Celebrating Playstation’s 25th Birthday with my 3 Favorite Games
On December 3, 1994, Sony released the Playstation 1 in Japan and forever changed the lives of console gamers worldwide.
It would be another year before Americans got their hands on the PS1, and a few more yet before I got my hands on a Sony console.
We didn't have much money when I was a kid, so I was lucky to get a Nintendo 64 for my birthday. I loved it and have so many great memories of playing it with my friends.
My best friend at the time had a PS1. We called it 'Sony" ("Hey, wanna come over and play Sony?"), and both of us benefited from the other having the opposite console.
My friend was more into action and racing games, so we played tons of Spryo the Dragon, Twisted Metal, and Metal Gear Solid.
These were amazing games, but I clearly remember the first time I spent the night at his house and we played Final Fantasy VII. It would start a lifelong love affair between me and JRPGs.
In the summer of 2001, I got a Playstation 2, and the clerk at the game shop gave me a free game (more on that later). I played so many great PS2 games, but I also did some catching up on PS1 games I'd missed out on.
These are my three favorites. I'm not arguing that they're the greatest. That's obviously subjective and depends entirely on your personality and where you were in life when you started gaming. These are just the three PS1 games that are nearest and dearest to my heart. Please feel to talk about your favorites in the comments section.
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It's tough to even begin describing this game because there's so much to unpack. In some ways it's your standard 90's JRPG, but it features a combo system that keeps leveling up fun and battles feeling fast-paced and energetic. You can fight as a character in your party or from the cockpit of their giant mech - both with unique health bars, stats, and combos.
The gameplay is a refreshing change from the standard JRPG of the time, but it's the behemoth story that leaves anyone who's played Xenogears haunted for a lifetime.
I could rant about it for hours (and scholars have dedicated years to untangling and interpreting it all), but in short, it spans several centuries and lifetimes and involves heavy religious and philosophical themes that were quite controversial for the time. It's a sci-fi epic that owes as much to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris as it does to Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell.
Due to budget and time constraints during development, disc 2 of the game is lacking in gameplay and extra heavy on story, which can be frustrating and a bit jarring your first time through. However, if you power through it, you'll be rewarded with an incredible ending that leaves you with a lot to think about.
When it comes to survival horror games on PS1, most people's go-to is Resident Evil 2. It's understandable. The game was groundbreaking, challenging, and a hell of a lot of fun. It was even recently remade for Playstation 4 - a testament to its enduring popularity.
I loves me some RE2, but if I'm going to have the crap scared out of me, I want it to happen in the sleepy, foggy town of Silent Hill.
You play as Harry Mason, who wakes up in the nightmare world of Silent Hill after his daughter goes missing. As you look for her, you encounter some of the creepiest and most disturbing monsters and landscapes to ever show up in a video game, and (if you survive long enough) uncover an ancient cult's plan to resurrect a horrific god from the bowels of Hell.
Unlike more action-oriented games like RE2, Silent Hill is all about atmosphere and cunning over combat. To cover up some of the graphic limitations of the PS1, the design team at Konami had the genius idea to blanket the entire town of Silent Hill in fog and darkness. It's easy to get lost, and you feel so claustrophobic and anxious as you explore and solve puzzles. The nightmare world is covered in rust, grime, traces of blood, and God only knows what else. The music and sound effects have you constantly feeling unsettled and on edge, and the game rewards you in small ways for avoiding combat and finding ways to get around the demonic entities populating Silent Hill.
The second and third entries in the series came out on PS2 and are (perhaps rightfully) considered the rare superior sequels both in terms of atmosphere and gameplay, but Silent Hill still holds up well in my opinion. Oh, and that moment between Harry and Lisa Garland will never not tear my heart out. If you've played it, you know the one.
Note: Silent Hill's Midwich Elementary School was modeled after the school in Kindergarten Cop. I'm serious.
I'm about to make a lot of PS1 fans angry, because Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite Final Fantasy game. It's not even my second favorite. (That would be IX.) Nope. My favorite is number 8 - the one people love to hate.
My reasons for loving the game are a mix of sentimentality and genuine appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into the game - particularly the combat system and the music.
When I got my PS2 in the summer of 2001, the clerk at the game shop handed me a used copy of FF8 and said I could have it because the discs were scratched and he doubted they'd work. Well, I've had them ever since and they've never failed me.
FF8 was the first game in the series I played by myself and got to fully experience and explore, so it will always have a special place in my heart for that reason alone.
Beyond that, once I figured out how to master the infamous Junction System to customize my characters' stats and abilities, I found myself having a blast experimenting with new strategies in combat. So many people hate FF8 for the Junction System alone, but I find it incredibly rewarding if you have the patience to work with it. (Though I admit that spending hours drawing magic from enemies to boost your stats can get tiresome.)
The game's story isn't quite as twisty-turny and complicated as FF7's, instead playing out more like a silver screen sci-fi romance. Personally, I enjoy it. The characters are endearing, and even the A-hole main character eventually grows on you as he learns to loosen up and appreciate the people around him. (As a moody teen, I found I could relate to him in some ways. What can I say?) There's also an interesting spin on time travel and an enemy fake-out that doesn't feel cheap, but drastically ups the stakes.
The game's soundtrack is the star of the show for me, though. Nobody could argue that Nobuo Uematsu isn't a master composer, and he wrote amazing compositions both orchestral and digital for the Final Fantasy series over the years. I would argue that Final Fantasy VIII's soundtrack is his best work. The moment you start the game, you're treated to an opening montage set to Uematsu's Liberi Fatali that blows your mind out of the back of your skull. Once you've recovered, the game treats you to so many gorgeous tracks that perfectly set moods from somber and sad to joyful and triumphant, with plenty of goofy Uematsu moments in between.
(Final Fantasy S Generation is a must-have compilation of tracks from the series' PS1 era. I highly recommend it.)
Every time I hear the Balamb Garden or Fisherman's Horizon themes, it feels like being home.
Final Fantasy VII and IX are amazing games as well, but VIII will always have my heart.