny to think about the state of affairs five years ago when Sony was considered just an outsider trying to break into Sega's and Nintendo's turf.
In the year 2000, in the eyes of many, PlayStation is videogames. In fact, based on studies of name recognition among young adults, PlayStation is the most recognizable brand name in the area of interactive entertainment and only comes behind Coca-Cola and Nike on the overall scale of things. Let's face it, PlayStation is huge and it has earned its spot among the gaming elite, thanks to a variety of factors, including fantastic marketing, plenty of hype, and most of all, games. And, there have been a whole lot of games for that matter. Since its launch in September of 1995, there have been a grand total of more than 800 games released for the system.
That brings us to where we are today; we have decided to put our heads together and come up with what we believe are the Top 25 Games of All Time on PlayStation. Given the large amount of games on the system, the wide variety of titles, and the personal differences of opinion among our editors, this was actually an extremely daunting task -- and one that we took very seriously.
In putting together our list of the PlayStation's best, we took many different things into consideration. We measured factors such as how the game ranked against others in its genre. We looked at the game's overall depth and replay value, while also taking into account its innovation and the impact that it made at the time of its release. And we also measured the overall timelessness of the title (i.e. - would we still play the game today?). In some cases, the timelessness of one game gave it an edge over the innovation of another, while in others the impact that a particular game made gave it an edge over the stronger points that another game had over it.
And after taking everything into account, including our own personal likes and dislikes, we've come up with what we believe are the Top 25 Games of All Time on PlayStation.
Special Note: This top 25 list was created prior to the end of 2000, so it does not take into account several significant games. In a Future Top 25 List we will revote the top 25 to include games of such worth.
Without further adieu, here we go:
25. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
Synopsis: Originally released in September 1998, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is a third/person perspective action/adventure game that was commonly referred to as a assassin/ninja simulator. Unlike most of today's games, stealth and puzzle solving were the focus of the game rather than storming around hacking and slashing people like a barbarian. The game featured 10 very challenging levels of gameplay.
Doug Perry's Take: What Tenchu did on the PlayStation is bring the most authentic hardcore assassin style game into players hands without compromise. You used ninja-style weapons and gadgets, the whole story and setting was based in feudal Japan, and the core concept was to sneak around in the shadows, and the better you were at that, the more rewards you received. Metal Gear Solid also took the assassin concept to new heights, but this one was different and new. And the North American version was superior to the Japanese version with tuned controls, and two extra levels. There's truly nothing better than zipping up past an opponent with the grappling hook, and then dropping down behind them and performing a stealth move on him or her.
24. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Synopsis: When it was released back in November of 1997, Super Puzzle Fighter II managed to steal away the lives of many gamers around North America. The game features cute, super-deformed characters from the Street Fighter and Dark Stalker games, Street Fighter II-like combos, and intense, strategy driven gameplay. The best way to describe this game to someone who's never played it is that it is damn fun.
Doug Perry's Take: To be honest, with the exception of Tetris, I have never played a puzzle game more addictive than this. On PlayStation there are actually more innovative puzzle games, Devil Dice, to be precise, but it's simply not as seductive over the long haul. I still go to the arcades to play this one, and on the PlayStation this beats out any version of Bust A Move or Tetris to date.
23. Final Fantasy Tactics
Synopsis: In January of 1998, Sony Computer Entertainment America unleashed Squaresoft's Final Fantasy Tactics onto the North American market. While based on the Final Fantasy brand, it was a turn-based strategy game rather than a strict RPG. It featured a very complex storyline and offered hundreds of hours of gameplay. Easily one of the best games in its genre on PlayStation and worthy of the Final Fantasy moniker.
David Smith's Take: Most of the PlayStation's many RPGs are to be acclaimed for their immense personality and heart. Games like Grandia, Lunar, and the Final Fantasies brought character to the fore in a manner that may have gotten its start on the SNES, but came to full flower in the 32-bit age. The PlayStation was the system that finally said it loud enough: these are people, not just sprites.
But the system had its throwbacks, and this is one of them: not a game with heart, but a game with guts. I'm still not quite sure how I ever finished Final Fantasy Tactics. It dates back to that period in my graduate education that has since faded in a haze of intense slacking off, but I did finish it, battling all the way through what remain some of the system's most intense challenges. It may not seem like I'm saying much, considering the general downward trend in RPG difficulty these last few years, but the showdown with Wiegraf and Velius would be #$^%in' HARD in any generation.
Those kinds of challenges were what forced you to learn how to play the game, to dig through the Job system and develop a party with a powerful, well-rounded skill set. The only shame about Tactics was that it didn't have the kind of character that could match its excellent graphics and combat system - like Xenogears, it was the product of a grim period in the annals of RPG translation. The Byzantine story finally concluded with a quite profound moral, but most players got too lost on the way there to care very much.
What might have been aside, I can still proudly say that I stomped Wiegraf flat. Yes, it was my fifth try, after as many episodes of intense leveling up, and I very nearly smashed my favorite imported Dual Shock before it was over, but I did it.
22. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
Synopsis: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is Game Arts remake of its classic role-playing game that was a huge success on Sega CD, titled Lunar: The Silver Star. However, unlike most remakes that have been appearing on PlayStation, Lunar actually featured many enhancements over the original, including fully animated cinematic cut-scenes, additional secrets, and a slightly altered storyline. Lunar shipped to stores in June 1999 in North America.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: The original Lunar: The Silver Star Story on Sega CD was without a doubt my favorite game of the 16-bit era and still holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first videogames that had characters that I truly fell in love with. I played the game for hours on end, beat the game numerous different times (who says that RPGs don't have replay value?), and even managed to level up all of my characters to level 99. Lunar, along with its sequel Eternal Blue, and Konami's Snatcher made buying the Sega CD worthwhile. I never regretted it after playing those games.
The PlayStation version of the game, titled Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, is a complete remake of the game that features upgraded graphics, a different battle and spell system, a slightly altered storyline, new characters, and over 40 minutes of animated goodness. While all of the changes weren't necessarily for the good -- the battle system created monotonous boss battles that had the player rely on the same technique for every single boss in the game (Alex starts by casting his power-up spell and then follow-up with Sword Dance repeatedly) and some cool side-quests in the original were taken out (the lighthouse on Burg for example), the end result was one of the best told stories on PlayStation.
The game's presentation was top notch and it featured some of the best writing and voice acting on the system, courtesy of Working Designs. What's more, the characters in the game were developed even more than they were in the Sega CD original and had an amazing amount of personality and were developed extremely well. While it failed in comparison to other PlayStation RPGs in the areas of play mechanics and technology, it more than stood its ground against its competition because of its sensational storyline and likable, well-rounded characters. And, isn't that what we play RPGs for? The answer to that question is definitely a big "YES" for me.
21. Medal of Honor
Synopsis: First-person shooters haven't quite managed to achieve the same prominence on consoles as they have on the PC platform. However, with the release of EA's Medal of Honor in November of 1999, the PlayStation was blessed with its finest first-person shooter -- a game that made many PC owners envious of their PlayStation brethren.
Doug Perry's Take: After the first wave of PC to PlayStation ports in the system's early years, the first-person shooter genre on PlayStation died down quite substantially until Dreamworks figured out to make its first good game, Medal of Honor, in late 1999. Using some of the best aspects from the game that reinvented FPSs on consoles (Goldeneye), Medal of Honor was not only an excellent example of great presentation, music, and storyline, with authentic artwork, environments, and superb voice acting, but also a damn fun game. It had its problems, but in this genre on the PlayStation there is nothing better.
20. Crash Bandicoot: Warped
Synopsis: Crash Bandicoot served as PlayStation's mascot and the system's answer to Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo's Mario. Crash Bandicoot: Warped was the third action/platform game in the series on PlayStation and was arguably the best of the bunch and one of the most polished platforming experiences on Sony's little gray wonder. Crash Bandicoot: Warped was released in November of 1998 in North America.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: In the beginning, I wasn't really too fond of the character Crash Bandicoot. Crash just didn't seem to have the same attitude or personality of either Sonic or Mario and the hype for the first game was a bit overblown, in my opinion. It deserved marks for technical achievement, but was inferior to many of the other standard platform games that were out at around the same time on PlayStation and Sega Saturn, not to mention Sega Genesis and SNES.
However, with the game's sequel, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, Naughty Dog was able to put together an awesome game that far surpassed its predecessor. And with the third game in the series, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, we got a finely polished product that was one of the best platforming experiences on the system. The graphics were top notch, the animation was amazing, the character control was tight, and the level designs were excellent. The third time was definitely a charm.
19. Syphon Filter
Synopsis: Released on February 17, 1999, Syphon Filter received initial comparison's to Konami's Metal Gear Solid because of some external similarities between the two games. But, in truth, the two titles weren't really anything alike and Syphon Filter never suffered from the comparisons because it went on to become an amazing success on the retail front thanks to good word of mouth and advertising.
Doug Perry's Take: Shortly after Metal Gear Solid took the world by storm, a tiny little company by the name of Eidetic cranked out an action-adventure game that jumped to the top of the North American sales charts and stayed there for about 11 months. Syphon Filter was that game, and it has provided the PlayStation with untold hours of paramilitary assassin goodness.
What makes Syphon Filter so good is its imaginative levels designs, each of which pleaded gamers to explore and climb about in, but which also required players to think about every time they began a new one. You simply had to approach each level with a different headset. With a solid set of gadgets and weapons (including a great sniper rifle), good controls (especially the headshots), and a fantastic menu system, the game provided hours upon hours of sheer combat action.
But where Metal Gear Solid was so good -- the story, the presentation, the cinematics -- it was a little on the short side, and for action maniacs, Syphon Filter plugged that action need more than any other game on the system.
As for why we picked the first over the second, it comes down to three things, impact, innovation, and replay value. As a single-player game, Syphon Filter was much harder and required much more gaming savvy, where Syphon Filter 2 was far more linear, less exploratory, and literally more of the same. The game was so much fun to play in each level. Its impact had a longer effect on all of us, and we played it for more hours than Syphon Filter 2. Plus, despite the addition of the two-player mode in SF2, the first game was much more of a challenge.
18. Final Fantasy VII
Synopsis:The RPG genre was never really considered a mainstream or popular genre -- that is, until the release of Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation. With FF7's historic release on PlayStation in June of 1997, role-playing games were finally given the respect that they deserved and the RPG genre is now one of the most significant and defining on the system. Following the story of Cloud Strife, gamers were taking on a fantastical journey that encompassed three CDs and over 40 hours worth of gameplay.
David Smith's Take: Personal take indeed. This was my first PlayStation game. I had always followed Final Fantasy in its early days, but not on my own - I always had to play it on my friends' game consoles, thanks to my parents' enlightened policy of forbidding me to own a game machine. Yes, I call it enlightened now, although I called it a few different things when I was younger.
Anyway, suddenly I was in graduate school, three thousand miles away from home with a part-time job and very few living expenses. So off I went to the nearest Toys R Us, to buy a sack full of PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII, and then to the Circuit City next door to buy the nicest TV I could afford (still not much). Then I hauled the whole works home on the bus; I may as well have had a tattoo on my forehead reading "Dumb College Boy - Please Roll."
When I got back to my dorm and plugged it all in, though, it was all worth it. FFVII was the first honest-to-Bob next-generation RPG, the game that said this hardware could do something very different and very exciting. For three days or so, it was the only thing that mattered: going around the world, over the sea, high atop the mountains, and into orbit with a cast that somehow remained the stars, even while the 3D apocalypse exploded around them. Though I think it's been eclipsed in some ways by later efforts - Final Fantasy VIII was an improvement in almost all areas, and Grandia's depth of character created an even stronger emotional attachment - like I say, Final Fantasy VII was the first, and I'll always remember it for that.
Synopsis: On October 26, 1999, North American PlayStation gamers were given what fans of the Sega Saturn had been hoping to get for years -- a English version of Game Arts' masterful role-playing gem, Granida. It was considered the pinnacle of traditional role-playing games on Sega Saturn and featured some of the best character development in any game of its kind on any console. Grandia is true epic that no RPG fan should be without.
David Smith's Take: And here we have another of the truly great RPGs, Game Arts' magnum opus and probably their most historically significant project. The original Grandia was perhaps the technical pinnacle of Sega Saturn development, an all-assembler engine that emerged from four delay-filled years of tortuous development. But even though the PlayStation couldn't match some of the capabilities of its departed competition, Grandia's greatest strengths had nothing to do with megabytes or polygon counts. The immense personality it possesses, both in its cast of characters and its bright, detailed visuals, are what make it one of the best ever.
And to think that it very nearly never made it to the US. It took two years of wondering for the PlayStation version to see the light, most of which we spent accepting the fact that this was the one that got away. Then the rumors appeared, and we ignored them; then the announcements appeared, and we rubbed our eyes in surprise; then it was here, and we were more surprised than before, that something this good could have been left in Japan for so long.
Cloud, Tifa, Squall, and Rinoa are the names most everyone remembers, and I suppose it will always be that way. But Justin, Feena, Sue, and all the rest of Game Arts' crew of first-rate adventurers (including Mio; yes, Mio - allow me my little peculiarities) are certainly heroes of equal caliber.
16. Parappa The Rapper
Synopsis: Parappa The Rapper made a big splash when it was released in the United States in November of 1997 for a variety of reasons. First, it was a sign that the days of American gamers missing out on all of the quirky Japanese titles were nearing an end. And second, it was an extremely original title that was a departure from the cookie-cutter games that were being released on PlayStation in droves. The game was a simple timing-based game with memorable music and addictive gameplay. It's one of the PlayStation's most original titles to day.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: Parappa The Rapper is one of those games that while I wasn't ever any good at it, I couldn't stop playing that silly thing. What's more, it was a game that I enjoyed watching others play as much as I enjoyed playing myself. It just had an enormous amount of appeal, the characters were cute and very inventive, and the songs were just so memorable. The lovable rap lyrics in the game were extremely humorous and just got ingrained into your mind the more that you listened to them.
Oh, and the bathroom stage with the diarrhea has got to be one of the funniest levels in the history of videogames. The first time I saw someone play through that stage I was on the floor laughing my butt off and it was the topic of conversation for weeks. It's an amazing game that should be a part of all PlayStation owners' collections.
15. Madden NFL 2000
Synopsis: The John Madden series of football games have been a fan favorite of videogame players for years, and EA Sports' Madden NFL 2000 marked the 10th installment in the heralded series. The game featured classic Madden gameplay, an improved framerate, and more gameplay modes and features than you could shake a stick at. The solid gameplay combined with the excellent franchise mode and historical and customized scenario game modes helped make it one of the best Madden games ever developed.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: Along with EA Sports' NHL Hockey series, the Madden NFL Football games dominated my videogame sports world during the 16-bit era of my gaming life. While the early versions of 989 Sports' Gameday series were PlayStation's best in the system's first two years, it wasn't until EA Sports released Madden NFL '98 that a football videogame on the system had gameplay that surpassed its 16-bit cousins.
The game's follow-up, Madden NFL '99, the game was a huge step back because of its horrid framerate and sometimes sloppy control (odd-year jinx, anyone?). However, EA Sports got back on track with Madden NFL 2000 and created what is arguably the best game ever released in the series. The gameplay was just so Madden, the AI was as good as ever (it still had way too many money plays, but it was better than anything else on the system), and it was just loaded with so many quality features.
The game's Dynasty Mode was extremely well done and the Madden Challenge Points was an excellent way to extend the play value and challenge of the game. Since it really wasn't hard to get to the point where you could easily demolish your opponents, the challenges like winning the Super Bowl four times, going undefeated, and the like were an extra incentive to play through the game more. I definitely enjoyed it.
14. Silent Hill
Synopsis: Released in February of 1999, Konami's Silent Hill was its first in the survival horror genre and was highly touted as the company's answer to Capcom's Resident Evil. However, the game managed to distinguish itself from RE by concentrating on adventure style gameplay and a heavy emphasis on character and storyline. It was commonly thought of as one of the scariest games on the system and had what was arguably one of the best stories on the system.
David Smith's Take: Resident Evil brought the term "survival horror" into the gaming lexicon. Silent Hill cut off all the trimmings, and just delivered horror. The first RE might have had suspense, and RE2 might have delivered shocks, but Konami's dark-horse 3D adventure had moments more genuinely frightening than anything ever crafted in a videogame. Built around fully realtime-rendered environments, the game took advantage of the resultant freedom of camera movement to create a powerful sense of cinematic terror.
To be sure, the PlayStation's 3D capabilities didn't allow for much of a draw distance. But that was often an asset rather than a detriment - the hellbound town of Silent Hill appeared only as a small pool of weakening light surrounded by mists and darkness. And regardless of what you could say about the game's technical qualities, Silent Hill presented a story that would be excellent no matter what medium it appeared in. Scary as hell, yes, but still a remarkable achievement.
13. Wipeout XL
Synopsis: The original Wipeout received praise as being a groundbreaking game and it was one of PlayStation's early system sellers. In addition to being a great game, it was also considered a cultural phenomenon because of its use of elements of popular culture, such as techno music and designer logos. The game's sequel, Wipeout XL, was a substantial improvement over its predecessor and was oft considered the PlayStation's best racing game of the time. It had it all; great graphics, competitive computer artificial intelligence, excellent track designs, cool music, and an amazing sensation of speed.
Doug Perry's Take: It's been said many times before, but it's worth repeating: Wipeout and its successor, Wipeout XL, defined the PlayStation and its games in a multitude of ways that had simply never been done before. The game not only delivered a new way of looking at racing, adding battle aspects and swift looking hover crafts, it simply broke out of the old way of thinking. Psygnosis imbedded Wipeout with a sense of sleek design and a ton of hip attitude, and all of this, mind you, without actually delivering any real characters to relate to.
Even though we here at IGNPSX liked Wipeout and Wipeout 3, Wipeout XL won out over its brethren because it did two things that the other didn't, it perfected the series, and seduced me to give up far more hours of gameplay than to any other racer on PS at the time. It's the one I go back to when I want to play Wipeout. It's the one I want to look at, listen to, and volunteer my time to, every time. If you own a PlayStation, then you owe it to yourself to buy Wipeout XL.
Synopsis: In Driver, Reflections release what was considered one of the most comprehensive, deep, and thoroughly pleasurable driving experiences on PlayStation. The game put players in an urban-adult environment where big Afros and big-ass 8-cylinder engines ruled the day. It featured several gameplay modes with its story mode, called Undercover, was the meat and bones of the game. In this mode, players took on the role of an undercover cop who must take on these various missions to uncover the game's bad guy. What really made the game great was the developer's attention to the car's physics. While it had an arcade style to it, the driving was pure poetry in motion. Driver was released on July 8, 1999.
Doug Perry's Take: Never in my life had I ever felt this excited about a driving game, until I played Driver. I can ditch the cops? I can smash up their cars? I can destroy property, other cars? When I first played Driver, I felt as if it had been designed just for me. Of course, it wasn't, but millions of gamers around the world instantly fell in love with it. Just like me, they sunk hours upon hours into this fantastic, deep driving adventure.
With Reflections taking the Destruction Derby concept to the next level, and adding in '70s "charm," along with missions that required driving skills and getaway sensibilities, Driver became a product that not only pushed PlayStation to its limits technically, but it also brought chaos and mayhem into a mission-based format that few people could resist.
Admittedly, the last few levels of the story mode were WAY too hard, and the Director's mode was rough, crude, and even hard to use, but I played through every single mini game and mode it had to offer dozens of times. The Survival mode alone was superior fun. Perhaps eluding cops and watching them destroy their cars touches a deep-seeded rebellion against authority in me, but I know I'm not alone, and Driver enables me to legally do everything I want to do in real life (well, at least a few things) in a game. That's what videogames are all about.
11. Tekken 3
Synopsis: As the third game in the Tekken series that was released on PlayStation, Tekken 3 stood as the pinnacle of 3D fighting games. The game featured one of the best opening FMV sequences that have ever graced a videogame and its fighter list consisted of some of the coolest pugilists that have ever graced a fighting game. And as with all of Namco's arcade-to-PlayStation conversions, the home version was a vast improvement over its arcade brethren. Namco released Tekken 3 in North America in April of 1998.
David Smith's Take: Of course, there's a little part of me that rebels at having to write this. I happen to be part of the defensive minority that would still rather play Dead or Alive, and in my more bored moments I try to argue for its objective superiority. Though I'm not proud of it, there's a part of me that will never grow out of Usenet. But it's hard to hold to that stance after you've seen real, first-class competition at Tekken 3. It takes a fair amount of skill to make this game look its best, but in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, it's poetry in motion.
Though Tekken 3 was the first Iron Fist Tournament to take a visual hit in the transition from arcade to home, Namco still delivered knockout visuals, and the suite of console-exclusive extras was typically impressive. The many different bonus modes were a kick, and the CG movies were, well, by Namco. Not much else you need to say on the subject. More important than any of that, however, was the depth of the Tekken fighting system. Scrubs like yours truly may watch their fighters stutter and jerk, but if I ever get around to developing some real skills, it'll be nice to see it flow again.
10. R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
Synopsis: It's undeniable that the original Ridge Racer was one of PlayStation's first big system pushers. Regardless of what you thought of Ridge Racer as a game, you had to agree that it was an excellent port of the arcade version that showed the true potential of Sony's 32-bit wonder. Released in May of 1999, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 was the fourth installment of the game on PlayStation and was by far the most polished.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: When it comes to arcade style racing games on PlayStation, the Ridge Racer games are in a class of their own. And of the Ridge Racer games on the system, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 is the most complete and polished title of the bunch. What's more, if you preferred the driving style of the first Ridge Racer over the others in the series, R4 was packed with a 60-fps version of the original. You just can't go wrong here.
R4 simply had everything that was needed in an arcade racing game -- brilliant track designs, cool cars, a great sensation of speed, and awesome control. The powerslides were probably a bit too easy, and the computer AI didn't really put up much of a challenge (most players will beat the game within the first hour that they put it in). However, there's a lot of replay value here and the story mode added to the game's overall value. The bottom line is that R4 is the best arcade-style racing game on PlayStation.
9. Street Fighter Alpha 3
Synopsis: 2D fighters have always seemed to suffer on PlayStation because of the system's lack of a significant amount of video ram, but with the release of Street Fighter Alpha 3 in May of 1999, Capcom proved that it was the king of 2D as it made the system do what nobody thought possible -- an amazing port of its arcade fighting game. Street Fighter Alpha 3 features a long list of characters, excellent character animation, and classic 2D fighting gameplay. Pure gaming bliss (blue shadows or not).
Doug Perry's Take: Believe it or not, it took a dead Saturn to make a great Street Fighter game on PlayStation. When Capcom finally put its nose to the PS grindstone, it found that it could beat the system into grinding out 30 frames per second, that it could handle dozens and dozens of characters, that it could put a handful of characters on screen without slowdown. And finally, finally, that it could make a great single-player fighting game. But perhaps what's even better than all of those things is that the two-player game is damn near invincible. It's chock full of combos, mid air techniques, reverses, great speed, you name it, SFA3 has it. Street Fighter Alpha 3, in my opinion, is the best 2D fighting game Capcom has ever made for the PlayStation, and it's damn near close the best 2D fighting game ever -- on any system.
8. Ape Escape
Synopsis: Released in June of 1999, Ape Escape is arguably one of PlayStation's most original platform titles. The game exclusively used Sony's Dual Shock controller and required the player to use both analog sticks to control the game's hero. Ape Escape is the story of a band of rogue monkeys that escape from the amusement park and mistakenly break into a genius professor's laboratory. They find the inventions called the Peak Point Helmets and instantly become intelligent, with a particularly ingenious simian named Specter running the others. In a theme reminiscent of Planet of the Apes, these little creeps plan on changing history so that apes rule the world and humankind becomes the special attraction at amusement parks. The premise was damn cool...and more importantly, it had monkeys!
Doug Perry's Take: One of the weirdest things I ever saw was how Sony handled Ape Escape's marketing. The game had zero hype, no real lead character, no support, it seemed, and no matter what we wrote about it, nobody seemed to care. And yet, Ape Escape is absolutely the best, the most innovative, the most amusing, and the most engaging platform game on PlayStation. The game uses only the analog controllers, and enables gamers to use them in ways that have never been done on a system before. The little "apes," your enemies, are perhaps the most amusing enemies any game has ever seen. Damn, this game is so good that well, I gotta go, I'm going to play some more Ape Escape right now!
7. Final Fantasy VIII
Synopsis: Released on September 9, 1999, Final Fantasy VIII made a big splash on the retail front and quickly became one of the fastest selling games of all time. With an epic storyline and some of the best looking graphics ever seen on PlayStation, Final Fantasy VIII stood as one of the best RPGs ever released on console.
David Smith's Take: Interesting, how Final Fantasies have wound up being important firsts for me. Final Fantasy VII was the first PlayStation game I ever played; Final Fantasy VIII turned out to be the first game I played through as a full-time journalist. It was a pretty peculiar situation. I'd been on board perhaps two or three weeks when nobody else on the magazine was willing to sink 40 hours into a major RPG review. So they decided to tap the new guy. Is that lucky, or what?.
Lucky in the sarcastic sense for the first few hours of the game, honestly. FFVII was so stunningly new, it grabbed me from the very first moments; FFVIII, in contrast, took a little longer to get going. But when it finally kicked into gear, it went places: the classic Final Fantasy globetrotting was turned up a notch with wild adventures backward and forward in time. In between the episodes of thunderous high adventure, though, the game also happened to tell an unusually moving human story; while the amazing visual moments are too numerous to recount, my favorite scene in the game is a simple conversation among old friends. Kind of funny that a story full of such amazing locales would be at its best on a ruined basketball court.
Final Fantasy VII, if you view it in the context of its time, is the greatest innovator among Square's PlayStation RPGs. But Final Fantasy VIII took all of its strong points, and made them better. It looked sharper, it moved faster, it built a deep new progression system in place of traditional concepts, and perhaps most important of all, it presented an even more engaging cast of characters, in part thanks to a far more carefully-prepared translation. There are more RPGs to love on the PlayStation than I can remember at short notice, but this will probably always be my favorite.
6. Vagrant Story
Synopsis: Generally overshadowed by other games in Square's vaunted 2000 software lineup, such as Legend of Mana, Final Fantasy IX, and Chrono Cross, Vagrant Story has proven to be one of the company's best games. It features an extremely cinematic presentation, intriguing storyline, and an impressively deep battle system. It's one of those unique titles that only come around every once and a while.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: From beginning to end, Vagrant Story was a tremendously engrossing gaming experience that will forever have its place as one of my personal favorite games of all time. The cinematic quality of the game was first-rate and it helped move along the game's captivating storyline in a movie-like fashion. Just about everything about the game appeared to be exceptionally polished and the game's translation/localization was probably Square's best to date.
Some people have been complaining about the game being too repetitious, even calling it boring, but it was neither boring nor repetitious for me. Vagrant Story's awfully deep battle system, while almost too daunting at first, really grew on me and made me in love with the game the more that I played it. There's just an enormous amount of depth to the handling of your weapons, items, and magic -- and you won't get the most out of the game if you don't take the time to learn it all.
Vagrant Story is my current favorite game from Square and it gets my vote for best RPG/Adventure game on PlayStation. It's not for everybody, but it's definitely for me -- and that's all I really care about.
5. Resident Evil 2
Synopsis:Resident Evil 2 was one of the most hyped and eagerly anticipated sequels of its time. And when it was finally released in January of 1998, gamers across the country found out that all the hype and anticipation was well deserved. Taking place a few months after the first game, the game let you choose between using Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, each with different story paths that actually affected the story of the other character when you played the game the second time. It was a brilliant sequel that still stands as the best Resident Evil game on PlayStation.
Doug Perry's Take: With the exception of Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil appears to be the most imitated kind of game on the PlayStation. The year 2000 is one in which every game company is trying to imitate or cash in its own kind of "Survival Horror." While Alone in the Dark practically invented the graphic adventure, Resident Evil made it what it is today. Gory, creepy, filled with suspense, and a story wrapped with puzzles, action, and adventure, Resident Evil 2 is the pinnacle of the series on the PlayStation.
Of the three Resident Evil games, the first RE truly delivered the most impact, but the voice acting and the clumsiness of the game deterred from its greatness. RE 3 Nemesis was truly great looking, and played with more action and more interesting branch points, but it didn't sink in as deep as it could, or should, have. RE2 really takes the cake, with great voice acting, fantastic cut-scenes and a chilling introduction movie. But best of all was the replay value. After beating the game with Leon, you then have option of playing the parallel game with Claire Redfield.
I can clearly remember the day that we saw the introduction movie for RE2. Editors and writers from all over IGN and the magazines (when we were part of Imagine) came to see it, over and over again. It was January 1998 and were all recovering from the holidays, and had played everything to death. And then there was RE2, all by itself in January. Many of my co-workers and myself felt a wave of refreshing giddiness creep over us, as we all realized just what Capcom had just done. It will remain one of my all time favorites on any system.
4. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
Synopsis: Released in September of 1999, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater started the skateboarding craze that probably won't die down any time in the near future. It was the first game that truly captured the pure grit and radical feel of skateboarding, giving skateboarding fans (and the wannabes) a chance to do things that they've always wished that they could do. It was a genre-defining game that only comes around once in a while. It's true gem.
David Smith's Take: This one certainly came out of nowhere. Skeleton Warriors, Apocalypse, and then the best straight action games on the system - who would have thought Neversoft had it in them? A friend of mine, who happened to be personally acquainted with the developers, was raving about this game to me long before it became a mass-market phenomenon. I couldn't understand it, since after Street Sk8er I was more or less ready to give up on the concept of skateboarding games. He finally made me play it, though, and when I booted it up, the jangling East Bay Ray guitar riffs signaled the beginning of an obsession.
The depth Tony Hawk possesses is astonishing. The graphics and other window-dressing are nice enough (the FMV library made the perfect reward at the end of the career mode), but I kept coming back because of the new things I could do, not the widgets there were to unlock. I learned how to do big aerials, and thought I was hot - then I learned the special moves, and thought I was hot - then I saw somebody pull off a 90,000-point combo on the warehouse line, and realized that I didn't know a damn thing about what this game is capable of. After hours of play, there are still uncountable lines to be found in the superbly-designed levels.
Tony Hawk 2 may take the crown away from its predecessor - the demo version we've played seems at least as addictive - but the original made more of a mark, the first and finest 3D skateboarding simulation. The philistine censorship of the Dead Kennedys' "Police Truck" might have driven me into fits of rage had it appeared in any other game, but Tony Hawk was just that good.
3. Gran Turismo 2
Synopsis: Gran Turismo 2 made a big splash when it was released on December 17, 1999 -- becoming one of the year's best selling games despite only being out for a mere two weeks. The game conveyed sheer brilliance and is the premiere racing game on the system. It featured over 500 licensed vehicles, tons of tracks, and just provided what was a phenomenal racing experience.
David Smith's Take: GT2 was as great a leap over the original Gran Turismo as Gran Turismo was over every other racing game made. That, as they say, is saying something. Polyphony Digital's sequel may have been delayed a little while, but when it shipped we knew why - it was stuffed full of more cars, more tracks, more modifications, more music, more licenses, and more all-round driving excitement than any other game could hope to deliver.
Most racers settle with being one game, but GT2's name is somewhat misleading in that area. It's not just a GT racer. It's a GT racer, a rally racer, a Test Drive-style exotic racer, a classic muscle-car racer, a hopped-up import racer, a Pike's Peak hillclimb racer; hell, it's even a Daihatsu Midget racer if you really want it to be. All of those games are beautifully rendered and benefit from the same rock-solid physics engine, thoroughly drivable and yet remarkably true to life.
Nothing else compares. Nothing else looks this good, nothing else shows this kind of attention to detail, nothing else lasts anywhere near this long. Even once you've finished all of the many racing championships, there are dozens more cars to be bought, modified, and raced until the sun sets. In fact, if you'll excuse me, my GT350 is probably getting a little lonely - I think I've time for just one more little spin.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Synopsis: The Castlevania series is one of the most enduring and well-liked in the history of videogames. The game has appeared on a wide variety of platforms, with its start being on NES. The PlayStation's Castlevania, which was titled Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, stayed true to its roots as it was your standard 2D side-scrolling adventure game. It was released on October 2, 1997.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: The PlayStation was never thought of as a good 2D system. And there was a very good reason for that -- the system's main competitor in the early years, the Sega Saturn, was far superior in doing 2D games. This fact, combined with the belief that 2D gaming was a thing of the past that should be forgotten, meant bad news for fans of this style of games. However, when Konami released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on PlayStation it shocked the gaming world -- and me, in particular.
PlayStation wasn't supposed to be good at 2D games, yet, in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it had what is arguably one of the best 2D side-scrolling adventure games of all time. The graphics were phenomenal, the music is some of the best you'll ever hear in a videogame and the gameplay and control is just...well, perfect. The game was a true testament to the fact that 2D games should never die, even though it looks like they just might.
If you like videogames, you really owe it to yourself to go out and pick up this game and add it to your PlayStation collection (it can be found for less than $20 at most stores). If you do, you definitely won't regret it, as it's a true gaming masterpiece that is a timeless classic.
1. Metal Gear Solid
Synopsis: Created by the legendary designer of such all-time classics like the previous versions of Metal Gear, plus Snatcher and Policenauts, Metal Gear Solid was released in October of 1998 as one of the system's most hotly anticipated games of its time. The game, which followed the exploits of Solid Snake, was an action/adventure game that relied heavily on using stealth and had a presentation that was superior to anything else on the platform. It not only lived up to the hype, it exceeded it in many ways.
David Smith's Take: I wasn't "in the industry," as it were, when the buzz for Metal Gear Solid was first building. I was merely a lowly graduate student, putting off his schoolwork with a steady diet of all the videogames I could afford. Which wasn't much, since fifty bucks a pop is a hell of a lot when you work part time for minimum wage.
So one of my regular purchases was the monthly demo disk in the Official PlayStation Magazine. It was generally a pretty good value for eight dollars - read the magazine for ten minutes or so, play the demos for a month. And the October 98 issue was probably the best deal for eight dollars I've ever gotten: two areas of Metal Gear Solid. I played those two areas to death, sneaking around, dodging the cameras, playing keepaway with the spotlights, and torturing the poor stupid guards, as an invisible ghost somehow shot them, stunned them, beat them up, and choked them out of absolutely nowhere (or out from under a cardboard box). There was more gameplay in those two rooms than in most finished titles.
I saved my money to purchase the real thing and discovered an amazing story to go along with an amazing game. Metal Gear was built around the kind of mature themes that you rarely see in games; not ESRB/Mortal Kombat "mature," but intelligent, humanistic philosophy expressed through lifelike, empathetic characters. And lest we sound a little too tasteful and well-intentioned, sniping guards and snapping necks and getting into epic Stinger missile duels with titanic giant robot menaces ROCKED THE FRICKIN' HOUSE DOWN. The fact of the matter is clear. Metal Gear Solid is and always will be the best game on the PlayStation.
Dave Zdyrko's Take: Back in October of 1998, when I was still doing some reviews for fan sites, Konami's PR company sent me a copy of Metal Gear Solid for review that I received the first day that the game was released to stores in the States. However, there was a little catch -- I didn't get the boxed copy of the game, but rather just disc one of the final reviewable gold version. There was a note attached to the CD saying that while this is a two-disc game that all I would need to review it was disc one. Slightly peeved, I went ahead and started playing the game with the intention of finishing disc one and then writing the review.
Well, it just didn't work out that way. After I started the game, I just couldn't put down the controller. It pulled me in like no other game before it, except for maybe Snatcher, which was also a result of the genius that is known as Hideo Kojima. The game's cinematic presentation was unmatched. The graphics were the best that I had ever seen on the system. And the gameplay was just so amazingly deep and engrossing. Suffice it to say, when I reached the end of disc one, I just couldn't leave it at that. I simply HAD to go out and get the game's second disc.
I immediately drove off to the nearest videogame retailer -- not even taking the time to put on respectable clothing (I was wearing some very comfortable, game playing-type, sweat shorts with a big whole in the crotch, and a T-shirt that had several stains on it). Much to my dismay, the store didn't have anymore copies of the game and neither did any of the four other retail outlets that I could find. Luckily, Blockbuster Video actually had several copies of the game that were available for rental, so I snagged up the copy and headed back home to finish the game.
All the trouble was worth it. The game featured one of gaming's best ever ending sequences and the entire experience of playing the game was pure ecstasy. In fact, the experience was so good that I immediately started playing the game again once the ending was completely finished. While I intended to write the review after playing disc one, I ended up playing through the entire game three times before a single word was written.
Doug Perry's Take: From the earliest moments that Metal Gear Solid was shown to the public, the game appeared to be destined for greatness. And of course, it has become the game that all other adventure-action games, and all other story-based games, mirror and imitate. Hideo Kojima's game blended great gameplay with theatrical sensibilities together in a way that many people had only dreamed of, but none had ever delivered. From its exquisite storyline and believable characters to the tiniest of details -- from tracks in the snow, to the sound of footsteps in puddles of water -- Metal Gear Solid has, without a doubt, reached the top of the game heap. The question isn't, "Have you finished it?" But "How many times have you finished it?"