PlayStation has become a juggernaut in the gaming industry over the past 25-plus years, but it’s doubtful many would’ve expected how successful Sony’s gaming division would be way back during its humble beginnings. The original PlayStation was released in 1994 in an era where Nintendo and Sega were the undisputed kings of the industry. But the PlayStation upped the ante with cutting edge technology that made use of CD-ROMs and 3D graphics. Over the next six years the console–known now as the PS1–made its mark on the industry and changed gaming forever. Picking the best PS1 games isn’t an easy task considering the massive size of the library.
Many of the most heralded entries in iconic series can be found on the PS1, including Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2, and more. Simply put, the original PlayStation had a treasure trove of memorable games, but we’ve whittled down its impressive library to the 20 best PS1 games (listed in alphabetical order).
No good could come from Simians on the loose, and in Ape Escape, it was your job to stop the monkey madness before it reached a boiling point. Ape Escape is beloved for a number of reasons, from its truly bizarre humor to the endless pop culture references it threw players, but it’s also fondly regarded as one of the first PlayStation games to make the recently introduced Dual Analog controller mandatory. For good reason as well, as feeling every shake and vibration of this manic monkey game only served to heighten the absurdity of those absurd apes.
Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night
Konami’s Castlevania series had always been a solid collection of action games, but they had rarely made major waves in the industry. That all changed with Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night, as this return to Dracula’s castle was a landmark in game design. While it felt like every game under the sun was chasing the 3D craze that new console hardware allowed for, SOTN instead sunk its fangs into substance over style. That’s not to say that the game wasn’t stylish thanks to its smooth animation, Gothic influences, and hints of anime in the art department, but those positives played second fiddle to SOTN’s RPG elements, non-linear exploration, and the part it played in establishing the metroidvania genre.
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Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Taking a more-is-better approach, Naughty Dog’s marsupial was back in action on the PlayStation with even more devious levels, challenging boss fights, and a brilliant 3D presentation. While it didn’t diverge too much from the template set by the first game, Naughty Dog’s first sequel felt like a more confident follow-up that knew exactly which risks to take while preserving the bonkers attitude of Crash and making the game one of the best-selling titles of all time on Sony’s home console.
Even in a generation of gaming that saw multiple RPGs cement their status as classics on the PlayStation, Chrono Cross still felt like a cut above anything else available on the market. Released under the shadow of the monumentally influential Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross decided to forge a new path for itself instead of live up to the expectations of its predecessor. The end result was a game that featured innovative combat, a sprawling story, dozens of memorable characters, and some of the best music of that video game era.
A wildly different experience when compared to its SNES predecessor, Chrono Cross still earned respect for its bold choices and colorful storytelling.
Provided that you could pass the ludicrously hard tutorial of this game, you’d be in for a treat when Driver handed you the wheel and a few streets to burn rubber on. Clearly inspired by classic 1970s cinema, Driver was a perfect getaway vehicle from the humdrum reality of life with its exhilarating driving, selection of perfectly-paced missions, and the freedom to choose your own route as you outraced the fuzz across San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles.
Final Fantasy 7
The PlayStation era of Final Fantasy is undeniably the golden age of the franchise which saw multiple hits in the mainline series and multiple spin-offs grace Sony’s console. But when it comes to pure impact, nothing tops the global juggernaut that was Final Fantasy VII. With unheard levels of hype behind it thanks to a cunning marketing campaign, Square Enix’s massive gamble on a Final Fantasy game that deviated wildly from the formula established by previous games was a risk that paid off handsomely.
Bleeding edge graphics, revolutionary computer-generated cinematics, and the story of Cloud Strife’s fateful encounter with a Materia girl in a Materia world made for a game that shook the world with its bold ideas and presentation. The brilliantly executed animations made it amazing to see in action, the soundtrack was a masterpiece of emotional tracks, and even decades later, this particular chapter in the Final Fantasy series is seen as one of the definitive games in the entire franchise.
Final Fantasy Tactics
1997 was a landmark year for Final Fantasy, as the PlayStation was home to two excellent entries in the franchise. Final Fantasy 7 may have hogged all the attention, but Final Fantasy Tactics established itself as an exceptional tactical role-playing game at the time. First released in Japan in 1997, western audiences would have to wait a year for the game to make its way across the globe, but that patience paid off in the end.
Riding high on Final Fantasy fever–take a Hi-Potion and call me in the morning if symptoms persist–the first chapter in the Tactics series was brilliant when it launched, and in the years since then, has only continued to age like the finest of wines. Cleverly complex and emotionally deep with its plot, this was a mature spin-off that gave veterans fans the fantasy that they had been craving.
Gran Turismo 2
The original Gran Turismo is as close to perfection as what a racing game could be at the time, as it blew all of its competition off the track with its collection of highly-detailed cars and superb handling that made each one feel authentic. Gran Turismo 2 further polished up the most realistic racing game on console, smoothing out any lingering rough edges and adding more of everything else that made Polyphony Digital’s PlayStation debut such a roaring success at the time.
More cars, more tracks, and even the chance to get some mud on the tires with rallying action, made for a sequel that was overflowing with new content that could keep fans satisfied during the long wait for Gran Turismo’s shift to the PS2 platform.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
While the first game in the Legacy of Kain series was both artistically and thematically dark, Soul Reaver was an even grimmer descent into the bowels of Nosgoth. Betrayed and murdered, a freshly-resurrected Raziel embarked on a journey to slay the father who had left him for dead at the bottom of the Lake of the Dead. An epic odyssey that saw him battle and murder his own brothers, Soul Reaver became a cult classic for its dark atmosphere, stylish visuals, and puzzles stretched across the material and spectral plains of existence.
A mature game for its time that helped herald a shift in what the medium was capable of, the Legacy of Kain series would see three more games released before it went back into its tomb for a–so far–uninterrupted period of hibernation.
Metal Gear Solid
There had always been a fine line between the worlds of video games and the film industry, but Metal Gear Solid blurred those borders in 1998 with its stellar combination of stealth espionage action and its cinematic storyline. A sequel to the classic NES games that Hideo Kojima had worked on, Metal Gear Solid was a wildly ambitious experience that threw players for a loop with its discussions on morality, nature vs. nurture, and other esoteric subjects.
Years later, it’s still amazing to see just how far ahead of the game Metal Gear Solid was with its ideas, hiding layered and inventive ideas beneath its stealth gameplay facade. Filled with incredible boss fights–who can forget those Psycho Mantis and Liquid Snake showdowns–Metal Gear Solid was a benchmark in design that raised the bar for the entire gaming industry when it was first released.
Resident Evil 2
While the first Resident Evil game took its time in establishing an atmosphere of dread inside of the Spencer mansion, its first sequel decided to take the zombie bull by the rotting horns as it increased the action, intensity, and scope of its viral apocalypse with big-budget showdowns against Umbrella Corporations bioweapons. That’s not to say that the game had lost its horror roots though, as there were plenty of moments filled with pure body horror nastiness that was lurking in the shadows.
Even better, Capcom redesigned the game to offer added value during a second run where the decisions made in your maiden completion of the game could result in drastically different outcomes. Leon and Claire’s journey through a devastated Racoon City was the stuff of nightmares, but at least it played like a dream.
Horror games usually relied on tried and true blood and guts to get your heart pumping, but Silent Hill was a departure from that gory formula. It still had moments of visceral shock horror to dole out, but this was a game that worked to keep you on your toes by attacking your psyche with its unique blend of unknowable terror. With your mind filling in the gaps of nightmarish scenarios thanks to the creepy fog that obscured everything, novel use of the DualShock controller to send some haptic chills down your spine, and nightmare fuel creatures, the first Silent Hill was a horror classic.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage
The first Spyro game was already a heap of fun to play, but its first sequel gave the adorable purple dragon a heart and soul that the first game was largely lacking. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage was a lengthy adventure with plenty of charm, new secrets to uncover, and a soundtrack put together by none other than The Police’s former drummer, Stewart Copeland. All ingredients that when combined, made for a tasty sequel.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Street Fighter’s PlayStation swan song in the Alpha series of games was pure arcade action at its finest in 1998. The fighting mechanics had never felt better, the art design made every attack an eye-popping masterpiece of graphical grappling, and the inclusion of multiple new characters made for a roster that was bursting at the seams. Like other fighting games of the era, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was also filled with all manner of extra content, including the underrated World Tour mode that added character customization options if certain goals were achieved.
While the years after launch would bring a handful of Street Fighter crossover games, a shift into the 3D space with Street Fighter EX, and cuter brawling titles in the Pocket Fighter series, Street Fighter Alpha 3 kept the competitive flame of the franchise burning strong and just long enough for a second golden age of fighting games to kick off.
Third-person stealth action in an industry that still had a Metal Gear Solid hangover? That was a tall task for any game in 1999, but superspy Gabe Logan was up to the task in Syphon Filter, a superb secret agent mix of espionage and action that wore its influences on its black ops sleeve. All the charm of a James Bond adventure mixed with cunning enemies and excellent replay value, made for an impressive debut at the time; even with several sequels following in its wake, fans still patiently wait for the day that Gabe returns to action.
If you ever lost a friend in the late 1990s, chances are that you could lay the blame at Tekken 3 and the day that your chum decided to play as Eddie in the brawling threequel. Bandai Namco’s previous Tekken games had been good, but Tekken 3 elevated the experience to a new level with its fresh cast, buttery-smooth graphics, and hard-hitting action. Everything about Tekken 3 screamed refinement, making this particular sequel the go-to fighting game to have on the PlayStation.
More than just the definitive Tekken of its era, Tekken 3 was also stuffed with extra content, unlockable mini-games, and the surprisingly excellent Tekken Force that provided addictive beat ’em up action.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Neversoft’s massively successful follow-up to the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater helped make skateboarding cooler than ever when it successfully landed a 1080 sequel Ollie in 2000. Thrusting the extreme sport into the mainstream with a combination of gravity-defying tricks, unlockable skaters, and imaginative locations to gleam the cube in, all of this was wrapped up with a licensed soundtrack that still stands as an all-time classic selection of punk rock energy and rebellion.
If the first THPS game set the bar, then its sequel surpassed it with gnarly attitude, polished gameplay, and a chance to grab some air as Spider-Man. The Terminator 2: Judgement Day of sequels, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was bigger, better, and more confident in this sophomore outing.
The first time is sometimes the charm, and Lara Croft’s original expedition on the PlayStation was a debut for the ages. Wholly unique at the time, Lara’s gun-toting exploration of ancient tombs mixed in a few head-scratching puzzles, an encounter with a very angry dinosaur, and claustrophobic conundrums. In the span of a few years, Tomb Raider would grow into a massive entertainment property with multiple games, feature films, and merchandise anchored around the agile archeologist, but the 1996 introduction of Lara Croft stuck the landing and earned a place in the record books with its addictive blend of ideas.
Looking back at it, Vagrant Story felt like the sum total of Square’s experience on the PlayStation console. Beautifully rendered cutscenes and a darkly gothic art direction gave this game plenty of unique character, but the sharp gameplay that cut plenty of fat off of the RPG formula made for a game that respected your time and emphasized gameplay over dizzying amounts of lore to sit through. The deep combat system that allowed you to target limbs was ahead of its time, and several other factors made this game a cult classic of the age.
Years later, Vagrant Story’s most devoted fans still crave a follow-up, but for now it remains a timeless PlayStation classic.
The PlayStation made a name for itself as the cool console of its age, with games like Wipeout 2097 helping it establish its reputation on the streets. Nothing like Wipeout was available on the market, as this racing game mixed futuristic visuals with unrestrained speed and a soundtrack comprised of certified electronic bangers. Both a visual and an audio treat for the sense, Wipeout’s racing action was enhanced by its vehicular combat and too-cool-for-school atmosphere, and at the very least, you could have a wicked house party just by leaving this game on in the background as its soundtrack pumped out hit after hit.