The PlayStation brand is 25 years old today, as GameCentral celebrates the 10 games that cemented the PS1’s success on the world stage.
On Saturday, 3 December 1994 the first ever PlayStation video games console was sold in Japan. As was the way back then it didn’t appear in the West until almost a year later, launching in America on 9 September 1995 and in Europe on 29 September. But by the time it did become available in the UK it was already obvious that it was set to change the face of video games forever.
There’s not the slightest hint of hyperbole in that statement. Purely on a technical level, there’ll never be a bigger jump than from the 2D graphics of the Mega Drive and SNES to the 3D visuals of the PlayStation 1 generation (not until we’re plugging holodecks into our head, anyway). But while the Nintendo 64 was the most powerful console of the generation Sony made an even more important innovation, in terms of the types of games it made and how it promoted them.
If it was left to Nintendo video games, no matter how good they may be, would still be targeted primarily at children and certainly their own titles would never feature any kind of realistic violence or sexual content, or even just complex storytelling. But Sony embraced all that and more, even with the basic technology of the PlayStation 1. While Nintendo’s console had better 3D graphics the PlayStation used CD-ROMs instead of cartridges, allowing it to revolutionise the use of pre-rendered visuals, and sound and music, in video games.
Nothing would ever be the same after the first PlayStation and while Nintendo has since found success doing their own thing everyone else has been left perpetually trying to beat Sony at their own game. And so far none of them has managed to. Even the relative failure of the PlayStation 3 still saw it outsell the Xbox 360, albeit by a tiny margin, and now the PlayStation 4 is on course to be one of the best-selling video game consoles of all time.
And it’s got there, as ever, not because of the technology itself but the games that know how to use it to its full potential. Below is our list, not of the best PlayStation 1 games but of the most influential. Many have superior sequels or less well-known rivals but these are the games that made Sony’s first console a success and which still cast a shadow over modern titles to this day.
There are, of course, dozens of other games we could have included in the list, such as Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater, Silent Hill, Final Fantasy Tactics, Medal Of Honor, PaRappa The Rapper, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver, and Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night. But these are the ones we consider to be the most iconic and important, and it’s no wonder that most of them are still going strong today.
10. FIFA Soccer 96 (EA – 1995)
The first ever FIFA game on a PlayStation, although games with the same title were also released on the Mega Drive and other older formats as isometric, purely sprite-based games. None of the FIFA games from this era are remembered particularly fondly (there was no PES either, just sister series International Superstar Soccer) but the ground-breaking presentation, including real commentary from familiar pundits of the day, had a huge effect on the PlayStation’s potential mainstream audience and it became an instant best-seller in the UK. Even today, FIFA might not be a favourite of many core gamers but for a large swathe of more casual players it can be one of only a handful of games they ever play.
Current status: FIFA’s influence has only increased with each passing generation and it is now regularly one of the best-selling, if not THE best-selling game, of every year.
9. Crash Bandicoot (Sony Computer Entertainment – 1996)
Although the PlayStation 1 easily outsold the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, Sony never stopped searching for their own mascot equivalent to Mario and Sonic. (Although Sony never actually owned Crash Bandicoot and after falling out with co-publisher Universal Interactive the rights eventually ended up, almost by accident, with Activision.) Crash Bandicoot was never anywhere near as good as Nintendo or Sega’s best but he was a fun character and the 3D visuals offered something distinctly different to anything from the previous generations. It also happened to mark the first time that Sony worked with developer Naughty Dog, who much later went on to create Uncharted and The Last Of Us.
Current status: There hasn’t been a new Crash Bandicoot console game for over a decade but the enormous success of the remakes, including Crash Team Racing, essentially guarantees a new title from Activision. In fact, rumours of something called Crash Bandicoot Worlds suggests a reveal could be imminent.
8. Tomb Raider (Eidos Interactive – 1996)
It’s easy to forget just how monumental the leap was from the 16-bit era of gaming to the PlayStation. Released just a few months after Super Mario 64, Tomb Raider would’ve been the first fully 3D third person adventure many people ever saw. Its controls were clunky even at the time, and its graphics often hard to make out clearly, but the freedom it offered in terms of exploration and interaction with the scenery was like nothing that had ever been seen before. That and, however dubious her portrayal might seem today, it was one of the first games with a prominent female protagonist. Tomb Raider 2 is a better game overall, but it lacks the iconic opening of the original and the scene with the Tyrannosaurs Rex that has still yet to be matched by any of the sequels…
Current status: After a successful reboot in 2013, interest in the series seemed to dwindle with each new entry – despite Shadow Of The Tomb Raider being arguably the best of the reboot trilogy. With the new movie also failing to gain much traction it’s likely the franchise will be rested for a few years before trying again.
7. WipEout (Psygnosis – 1995)
As much as Ridge Racer was beloved by fans around the world, if you ask most European gamers what the most memorable PS1 launch title was they’ll probably say WipEout. It was also a 3D racing game but a futuristic one, heavily influenced by Nintendo’s F-Zero. The twitchy controls made it less accessible than Ridge Racer but its soundtrack – featuring acts like Leftfield, The Chemical Brothers, and Orbital – was groundbreaking for a video game. Sony used it to promote the game, and the PlayStation brand as a whole, at musical festivals and via controversial advertising that implied drug taking – as, allegedly, did the ‘E’ in WipEout. Of course none of that was official but it all created a level of publicity and recognition for the game, and games in general, that would’ve been impossible to imagine during the SNES and Mega Drive era.
Current status: WipEout games struggled to find commercial success after the PlayStation 1 era; as a result, the recent WipEout Omega Collection on PlayStation 4 may end up being the last entry in the series but it doesn’t deserve to be, especially with its excellent VR options.
6. Tekken (Namco – 1995)
Battle Arena Toshinden was the first 3D fighter most people saw on the PlayStation 1 but as impressive as the graphics were it was never a very good game. Tekken, however, was. Like Ridge Racer, it was another arcade conversion, although by the time it got to the iconic Tekken 3 the home console versions were beginning to take precedence. The preeminent 3D fighter of its time, the Tekken series was one of the most successful multiplayer games of any kind on the PlayStation 1 and one of many third party games so intrinsically tied to the PlayStation format, in the eyes of both the game makers and the general public, that it would take until Tekken 6 in the PlayStation 3 era before any of the mainline entries appeared on a rival console.
Current status: The recent Tekken 7 has become the most successful entry of modern times, with new DLC still being released. Its success all but guarantees Tekken 8 on the PlayStation 5.
5. Resident Evil (Capcom – 1996)
The game that coined the term survival horror, Resident Evil was an instant hit and did more to popularise the idea of ‘mature’ themed video games than any other PlayStation title bar Gran Turismo and, arguably, Metal Gear Solid. The game was mocked both then and now for its cheesy dialogue and voice acting, and absurd puzzles, but it managed to mix goofiness with genuine scares in a way that would only ever work with a video game (and certainly never did with the movie adaptations). The fact that the modern remakes have to change surprisingly little to work today is a testament to how great all three games were on the PlayStation 1.
Current status: Stronger than ever, with a remake of Resident Evil 3 expected to be announced very soon, following the smash success of Resident Evil 2 earlier in the year. Resident Evil 8 is also assumed to be well into development, although it probably won’t be seen before multiplayer spin-off Project Resistance.
4. Ridge Racer (Namco – 1994)
Like most consoles, the PlayStation 1 didn’t have a particularly robust launch line-up and while Ridge Racer was perilously short on content it remains one of the most memorable games of the whole PS1 generation. Not only was it fun and instantly accessible but its graphics were stunning for the time and surprisingly close to the original arcade game. One glance at Ridge Racer was enough to convince many that the PlayStation should be taken seriously, in comparison not only to its rival consoles but as a significant step forward in the evolution of home video games.
Current status: Despite repeated rumours of a revival there hasn’t been a new Ridge Racer game on consoles since Ridge Racer Unbounded in 2012. The last numbered sequel was Ridge Racer 7, a launch title for the PlayStation 3.
3. Metal Gear Solid (Konami – 1998)
The most recent game on this list (the PlayStation 2 was released in Japan in March 2000) and still one that has an enormous influence on gaming to this day. It says something about the state of video game storytelling at the time that its borderline nonsensical ramblings and anime sensibilities were seen as daringly mature, but it wasn’t just the, relatively, serious atmosphere that made it famous but the cinematic presentation that only Hideo Kojima was bold enough to take to the extremes he did. For many, the Metal Gear Solid formula was never more perfectly distilled than in the original, which apart from anything else proved that an auteur could produce a successful big budget game that didn’t pander to current trends, but instead created them itself – something Kojima continues to try to do to this day, via Sony, with the recent Death Stranding.
Current status: With the departure of Hideo Kojima from Konami, and the critical and commercial failure of Metal Gear Survive, the franchise’s future is now impossible to guess at, with no official announcements of anything in the near future.
2. Gran Turismo (Sony Computer Entertainment – 1997)
Much like FIFA before it, the importance of Gran Turismo was not so much in whether it was a good game or not (although in this case it was) but the fact that it appealed to an audience well beyond gaming’s normal teenage fanbase. This was a game for anyone of any age, as long as they had at least a passing interest in cars and race driving. Gran Turismo sold itself on its realism and its maturity – this was no cartoonish kart racer but a real driving simulator filled with officially licensed vehicles and music. Ultimately, even the subject matter didn’t really matter. It wasn’t that this was the most realistic car game ever made it was that it was a serious enough product that it pushed the boundaries of what a video game, especially a console video game, could be.
Current status: Unusually, the only Gran Turismo game to be released this generation is GT Sport, with no real news on when to expect Gran Turismo 7. But the six-year gap since the last numbered sequel suggests a new game may arrive fairly early on for the PlayStation 5.
1. Final Fantasy 7 (Square – 1997)
As far as Japan was concerned the defection of Final Fantasy (and Enix’s Dragon Quest) from a Nintendo console to Sony’s new format was the final proof that the new challenger had beaten the old master. But in Europe, Final Fantasy 7 was the first entry in the series to ever be released here and for many the first Japanese style role-playing they’d ever played. And whatever you thought of the game as a whole the visuals and presentation were like nothing else you’d ever seen – an epic on a scale impossible on either the previous generation or the Nintendo 64’s meagrely-sized cartridges. Final Fantasy 7 was the ultimate proof of why the CD-ROM was so vitally important to the PlayStation 1’s success and, whatever you think of the actual game, made it one of the most important technical and marketing milestones in video game history.
Current status: After decades of waiting a Final Fantasy 7 remake is scheduled for 3 March 2020. It’ll only cover a portion of the story though, with additional games needed to tell the whole of the original plot. How many of those there’ll be in total is currently unknown, but it’s unlikely to stop an announcement for Final Fantasy 16 before too long.
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